It was a week later as I was digging through my bag in
search of the cough drop I’d seen floating around recently that I remembered
about Tank’s Skype threat. Of course, my memory was jolted by the napkin I
found at the very bottom of my bag, where it had fallen to after being dumped
in directly following our lunch date. I had had every intention of setting up
an account the moment I got back to the compound, but the rush of hectic
activity I’d found myself in had driven it completely from my mind until
Leaving the cough drop for dead and ignoring the tickle in my throat, I pulled my laptop out of my bedside drawer and set it on the bed in front of me, firing it up as I dug through the drawer for my USB internet stick. It took more brain power and time than I would have thought to set up my account and enter Tank’s details, but eventually I had a connection established and was staring at the little green tick beside Tank’s name, trying to think of what I could possibly say to open a dialogue with him.
I’d just decided to be generic and say “Hello” when my computer made a sound and a line of text.
Tank says: I was just looking up flight info for next week.
I rolled my eyes and typed in the first reply that came to mind.
Steph says: I said I’d do it and I did. No need to start looking for flights before my time is up.
Tank says: What if I found a flight for you instead?
Steph says: I’m not abandoning these kids.
While I waited for his reply, I went about getting ready for bed; taking out my contacts, putting in eye drops, washing my face, brushing my teeth etc. When I got back to the laptop Tank had sent three messages.
Tank says: When does your current program end?
Tank says: Steph?
Realising I’d taking more time than I’d thought with my night time ritual, I quickly typed an apology.
Steph says: Sorry, was brushing my teeth. I have about three and a half months left.
Tank says: And then you’ll come back?
The problem with my answer to that question was that I had mixed feeling about the concept. On the one hand, I would love to go back and see all the people I left behind. On the other hand, I was afraid of their reactions when they saw me. I imagined a lot of anger and hate for just up and leaving without word or a trace. There’d probably be hurt as well, just as I’d seen with Tank. Disappointment that I hadn’t reached out for help from any number of the friends and family I had been surrounded by.
As well as that dilemma, there was the fact that I would be leaving behind all the hard work I could be doing for families and communities down here.
I told Tank all this, thinking that he would simply reiterate what he’d said a week ago, that I could be helping people back home just as much and that my friends and family would forgive me for leaving, but he did nothing of the sort. Instead, he sent a shrugging emoticon, followed quickly by his reply.
Tank says: I’ve got four months to convince you.
We chatted a while longer, until I found myself taking longer and longer blinks and decided that if I wanted to keep the five thirty jog time I’d promised myself I would start, I should probably hit the hay.
[Three and a Half Months Later]
I sat cross legged on the bed in my assigned sleeping quarters amid a sprawling collection of drawings, notes and photos I had received from the kids over my time working with them. With just a week left here, I had begun my ritual of filing the gifts I’d been given. Letters, notes and drawings went in a folder for each child once I had used my scanner to make a digital copy of them. More physical gifts, such as handmade dolls, woven wraps and blankets and other such items that would not fit in a folder were photographed and included that way. At the front of each folder was a couple of photos of the child or family, along with basic information on their status when I arrived, and their progress over my volunteering with them, as well as a short descriptive paragraph of their personality and my impressions.
My supervisor thought I was crazy for keeping every single thing I was given, but I justified my actions by pointing out that a lot of these kids and families had so little that being able or willing to give someone a gift was a big deal for them. I didn’t want to just throw away their hard work like it meant nothing to me, because it meant a whole heap.
I wanted to remember each and every single moment with each and every single person I encountered, but knew it was too much to wish for. So I needed to keep the mementos of my time with them as reminders. After each volunteer program finished I would box up the files and the gifts, along with my latest journal, and ship them back to a storage unit I had in the states.
I was sorting one particular file folder into chronological order when my laptop began ringing.
Right on time, I thought as I glanced at the clock and clicked “Answer” on the screen.
Tank and I had fallen into a routine where he would video call me every Thursday he could and we would chat and catch up. I would recant my recent exploits as teacher of English, and he would elt me know how everyone back home was going as well as any major events that had occurred.
While I tried to convince myself that I didn’t want to go home and wasn’t ready to be found, in reality, I lived for our Thursday Skype Nights. Don’t get me wrong, I loved what I was doing and it was rewarding working with the kids and their community, but I had been six years without any kind of information on the people I had left behind. After a while I’d just forbidden myself from thinking about them to save myself from the home sickness and depression that would inevitably follow. But now that I had a link – a veritable font of information – I was addicted. I needed the latest social updated.
“Hey Tank!” I greeted merrily, smiling widely at the screen and sliding a section of the papers surrounding me into the large document box on my bedside table to be sorted another time. I had a week left, after all, and I still hadn’t set up where I was going after this. “How’s things?”
“Busy,” Tank replied on the monitor. “What about you?”
