The flight back is delayed by five hours. Six am weariness makes me dull and malleable; for a few hours I sleep on a metal bench, and then on the floor, ignore the shops but find some instant coffee and a chunk of sesame cake in my bag that the man on the ferry gave me.
There are passengers flying to destinations I’ve never heard of and I watch them with interest. Like the terminus of any other public transport I’ve travelled on – matatu, piki-piki, bus, train – the airport is jumbled with boxes, bags, cases tied with twine.
I meet Tommy, who has just said goodbye to his girlfriend as she returns to Australia. He’d spent $2000 from Mbeya to Zanzibar, flying and sleeping in hotels. I’m silently smug that on a similar route, Sarah and I took buses, stayed cheaply, were happy. Then there is Dave, an amphibian biologist, who laments the rapidly decreasing forests in the central Tanzania highlands. Ari is Finnish and works for a sports development organisation. Matt is the good-looking Canadian anthropologist who has been studying fossils in Dar’s National Museum.
Up there, 34,000 feet in the sky, the sun is hot through the thick glass. I have a blanket tucked under my legs, a plastic glass of juice, my skin burning. November and London feel unimaginable, pretend worlds. The other day, bonfire night, Sarah and I were looking at the phosphorescence in the sea, our legs turned white with the sand. When we land it takes me a few minutes to realise that it is a Christmas tree standing bright blue and twinkling in the airport terminal.
I sit in the bath with the hottest water the tap can provide, and watch the water turn cloudy. You stand and talk to me and tell me my back is brown.
It’s good to be back – Saturday night and hugging my friends close. The leaves have turned. They’re golden and falling. My hand is in your pocket.