There are two small pictures tacked above my desk that were taken in a mall photo booth on a day I still remember well. It was summer and my sister and I had nowhere in particular to go. We raced to Storybook Gardens an hour before it closed, to revisit the giant shoe belonging, of course, to the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. We swore the peacocks were giving us menacing looks. At some point we went to the mall and took silly pictures. I know my sister drove, because I have no sense of direction and need to be told ten minutes in advance whether I will be turning right or left. Understandably this annoys her slightly.
For two years I have glanced up at these photos during odd moments, reminded of a distant time and place. I was (I am) living amidst undeniable magic, but that did not always diminish the pull of home. I was sitting at my desk the day I learned that B was having a baby and I felt it. I was perched on the worn wicker chair when I opened photos of my sister’s graduation and I felt it again. A few weeks ago I listened to the voice on the other end of the phone and wished I could just close my eyes and be there. I’ll come back soon, I thought, but tonight it hurts to be so far away.
In just over a month I will be there. My time in Botswana is winding to an end and I wonder if I will recall all the days that passed as clearly as I remember laughing with my sister in a dusty photo booth. Each time I look up and catch a glimpse of our faces, eyes scrunched tight because we were overcome with a serious case of the giggles, I am both painfully aware of how rarely I see her now and also smirking at the ridiculous melody of our happy adventures.
Tomorrow I will look for my name on the plane schedule and pack the remainder of my things into a canvas bag. Before I leave the office for the last time, I’ll carefully take down my treasured photos. They are torn and yellowed at the edges now, but I cannot go without them.
I try not to dwell on what comes next, fearing it might lessen the joy with which I plan to inhabit the next four weeks. Yet, despite my best attempts, I sometimes allow myself to doze off dreaming about what the future contains. I envision a desk in an apartment somewhere, scattered with papers and unfinished stories. I imagine lifting my eyes from the keyboard to see a framed photo of a lion cub trying to stalk a mongoose on a fallen tree. I will immediately hear the sound of a camera clicking furiously under the glare of setting sun. The sensation of delight that comes from watching a young hunter at play will return to me and cause my heart to swell at the memory. Then I suspect tears will sting my eyes, because it hurts to be so far away.