Chelsi lugged her bike through the doorway and off the step of the porch; the rusted chain grinded against the crank. Outside, Chelsi gently hoisted the bike’s pink frame onto her dish rack. The rotting rack shook under the weight, but Chelsi figured, just this one last time. The chain and gears needed oil, this Chelsi knew, but she had already packed at the bottom of her bag, in anticipation of the move she was to make in a matter of weeks. Using a rag though, she wiped away dirt from crank and cassette, wrapped the rag around the chain and turned the crank. The chain slipped though the rag leaving streaks of brown and black.
If only, Chelsi thought. If only I had a nearest neighbor my whole service. I would have been out here cleaning the bike every other day. Through her mind pasted the fantasies she had created and collected over the years about what it would have been like; to be able to hop on the bike and in 15 minutes be with another volunteer. I could have had a partner for Camp TREE, an ally in getting my house fixed, a friend to care for Daisy. I could have helped them plant trees around their house, build an oven, formulate feed for their ducks. She shook the images out of her head. There’s no sense in thinking about how things could have been, when to today we could know how they actually are.
Chelsi lifted the bike back onto the ground after checking the pressure in the tires. “Daisy! Baby Girl, get up, get up, get up.” There was a faint thud, thud before the dog appeared in the door way. She stretched, front feet first, then back. She topped it off with a yawn. “We’re going to go for a ride today,” Chelsi said walking towards her at the door.
In the house Chelsi grabbed her white plastic helmet, and blue chitenge bag, complete with water bottle and emergency snack. The process of preparing for a visit to her nearest neighbor felt natural, even though it was her first time. And the last time, the dark thought floated through the back of her mind. Lilly, her near neighbor was only here for two days; not even a volunteers yet. A mere trainee. At the end of the weekend she would go back to Lusaka to finish training. She wouldn’t return until after Chelsi moved out; site visit they call it. Chelsi only vaguely remembered her site visit; the three days she spent sitting in the dilapidated shack, Mike a called a shed with a bed. She shuttered strapping her helmet to her head, and starting towards the road.
Daisy bounded up the path and on to the gravel. She looked left, then right, then back at Chelsi. Chelsi pointed to the right and Daisy trotted away. Mounting the bike, Chelsi set off after her.
Biking down the road Chelsi wasn’t concerned that meeting would be awkward. She didn’t think about what she would say, or should say. She didn’t worry that Lilly would rebuff her unarranged arrival. As a friend of the neighboring village Chelsi was even certain that lunch would be served upon her arrival by Lilly’s host family. It’ll probably be the last time I eat nshima here.
Chelsi knew, that even though her and Lilly had never met, they were already friends; they were compatriots, Peace Corps volunteers. Chelsi would do whatever necessary to help out her neighbors and fellows; to brighten their day or support them when the going got rough. And she was sure, shortly, if not already, Lilly would feel the same pull.
Daisy’s long legs loped around the last curve to the left. She knew the way. Lilly’s host family was a good friend of Chelsi’s and she had made many visits to the house in the past. On the bike, Chelsi swerved around the well to the path that went round a fallen tree to the main compound. The children had screeched with excitement when they saw Daisy run up, so that the adults knew Chelsi was close behind and had a few moments to prepare themselves accordingly.
“Aaah, Ba Chelsi. Welcome,” Kenny said reaching to take her bike away before she had even dismounted.
“Thank you, thank you,” Chelsi looked past all of the excitement to the volunteer compound that was set off to the back. “I’ve come to see Lilly. She made it okay?” Chelsi asked as Kenny walk back to his seat in the shade, after having leaned her bike against the wall of the house.
“Yes, yes, yes. She is there!”
Chelsi peaked around some trees, and sure enough she saw a woman in a chair in the small chinzanza at the front of the volunteer house. Chelsi could see that the commotion of here arrival to the compound had caught her attention. Chelsi waved. Lilly waved back. “Naiya,” Chelsi called and started in her direction.