Chapter Nine Part Two
By Joan Campbell
“Grace!” The whisper startled me awake. It took a while to remember where I was.
“Sorry,” Constance stood with a torch at the foot of my bed. “But your grandmother asked me to take you somewhere. And she said it had to be at sunrise.”
“Sunrise?” My voice was groggy. “But it’s still dark.”
“It’s quite a long walk.”
When I emerged from the bedroom, he handed me a steaming cup of coffee. “Kenyan, of course,” he smiled.
“The best,” we said in unison and laughed.
He led me on a narrow path away from the village. The horizon was lit with a small halo of light. For a while we walked in silence, listening to the African dawn awaken. He knew the calls of all the birds, even imitating that of the Tinker, which flew within a few feet of us to fight the imposter male in his territory. The path wound through indigenous forest that Constance and some of the villagers had started to plant twelve years ago. He spoke of his dream to plant more indigenous trees, since so much of the forests had been felled to make room for plantations. He let me taste the leaf of a tree which he said was a natural antibiotic and laughed at my expression as the leaf’s heat hit the back of my throat.
We seemed to be on a steady downward path, and when we finally broke free of the forest, I saw that a large plain stretched out before us. Between the smaller trees and bushes on the plain, stood a hulking giant.
“What is that?”
“The Baobab tree.”
As we drew nearer to the tree, I gained a better sense of its extraordinary size. Not only was it the height of a four or five story building, it would take about fifteen people joining hands to measure its girth. Its stark branches stretched upward, like hands in supplication.
“This is a young one,” Constance said. “They say it is only a thousand years old. There are even larger ones in other parts. Some, three thousand years old.”
“This is what your grandmother wanted me to show you. She said you would have seen many trees already on this trip?”
“Nothing like this, Constance.”
“The tree is important for us Africans. Many believe that it is the birthplace of humans. One legend tells how God was angry with the Baobab because it was always lauding it over the other trees,” Constance continued, “and so God punished the tree.”
“He pulled it out of the ground and then planted it upside down. Now we see its roots standing in the air.”
I thought about being uprooted like that and being thrust into the dark soil, never to see the light again. I knew exactly how black and suffocating it would feel.
“Do you think God does that to people, too?” The words had crept out of my mouth before I could stop them, and Constance looked at me for a long time before he answered.
“Not my God,” he said. “My God always loves me, even when I don’t deserve it. Especially when I don’t deserve it.” He thought a little longer and a smile crept to his lips. “It’s called grace.”
Constance said that there were some newly planted seedlings he needed to check on. He left me sitting under the tree, just as the red orb of the sun slipped free of the horizon.
I sat under Africa’s beautiful old giant, aware of my own smallness. I thought back on this journey, of all the trees Grammie had led me to: the pine trees of Colorado; the maple tree in which Lauren and I had built a fort; the tree on the ledge at the waterfall, made strong by the beating water; the Nutcracker Christmas tree which had always given us twins such delight; the evergreen at the lighthouse, where I had met Matt, and the blood red Phutakawa trees in New Zealand.
I’m with you every step of the way, Grammie had said. But here—under the ancient tree—I felt another Presence brooding. Maybe I had felt Him all along.
You’ve taken so much from me. Mom, Dad, Gramps, Grammie. Why should I trust you God? Why? A flock of birds in the Baobab took flight as I flung the words into the sky. And do you really love me, like Constance says?
A warm breeze caressed my face. Some clouds high in the sky were tinged with orange and red. For me, I thought. God was painting this scene just for me.
I don’t deserve your love, you know. I’ve ignored you, been angry with you, even cursed you. Why would you still love me?
Grace. Undeserved grace. It was here in the beauty of the African sunrise, it was in the voices and smiles of the people who welcomed me yesterday; it was in the love of Grammie’s well-planned adventure. And now I felt it stirring deep in my heart, fanning the almost dead embers to flame.
I’m sorry Lord. The words flowed out of me, now that the plug of anger was gone. I needed you so much, but I ran away from the only arms that could have really comforted me. I want to come back to you now. Help me do that.
As my tears fell on the hard African soil, I felt the solid knot of despair loosen inside me. Light and warmth flooded into me, displacing the suffocating blackness that had kept me prisoner for so long.
Constance found me there, weeping on the ground.
“Gracie!” His face was etched with concern. “What is it?”
“It’s good, Constance. I’ve just been touched by God’s grace.”
I spent another three days in the warm embrace of the Kenyan village, and when it was time to go I wept again.
Constance handed me a gift, wrapped in large leaves. “One of the children made one of these for Bea the last time she was here. When she told me you were coming, she asked if he would make one for you, too. An African ornament. It will help you remember us.”
“How could I ever forget you all, Constance?” I said, unwrapping the gift.
The ornament was a tree wound from steel wire. A baobab tree. The children had all pressed in around me to see my reaction. One boy, Joseph, seemed to be glowing with particular pride.
“Did you make it, Joseph?” I asked.
The boy nodded, his smile broadening even more.
“I love it,” I said enfolding him in a hug. “Thank you.”
My luggage was once again back on the blue bus’s roof. Every villager had come to shake my hand or embrace me; it took more than half an hour to say good-bye Kenyan style. The passengers on the bus sat watching patiently. I laughed as I thought what would have happened if you held up a bus that long at home. Grammie had been right. These villagers did have something we had lost in our fast-paced, self-centered lives.
“Come back Grace. Promise you’ll come back. The children love you as much as they loved Mama Bea,” Constance said as he waved me off, the children running along beside him waving wildly. “I promise, Constance,” I shouted from the window.
At Jomo Kenyatta Airport, I fingered the last envelope. A deep part of me knew just what it held—had known from the time I first read Grammie’s letter—and a cold fear crept over me. I had done just what Grammie had asked. I had travelled all over the world on her instructions. Surely I could go home now? There was no reason to open that last envelope, was there?
I looked at the board of departing flights. There was one leaving for Houston in four hours’ time. I needed to get back to my apartment, to my studies and Bertie’s job. I’d been gone away too long.
And so I pushed the envelope deep into my rucksack and walked over to the counter.
Grace takes delivery of a package and her life is turned upside down by nine sealed mystery envelopes from her late grandmother. Grammie’s instructions require Grace to take the journey of her lifetime, not only to far off places, but also into the deepest parts of her heart. As she follows the trail laid out for her and uncovers her family’s darkest secrets, Grace is forced to confront the loss and betrayal that has scarred her past and seek the greatest Christmas Treasure of all.
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