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Authors: Alice Walsh

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BOOK: A Long Way from Home
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Rabia stared at the television.

“No,” she whispered quietly.

Chapter 12

“Eli says they're expecting about seven thousand passengers,” Aunt Flo told her friend over the phone. “Don't know how we're going to handle them all.” She held the receiver in one hand while putting chopped onion into a pot with the other. “Some of the local restaurants are donating food. The grocery store is going to stay open all night in case anyone needs anything.”

Leah shook her head, amused. Aunt Flo hadn't stopped since she'd come home from the department store where she worked as a cashier. As soon as she'd heard about the diverted planes, she clicked into high gear. She'd made a batch of potato salad and a platter of ham and cheese sandwiches. She had gone to the grocery store to pick up a roast and a chicken. Two pots of soup simmered on the stove. Earlier, she had canvassed the neighborhood collecting clothes and bedding for the stranded passengers.

“Well, Millie girl, I gotta run,” she said. “There's still lots to do. I'll see you tomorrow at the school.” Aunt Flo hung up the phone and turned to Leah. “Leah, my love, did you peel them eggs like I asked?”

“I put them in the fridge, Aunt Flo.”

“Thanks, my love. I'm going to go through the linen closet — look for extra sheets and bedding. Will yeh check the oven for me from time to time?”

“Sure.” Leah went into the living room where Granny was sorting through bags of clothing.

A few minutes later, Eli arrived home. He was Mom's brother, and Aunt Flo's nephew. He had moved in with Aunt Flo a couple of weeks ago after being burned out of his apartment. He sank down in a chair, exhausted. “I never want to see another air mattress so long as I lives.”

“You okay, my dear?” Granny asked. “You looks like something that got chewed up and spit out.”

“And I feels like it, too.” Uncle Eli ran his fingers through his unruly sandy hair.

“Did yeh have supper?”

“They were handing out pizza to the volunteers.”

Granny made a face. “Leah,” she said. “Get Eli some decent food.”

Leah went into the kitchen, and ladled up stew from the pot at the back of the stove. She cut off a piece of bread and buttered it.

“See any movie stars, Uncle Eli?” Brent asked.

“No stars out tonight, Brent.”

Leah rolled her eyes. Brent could be so lame. He asked the same question every evening. Uncle Eli worked as a baggage checker at the airport. Shortly after he'd moved in, he told Brent about seeing Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, and other celebrities who stopped at the airport. Now, apparently Brent thought celebrities were coming and going every five minutes.

The kitchen table was filled with clothing and bedding, so Leah put the plate of stew on the coffee table in front of her uncle.

Uncle Eli picked up his spoon. “Where's the boss?”

Leah grinned. “Aunt Flo's down in her bedroom. Is it true, Uncle Eli, that the population of Gander will double?”

He dipped bread in his stew. “Well, there's thirty-eight planes, most of them with two to three hundred passengers. You do the math.” He winked at Leah. “But don't worry, Aunt Flo will have them all organized in no time.”

“Why are they all coming here?” Brent asked.

“They're not
all
coming here,” Uncle Eli said. “Planes have been landing in St. John's, Deer Lake, Stephenville — and all across Canada.”

“Eli,” Aunt Flo said, entering the room. “I didn't hear you come in.” She turned on the television. “Millie says President Bush is giving a speech at ten o'clock.” She glanced at her watch. “Just a few minutes from now.”

Leah lifted her gaze to the television screen. Ground Zero, as the reporters called the gap where the towers once stood, was still smoldering. Firemen and other rescue workers were searching among the rubble for bodies and survivors.

“What a godforsaken mess,” Eli said.

“Breaks me heart,” Aunt Flo added. “When I think of all them poor people that come in on the planes, I could cry. God only knows what's going through their minds. Must be scared to death. I know I'd be.” She settled herself on the sofa, picked up the remote, and turned up the volume. “Kevin said some of them looked shell-shocked when they got off the plane.” She looked from Granny to Leah. “We must help the best we can.”

“Of course, we'll do whatever it takes,” said Granny.

“Millie's taken a family to her basement apartment.” Aunt Flo continued. “Wish I had the room.”

Not a chance,
Leah thought. The house was small and overcrowded already. Aunt Flo had turned her sewing room into a temporary bedroom for Uncle Eli as it was.

When no one answered, Aunt Flo sniffed. “Well, there's other ways we can help, I knows that.” She turned her attention back to the television.

“We are awaiting the arrival of President Bush,” Wolf Blitzer said from the CNN newsroom. “Any minute now, he will be speaking from the Oval Office.”

“Looks like that guy's got coconut stuck to his face.” Brent said, eyeing Wolf Blitzer's graying beard.

“For heaven's sake,” Aunt Flo interrupted. She put her arm around Brent. “The president is going to talk about the attack.”

“President Bush has just now entered the Oval Office,” Wolf Blitzer announced. “He's getting ready to address the nation.”

The phone rang, and Brent jumped up to answer it.

Cameras moved in so that the president's face filled the screen. “Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack,” he said.