“Busy as well,” I replied, holding up a thick file, literally bursting with memories.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Things the kids have given me. I’m trying to organise it all, but I keep getting side tracked.”
“Big time,” I confirmed. “So what’s keeping you busy?”
Tank took a sip from a massive coffee mug before staring straight down the camera lens so that it was like he was locking eyes with me. “My own big mouth,” he confessed on a sigh. “I suggested to Ranger that we expand our community support initiative. Start really giving back.”
“That’s a fabulous idea,” I enthused, even as, in the back of my mind, I began to wonder if this was his latest scheme to try to convince me to come back to Trenton. I’d be lying if I said they weren’t slowly wearing me down but I’d hardened my resolve to at least finish up here before giving into him. “What does Ranger think?”
We didn’t often speak of him. Me, because if I started thinking about that particular tall, dark and handsome man of mystery I would likely be on the next plane back to the states regardless of my responsibilities down here. And Tank because, well, maybe he sensed I didn’t want to go there. Or perhaps he feared that mentioning him would conjure the man and Tank’s covert operation of getting me back to Trenton would be redundant, because the moment Ranger learned of my whereabouts he would come and pretty much kidnap me.
Not that I thought that was remotely possible. He’d given up looking for me within months of my disappearing act. Probably, I didn’t mean a damn thing to him anymore. If I ever meant something to him at all. Entertainment.
“Unfortunately, he loves the idea,” Tank replied, distracting me from my thoughts.
“What do you mean, ‘unfortunately’?” I asked incredulously. “It’s an excellent idea, Rangeman could do so much for the community. You’re a talented group of men with plenty to share.”
“He put me in charge of it,” Tank said flatly.
“So you don’t really want to do extra community work?” I asked, a little disappointed in his attitude. He had a real opportunity to do good here and he was griping that he’d been given the responsibility. I would jump at the chance to head up a community initiative.
Tank shook his head and took another gulp from his bucket of a mug. “No, I want to,” he assured me, in a far less than convincing tone. “I just never pictured myself heading up the sector.”
“But you take control of the entire company when Ranger goes in the wind,” I pointed out. Two Ranger references in one conversation. If I wasn’t careful I’d be on the next flight home.
“Running the company is one thing,” Tank said. “I can do that easy. Any day of the week. Pulling together a functioning community respite centre with around the clock workers including medically trained staff, on the other hand, is a little daunting.”
I rolled my eyes. Clearly he was over thinking things. I knew he could pull of complex operations at the drop of a hat, putting this together should be a breeze for him. Could he be banging it on to lure me back to Trenton? “Treat it like one of your missions?” I suggested. “What’s your first step?”
“Delegate tasks?” Tank said with a slight smile, letting me know he was joking. When I just stared at the screen, attempting to raise an eyebrow at him, he amended, “Figure out the goal, find a location, draw up a plan, have the boss approve it, get a team together, then delegate tasks.”
“Close enough,” I agreed.
“Speaking of close enough,” Tank said, swiftly putting on his, I’m switching topics voice. “You’ve only got a week left, is there any way I can convince you to ditch now and take over for me?”
“How many times do I have to tell you?” I said, just short of exclamation. “I’m not abandoning these kids.”
“How about if you come back and join my team when you’re week is up, then?” he added hopefully. “I could really use your help and the guys would love to see you.”
My chest briefly constricted at the thought that the guys knew anything about me to have that prior love to see me. I’d reiterated what felt like a million times over the time we’d spent Skyping that I didn’t want anyone else knowing that he was in contact with me. It was fine with just Tank, but I didn’t want to be pestered from all angles to come back and come back now. A girl only has so much will power.
Apparently my face was just as easy as ever to read, because he added, “Relax, Steph, I haven’t told anyone.” Neither of us said anything for a moment, but I noticed Tank checking something on his phone. “So will you come back?” he asked, glance back to the screen.
“I don’t want you to just give me a job, Tank,” I told him.
“But you’re qualified for it,” he assured me. “You’re probably more qualified for this task than I am.”
“Remember what I told you about why I left?” I reminded him. “I don’t want to be a charity anymore.”
“Okay,” Tank said, nodding slightly. I could tell by the slight expression on his face that the wheels in his head were turning, trying to think of a way to get me back. I’d seen that look numerous times over the last couple of months, so I definitely knew what he was up to. “I’ll see what I can do to appease you.”
“Unbiased?” I prompted.
“How do you feel about applying to a board of Rangemen whom you’ve never met under a false identity?”
“That would never work,” I told him. “My cover would be blown within minutes of getting the job.”
“Probably,” Tank agreed, “But you’d get the job on your skill set not your history with the company or any of it’s employees.”
I rolled my eyes at him. “This plan of yours is bound to fail, but I guess I’ll play along. I haven’t set anything up for after my times up here anyway.”
“Great,” he enthused, “I’ll lock in this flight for you for next Sunday then.”