The first steps off of the plane felt just like the first time. The wall of humidity hit Sally right away, and that first breath of hot Khmer air nearly obliterated her memory of the cool, air-conditioned plane she’d been in only a few moments before.
The single, goldenrod-colored terminal was the same, the customs officers wore the same uniforms, the sound of gently honking drivers was the same. The difference was in her eyes, and in the fact that she was stepping off the plane alone this time.
She had seen this place before, but five years left much room for change. She almost couldn’t figure out why she was there. It was an impulse, a compulsion, that made her buy that plane ticket a week ago. Six days ago she sent out the mass email announcing that she was leaving, that she wasn’t sure when she would be back, that she was sorry that she was giving such short notice. There were the expected questions: “Where are you going?” “When are you coming back?” “Why are you going?” There were the angry responses: “You can’t do this!” “This is crazy!” “How can you be so irresponsible?”
She wasn’t ready to answer their questions. She wasn’t ready to talk about it. About the ten years of silence between her and her father. About his lung cancer eating away at him while her mother tried to get them to speak to each other. Her mother. She could imagine her at his bedside, asking him to take the phone and talk to his daughter. Sally remembered thinking that if he had ever take the phone, she would have hung up. Still, she called every few days to see how he was doing. On the day that her mother called her first, she knew that her father was gone.
Now, it was her mother. Her mother who stopped speaking to her after the funeral. Who moved to Cambodia to live with her aunt. It was her aunt who called and told her that her mother was sick, then that the time was close.
Sally took a deep breath as she walked through customs, then out of the terminal. She climbed into a cab and gave the driver her aunt’s address. It wouldn’t happen again.