It is evening, and it is the Last Day. Our suitcases stand in a row by the door. In groups come uncles who are not my mother’s brothers, aunties who are not my father’s sisters, passing in and out to wish us safe journeys.
I don’t want to live the Last Day.
I don’t want to wake up to No Day tomorrow or begin the First Day someplace hat isn’t home. But it is the Last Day.
“Hannah, it’s bedtime. Sleep well. Tomorrow we go home.” But before I fall asleep I draw a picture of my special mango tree and hide it under my mattress. I hope someone else will find it, someone else who can call this place home.
On the Last Day, I do not say goodbye. I remember when I said goodbye to my cousins and my real uncles and aunts on another Last Day, and I cried. I don’t want to cry and ruin the Last Day at home. Instead I take two Stock sweets and hide one in my secret box in my special mango tree. I give the other sweet to my best friend Themusa.
“I will come back, my friend. We will see each other soon.”
“We will meet, sister,” she says.
The States is big and loud and greasy and scary. People I don’t know smile at me and people I do know will not greet me when we cross paths. There is no shima here, my mother says, but I can’t imagine how that could be true because the grocery stores are so big. People are always talking on their phones. Sometimes they wear tiny white things in their ears and talk on the phone that way and it looks like they are talking to themselves. I thought they were like Uncle Fana, but my mother showed me the little white earpieces and explained them to me.
We stay with my grandmother for a few days. She is very happy to see us and she takes me to buy new clothes because mine are too dirty and full of holes. I am happy to get new clothes but I don’t like it when she takes away most of my old ones. I won’t let her take my Spiderman shirt, though. She says I can wear it to bed. But I take it off as soon as I lay down on the soft lumpy air mattress. My bed at home is perfect: hard and flat, not rounded like hills of beans. I miss home.
My father makes many phone calls. The First Day didn’t go as he planned. Eventually he decides we will go back to Abilene, where I was born. Maybe he can get his job back.
In Abilene, we stay with Mr. Baird. At first I would forget and call him Uncle Bird, which confused him the first time but then my parents explained it to him and now he just laughs. But I have to practice calling men “Mr.” because I only have two uncles now and they are my mother’s brothers. Mr. Baird has a beard and he talks like everyone else here in the States: he says vowels all wrong and drags out words in strange places. A sales clerk once asked my grandmother if I was adopted. She said I talk weird. I said, “No, you talk weird!” My grandmother told me to hush and explained, “She lives in Africa.” The clerk didn’t believe her.
I am very lonely in Abilene. My parents say I will start school in August. Till then, I read books from the library. There are so many books but they are about people who live in the States and talk like Mr. Baird. When I get tired of reading, I write letters to Themusa. I know they will take months to arrive. Once my grandmother sent a Valentine’s card and we didn’t get it till May.
Every day is the same.
In July, we move into our own house.
In August, I start school. But I already know what the teacher teaches and the other kids bully me, so that doesn’t last long. My parents take me to a doctor and she says keep reading, so I read.
I read stories like Little House on the Prairie. I read history books. Indaba, My Children is a beautiful book and its words sound like home. My mother says it is too old for me but it makes me happy so my father says, “Let her read.” I read. I finish it too soon.
We go to Tennessee for Christmas. My cousins don’t remember me, but I remember them. They watch a lot of TV and talk to their friends on their iPhones. They have hoverboards and a big house and dogs. They have a swimming pool.
At last I get a letter from Themusa. “I miss you Hannah,” she says. “I told my new best friend Hope all about you.”