It’s late Thursday morning and I’m sitting in a taxi on the way back to Joburg, brooding, I think that’s the word, about my days with Aunt Carol and Michelle. Actually, that’s not what I’m brooding over. I feel pretty good about the time with them and it brings fleeting smiles to my face as this thought or that flits through my brain while I look out the window of the taxi at the vaguely familiar places we’re passing. What I’m brooding about is the thought of going back to Sid, wondering how he’s going to greet me, what new surprises he has in store for me. And more than anything, wondering if maybe it’s time for a change in my life. How could I ever think, even for an instant, a visit with my aunt wouldn’t revive that question?
Sid isn’t going to ask me much about my visit. Just seeing me back will be all the answer he’ll need. That’s really all he cares about, that I didn’t try to bolt and run, didn’t spill the beans on him and me and his business, didn’t bring shit down on him. I’m even getting back on time, the time we agreed, so he should be happy about that. Oh, he might ask how it went, in his usual off-hand way, more to appease me than because he really cares, which he doesn’t. He’ll probably do that, and I’ll tell him it went fine, I had a good time and caught up on some stuff, it was great to see my aunt, especially, and Michelle, and thanks, Sid, for letting me go. It was swell of you, really it was. I know you didn’t have to, Sid, but I appreciate it that you did. You’re the man, Sid. You’re the man.
Okay, now I’m being sarcastic. Yeah, I hear it. I think I’ll skip that last part, as much as I’d like to say it, since I don’t want him regretting letting me go and maybe poisoning the water for the future. I’ve learned to treasure small victories – and really, this was a pretty big victory – and to not pull defeat from the jaws of victory. That’s a skill I don’t need. Sid’s good enough at that. I don’t need to do it, too.
Sometimes you can cover more ground when the time is short than when you think you have all the time in the world. Then every minute seems valuable, there isn’t one to treat casually, and that’s how it was over the past three days.
Auntie and I had long heart-to-hearts every day, when Michelle was off to work and it was just the two of us and a pot of tea and some little something on the table. Of course she wanted me to think about my life and my future and what I really wanted to do. And she did her best not to make me feel like I was being judged somehow for what I was doing, whatever it was. She even stopped asking after the first day if we could call my parents. I know she’ll tell them she saw me and I’m fine, after I’m gone, and that’s okay. But she did get me to think about whether I was happy, really happy, and if I was getting to where I wanted to get. Of course, she didn’t mean Paris or culinary school and certainly not Bangkok or Chiang Mai. She didn’t know about any of those, except that I told her I was learning to be a pastry chef thanks to that nice couple in Arkansas. Which I’m pretty sure she didn’t believe even if she wanted to.
As much as it’s hard, I have to admit she got me thinking about things. And I didn’t have to make it up when I told her she did, and I was, and I would. That part she believed because she knew it was the truth, as hard as it was for me to say it.
I got up to the thicket to commune with the spirits, too. I had to. It would be like going to see two people you were really close with and only seeing one of them. Well, the spirits aren’t people, of course, and who knows how many of them there are, or if you can even count them. But you get the idea. So when there was a time when one of us, Aunt Carol or me, needed a break, I’d excuse myself and go outside and go up into the thicket. Aunt Carol understood I couldn’t not go into the thicket. I’ve been doing it since I was a little girl and that wasn’t going to change. She knew.
Last time I was here, back four years ago when my parents sent me here supposedly to keep me out of trouble, I found a tree, back in that thicket, that almost had the form of a cross in its twisted branches. There was something oddly captivating about that tree, like it had some sort of magical powers to it. In case you can’t tell, I’m not religious, but I felt a spiritual attraction to that tree, like it was put there by the African spirits for a reason, and that reason had to do with me.
Well, it was still there, up in the thicket, my special tree, a little bigger and a little wilder looking, but still there, its branches still cross-shaped in their way, and I got the feeling it had been waiting for me the whole time, just as my aunt waited, and so it was a real reunion, just as being reunited with my aunt was. It was harder to climb into, I’m not the little monkey I once was, but I did, anyway. And the African spirits were still there, too, still there by my tree.
