The door to Flight 1748 from Johannesburg, South Africa to Washington DC’s Reagan National airport opened, and for the first time in over two years, I stepped onto American soil. I couldn’t believe I was back.
What I really couldn’t believe was that I didn’t want to be back. After such a long time away, I was excited about seeing my mom, my best friend, Monica, and maybe my baby sister. Other than that, I wanted to go back to Africa.
I had actually thought about it. Come back, head up to Baltimore to spend a week or so with Moms, fly down to Atlanta to visit Monnie, and then book another flight back to what felt more like home to me than anywhere I had ever lived. And back to the man I had tried so hard not to fall in love with.
The two years I spent in Mozambique had changed my life forever. What started out as a mission trip became an incredible life journey, and I wasn’t sure I could go back to life as usual in the States.
Attention in the terminal, flight 1423 is now boarding for…
The first thing I noticed when I walked off the plane was how fast everyone moved. The tangible sense of frenzied, chaotic, hurriedness unnerved me. While I walked at what felt like a normal pace, it seemed like everyone raced by me, bumping into me, giving me dirty looks for getting in their way. It was weird to hear everyone speaking English. I had gotten used to hearing Portuguese and tribal dialects.
As I strolled toward customs, I couldn’t help but glance at the placard advertisements on the wall. Every ad seemed to have sexual undertones. What did a woman with long sexy, legs in a short, red dress with pouty lips have to do with life insurance? People whizzed by me dressed in designer suits that cost enough to feed an entire village for a month. They were talking on cell phones and not even taking the time to acknowledge the people they walked past. Rushing toward nothing.
After a long trek from the gate, I sat on the floor in customs, exhausted from more than thirty hours of travel. It was taking forever, but I was excited that in a few minutes, I would finally get to lay eyes on my mom. She waited just a few hundred yards away, on the other side of the stupid customs gate. Monica, unfortunately, was much further away. She had moved to Atlanta while I was gone and so I wouldn’t get to see her until one of us could plan a trip.
Two weeks before I left for Africa, Monica’s life fell apart. I remembered the day she called me, hysterical after catching her husband in bed with his best friend. His best male friend. She got depressed, as anyone would, and had to get away from her life so she moved to Atlanta. I couldn’t imagine my life here without her. We had been best friends for the past seven years and before I left for Africa, talked to each other daily and hung out every weekend.
When I finally cleared customs and came through the little gate, I scanned the crowd looking for my mom. For the last month, I dreamed about getting one of her hugs. My mother gave the kind of hugs that could melt all your problems away. The more nervous I got about the re-entry process – that culture shock of coming back to the States after having lived in another country and culture for two years – the more I knew my mom’s hugs would make everything all right.
My eyes finally landed on my baby sister, Tiffany. I looked all around her, but didn’t see my mother.
“Trina!” She smiled and waved at me. “Over here.”
I was glad to feel happy to see her. We didn’t always get along and rarely saw things eye to eye, but seeing her face comforted me.
“Tiffy!” I ran over and grabbed her. We hugged and I held on to her for a few seconds.
We pulled apart and I pinched her cheeks. “How’s my baby girl?”
She rolled her eyes at my calling her that. I couldn’t help it. All during her pregnancy with Tiffany, my mother told me she was bringing me home a baby girl to take care of. I guess she was trying to avoid sibling rivalry or something. It worked. I was the devoted big sister that had always taken care of my baby sister. Me and mom probably spoiled her too much, because now she was a grown adult, thirty years old, and still thought she should be taken care of.
“Look at you, girl.” Tiffany studied me from head to toe. I was wearing a classic Mozambiquan capelanaskirt tied around my waist, a T-shirt, and sandals. She studied my hair. Of course I couldn’t be bothered with perming my hair while I was in Africa. After being there six months, I cut off the damaged, straight ends and let it go natural. Tiffany stuck her fingers in my Afro. “I guess they ain’t got no perm or pressing combs in Africa, huh?” She looked down at my unshaven legs. “I guess they ain’t got no razors either.”
I had to laugh and hugged her again.
Tiffany was her usual fashionable self. She’d had an obsession with clothes, make-up, and hair since she was a teenager. She had chopped off all her hair and wore a short, spiky cut that looked frozen into sharp, geometrical points with some kind of shiny varnish. She sported flared jeans with high heels and a red, cleavage-bearing top. At 5’9’’, she stood only two inches shorter than me and looked model perfect in whatever clothes she put on. It amazed me that she was always broke, but always looked like a million bucks.
“Where’s Moms? She in the car?”
“She couldn’t make it.” Tiffany glanced downward and to the right, a gesture which surfaced when she lied or was guilty about something. Which unfortunately happened quite often. “She’s a little sick and stayed home. I’m gonna drive you up there later.”
“A little sick? What do you mean?” I couldn’t imagine any kind of sickness keeping Moms from greeting me at the airport after not seeing me for so long. Every time I had talked to her over the past month, that’s all she talked about. How she couldn’t wait to see me the second I stepped off the plane.
“Just a little sick.” Tiffany’s eyes did the down and to the right routine and I got worried. If Moms was sick enough not to meet me and Tiffany was lying, something had to be wrong.
“Tiffy, don’t play with me. What’s going on?”