Leah sat with her hands folded in her lap, barely listening.
Dad died when that building he was working on caught fire. Did he jump to his death, like some of the people at the World Trade Center?
It hurt too much to think about. Even now, three years later, she found it hard to talk about.

Leah was so lost in her thoughts, she didn't hear Brent calling from the kitchen. “Leah? You deaf? You're wanted on the phone.”

“Phone? At this hour?” Leah got up from the sofa. In the kitchen, the phone dangled on its cord. “Hello?”

“Leah?”

“Mom! Hi.” Leah's mom rarely got a chance to call. When she wasn't working, she was studying.

“How's everything?” her mother asked. “You okay?”

“Thousands of passengers landed at the airport this afternoon.”

“I know. A number of planes were diverted to Deer Lake and Stephenville as well. As a matter of fact, we treated some of them in the emergency room here.”

“Were they sick?”

“Symptoms were mostly stress related. One poor guy thought he was having a heart attack. He was finding it hard to breathe.” She paused. “Leah, the reason I'm calling is to tell you I can't make it home this weekend.”

Leah clutched the phone. In the background she could hear President Bush.
Today our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature.
“Do you want me and Brent to take the bus to Corner Brook?” Sometimes, instead of coming home, Mom had Leah and Brent go to her.

“No, honey. I'm gonna be so busy, I won't be able to spend any time with you.”

Leah was disappointed. She missed her mom terribly. And since the attack on the United States, she felt like she really needed to be with her mother. “What about the week after?”

Her mom sighed. “I may not be able to see you until the following week.”

Leah tried to keep her voice steady. “Well, whenever it's good for you.” She wasn't going to let her mom know how upset she was. Things had not been easy for her mother since Dad had died. She'd gone back to school after being out for fifteen years. Leah knew she was making sacrifices to give Brent and her a better future.

“Thanks honey, I knew you'd understand. Give my love to Granny, Aunt Flo, and Uncle Eli. And Leah…could you put Brent back on? I forgot to ask him about his science report.”

“Sure, Mom,” Leah signed off and went into the living room, but Brent wasn't there. The president was just wrapping up his speech. “None of us will ever forget this day. Yet, we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in the world.” Down the hall, Brent's bedroom door was slightly ajar, the room dark. Leah was about to knock when she heard the irregular intake of breath. Brent was crying.

Chapter 13

Rabia lay awake for a long time, staring into the darkness. Beside her, in the double bed, Mama snored softly. She replayed the newscaster's words in her mind.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were rounded up and put in prison.
Would Americans blame Muslims for the attack on the buildings in New York? The attacks were carried out from Afghanistan, after all. To outsiders, it must appear that Islam was a religion of violence. A religion where warriors were eager to kill and die in Allah's name. The more Rabia thought, the harder it was to breathe.

She understood now why the girl at the airport was so hostile. She saw Rabia and her family as enemies. Would people want revenge? Father often said fear causes people to do desperate things. She recalled the women in the bathroom at the airport.
President Bush should go in and drop a bomb on the place
. Rabia realized that it was Afghanistan they were talking about. But had her country not been bombed enough already? The Russians left Kabul in shambles. More than a million Afghans had been killed. Six million more were forced to flee as refugees.

Still, she could understand why the Americans would be fearful. Terrorists had come onto their land and attacked them. It must have been horrible for people who lost family members. Rabia knew what it was like to lose the people she loved. In Kabul, entire families were wiped out. Many of Rabia's classmates had been killed.

Rabia tried to slow her breathing. Her people were
not
responsible for the attacks. Osama bin Laden was
not
one of them. He was a foreigner driven out of his own country. Everyone in Kabul had heard of him. He owned a palace in Kandahar with gold water taps and jeweled doorknobs. He had set up a terrorist organization called Al-Qaeda. Yes, they were Muslims, but they did not practice their faith in the way Rabia and her family practiced theirs. Like the Taliban, Al-Qaeda followed a very fanatical form of religion. They did not follow the teachings of the Qur'an. If they did, they would know that such violence was against Allah's will. They would know it was wrong to kill innocent people. Father said Al-Qaeda was built on hate and destruction that could only be harmful for Afghanistan.

Rabia pulled her knees to her chest, the pain of loneliness weighing down on her. What would it be like for them in America if they were seen as enemies? Maybe they would be better off going back. But going back to what? She was tired of running from the Taliban, tired of accepting food from relatives who had nothing themselves. Aunt Roxanne and Sima were no better off than slaves, working dawn to dusk in exchange for a room in a shabby basement.

Rabia recalled the day she and Sima watched
Titanic
in the children's playroom. Her cousin had wept for a life she could never have. In Pakistan, she would never have a chance to have an education. She would be trapped in a marriage with a man she did not love.

Rabia managed to take a deep breath. No wonder women in Kabul were drawn to movies like
Titanic.
So many of them had arranged or forced marriages. Secretly, they were hoping someone like Jack would come along and break them out of a world that kept them imprisoned.
I want my life to be better than that
, Rabia told herself
. I deserve a better life
. Father would want her to go to America, she knew.

