The last time I ever saw your face, your beautiful face, your sad and heartbroken-trying-to-smile-through-the hurt face, the deepest part of me knew...no - the deepest parts of US knew that it would be the last. The last hello, the last good-bye, the last string of obligatory greetings and farewells. Our "see you later" was really "see you never again", and we both knew it.
We tried not to cry. Our efforts were futile.
You gave me the scarf from your head, the necklace from around your neck. I told you that I would keep them forever. I did not lie.
I think of you every day. EVERY day. Every time I peel an onion, I see your face. I remember when you told me not to waste the outside layer. You laughed and said, "Toubab!", which means, "White person" - your way of kindly and graciously excusing my ignorance.
I was a Toubab, but I was also a Malinke. I was your sister, you were mine. You taught me so many things, things a Toubab cannot know unless we are there. With you. Living it. That hard life. That simple life.
We cooked together, trading Malinke recipes for Toubab recipes. You did not like pizza, I remember the expression on your face when I gave you your first slice. As though you'd tasted a lemon!
You showed me how to move the sticks around in a fire, your way of turning the heat up or down beneath a pot of stew or millet.
You braided my hair, and laughed at the straightness and thinness of it. I loved that so much, the two of us by a fire at night, your legs stretched out straight in front of you, my head on your lap, your fingers deftly creating art out of my silly white girl hair. The smell of your skirt - smoke and sweat and... home.
We danced together, foraged together, worked together, celebrated fêtes together. I drove to town to get medicine for your baby girl when she was so sick. I sat with you and our age-mates under the big tree, during that week after you were circumcised. I mourned your loss with you, felt your pain and fear with you. I laughed and blushed with you when you spoke of your love and desire for "Guitaro", a traveling musician.
You came into my room and yelled at me for being like a baby when I was so sick - it made me laugh. You wouldn't have laid in bed and cried the way I did.
You knew that I was pregnant before I even knew. "Bani xonoma!" you said, pointing at my flat stomach. How did you know? I told you everything that had happened, then, and you believed me. You murmured comforts and assurances. You showed me love, in your simple way.
When my family was packed up and ready to leave, I ran to your house, I asked you to hide me. You did, of course, but since it was the most obvious place for me to go, they found me pretty quickly.
I don't know where you are now. I don't even know if you're alive. I cry when I remember the kindness you and your cousin showed to me, after everyone else had turned away. I miss you, dreadfully.