“We’ll send someone right on up, hon. Happy New Year.”
No one comes. My wheelie case traces silver tracks across the sodden carpet. I close the door behind me. The room can do my weeping. Goodbyes have wrung me dry. I’m leaving all I hate and love about Georgia:
.. fat people feeding out of cardboard buckets;
.. graciousness and courtesy even from teenagers;
.. being addressed as “hon” and “yew all”;
.. food stiff with batter and saturated with sugar;
.. people who love me.
.. In the land that exalts litigation, I can’t understand why no one responded to my phone call. I might have slipped, hurt myself, sued and stayed. I fantasize about staying.
The street is howling. I pull my heavy coat more closely around me. An old African-American woman, a ball of rags tottering on unlaced sneakers, head-butts the freezing gale and shoves her shopping cart of belongings into it. The wind can do my howling. Goodbyes have clawed me voiceless. I’m leaving all that chills and warms me about Georgia:
.. young men hunched in hoodies stumbling along the sidewalks;
.. strangers wishing me Happy New Year in shopping malls;
.. bare branches scraping the grey belly of the sky;
.. small, pyjama-clad arms encircling my neck;
.. “Why can’t you stay with us all the time, Gran?”
.. In the land that celebrates family, I don’t have an acceptable answer for a six-year-old. If I let my coat flap, I might catch a cold and have to return to his parents’ farm where he can medicate me with Coke and cookies. I fantasize about staying.
The train from downtown Atlanta to the airport is shuddering. A young African-American man slumps in his seat, the crotch of his baggy jeans stretched between his knees. The train can do my shuddering. Goodbye hugs have squeezed me nerveless. I’m leaving all the things that crush and comfort me in Georgia:
.. rooftops rabid with electric reindeer;
.. a Charlie Brown DVD, “The Real Meaning of Christmas” in church on Christmas Eve;
.. TV presenters urging us to buy safe toys;
.. TV presenters urging us to donate toys to children who’ll otherwise have none on Christmas Day;
.. fresh-faced kids fighting for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan saying “I love you, mom” on TV;
.. In the land of contradictions, I’m leaving our family for the man I love.
Sydney airport is thumping. The accent of immigration officers bewilders newcomers who have studied English. Unclaimed luggage circles on carousels. Dogs sniff suitcases. Queues congeal in quarantine. My heart is thumping too. The old American draft dodger is waiting for me beyond the dogs, the queues and the barriers. When he fled Georgia and Vietnam and came to Sydney to marry me, he promised he’d never leave home again. He never has.