Beyond the panoramic viewing window, a multitude of bright stars pricks the vast, dark expanse of deep space. I see no planets, nothing that resembles Earth — the space station faces outward, not home. It would be comforting, reassuring to see Earth in its expected place. Then again, it could prove nerve-wracking, making all too apparent the hollow, coiling tube that stretches, like an umbilical cord, from the station all the way back to Earth. The tube through which I’ll travel with the others on my return trip. My visit here is over. I’ve seen the old man — he does not look well; his death is a lingering and protracted affair that none of us has enjoyed. But I’ve paid my respects and am scheduled to leave.
So I pack my bags — a small suitcase, a backpack, my purse. Fitting everything in is impossible — my unbound novel in its orderly collection of inch-thick sheets of paper; dictionary; thesaurus; the two books I’m reading. Fortunately, my Mom happens by, sees me struggling to zip the suitcase shut. She offers to help, and I pull out a bottle of olive oil and a round loaf of bread and hand them to her; I keep the bag of pretzels — my son may want them. Now, the case closes, but it’s still so heavy. I’m immediately exhausted pulling, pushing, tugging it along.
For a moment, I pause in my toil to stand and stretch, and, thus, see my Dad. Tall, straight backed, trim — he looks great, like he did years ago when I was a kid. And he’s smiling. An honest-to-goodness, ear-to-ear grin. I tell him how good it is to see him smiling and happy.
But I have to go. Mom leads me to the departure point, where a group of fleet, slim, tall guides wait to lead me to the coiling exit tube. My guess is that the guides are from sub-Saharan Africa — they are well-prepared for an endurance trek. I have no idea how I’ll keep up with them, weighed down by my burdensome suitcase and backpack.