We sit in the living room and talk together for the last time. My mother got “saved” last year and now wants to pray for me before I go. Idnil shuts the door so mother can close her eyes and speak for a long time in Setswana. At the end Naillil translates while my host mother sits patting my thigh and wetting her eyes and sighing out those blessings for me.
We do our traditional things together. Pel plays with my hair, Naillil practices her Chinese words, Idnil poses for pictures and Are giggles and climbs onto my lap. The boys aren’t home but mother calls my father at the gold mine in South Africa and we stumble through a Setswana farewell. I leave them with little gifts: American tea bags, dangly earrings, a tie, a deck of cards, a bottle of lotion, crayons and, of course – Scrabble: the miraculous little game that allowed us to bond in those first mute and awkward months of my homestay.
Before leaving I decide to take one more memorable trip to the pit latrine. I walk past the old bicycle holding up the orange tree. The fire pit where I’d stirred rice for my mother at twlight. The low, thorny tree that had once nearly blinded me on a night-time stroll to the latrine. The grass that Odnam and I had cleared with shovels. The stone I’d sat on for hours hand washing clothes. The spicket where I’d fetched water for my morning bath.
On the way back I check my watch and know I need to hurry to catch the first combi back to my village. I round the orange tree and see Pel sitting alone and staring at me with giant sad eyes.
Pel, my little imp. I lean down to kiss her and she wraps her arms around my neck and kisses me back and I marvel at how tall and sweet she has become in just two years. At one time Pel spent many devious hours trying to charm her way into my room and then, once inside, would steal little bits of paper and food and hair elastics to get my attention. She once took a pen and scribbled all over the Scrabble board. When I scowled at her she laughed and laughed.
But here was baby Pel, all grown up to five years old -- and so affectionate now. I kiss her forehead and tell her and I love her and go inside to begin the rest of the goodbyes.
Usually Naillil and Idnil walk me out but Are is crying this time so they stay back to hold and soothe her. I hug everyone at the gate and turn with a big sigh.
The tall bushes hide them after a minute and I stare out across this poor little ward and will myself to remember the roudeval huts and soccer-children and broken trees and branch-fences and cactus plants. I’m deep into this before I realize that Pel has been trailing me down the path. I laugh and squeeze her fingers and she does not smile at me. I say goodbye and I love you again in Setswana but she does not turn back. And so we walk like that. Me in front and Pel behind. All the way down that path. All the way around the bend. All the way to Ame’s house. And there she stops. I’m watering now and she’s waiting and we hug once more. With that Pel and I start walking in different directions. I step three paces and look over my shoulder. She does the same and we wave to each other. I step three more and wave again and she does too. I think we waved ten times before I couldn’t see her anymore. And each time I turned Pel did too. And each time I lifted my fingers, Pel lifted hers back. And with that I said good-bye to Lekwapagne and the Elopmar family. And with that I made peace with little Pel.