“Tell ’em love,” her Alabaman accent slipping through heavy. Her smile stiff and forced.
“Son, we’re going back-”
Her husband answers his mobile phone mid-sentence, seamlessly diverting from his lightly accented English into perfect French.
“J’ai envoyé les documents déjà…” he walks out of the living room, the family discussion forgotten.
Her son turns to her with impatience.
“Darling, we’re moving to New York,” she says.
Her stomach sinks with dread. This cannot be happening.
He scruntches his face up in displeasure.
“Your father’s being transferred to a new project.”
“But dad travels all the time,” he whines.
“This project is open-ended, he could be stationed there for years.”
“But mom we live here. What about my friends? And school? Do something.”
He searches her face for hope.
“Moustapha, honey I know this is all very sudden, but this is important to your father. Don’t you remember how quickly we had to leave Shanghai six years ago to come back to Dakar? You were six then but you had friends that you had to leave and school.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Moustapha stares at the floor and kicks at an imaginary object.
“There’s a French bilingual school in New York. You’ll make new friends…” her voice trails off as she strokes his cheek.
He looks at her with distrust in his eyes.
“That’s right! You’ll go to one of the best private schools in New York and you’ll continue in the French education system. New York will be great,” his father says walking back into the room. The space constricts with his presence.
“No buts Moustapha. This is a great time to leave Africa. Things are volatile here and will only get worse. The students are rioting. The vendors are rioting. There’s little wiggle room for rising food and oil prices in the developing world. Inflation will always defeat the working man.”
Her husband calls the maid to fetch him a drink.
“When do we go?”
“We leave this week.”
She doesn’t respond. Moustapha spins on his heels.
“Son, you’ll be fine. Go upstairs and begin packing your things. Ask Aria to help you. Aria! Go to her now.”
Moustapha walks out of the living room with hunched shoulders, dragging his feet across the marble floors. In the doorway he bumps into his nanny.
“Mon père dit de m’aider à emballer.”
He drags his body up the stairs, each step more painful than the last. In his room he throws his stuff onto the floor until Aria yells at him to sit on his bed and stay out of her way. He lies down on his bed, cursing beneath his breath.
“You know honey, Moustapha may have a hard time adjusting to New York and a new school.”
Her husband grunts in acknowledgement.
“The weather here is great. Our friends are here. New York is so fast and chaotic. The apartment’s there are so small and cramped. How will we all fit?”
“New York will be good for the boy. Round him out, sophisticate him. He was born in the States; this is a fine time for him to return. Spend his teenage years there before he begins college. The apartment will be large enough.”
He opens his laptop and begins typing. She releases a heavy sigh.
“It’s all just so sudden, this transfer. We’ve been here six years. I’m president of my Women’s group and the American Club. I’m on several charity boards. All of my friends are here.”
Her throat closes up and she’s unable to finish. He looks up from his computer a moment and peers over the top of his glasses at her., waiting. She clears her throat.
“Plus, Moustapha doesn’t even remember the states. He’s half Senegalese, he should be close to his roots and his country. What will he do without Aria? She does everything for him. Does this apartment complex in New York even have a pool?”
She sighs heavy and meets his gaze.
“Moustapha doesn’t need Aria. He has you. He will make new friends and so will you. We don’t use all this space as it is, so what’s the difference? If Moustapha has to share a swimming pool with other kids, it’ll do him good,” he stares at her a moment without expression then returns back to his work.
“I’m not ready to leave,” she says in a quiet voice that threatens to rise, “most of our friends are traveling. We don’t even have time to throw a party. This move is rushed. It’s all wrong!”
Her husband closes his laptop and looks at her.
“When we got married you said you loved to travel, discover new places. This is what we’re doing. You signed up for this twelve years ago. I’ve held up my end of the bargain.”
Her stomach flips several times and a boiling feeling rises up into her throat. She tries to push it back but the more she tries to subdue it the faster it rises.
