(the beginning of November 2016)
I step out of Kim the Taxi’s car. The sun is hot, the air dusty, the sky blue. In front of me is the pastel pink gate of the Restart volunteer apartments. Whatever confidence I accumulated during the long drive to Gilgil has suddenly evaporated.
Lorrine, the volunteer coordinator, opens the creaking padlock on the gate. We drag my heavy suitcase across an asymmetrical courtyard full of dripping laundry. The red tiles are crooked and water-stained. We manage to pull my suitcase up the narrow stairs and onto an open corridor. I look out over the bannister and see the clustered buildings of Langalanga. Beyond them is rolling bush terrain, a few larger outcrops farther off.
Lorrine unlocks the metal door of my apartment, which is surprisingly spacious. Inside is a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom area with a separate toilet and shower, and two bedrooms. We have just finished putting my bag in my room when I round the corner and find myself face to face with a girl and her tumbling mane of dreadlocks.
“Hi, I’m Nicole,” she says, with a chipper and welcoming Australian accent.
“Uh hi, I’m Meredith,” I reply, a little caught off my guard with the appearance of two other volunteers behind her, Ellie and Sarah.
We go through the stereotypical rounds of introduction. You’re American? Yes. I’m your roommate. Cool. I can’t believe the news. Yeah, Trump is an effing facist. Agreed. Nice to meet you. Then I’m left alone to settle in.
I feel overwhelmed and very dislocated from myself. Lost. I assess the amount of food in the house. Good, there’s not too much. I walk over to the kitchen window, where, framed sensually by billowing white curtains, I see the blood-red walls of “Wispers Butchery.”
I sit down on the cold, white tile. What am I doing here? I think. I close my eyes, hoping that no one sees me right now. Am I really here to help children? Is this the right time to be at Restart? The past few months of crippling body frustration seem very near. I think back to Mary Coulson, and the obligation I feel towards her. I try to decide if I’m here simply because I want to show my gratitude to Mary, or if it’s because I care. A small thought, though worrying, creeps into my mind. I wonder if I’m really here to restrict calories, attain more control, and be away from the observations of my family. Remember the doctor’s office, when they gave you only three months to –
I hear someone at the door, and stand up a little awkwardly, pretending to be contemplating the view outside the window of… Wispers Butchery.
Nicole walks in with a friendly smile.
“Hey! Kim’s still here, and he’s going to take us to Mary’s house for lunch. Do you wanna come?”
I nod my head, hoping that the sight of Mary will give me clearer answers. I follow the other volunteers and Lorrine down the stairs, outside the gate, and back into the strong sunlight. We pile into Kim’s car, and lurch down the road for about three minutes, stopping at a turn off. Kim says goodbye, and his car bounces down the jagged road like a rocking horse sailing out to sea. Blaring Kikuyu instrumentals fade in the distance, and he is gone.
Excitement laces across my ribcage. After almost nine months, I get to see Mary again.