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Authors: Alice Walsh

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BOOK: A Long Way from Home
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Chapter 23

Leah was still grinning when she walked back to the house.
What's she up to?
Colin wondered as he watched from the window.

“It's all settled,” she said, bursting into the kitchen. “You're going to sleep in Brent's room tonight.”

“Mom agreed?” Colin's jaw dropped. What on earth could Leah have said to convince Mom and Aunt Flo to let him spend the night?

“You'll need to go back to the academy to get some of your things.”

“Yes,” Colin agreed. He'd need a change of clothing, at least.

“We have sleeping bags,” Leah said. “And hot-water bottles to put inside. We'll need a flashlight. Bottled
water.” She went to the cupboard and found pop, chips, dip, and cookies.

Colin smiled. The trip was starting to have the feel of an adventure. Leah was still adding to the list when Uncle Eli came into the house.

“You're missing all the fun,” he said, “and all the great steaks and hamburgers I barbequed.”

“We have to go to the academy,” Leah said. “We'll eat later.”

“Food will be cold by then. I already turned off the grill.”

“What time are you leaving in the morning?” Leah asked, her voice casual.

“Around two a.m. Always good to be early.” Eli took off his jacket and hung it in the closet. “The ferries could shut down if Hurricane Erin has her way.”

Colin shot Leah a worried look. Erin was the first major storm of the season. There was concern it would make landfall in the States. He was surprised it was expected in Newfoundland.

“This could ruin our plans,” Colin whispered as Eli turned and walked down the hallway to his bedroom.

Leah looked at her list. “In any case, we should be prepared.”

On the way to the academy Leah laid out her plan. They would put most of their things in the truck before going to bed. Her alarm was set to go off at midnight. By the time, Uncle Eli got up they would already be in the truck. She would leave a note on her bureau. By the time the note was discovered, she would have already phoned Aunt Flo from Corner Brook. The only problem Leah could see was Granny. The old lady stayed awake all hours of the night, writing letters and reading detective novels borrowed from the library.

“Whenever Uncle Eli goes to Corner Brook, he stops at Kate's Kitchen,” Leah told Colin. “It's an all night diner where truck drivers and mill workers eat. I'll take my alarm clock. Set it for four a.m., an hour before he should get there. When he stops, we'll get out of the truck and head for the hospital.”

By the time they arrived back at the house, most of the guests had gone home, and the bonfire had burned to ash. Granny and Catherine had their chairs pulled close together. “What charm those American soldiers had,” Granny was saying. “My dear, all the young girls fell madly in love with them. Our local men were right jealous.”

Granny stopped talking when Colin and Leah came into the yard. “There they are now,” she said.

Catherine stood up. “I should get back to the school before dark.” She kissed Colin's cheek. “Try to get a good night's rest. I'll see you in the morning.”

“Okay, Mom,” Colin said, feeling a tug of guilt. No doubt, she'd be upset when she found out he was gone. What if it triggered one of her headaches?

Back in the house, Aunt Flo came down the hallway, her arms loaded with sheets. “Your room's ready,” she told him. “I know you must be eager to get some sleep.”

Colin gave her an odd look. He never went to bed this early.

“I told her you were tired.” Leah explained after Aunt Flo was out of earshot. “Anyway, it might be a good idea for us to go to bed early. We have to get up at midnight.”

Leah showed him to a small, cramped room with barely enough space to hold a narrow bed and a scratched bureau. There was no television or computer, not even a telephone. A couple of library books sat on the bureau. The room could have fit inside the walk-in closet of his New York bedroom.

The walls were bare except for a large map — a map of Gander. An identical one hung in the classroom at the academy. From the moment Colin saw the map, he knew there was something odd about it. Now, he saw that the streets of the town were arranged to resemble a gander — a male goose.
Cool,
Colin thought, tracing his finger along part of the neck that formed Memorial Drive.
What a neat idea
.

He turned down the handmade quilt and switched off the light. For a long time, he tossed and turned in the darkness. Switching the lamp back on, he reached into his knapsack for his game and inserted the new battery he'd bought earlier, but his thoughts were on Rabia. He felt badly for being so rude to her. She had grown up in a war zone, had her foot blown off by a landmine. She had lost her father, her brother, and her country. Now, she might lose her mother. Mom was right: the terrorist attack was not her fault. Her family was coming to America to get away from terrorists and to start a new life, not to wage war.

