The Last Ride (page 2)
The Last Ride
page 1
page 3

Some of the children

     The children seemed particularly somber, yet still went about his or her tasks. After Ousmane’s speech, Mbaye, the precocious three-year old brother of Elise, kept asking me where I was going, and I felt like he was doing so with an incredible insistence for truth. He knew I was GOING and I couldn’t bring myself to answer him with any reassuring measure in my voice.
     After dinner we all sat down to watch “Mari Mar” on television and Ndeye was squeezed next to me on the corner of my chair, as usual. I didn’t follow the show and kept thinking about the fact that I would probably never again be a part of this scene — this comfortable family setting: sitting with a group of African children and adults who considered me something between a sister and an aunt, all crowded around a 12-inch black and white television run off a 12v car battery to watch a cheesy Mexican soap opera dubbed in French. Finally, I went home to my compound around 12:30am and went directly to sleep. I still hadn’t accepted that I was really leaving the next morning.

Time for departure
I woke up at 6:00am — a certain rarity for me, and immediately started to load my truck. Ousmane had sent his older son and nephew to help me. When I left the house where I had lodged for years, I thought it would be fairly easy to say goodbye to my landlords and their family, to which I was not nearly as close as the Thiam’s. But, right at the end, I chocked up so unexpectedly that I hurried the rest of the handshakes and good-byes and jumped in my truck.
     When I arrived at Ousmane’s I went inside the house to greet everyone before we started unloading the belongings that I was going to leave behind with the family — my wooden double bed frame, sponge mattress, metal tuna fish can footlocker, double-sized Peach Corps-issued mosquito net, buckets, clothes, pencils, scraps of material and all kinds of small treasures that the kids would find ingenious uses for. Mame hardly looked at me and went into the kitchen.
     The event that sticks most in my mind from that day is breakfast. Mame brought me into her and Ousmane’s bedroom and set down a meal of duck, fried potatoes and onion sauce that was left over from our dinner the night before. Elise came in and sat down on her little wooden stool and we ate together. Actually, all I did was pick at the bread. Once I looked at Elise, I felt my throat tighten and my stomach fall into a pit; I couldn’t eat and I just kept crying into my bandana. Though she ate, the 1/1-2 year old watched me and between bites she tentatively called my name, “Khady?” She knew too, I think. When Mame took the breakfast bowl away she didn’t even comment on how little I had eaten.
     The rest of the family joined us in the bedroom and we made small talk. Thankfully, Ousmane was there to get me going. He said I shouldn’t linger nor have any ceremony; it was simply time to leave. The children were suddenly quiet. Mame went on arranging the plastic bowls on top of the dresser, keeping her face turned away from me. Ousmane asked me if I had a piece of cloth. All I had was my wet bandana, but he found small strips from another scrap of blue tie-dyed material I had given them. He told me to tie a thin piece of cloth around the wrists of both Mbaye and Elise. I did it, but didn’t need to ask why.

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