As I was packing today, I came across this story I wrote for my college freshman English class. It is a true story I wrote a few months after leaving Peru and moving to the States for college. I think it conveys a lot of what I was thinking and feeling at the time, and can be applied to any time someone leaves a familiar place. The date marked on it is “September 17, 2001”, which is rather ironic because that’s also the birthday of my friend Ellen (who you’ll meet when you read my story). :-) I think now I would rename it to “Seventeen Coins”, but I’ll leave it with the original title. :-)
Thoughts of Departure
“Do you think San Antonio’s is open on Sundays?” I asked.
There was a pause for a moment over the phone. “Well, we can find out!” Ellen responded.
“Let’s meet at 2:30,” I said, and we hung up.
I turned from the phone and surveyed the spot where I was standing. The tiny, two-bedroom apartment we had been occupying for the past two weeks was becoming bare. Downstairs, stuffed duffel bags and other suitcases lined up by the door, waiting for that night when they would be carried out to the car. In my room, which I could see from the phone, little piles were scattered here and there. They would all somehow have to fit into my carry-on for the seven-hour journey back to the States.
How could one stuff eight years of one’s life into two suitcases and a carry-on? I was in the process of discovering this. Standing behind the tables at the garage sale, I had watched as people carried off my precious belongings. Three weeks before, I had sobbingly handed my cat to her next owner. I cried the rest of the day.
Now, in just a few short hours, it would be all over: eight years of being a missionary kid in Lima, Peru. I had graduated, said good-bye to my high school friends, the other missionary kids, and my youth group. There was only one person left – and our farewells would be made at San Antonio’s, a little cafe we frequented. Growing up in Colombia, Ellen had an addiction to coffee. We had tried to start a tradition of going every Wednesday afternoon, but the past few weeks we hadn’t been able to because of graduation practices and the chaotic mess of moving.
I splashed some water on my face and sprinted out the door. Ellen’s house was on the way there, so I met her at the gate and we continued our trek to the cafe. Our favorite waiter, Orlando, seated us and gave us each a menu. We began the usual ordering process: scanning the hot beverages available, discussing each one, and then glancing over the dessert section.
“I’m treating today,” I told her. “I have a bunch of coins I need to get rid of. Soles won’t do me much good in the States!” Ellen smiled at the seventeen one sol coins in my hand, which added up to about five dollars.
Orlando came over with his pad of paper. “Están listas?” he asked.
“One cappuccino, one hot chocolate, and an éclair to split,” I told him, taking advantage of my last day to use Spanish in a foreign country. With a smile, he recorded our order and left.
I felt a little subdued as I looked over at my friend. The table was hardly big enough for the two of us, but it was cozy. The place where we were sitting was an outside patio with an awning, and surrounded by walls of glass to block the sometimes heavy wind sweeping off the Pacific Ocean half a mile away. Drops of sunlight filtered in, giving a fraction of warmth in the southern hemisphere winter.
I tugged at the sleeves of my dad’s old Taylor jacket. I had found it a few months earlier as we were packing up our house. I had seized it upon sight, and it quickly became a favorite. Following my father’s footsteps, going to his alma mater and wearing his old jacket meant a lot to both of us.
I looked up at Ellen. Her blue eyes had dropped to the table, and she traced the pattern of wood with a slender finger. What could I say? What did one say on the day she was leaving the country of her childhood forever? What words could decipher the mixed feelings of returning “home”?
Our beverages arrived and we sipped them slowly. The attempted conversation was nothing more than small talk, and very unsatisfying. I wanted desperately to tell her everything I was thinking, but the words were not there. I knew she understood what I was going through. Less than a year before the increasing violence and terrorism had forced her to pull up her roots in Colombia and move to Peru.
I let my eyes take in the buildings surrounding the cafe. It was a typical street for this area of town: cement houses hidden behind tall walls all squished together. A few had patches of grass in the postage stamp of a front yard, and an occasional tree grew in that patch. The white and cloudy sky marked a typical Peruvian winter day. Would I miss it?
After an hour, I dished out the seventeen coins for our snack and a generous tip for Orlando. As we made our way back to our houses, I looked around pensively. Everything would be different. This was the last time I would see all these sights. I turned for one last glance at the cafe. Its yellow and white awning flapped in the breeze, and I could see people moving around inside where we had been sitting.
Saying goodbye to Ellen was as dry-eyed as my other farewells had been. I couldn’t cry yet – wasn’t I happy to leave? I was about to start college and create a new life in the country of my birth, but in a culture I had never truly known. I tried to put all my fears behind me and prepare for my voyage into the future – a voyage that would begin with a plane ride from Lima, Peru to Atlanta, Georgia.