Shirley flopped on the hard floor of her old apartment. She was awkwardly wedged in between two bulky boxes covered with a fine covering of dust. The moonlight coming from the window fell on her feet, catching on the silver parts of her sneakers and glittering. Seventeen months of emptiness filled the flat. It felt strange to be back, tanned, tired, and changed. She was poorer in pockets but so much richer in spirit – after seventeen months of service work, she was bound to be different.
The phone rang. Shirley suppressed a groan and moved from her not-so-comfortable spot on the ground. The phone line had only been activated that day, and already she was getting calls. It hadn’t been an issue in Haiti, as only the richest people had telephone access.
“Hello?” she asked half-heartedly.
“Shirleeeeeeey!” a voice squealed. Shirley grinned upon recognizing the voice.
“Hi, Susanna,” she said.
“You’re back!!! Your mom gave me the number! We have to get lunch tomorrow. You have no other choice. I need to hear about everything that happened! I’m free at 12:30. Where do you want to eat?” Susanna asked in a rush.
“That sounds great, Susanna, but tomorrow doesn’t work for me – I have to unpack these boxes that have been sitting here since I left. You’re welcome to help!” Shirley definitely did not want to unpack an apartment’s worth of goods without someone to give her a hand.
“Oh – I had forgotten! You had trouble renting it, right? Sure, I can bring something. You still like McDonald’s, I hope. A year and a half in the Caribbean can’t have squeezed that out of you!” In reality, Shirley thought McDonald’s would make her sick. Nonetheless, she agreed.
“Yeah, sounds good, Susanna. 12:30 tomorrow, then? I trust you know how to find the place still?” Susanna laughed. It would be great to see the bouncy blonde again. In fact, one of the things she missed living among the Haitians was the mix of all types of races so common in America. People there were fascinated with her reddish-blonde hair, her freckled skin, her pale grey eyes.
She said goodbye to Susanna and spun slowly on her heel, surveying the room. Nearly everything was still in boxes, and she had been cleaning and unpacking all afternoon. A year and a half of disuse meant that surfaces had to be cleaned and re-cleaned, carpets had to be vacuumed three times over, and boxes had to be opened, emptied, and broken down. Her bed was made, thankfully, but at this point, with nothing else done, she wished she had planned more to go to Haiti. It was right after graduation that she decided to do the program. No jobs seemed enticing and the desire to help the people who needed her more than any company or organization promised burned in her heart. So, two weeks after she walked, she packed up her apartment, bought a one-way ticket to Port-Au-Prince, and said goodbye to the United States. She hadn’t even had time to find someone to take the flat and her family lived too far away to care for it. Thankfully, her landlord was an elderly woman who thought the charity work Shirley was entering into was “simply superb” and agreed to reduce the rent to pennies.
Shirley checked the time on her newly-reactivated cell phone. 12 AM. The weight of it felt uncomfortable in her hand. The peachy color that glinted in the moonlight reminded her of the color of freshly-picked mango. She was afraid of buying one at the store the previous day because she knew that imported grocery-store variety mangoes could not compare to the tangy bite of Haitian mangoes. She longed to go back – it felt far more like home than anything in America ever had. She had a purpose there, a reason to wake up every morning, something to hold on to when she felt too weak to go on.
12 AM. Shirley yawned – there was no time difference, but the location difference resulted in the same effects as jet lag. She flopped back on the ground, exhausted but knowing that she couldn’t sleep yet. Her foot caught the moonlight again and the silver flashed. She grinned out the window. A few months here to get things in order, and then maybe she could go back. And maybe next time, permanently.