An alien appeared on the screen and Colin blew it away, but it gave him no satisfaction. He was bored with the silly game. For months, he'd played the stupid thing, going from level to level. What a waste of time. He put it on the bureau, turned out the light, and tried to sleep.

A soft but persistent knock on the bedroom door interrupted Colin's restless sleep. “Colin, get up!” Leah whispered into the crack. “Uncle Eli will be awake soon.”

Groggy with sleep, Colin got out of bed and groped his way into the kitchen. Leah handed him a hot-water bottle. “I've already filled it,” she told him.

Outside, rain danced on the roof and spit against the windows. Leah held up a raincoat. “It belongs to Brent,” she said. “It should fit.”

It was twenty past twelve by the time they climbed into the back of Eli's tuck. Despite the hard floor, Colin had no trouble getting back to sleep. He didn't even stir when the truck began to move. He woke some time later, confused and disorientated. Music was coming from somewhere. For a moment, he wondered if he was dreaming. But slowly, everything came back to him. Then he realized the truck wasn't moving.

Leah,” he whispered. “Wake up. I think we're in Corner Brook.”

Leah moaned and turned over. “What time is it?”

Colin looked at his watch. “Almost 3 a.m.”

“It's too early to be in Corner Brook.” Leah crawled out of her sleeping bag, and looked through the tiny curtained window on the side of the truck. “Looks like some kind of night club.”

Colin joined her at the window. “I need to go to the bathroom,” he said. “There must be one inside.”

They pulled on their raincoats and climbed down from the truck. As they made their way to the building, gusts of wind blew rain in their faces. A man and woman came through the door as they were about to go in. “Where are we?” Leah asked them.

“The Holy Grail,” the man said, pointing to a sign above the tavern door.

“What's the name of the town?”

The woman gave her an odd look. “You're in Badger, my love.” She frowned. “Kind of late for youngsters to be hanging around a bar.”

“We need to use the bathroom,” Leah said.

“You have to go down a flight of steps,” the woman told her. “They don't allow youngsters, but I s'pose they won't mind you using the bathroom.”

Leah thanked her, and she and Colin moved into a small foyer. A poster of three smiling women was taped to the wall. In the dim light, he could barely make out the words written beneath it:

The Sirous Sisters

Playing at the Holy Grail Tavern

in Badger on Friday, September 14.

Come join Lucy, Hailey, and Olivia

and make beautiful music together!

“Uncle Eli loves the Sirous Sisters,” Leah said. “He'd stay here forever if he could.”

Poking his head in the door, Colin saw people dancing in a small open space in front of the bandstand. Even from here, smoke burned his eyes and throat. “There's Uncle Eli,” Leah said. “He's dancing over there.” Eli swung around the dance floor, holding onto a girl in a red dress.

“C'mon,” Leah said, giving Colin a nudge. “If Uncle Eli sees us, he'll march us straight back to Gander.”

After using the bathroom, they ran for the truck and crawled back inside their sleeping bags.

Colin fretted and tossed in his sleep. New York was on fire and he was trying to flee the burning city with his father. In the distance he could hear the wail of sirens.

“Colin, wake up.”

Colin's eyes flew open. Leah was beside him. He was surprised that he could still hear the sirens. “What's going on?” he asked groggily, as the truck came to a stop.

“The police,” Leah said. She went to kneel by the window and Colin joined her. It was getting light now, and the rain had eased to a drizzle.

They watched as an officer got out of the cruiser and approached Eli. From inside the truck, Colin and Leah could hear Eli. “I didn't know it was broken, sir. I'll get it fixed first chance I gets.”

The officer said something they couldn't make out.

“It's in the back,” Eli said. “Give me a minute now, and I'll go get it.”

Leah and Colin exchanged looks. Eli was walking around the back of the truck. “Oh, no,” Leah said, as the back door creaked open.

Eli stared at them a long moment, a stunned look on his face. “Leah? Colin? What the…”

Chapter 24

It was still dark outside when Millie knocked on Rabia's bedroom door. “My dear, time to get up,” she called.