“I’m not some refugee fleeing famine! America is not new or exotic to me. There’s no comparison to our lifestyle here. I did not sign up to be some regular Jane Doe wife in America with the highlight of my day being some ridiculous PTA meetings or mundane trip to Walmart!”
“I’m not paying for all this,” he waves his arm across the room, “when my company is paying for a perfectly fine apartment in New York. You want to stay? Get a job and maintain the upkeep of your lifestyle here, but Moustapha goes to New York with me, regardless. My son goes where I go. If you don’t like that option you’ll pack our things and ship what will fit in the new place. You have the floor plans.”
He opens his laptop and goes back to typing.
She wrings her hands in her lap while looking around at the furniture in the room, pieces she painstakingly chose and special-ordered directly from Italy, France and Portugal. She wants to scream but instead stands up, smoothes her skirt down with both hands and walks out of the room. She’s sure he doesn’t even look up from his computer screen. She makes a slow procession through the house. Seven bedrooms, four bathrooms, two kitchens, central air, a gazebo – which not many houses in the city can boast – an in-ground swimming pool, two maids, a nanny, two cars, a driver. Angela. Shit. How could she forget. She needs to call her. Pain pierces across her brow. She cannot bear that conversation right now. Maybe tomorrow.
She goes into the master bedroom flings herself atop the California King platform sleigh bed and cries herself to sleep.
“All of these boxes are going,” she says in English, pointing.
The movers trudge in and out of the house, the usual pristine floors covered in dirt.
“Be careful!” She screams as one of the men drags the carefully wrapped Italian coffee table across the floor.
“Vien ici! Wregarder ces hommes, assurez-vous qu’ils ne cassent rien! J’ai besoin d’un moment seul.”
The men grumble in Mandinka that the American bitch is annoying.
“Just don’t break anything,” Aria says to them with a roll of her eyes as she saunters out of the room.
Angela. Right. She said she would call her a week ago. To tell her that they’re leaving. She goes into her empty bedroom and lights a cigarette. She quit several years ago. Her mobile phone sits on the ledge of the curtain-less window, waiting for her to pick up and dial.
She releases the smoke out of her lungs while dabbing the cigarette out in the corner of windowsill.
“In here Moustapha!”
Moustapha runs into the room. He pauses a moment at the foreign smell but then remembers why he is looking for her.
“What?” She looks out the window, disbelieving that in a few hours all that she knows will be changed for good.
My Wii is gone!”
What will she say to Angela? She should have called her a week ago. Waiting will only add hurt to injury at this point.
“My Wii! I can’t find it. The boxes from my room are gone.”
“Our stuff will get to New York in eight weeks. You’ll get it then. Go gather your things, we’re leaving soon.”
“No! You need to tell Aria to find it. I want it now!”
“Moustapha, do what I say.”
“You’re not listening to me! You let stupid Aria pack my game! I didn’t get to say good-bye to any of my friends! I want my Wii, now!”
“Stop it! Just stop it! You’re being a brat and I can’t take it. Now just go!” She screams, her hands shaking as she points towards the door.
“Why are you doing this to me? I hate New York and I hate you!”
“Well join the club, because I hate me too! Won’t we be a bundle fun in the Big Apple!”
Moustapha kicks the door and stomps off cursing at her. She relights her cigarette. Aria walks into the room but before the woman can say anything she waves her away. When the cigarette is done she lights a new one and takes a prescription bottle out of her purse, two pills lie at its bottom. She swallows them dry.
There’s nothing she could say that would make it any less painful. She picks up her phone and begins to type a text message, “Angela, I’m sorry.” Would that suffice? Probably not. What’s worse? A shitty text message or no message at all?
She doesn’t know how long she’s been staring at her phone and the unsent text message when he clears his throat. She looks up to find her husband staring at her, his head cocked to the side.
“I didn’t think you would succeed in clearing out all remnants of our existence on such short notice.”
She deletes the message and turns her phone off.
“Are you ready?”
He steps to the side making way for her to exit the room before him. She obliges.
With their luggage packed into the SUV they head to the airport for the red-eye flight to New York.