Janice stoops down, fingering the thin soil. Almost thinner than sand, the light dust barely stirs with her movements. No breeze moves across the surface of the land, while the sun beats down mercilessly without a single cloud to shield its rays.
The memories are seared into her mind as she works.
* * * * *
“Miss, Miss! Will you tell us again of your adventures?” The dark-skinned orphan children crowd around her as she sits under the Baobab tree.
She gathers the smallest one into her arms and lifts her face to the rest. “Do you see the moon up in the sky there?” The fading light of sunset illuminates the sillohette of the moon.
“Yes, Miss.” With their eyes drawn upward, they listen as her voice washes over them in gentle waves.
“Long, long ago, God made the world and everything we see here. First it was just the ground. Then the sea. Then the plants and trees. Then, He made the sun, the moon, and all the stars to give light to the earth. After that came all the animals and people.”
She pauses, hugging the little one tightly.
“Many many years went by, and people explored all parts of the earth. But they always wondered what it would be like to visit the stars, or even just the moon. Some people worked very hard, and soon they had made a way for men – and women – to leave the ground and fly higher than the birds and the planes – all the way to the moon.”
Excited voices interrupt her tale. “Did you go to the moon, Miss?”
“I have prepared for all of my life, and very soon, I will. And when I am up on the moon, I will wave down at you, and you can wave back at me!”
Their eyes grow wide with wonder. For once, the sorrow of their lives forgotten, they dream of the world, no, more than that – the universe beyond their home.
* * * * *
Janice lifts her gaze to the earth, its orb larger than she would ever have imagined from this vantage point. Making out the different continents quite easily, she focuses her eyes on the largest one in her line of sight. Africa.
Somehow it does not seem possible that she left the plateaus of Zambia only one week ago. After nearly a month of serving, teaching, and loving children left behind by the AIDS epidemic, she had plunged right back into her work, indeed, her lifelong goal.
She had decided to visit her sponsored child in Africa before venturing on her long-awaited chance to visit the moon. Yet she found conditions far worse than she could ever imagine, most of the children in the village having no mother or father. Though most were well-fed, learning English, and studying diligently, many would never see the world beyond their poverty-stricken land.
Now, crouching here in the thin dust and thinner gravity of the cratered surface, she cannot focus on the task. Instead, names and faces flash through her mind. Namwene, Sonkwe, Lesiana, Chaka, Annah, Noah....
She wonders whether they are sleeping, or staring at the moon and waving to her.
Well, I did promise to wave.
She raises her hand, her gaze narrowing toward the center of the continent for the landlocked country, home to Victoria Falls and the famous Dr. Livingstone. As she waves, she remembers.
* * * * *
A gentle breeze drifts from the lake, and the sun sinks rapidly over distant hills. Lesiana tugs on Janice's skirt, and she turns her attention from the gorgeous sunset to the skinny girl with hair clipped close to her head. But for the pink headband, she could be mistaken for a boy.
“Miss, will you come back to see us after you walk on the moon?”
* * * * *
She had not known what to answer in that moment. After seeing the great need, the desire to look up at the earth from its largest satellite seemed almost selfish. What millions of dollars have been spent to put me here, and those children live on less than $500 a year! How much better my resources would be spent in caring for them....
She stares at the earth, wondering about the future. After a long moment, she voices her prayer.
“Thank you, God, for letting me come to the moon. I'm blessed, for real.”
“But it's okay if you send me to Africa.”
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