You probably think I’m nuts, having a special tree and thinking I can speak with spirits. Sid does, so you’re not alone. And if you must know, I don’t really care what Sid thinks, or what you think, either. Maybe I am nuts. And maybe I can speak with the spirits and they do tell me things. That’s what I feel. It’s not a belief, because you can’t prove a belief. It’s a feeling, and I know a feeling when I feel one.
I don’t know, maybe I didn’t have enough time. Or maybe they decided I should make up my own mind. But this time I didn’t get a straight answer from the spirits like I got last time I talked with them. I was hoping the spirits would spell things out for me real clear, like they did that first time, four years ago. Like, I should stay with Sid and keep doing what I’m doing. Or I should leave Sid and find my own way. Or I should become Chantal’s lover all the time, and let her look after me like a mother and a friend who’s also a lover. I was pretty sure the spirits wouldn’t tell me to go back to my parents, since they were the ones who convinced me I should leave them in the first place and I’m not about to do that, anyway, but maybe they’d tell me to come stay with my aunt. But no, they didn’t give me any real clear answers. Not a one.
What they did, it seemed, was leave it up to me. But if I knew what I should do, I’d probably have done it already. So I don’t think they helped me very much this time. Or maybe they planted some seeds in my head and it’ll just take some time for them to sprout, and then I’ll know what to do. I’m pretty sure that’s it. I don’t think the spirits would just leave me hanging.
Well, it’s a good thing we’re back at the hotel since my poor little brain is worn out from all this thinking and brooding and whatever the hell else I’m doing. I pay the driver and give him another of those good tips, take my carry-on from the seat next to me, and get out and go into the hotel lobby. I don’t know when I was more nervous, when I showed up at Aunt Carol’s door or now when I’m about to go up and see Sid again. What’s the matter with me, anyway?
I get up to the room and knock on the door – Sid didn’t let me take the room key with me – and it takes a few times, and finally he comes to the door, wearing a pair of those silk boxers and shirtless, and he looks at me first, then let’s me in.
“Hey, Sid. I’m back. Like I promised.”
“Yeah, you are. Glad to see you can keep a promise. I figured you would or I wouldn’t have let you go.”
“I really appreciate it, Sid. I missed my aunt so much.”
“So it was okay? She didn’t try to keep you?”
“She would have liked to, I’m sure. But, no, she didn’t try. She knows how stubborn I can be and there are some fights that aren’t worth it. She was just so happy to see me.”
“Cool. Glad you got that out of your system.”
“Well, for now I did. But I’d really love to see her sometimes. Maybe next time you come to Joburg you can take me with, huh?”
“We’ll see. This place spooks me. Too many bad dudes here. I have to be on my guard 24/7. She didn’t believe your cockamamie stories, did she?”
“Nah, not really. She’s too sharp for that. She kind of agreed to accept my story about the couple in Arkansas so we could drop the subject and talk about other things. It was easier for both of us.”
“What other things? You didn’t talk about me, did you?”
“I told you, no, of course not, Sid. If you think talking about some young couple in Arkansas who are in Mozambique buying curios is hard, how tough do you think it would be to explain you? I’m good, but even I’m not that good.”
“You’re fucked in the head is what you are. But we knew that already.”
“Very funny, wise ass. Like you’re so not fucked in the head yourself, right?”
“You got a point there. Okay. Enough of this chatter. You ready to go back to Paris tonight?”
“Hell, yeah. I’m ready like Freddie. No more little Sid surprises, like detours half-way around the world? We’re really going back to Paris now?”
“Hate to disappoint you, since I know how much you’d love to go to Rio or Sydney or Bora-Bora or Timbuktu, but yeah, we’re going back to Paris. I’m fried after this trip and need to chill some myself. But it paid off pretty good.”
“Oh, goodie. I’ll even be happy to see CDG again. And I don’t have to carry any special treats this time?”
“Nope. You can just be little Lulu and read the in-flight magazine and give Uncle Oscar a hand job under the blanket and relax and not have to worry about a thing.”
“Sid, you know that’s when I start worrying, when you say things like that.”
“Eh, forget it. You’re getting too damned skittish. Told you you’d be back in time for school, didn’t I? Early, even.”
Yes, there’s that. But if Sid wants to chill, it means he’ll be staying in Paris for awhile, with me – or, more accurately, me with him - and I guess I could do without that part. Just thinking that I feel how much I’ve changed. Maybe those spirit seeds are germinating. Dunno. But at least we’re going back.