It’s my last night. The kids are all in my room, climbing over my bed and the mountain of clothes I still have to squeeze into a suitcase. Ally pulls a sweater off the pile and insists in putting it on. It hangs down almost to her ankles, and she runs around the room swinging the extra-long sleeves. Paolo is glued to Plants vs. Zombies on my phone. David is playing with the stuffed cat I had found hidden in my dresser in case I ever needed a last-minute gift. Tonight is my last minute.
“Hey kids, come see this” Hector, their dad, calls from the next room. Since the boys who used to rent the room moved out, it’s been the banana room, where my host family stores the hundred-pound bunches of fresh-cut bananas to sell in the downtown market. I run over behind the kids and see a mouse frozen on the window screen.
“They come down from the mountains in the bananas”, he says, “David, bring me a stick”.
The mouse is a chubby, soft thing with a fluffy tail like a gerbil. It darts down the wall and into a bunch of bananas, burrowing close to the stem. It has hidden in the bunch ever since it was cut from the stalk, holding on as it was hoisted into the back of a pick-up truck and driven two hours into the city, clinging tight even as Hector hoisted the bunches one by one onto his back and up the three flights of stairs.
“Ugly things,” Hector frowns, “They eat my bananas,” and points with his toe towards a mouse-sized bite.
David brings a broom handle and Hector rolls the bunch over until the mouse runs out, scurrying around the room. The kids cling to me and squeal as their dad chases it.
He catches it in a corner, not with one clean blow, but with a few sharp taps. It twitches for a second, then is still. Hector picks it up by its tail with a piece of toilet paper and carries it down three flights of stairs to throw it out in the street.
“It was not so ugly,” David says, staring at the tiny spot of blood on the ground. “Not so very ugly.”
We go back to my room. The boys hug me – tackle me, so as to disguise the sentimentality. I promise to visit when I return to the country, promise to take them out to the movies.
“Or Aqua Splash?” Paolo asks hopefully. It’s the waterpark just outside of town and they pass it every time they drive to their cousin’s house.
“And Aqua Splash,” I say, already thinking ahead to the crowds and the sun and the cracked plastic slides. I kiss the boys on the tops of their heads and push them out of my room. It’s late. Ally’s already gone downstairs. She doesn’t know I’m leaving tomorrow.
The next morning I squeeze the rest of my clothes into the suitcase. I hear the clatter and murmur of the boys downstairs getting ready for school. I think about going down for one last hug, some meaningful words, but nothing I say would capture this last year, our games and heart-to-hearts, their jokes, that mouse on the window screen. I hear them leave.
It’s only Martha in the house when I come downstairs. I sit and wait for my ride. She smiles at me though her eyes are watery. “Allisson’s still asleep,” she says. “She won’t know why you’re gone.”
I know Ally will ask for me, like she would do when I left for a weekend or even a walk down the street. She would wait for me, face pressed to the window, until I walked down the steps, and squeal “Kat-ah!” grabbing my knees and pulling me to the dining room. “Num num num?” she would mime, with her hand at her mouth, asking me if I want to eat.
I know she’ll wait by the window for days before she realizes I’m not coming back.
But I will come back. On weekends – when I can. Ally will grab my knees and the boys will show off their new high score on Angry Birds. Martha will bring me a bowl of soup and Hector will offer me bananas,
It will never be quite the same. I won’t fit any more in the house or the family. I’ll check the time on my phone, say it’s time for me to be back.
Maybe I’ll ask to see my old room before I leave. I know already, it will be filled with bananas.