“No,” Rabia whispered into the darkened room. “I will
never
go back.”

Chapter 14

September 12

Colin stared at the unfamiliar ceiling. It took a few moments before the memories of yesterday came rushing back. He was in Canada. Gander, Newfoundland, Canada. He looked around the room. Mom lay on her cot, eyes closed, but Colin could tell she was awake. The other families were gone, their blankets and sleeping bags folded neatly on cots and mattresses. Knapsacks, coats, books, and stuffed animals were placed carefully on top. He hadn't even heard them get up.

Colin stayed still, wondering what he should do. He would look for a payphone, he decided. He would try to reach Grant in New York. Grant would know why the planes had been sent here.

No sooner had Colin gotten up from his mattress than he heard a knock at the door. He opened it, and the aroma of frying bacon and freshly brewed coffee wafted into the classroom. A woman holding toothbrushes and towels stood in the hallway. Three kids, a girl and two boys, were standing behind her. For a long moment, Colin stared at them. The girl had dark hair and dark eyes. One of the boys wore a Batman T-shirt, the other a ball hat with Newfie B'y written across the front.

“I hope I didn't wake you,” the woman said. She was about Grandma's age with short graying hair. “I'm Flo Goodridge, and this is Leah, Brent, and Jason.”

“Hi,” he said, “I'm Colin, and…” he pointed to the cot, “that's my mom, Catherine.”

The woman walked past Colin into the room. The children followed behind her. “You okay, my dear?” she asked. “You looks right pale, sure.”

“A migraine,” Catherine said. “Had it since yesterday.”

Flo fussed like a mother hen. “Just what you needs along with everything else that's been goin' on.” She turned to the children. “Why don't yeh take Colin over to the house so his mom can rest.” She looked at Catherine. “If it's okay with you, that is.”

Who
are
these people?
Colin wondered.

Catherine moaned and rolled over.

“Go get yeh coat, my love,” the woman said.

Colin's eyes widened. Mom was forever telling him
never
to go with strangers. How could she let him leave with these people? He didn't even know their last name. Well, if he got kidnapped or murdered by Newfie B'y and his gang, it would be all her fault. Picking up his coat, he followed the trio to the door.

“Make sure he gets something to eat,” Flo called after them.

As they walked to the front door, Colin saw that tables had been set up and men and women in aprons were serving breakfast to the stranded passengers. As he was leaving the building, a couple of people arrived with trays of food.

“We lives just over there,” one of the boys said when they were outside. He pointed vaguely.

They walked down tree-lined streets, the trees just starting to give up their color. The houses were well kept with neatly trimmed lawns. Within fifteen minutes, they came to a small white bungalow where flowers bloomed in flowerbeds on the lawn.

“That you, Flo?” a voice called as they opened the front door.

“No, Granny,” Leah said. “Aunt Flo's at the school, helping the plane people.”

Colin followed the others into a large kitchen. Leah opened the fridge. “What would you like to eat?” she asked Colin. “There's baked beans I can heat up. Or, if you like, I can make some toast.”

Colin wasn't hungry, but his mouth felt dry. “Can I please just have something to drink?”

Leah reached into the fridge and took out three sodas. She handed one to Colin, and offered the other two cans to Batman and Newfie B'y.

Mom would have a fit if she knew I was drinking soda before breakfast,
he thought.
But then again, maybe not. She doesn't even seem to care where I am, let alone what I'm having for breakfast
.

They moved into the living room. Colin was about to sit down when he caught sight of a small TV on a stand. The sound was muted, but he recognized the twin towers of the World Trade Center on the screen. Maybe if he could listen to the news, he might find out what was happening back home. He watched with interest as the New York skyline filled the small screen. An airplane seemed to come out of nowhere, gliding across the clear sky. But why was it flying so close to the World Trade Center? Had it veered off course? Then, without warning, the plane crashed soundlessly into one of the towers. A great ball of fire and smoke rose into the sky. Colin stared in horror as panic-stricken people on the ground scrambled away from the tower. What he'd heard was true then! The United States
was
under attack. Hijackers
were
flying planes into buildings. His apartment was near the twin towers. It would probably be destroyed by the time they got home.
If
they got home.

Colin opened his mouth, but was unable to speak. But he must have made some sound because Granny came bustling down the hallway. “What's wrong?”

“Buddy from the plane,” Newfie B'y said. “He's upset.”

Colin pointed to the television, his whole body trembling as the north tower crumbled like a sand castle. “It's true,” he said, finding his voice. “It's all true!” His knees buckled.

“Oh, you poor youngster.” Granny's bony arms encircled his shoulders. “Didn't nobody tell yeh what happened?” She led him to a nearby chair and motioned him to sit.

Colin listened in horror as she told him about the terrorist attack. “Some hooligans flew a plane into the towers,” Granny explained. “Happened yesterday. But don't worry, my son. Everything's under control now.”

Colin sank down in the nearest chair. The pain in his throat so terrible he could hardly breathe. Who would do such a horrible thing? He was stranded in a strange country. New York seemed so terribly far away.

BOOK: A Long Way from Home
9.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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