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This is Africa
Shay stepped off the plane and observed her home for the summer. All around her she saw sand, an occasional rock, and a single giraffe. The sight took her breathe away. She couldn’t take her eyes away from the bright blue sky and for the first time in quite a while, Shay felt at peace. However, that feeling was quickly interrupted by squeals and the shouting of her name. Shay turned to see her mother, a tan, skinny, blonde women wearing a large, floppy hat and big Gucci sunglasses. At that particular moment, Shay was extremely thankful that her dad had gained full custody.
“Shay!” her mother squealed, wrapping Shay in a bear hug. “I have missed you so much!”
Shay knew she hadn’t missed her. Her mother had jumped at the chance to leave New York when Shay was three, leaving Shay with her humble father. Her mother had remarried a wealthy man and booked it to Africa. When he filed for divorce, her mother took everything.
“Hello Michelle.” Shay said to her pathetic excuse of a mom.
“Sweetheart! I think that we are way passed the first name base. I’m your mom!” Michelle said, playfully punching Shay in the arm.
Shay attempted a smile and walked to the green jeep. All Shay wanted was to stick her head out the window, watch the sky, and let her simple blond braid blow out the window. But Shay expected sympathy. She had been receiving nothing but sympathy for the past three weeks.
“Darling,” Michelle started, “I am so sorry about Jay. Your father was a great man and I know how close you two were.”
For some reason that particular comment made Shay want to hide under ten feathery comforters and cry for hours. They had been extremely close. A struggling writer from Manhattan and the most genuine, sincere, wise man Shay had ever known. They shared interests in Ghandi, literature, hiking, basically everything. He had gotten cholera after a hiking expedition with a couple buddies. It had spread fast and he passed away a couple days later. Shay had gone crazy. She did everything to make the pain go away. Drugs, alcohol, cliff diving even. Her grandparents, who were originally going to take care of her, thought she needed to get out of New York. So they sent her to Africa with her mother.
“Thanks. He was the best parent I could ever have asked for.” Shay wanted to make it clear that Michelle had some big shoes to fill and that she shouldn’t even try to replace her father.
The jeep finally pulled up to the massive three story beach side home. Shay hopped out of the car and grabbed her luggage. She needed a shower.
“Dinner!” Michelle cheerfully yelled throughout the house.
Shay bounded down the stairs into the kitchen, grabbed a banana and walked to the front door.
“I’m going to go explore, don’t wait up!” Shay yelled, slamming the door. She imagined her mother looking at the nicely prepared dinner and eating by her lonely self.
Shay walked down the busy streets and let the exotic languages take over her ears. She fed the rest of her banana to a monkey performing tricks. Shay chatted with the few street venders that spoke English and bought a new shoulder bag. But she wasn’t done with her adventure yet, Shay decided to just keep walking. Shay walked for a long time. She was so transfixed by the scenery that she didn’t even realize that the ocean was no longer visible. She was about to turn around when she saw a heap of bright colors laying by a tree. Shay let curiosity take over and cautiously walked over to the huge tree. The colorful heap turned out to be a person. A boy with skin as dark as chocolate about her age appeared to be sleeping. He was wearing a dashiki filled with color and different patterns. Shay was awed by how beautiful the dashiki was that she forgot there was a person wearing it. Suddenly, the boy shot up, Shay froze. Shay made eye contact with the boy and gasped. The boy’s eyes were a beautiful blue.
“Why do you watch me sleep?” the boy asked, nostrils flared, never leaving Shay’s gaze.
“Your d-d-dashiki.” Shay stumbled.
“This?” The boy questioned pointing to his person.
“Y-yes.” Shay answered, “it’s beautiful.”
The boy looked at Shay puzzled, his eyebrows stitched together, as if he didn’t believe her.
“I promise.” Shay stammered, “I’m to Africa and I have never seen something so colorful and carefully made.”
“Thank you.” the boy said, still looking confused. “my mother would appreciate that.”
“I would love to buy one.” Shay suggested, trying to make a peace offering.
“I would take you to her,” the boy started, “but she is no longer here.”
Shay immediately knew how the boy felt. “I’m so sorry. My father passed three weeks ago as well.”
Shay found herself carrying on a conversation with the boy for quite some time. She discovered the boy’s name was Bapoto and now that his mom was gone, he was taking care of his three younger siblings and living with his aunt. Shay felt selfish for thinking her life was so hard. People in Africa lived lives of poverty and struggled with death everyday. Shay thought that moving to Africa would help her find herself and recover, but she now knew that her purpose was to help others. It was a time for building bridges, no matter how bad the damage was.
Shay and Bapoto met by the tree everyday. They talked about their parents and their dreams. Shay wanted to climb Mount Everest and Bapoto wanted to be a priest. Bapoto made Shay feel so selfish.
One day, Bapoto took Shay to meet the children of his village. They were in the middle of a big soccer game. Having played In New York, Shay decided to join in with Bapoto and the other kids. These kids were ages six and older, they had more skill than Shay, that was for sure. Shay found it incredible that kids so young, having no practice, could be such amazing athletes. Shay was having a great time with the children, when the fun was interrupted by a trumpet sounding noise. The children immediately stopped what they were doing and followed the mysterious noise. When Shay veered around the huts, she was surprised to see that the noise source was an elephant, basking in a waterhole. The children started climbing on top of the massive animal and to Shay’s belief, he didn’t resist. The elephant started acting like a living water fountain, spraying the children with water from his trunk. It brought Shay pure joy to see the children so happy.
When Shay returned home that night, she found her mother on the porch, watching the tiny waves crash onto the deserted sand filled beach. Shay decided to confront her mother on their relationship. After all, it was a time for building bridges.
“Oh, hi Shay.” her mother said, startled by the sight of Shay, for she hadn’t seen much of her.
“Hey Michelle,” Shay started, “I just wanted to thank you for taking me in on such short notice.”
“Oh honey, it‘s my pleasure.” Michelle said, happy to be appreciated by her daughter, “I have been a terrible mother and I don’t deserve your thanks. But really, that means so much.”
“I’ve missed you, mom.”
A single tear fell down Michelle’s cheek and Shay suddenly found herself holding her mother tight. It felt good to have a parent again.
The next day, Shay took Michelle to meet Bapoto and the village children. Michelle was welcomed with smiles.
For the rest of that summer, Shay and her mom dedicated their time to building schools, teaching English, and spending as much time as possible with the village people, helping whenever needed.
When the time came for Shay to return to New York, she left knowing that her purpose in Africa had been fulfilled.
“Your father would have been very proud of you.” Bapoto said. They were shaded by the branches of he and Shay’s favorite tree.
Shay smiled and knew he was right, “I’m going to miss you.”
“I will miss you too.” Bapoto said, wrapping Shay in a warm embrace. Shay would never forget those unique blue eyes.
They stood by the tree until the sky turned it’s famous pink and orange. That was Africa, a place for friendships, new beginnings, and bridge building. Africa was Shay’s true home.