It’s been a month since I last saw Rachel in the infirmary. She hasn’t called. One weekend I take the bus again to Blantyre to meet her. It is a one-hour ride, but it seems longer since the bus doesn’t start on time. It also makes several stops to pick up passengers and before I know it, it’s packed. At every stop, vendors bang on the windows of the bus to sell their wares — photos of the city and animals seen in a safari.
I wish I had taken a taxi or one of the mini buses instead of the state-run bus. But I have to budget my expense to survive on the meager Peace Corps allowance. The roads are bumpy and some passengers are carrying live chickens in the bus. I cover my nose to avoid inhaling the dust and the smell. I’m the only white person among a bus load of black faces. Some stare at me and observe my every move.
Rachel gives me a close hug and I kiss her on the cheek.
“Feeling better?” I ask.
“Yes, much better.” I can feel that just by looking at her smiling face..
“What would you like to do?”
“Let’s go to the city and have some fun.”
“I’d love that.”
We take a taxi to Blantyre. I have heard of the Mandela House, home of the La Caverna Art Gallery and café. The taxi drops us in the vicinity. We barely look at the artifacts. We are so happy to be with each other. We walk slowly looking at some paintings but soon lose interest in the gallery. It’s past lunch time. The place is not busy. We walk over to the on site restaurant.
I notice Rachel has been quiet for some time. I ask if everything is all right, whether her stomach virus is acting up again.
“I got a letter from my mom,” she says. “Little Shane will be playing in a high school musical.”
“That’s great.” I try to encourage her.
“But don’t you realize I can’t be there. I miss him so much.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.” I realize I didn’t say the right thing.
“I’m sorry you can’t be there, is what I mean,.” I clarify
I think she is going to cry. I put my arms around her. I want to ask who Shane is. Is it her brother? It can’t be her son if he is in high school. Rachel is about my age, in mid twenties.
“Oh, how I wish I was back home,” Rachel says again, almost choking, her voice guttural.
“I hope you asked them to take a lot of pictures,” I say. I know it doesn’t matter what I say, it isn’t going to help.
Rachel continues to talk about her family. It is the first time she has opened up.
“We used to watch the Lucy Show and Gomer Pyle together and laugh our hearts out.” Rachel continues. Still no clue as to who Shane is.
“When Shane was born I was six years old and Mom decided to stay home for a while,” she continues.
Now I figure Shane is her younger brother.
We finish our lunch and return to Rachel’s place. Rachel hasn’t said a word during the ride. I think it is better to leave her alone.
“So, I’ll take the evening bus back to Zomba,” I say.
Rachel says okay with a sad face as if she doesn’t care what I do. She doesn’t even look at me. I think some alone time will allow her to come back to normal.