Rabia was already awake. She had been awake most of the night, thinking about Mama.

“I will come soon,” she called through the closed door. She got out of bed and dressed quickly.

Karim was already sitting at the breakfast table when she went into the kitchen. Millie had cooked eggs and pancakes. Rabia smiled at her brother. “We are going to see Mama today, Karim.”

He gave her a blank stare.
Does he know what is going on?
Rabia wondered.
Does he miss Mama the way I do?

Last night, Millie and Kevin had explained their plan. They would return to Gander that evening. Karim and Rabia would stay in Corner Brook with Millie's cousin Joy, whose mother was in the same hospital recovering from an operation. Joy would stay with them in the hostel and care for them until they were ready to return to Gander.

“Did you get in touch with your caseworker?” Kevin asked when he came into the kitchen.

Rabia shook her head. “I was not able to reach her.” Fatima had called Rabia while she and Karim were out on the boats. Rabia had tried to reach her a number of times but kept getting her voice mail.

“Why don't we try again now?” Kevin said.

Rabia looked at him. It was still very early in California; Fatima would probably be sleeping.

“This
is
an emergency,” Kevin said, as if reading her thoughts. “She should know what's going on. I can try the number for you, if you like.”

Rabia nodded. “Thank you.”

“The number is on the fridge,” Millie told him.

Kevin punched in the number. The answering machine must have come on because he left his name and phone number. He also left a number where Fatima could reach them at the hospital. “It's an emergency,” he said, signing off.

Rabia felt a surge of gratitude; it felt good having an adult take charge. Being with Millie and Kevin felt like the time before Father went away. Before Mama lost interest in everything, and Rabia's world still felt safe.

It was not yet six a.m. when they boarded the van. As they drove down the tree-lined streets, Rabia could not help comparing it to Kabul. Girls and women were free to go outside whenever they felt like it. They wore trousers, flaunted tattoos, and had body parts, including their bellybuttons, pierced. Rabia had even seen one girl who had shaved her head. None of them ever had to worry about being beaten by Taliban thugs.
This is what it's like to be free,
Rabia thought.

After a while the car pulled onto the main road, and all Rabia could see were trees and bushes. The car radio was playing music, and although she did not understand the words, it made her happy.

When the music stopped, a newscaster came on. “People whose flights were diverted because of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City may be able to fly to their destinations as early as this evening. Passengers are being told to be ready at a moment's notice. It has been four days now since the terrorist attack, and people have been stranded all across Canada.”

“No,” Rabia said, causing Kevin to turn and look at her. “We will miss the plane!” Rabia's voice was shaky.

“There will be other planes, sure,” said Millie.

Rabia shook her head. “We have no money for tickets.”

“I'm sure something can be arranged,” Kevin said, encouragingly. “Maybe the airlines will change your tickets at no extra cost. It's not your fault the plane was diverted. I'll look into it when I get back to work,” he promised.

Rabia breathed easier. Somehow Kevin always managed to make things right.

They had been driving for about half an hour when she saw the strange creature come out of the bushes. It was huge with large horns coming from its head. “Look!” Rabia shouted.

“That's a moose,” Millie told her. “They're common around here. Sure, last summer one came down the main street in Gander. Tried to walk into the grocery store.”

“Moose,” Rabia repeated, a note of fear in her voice.

“Don't worry, my dear,” Millie said. “They're right tame, mostly. More frightened of us then we are of them.”

The animal was enormous. Rabia would not want to meet a moose while she was alone. She leaned back in the seat, and closed her eyes.

Rabia awoke with a start. They were just passing a sign that said,
Welcome to Corner Brook
.

“We're here,” Millie announced.

Rabia looked at the city sprawled below. Houses sloped toward an oval harbor, the buildings perched crazily against mountains and hills. It looked like it had started out as a village that had suddenly grown out of control.

Kevin pulled the car onto a street called East Valley Road. After a few minutes, he stopped in front of a large red brick building.
This must be where they have brought Mama,
Rabia thought
.
Unexpectedly, she burst into tears.

BOOK: A Long Way from Home
5.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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