Maybe it was the way he always laughed. Or the open eyed smile that made my heart rush. I would blink thinking that he would disappear but there Abisani stood, tall and steady.
Abisani arrived in March. Through the refugee office, he and his family were given a house next to my family home. His family came from Eritrea. He said they ran and ran until it led them to my small hometown in the US. Abisani arrived after my mother died. A cold dark November evening.
Maybe it was the way he waited for me to talk. Or the way his hand rested on my shoulder, never asking for me to be anything else.
I had dark days and long nights before Abisani and his family arrived. The sky seemed to change without me noticing. Day after day. My father said I should ask for help. I just didn’t care. My mother’s things still lined the bedroom and her books were still in the library.
“Kayla, are you ready for our walk?” Abisani asked, breaking me from my thoughts. I noticed the cuff of his blue jacket was slightly upturned.
I fixed it and said, “Yes, I want to see the blossoms.”
“You know it might be too early for them. Sometimes they don’t happen until later.” He took my hand and led me outside.
I had forgotten how wonderful the sunshine felt in the spring. My skin was cooled by the air and simultaneously warmed by the sun’s rays. I wanted to laugh, it felt so lovely.
“You know,” I said to Abisani. “I think there will be a blossom just from me.”
He squeezed my hand. “I hope so too.”
“My mom loved the spring flowers. She would-” my voice cracked. It was all too soon. Too fast and too slow. I wished that time would stop but then ramp up to lightning speed all at once. Then I wouldn’t have to remember. I could fast forward or pause. But the sun kept rising and setting at its pace.
“What colors were her favorites?” Abisani asked.
“Purple.” I said, “She loved anything purple, lilacs, tulips, and irises”.
I remember the small flowers on her bed sheets. They were so small. And yet, that’s all I could remember. I stared at those flowers for hours unwilling to look my mother in the eye. I blinked.
“Oh! Here they are.” Abisani said.
We had walked to the end of the block on our street. The trees that lined the way were still clinging to the buds unwilling to let us see their beauty. As we turned the corner, we saw the magnolia tree at the entrance to the park. Like a herald of good news, the tree stood with a few blossoms on the lower branches. Soft creamy petals with pinks and magentas. I didn’t mind that there were only a handful of flowers. They made me happy.
“Let’s go over and see if they smell good.” I said marching toward the tree. Abisani filed next to me. He had a magical way of always matching my steps. He had a mysterious way of always knowing when to grab my hand.
“You know my mother says petals bring good luck. I don’t think it’s true.” Abisani said. He started to reach out to one of the blossoms.
“Wait!” I said and grabbed his hand. It was slightly chilled in the April morning air. He looked at me and paused.
Maybe it was the way he always listened to me and intuitively knew what I was trying to say. Maybe it was his warm skin, deep brown eyes and slightly crooked smile.
“Close your eyes,” I said. I closed my eyes and hoped Abisani had followed me.
“Now take a deep breath.” I said. I breathed in and tried to take in all the different smells. The cold spring air, slightly damp. The sweet smell of the magnolia blossom. Honey almost. The sun flooded my eyes and I blinked them open.
Abisani was still standing, eyes closed taking it all in.
Maybe it was the way Abisani understood loss. He has lost his homeland and I lost my mother. But we found each other. Maybe it was the way he didn’t let sadness consume him. He said that it washed him and washing was good for the soul. Maybe that was why we loved being close.
“Open your eyes,” I said. Abisani blinked and said nothing for we were content to watch the blossoms sway in the slight breeze.