They’re never told how long they have to wait: if it is days, or weeks, or years. If the space between the kitchen and the dining room may be used for unrolling a sleeping pallet. If the contract is renewable or not. If they have to go through an agency, or grease the paperwork on their own.

On the other side of the equation, the one who has promised s/he is coming. The one who once said: not long now, only a year away; at most two. As if s/he could know.

If to bridegroom means to seal the rituals of promise, then what is simply to promise, knowing the impossibility of the future?

Always, it is the ones waiting admonished to stay awake, to keep their lamps trimmed and ready with oil. Which of them makes the sacrifice of going a few more months with meals of rice and soup, tinned fish or meat? Which of them tucks a fold of bills each fortnight inside the mattress?

At the end of my first journey, I find a plaster image of a saint tucked into a corner of my luggage. The painted blue of her cape, small as a fingernail with chipped lacquer. I think of the pebbled white of threaded jasmine buds, garlanded around a rearview mirror. Their lovely but oppressive scent.

In the dormitory, during the first weekend, a group crowds around the student from Cameroon; somehow he has managed to bring through customs a whole container of kati kati chicken. It’s my birthday, he says, please help me celebrate.

In the lobby, at a payphone: I push in coin after coin to get a long distance line. I’m afraid of getting cut off before it’s time, so I keep feeding it. My palm gets sweaty around the telephone receiver.

For the dead father, the dead grandmother, the son that passed away before his mother: let’s fill a plate with morsels from the table. Let’s set it on the windowsill, where moonlight and the loquat’s shadow can help them find a way back.

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