“Just come on, girl. We’ll see her in a little while.” Tiffany grabbed one of my huge suitcases and walked ahead of me toward the exit. I wasn’t gonna press her because whenever she was evasive about something and I kept questioning her, we ended up in an argument. It was usually about her owing me money, or something stupid she did with some guy, or some bad life decision she had made. What could she possibly be keeping from me about Moms?
She turned around to look at me. “Why is this bag so light?” She lifted it in the air with ease.
“I gave everything away before I left. I only brought back a few things I bought over there for you and Moms, and a couple of souvenirs for me.”
She looked at me like I was crazy. “You gave all your clothes away? Why?” She looked me up and down. “You’ll gain your weight back in a few weeks. Then you gon’ be mad that you left all them clothes over there.” She continued on ahead of me, mumbling under her breath, “Went over to Africa and lost her mind…giving all them clothes away. If you wanted to give clothes away, you could have brought them back and gave them to me.”
I shook my head, not even caring to explain that unlike her – with her endless wardrobe of high fashion – I had left my clothes with people who barely had anything.
“Tiffy, slow down.” The difficulty of maneuvering through the thronging crowd made me a little dizzy.
The air here even felt different.
“Sorry, girl.” When we got closer to the entrance, she stood my bag next to me and said, “Why don’t you wait here and I’ll go get the car?”
I nodded and watched her model walk, sashaying her hips toward the door. She turned back and looked at me, biting her lip. “I forgot to tell you. I’ve been driving your car for a while.”
I let out a deep breath. “What happened and how long is a while?”
Her eyes flickered down and to the right.
“Never mind. Just go get it.”
I couldn’t believe how quickly tension crept back into my shoulders. I had been warned that after about a week or so of being back, I would start to feel the stress of life in America, but I had only been back fifteen minutes and my peace was draining by the second.
Undoubtedly, Tiffany’s car had been repossessed and she was driving mine. Hopefully it hadn’t been too long because Tiffany didn’t believe in car maintenance. Oil changes, tire rotation, spark plugs, all that necessary stuff? Tiffany must have thought cars ran on magic. Every car that she had ever owned had either been repossessed or had died on the side of the road from lack of maintenance. I could only pray that she hadn’t been driving my car so long that her neglect had damaged it.
While I waited for her, I glanced at a newsstand filled with fashion magazines, celebrity gossip rags, and sports magazines. Everything seemed so trivial and superficial. Where was the real news about the millions of AIDs-orphaned children all over Africa, the genocide in Darfur, and kids getting their arms chopped off for blood diamonds in Senegal? Who in the world was Rihanna and why did she seem to be so important?
My eyes fell on The Washington Times. My heart fell as I read the large front-page headline. “Church Sex Scandal.” Americans only cared about gossip and drama. I hated it. Especially when it involved the church.
I glanced down at the picture of two men in handcuffs, being led away by policemen. One guy had turned his head to shield his face but the other had been captured dead on.
I gasped. It was the head deacon at Love and Faith Christian Center, the church I had gotten saved at and the church that Monica had been a member of before she moved to Atlanta. Her husband, Kevin, had been the minister of music there for years, but after everything that happened with them, he had moved to Atlanta about a year after she went.
I’d had limited phone and internet access while in my remote little village in Mozambique, but from the little Monica had told me, Kevin had gotten involved in a ministry in Atlanta that helped people get delivered from homosexuality and their marriage had been restored. Before going to Africa, that might have sounded strange and honestly unbelievable to me. But after seeing miracles there like blind people seeing, deaf people hearing and dead people coming back to life, I knew anything was possible with God.
I pulled out some money to purchase the newspaper so I could get a better idea of what was going on. I scanned the article. The head deacon at Love and Faith and the pastor of their daughter church in Alexandria, Virginia had been arrested the day before. The men were accused of molesting little boys in the church for as long as twenty years. I remembered Monica telling me that Kevin had been molested at the church when he was ten years old. I was sure that it had been by one of those men. The article said the arrest came after the ministry council governing the churches received a letter from a man who had been molested there as a child. He had finally spoken out after God had begun taking him through a healing process.
Monica had told me that as part of his therapy, Kevin had mailed a letter to the Bishop’s council overseeing Love and Faith Christian Center. In spite of his fears that his celebrity status as a gospel artist would be affected by the admission, he couldn’t stand the thought of any more boys being molested. He felt guilty that he had kept the secret for so long. I was glad they kept the source of the letter confidential in the article. Monica would die if the truth about Kevin’s past life got out.
I read the article further. Since the ministry council had begun their investigation, they discovered that several boys at Love and Faith DC and Alexandria had been molested. They expected that as the investigation continued, more would come forward.
My stomach churned. Twenty years? How had they gotten away with it that long? How come no one came forward before Kevin had? How many other men’s lives had been affected like Kevin’s? How could their pastor, Bishop Walker, not have known what was going on?
Did Monica know that the men had been arrested? How was she going to handle it when she found out? Was it possible to keep Kevin’s past out of the press or would he be exposed and affected by this as well? If he was exposed, how would Monica handle it?
I tucked the newspaper into the front pocket of my suitcase and grabbed both bags and ambled slowly toward the front door to look for my sister and my car.
I was ready to go home. I had hoped to be able to relax for a few days when I got back, but already I had issues to take care of. First order of business was getting up to Baltimore to see how my mother was doing. Second, I had to call Monica to find out what was really going on.
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