“Ladies and Gentlemen, we will shortly be arriving in Heathrow where the temperature is 6 degrees Celsius...”
Sarah lost the rest of the announcement in her confused panic. “Six degrees? He can't mean that! It's a sunny afternoon!” Then the mind-numbing reality engulfed her. She was shivering in the biting cold of a British December. The jeans and sweater in which she had sweltered in Dar-es-Salaam airport were woefully inadequate.
She exited the plane and with every breath frost seemed to spread up her nose and down through her chest. For a moment she considered turning around and going back to Tanzania... What a stupid idea! She was home for Christmas.
Her sister's embrace was deliciously warm. “Sarah! Welcome! Wow you're so brown! How was your trip? Gracious, you're frozen! Why don't we pick up some clothes in Marks? After all, those look like charity shop rejects. Come on, I'll take your suitcase...”
“Hey, go easy. I bought these from the market especially for coming home.”
“Let's just say you're not in the African bush any more dear. Don't worry, I'll fix you up. Here's Marks now.”
“What! You mean here? Now? Goodness, Christine! Can't it wait till tomorrow?”
“Come on sis! Remember how you used to tell me to seize the moment? Let's go! Leave your case in this locker, and... Sarah.... Sarah?” It took a moment for Christine to spot Sarah staring at the elaborate displays.
“There you are. You could be a model, only your clothes don't blend in! Whatever is wrong?”
“I can't do this. There's more choice in this corner of the airport than in all of Tanzania. How can I possibly decide? Let's go home. Surely I can borrow something of yours for a while? Please? I'll freak out in there!”
Silently they made their way to the car. Silently they drove to Christine's flat. Silently they both wondered how they would get through the coming days.
Sitting in front of an imitation log fire, hands wrapped around a large cappuccino, Christine's cashmere cardigan caressing her shoulders, Sarah finally spoke.
“Chris, you mentioned on the phone that the young adults' group was tonight. Couldn't I go next week when I'm more settled?
“What? They've prayed for you every week for four years. You MUST come!”
“Sarah! Good to see you! Can't wait to hear your stories. Oh, there's Mark and Jennifer. They must have made up again. Catch you later...”
“Sarah! Great to have you back! Isn't this weather rotten? How hot was it in, er, Zambia? Oh, good the kettle's boiled. I'm spitting feathers. Talk to you again...”
Sarah shrank further into her seat. Among the sea of perhaps thirty-five faces she counted four that she knew. Through snatches of conversation she learned of romances at their peaks, troughs and every landing stage in between, and heard of houses changing hands for mind-boggling prices. She knew one of the half-dozen worship songs. She bowed her head, pretending to pray.
“Look, I can't cope with this crying! Just tell me what's going on! Are you breaking your heart missing some Tanzanian lover? Have you found a lump? Come on sis! We used to synchronize our cycles and take turns buying the Tampax. Now I feel... I don't know you any more.”
Sarah blew gently onto the steaming Starbucks coffee, leaned across the café table, and whispered, “Have I sprouted antennae?”
“This place! It's so alien. I feel like I've dropped in from Mars. I speak English slowly with an accent; I have to count the money twice; having lived on rice and beans for four years I can't decide if I want rye bread, cheese bread, or wholemeal bread; toasted or plain; chicken, duck, turkey or...or...pigeon poop! To cap it all Christmas is five days away and I haven't a clue what to buy you. I brought back some hand-made craft things, but now... I'm sorry, Chris! This was a terrible mistake. London ceased being home long ago.”
Sarah glanced at her sister's face. To her amazement she was crying.
“We'll work it out,” sobbed Christine. “I'm so sorry. If I'd only visited you, I'd understand so much better. Look, we'll eat rice and beans on Christmas day if you like. I'm welcoming you home, however bumpy the landing.”
They left the café, and, for the first time in three days, Sarah smiled.
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