- Money, Geography, Youth
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[End Page 10]
Vanessa was home. She repeated the word to herself, tucked into her childhood bed, a twin with a pink comforter that barely covered the reach of her adult body and was somehow all the more comforting for that, hoping that if she whispered it often enough, the place would feel [End Page 11] like it was supposed to. In Ghana, she’d slept on a cot in a room with three other volunteers, and when she closed her eyes at night she fantasized about luxuries she’d once taken for granted: a long shower, a sweating bottle of Arizona Green Tea. Every two weeks, when the NGO officer swung by and granted them each fifteen minutes of Internet access on his laptop, instead of answering e-mails she browsed the Instagram accounts of her LA friends, gazing at their bright but bleary faces, their arms around drunk friends at parties in the first year of college they were all enjoying. On her own Facebook she’d quickly post some line about how Africa was changing her life, she felt so grateful and humble, and then she’d log off, hunger unmet.
Scrolling back now, she could see that Kelsey’s Instagram had been sparser than usual, just an occasional picture of the beach or her shoes—Kelsey wasn’t in college either, unlike just about everybody else—but in Ghana she hadn’t been online often enough to notice. Kelsey’s e-mails were pedestrian and stilted (“How are you? I am SO PROUD of you for what you’re doing! LA isn’t the same without you ☺”), but she was a terrible writer, always had been; Vanessa had been doing her English homework for her since they were twelve years old. Vanessa’s father, by contrast, had sent paragraphs-long messages, three or four every time she checked, that made her zone out while skimming, the same way she zoned out when he talked to her in real life.
Still, she was sure there hadn’t been any clues.
When he picked her up at the airport, her father was dressed in his business uniform, a light gray suit with a blue shirt, no tie. He wrapped her in his arms, telling her she was too skinny but looked great, a mix of contradictory messages, as usual, and she felt his stubble scrape against her ear; also as usual she felt overwhelmed by his body, his affection, while simultaneously wanting to be held next to it forever. Reflexively she thought, as she had since her mother left, This is everything I have. This five o’clock shadow, this not-completely-effective antiperspirant, this forced but genuine joviality, this Dad. They were happy to see each other but still ran out of things to say by the time they hit the 405.
“So your flights were okay?”
“You already asked me that.”
“Sorry.” He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, smeared his chin with his palm. He seemed keyed up, thrilled to see her—almost too thrilled to speak—which was gratifying.
“So how’s work?” she asked. [End Page 12]
“Great. Hectic. Superhectic, really. Kelsey is a huge help.”
“Kelsey? Oh, right. The internship. She hasn’t flaked on you?”
Her father frowned. “Why would you say that?”
“Come on, Dad. You always said yourself she isn’t the most reliable person in the Western world.”
This tic of her father’s, always to specify a geographical range, as in This is the best hamburger in the Western world, used to drive her crazy, until she ate at what she’d been told was the best burger place in Accra and thought, You know, he has a point. She meant to tell him this, once he laughed in recognition at hearing her use his own pet phrase. But he didn’t laugh. Instead his expression grew serious, and he turned his head to look at her for so long that she was about to say, “Dad, the road—” but then he sighed, glanced back at the traffic...