Just then a married couple of Baptists in tortoise-shell sunglasses came out of the crowd and shook our hands. They had the peculiar name of Underdown—Reverend and Mrs. Underdown. They'd come down to shepherd us through customs and speak French to the men in uniforms. Father made it clear we were completely self-reliant, but appreciated their kindness all the same. He was so polite about it that the Underdowns didn't realize he was peeved. They carried on making a fuss as if we were all old friends, and presented us with a gift of mosquito netting, just armloads of it, trailing on and on like an embarrassing bouquet from some junior-high boyfriend who liked you overly much. As we stood there holding our netting and sweating through our complete wardrobes, they regaled us with information about our soon-to-be-home, Kilanga. Oh, they had plenty to tell, since they and their boys had once lived there and started up the whole of it, school, church and all. At one point in time Kilanga was a regular mission with four American families and a medical doctor who visited once a week. Now it had gone into a slump, they said. No more doctor, and the Underdowns themselves had had to move to Leopoldville to give their boys a shot at proper schooling-if, said Mrs. Underdown, you could even call it that. The other missionaries to Kilanga had long since expired their terms. So it was to be just the Price family and whatever help we could muster up. They warned us not to expect much. My heart pounded, for I expected everything. Jungle flowers, wild roaring beasts. God's Kingdom in its pure, unenlightened glory.
Then, while Father was smack in the middle of explaining something to the Underdowns, they suddenly hustled us onto a tiny airplane and abandoned us. It was only our family and the pilot, who was busy adjusting his earphones under his hat. He ignored us entirely, as if we were no more than ordinary cargo. There we sat, draped like tired bridesmaids with our yards of white veil, numbed by the airplane's horrible noise, skimming above the treetops. We were tuckered out, as my mother would say. Plumb tuckered out, she would say. Sugar, now don't you trip over that, you're tuckered out it's plain to see. Mrs. Underdown had fussed and laughed over what she called our charming southern accent. She even tried to imitate the way we said "Right now" and "bye-bye." ("Rot nail," she said. "Whah yay-es, the ayer-plane is leavin rot nail!" and "Bah-bah"—like a sheep!) She caused me to feel embarrassed over our simple expressions and drawn-out vowels, when I've never before considered myself to have any accent, though naturally I'm aware we do sound worlds different from the Yanks on the radio and TV. I had quite a lot to ponder as I sat on that airplane, and incidentally I still had to pee. But we were all dizzy and silent by that time, having grown accustomed to taking up no more space in a seat than was our honest due.