It’s 4:59 on Friday afternoon; time for the communal teacher bus to leave. I pack my computer, pick up a couple textbooks that I need for planning over the weekend. Not everyone is ready, but I am done working, so I step out onto the balcony outside the office. A burst of red orchids draws my eye and I step closer, inhaling, hoping for an exotic aroma. Instead, I notice a small brown beetle, inching down the wire that suspends the orchid pot. He crawls down gingerly, pausing when a breeze causes extra turbulence. Past him, the sun paints the palm trees a buttery yellow.
Finally we are all ready. The van is only half full; many of the teachers left an hour earlier to start their weekends. The van opens like an oven. Hot air rolls over us, and we quickly slide open windows as we pile in. The crickets and birds beat a rhythm, God’s soundtrack to our departure. With windows open, the red dust flies as we pass the gate, waving at the guard. The sun has sunk and the light is more filtered as we pass dark-headed children bathing at public wells, their mothers washing clothes or peeling manioc. As the palm trees pass and the breeze stirs my hair, the moment reaches perfection.
We reach town again and pass more women in intricately patterned fabric. Squeezing through the narrow streets, we come to the corner market, smelling beignets and grilled fish, me looking for the sour, pitted vegetable that Cameroonians call a plum. I avert my eyes from the drivers as we pass the motorcycle stop. Today I do not want to field marriage proposals. The familiar tailor shops are hanging out new dresses. Many celebrate the upcoming International Women’s Day, when women will march and wear the same fabric to show their solidarity.
A dozen bars and beauty shops later, we are turning into our street, and my stomach jumps at the bump from paved to unpaved road. I look around carefully, checking to see if any neighbors are out so that I can greet them. When we pull in, I wait for my neighbors and we walk back to our building, meeting a friend who sells fresh juice along the way. She carries up my bottle of papaya nectar and I hunt for exact change to pay her.
Later I will venture out to look for a Malta, a beverage I’ve been thinking about for the last few days. I will not find it. All the little shops have run out. On the way back, I will stop by the fruit vendor outside my apartment, who is saving me a sweet pineapple. For now, though, I just want to change into some lighter, looser clothing. It has been a full day.