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Authors: Alice Walsh

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BOOK: A Long Way from Home
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Chapter 15

September 13

Rabia picked up a tray from the table and began gathering plates and cups. For the past couple of hours she had been helping Millie serve lunch to passengers sheltered at a school. She liked the work; it helped take her mind off all the bad things that had happened. A steady stream of volunteers arrived regularly with home cooking and drinks. There were tables filled with platters of food and dessert. Rabia didn't have much of an appetite, but this act of kindness by strangers somehow lessened her fear.

She had heard on television this morning that a number of mosques in the United States had been threatened. In some places, Muslim businesses had been vandalized. There was even talk that the president would go to war against Afghanistan. Yousef once told her that the United States was the most powerful country in the world. Like the Soviets, they could destroy the whole world with one press of a button. The tightness in Rabia's throat made it hard to breathe. She had family in Afghanistan — people she loved and cared about. Father was still there. She could not bear it if more destruction came to her country.
It is all because of you, Osama bin Laden,
she thought, feeling a wave of resentment.
Do you realize what you have done to us?

“Are you going on the trip this afternoon?” Millie asked, interrupting her thoughts.

“Trip?”

“Yes, my dear. Some fishermen down in Salvage volunteered to take the passengers out in their boats.”

“On the ocean?” Rabia asked. Father had told her about the ocean, and how it smelled of salt. The ocean was so large, he said, that sometimes all one could see was water and sky. She bet Karim would love to go on a trip like that. But how much would it cost? What little money they had was only to be used for emergencies.

“It's free,” Millie said as if reading her thoughts.

“How can we get there?”

“A bus is coming by this afternoon to pick up the passengers.”

Rabia was thoughtful.

“Oh, my dear, you should go,” Millie said. “Get to see whales, sure. Someone spotted an iceberg out there this morning. Not something you'd expect to see this late in the season. Won't see much of that stuff once you gets to California.”

Before Rabia had a chance to respond, the woman and boy who had got on the plane in England
came into the room
.
Rabia watched as they took a seat at one of the tables. The boy opened his book and stared at the page. His forehead furrowed in concentration.

Millie walked over to their table. “Can I get you something?”

“May I have some coffee, please?” the woman asked.

“I will get it,” Rabia offered, eager to help.

Millie turned to the boy. “How about you, my love? Milk? Juice?”

“Orange juice, please,” he said without looking up from his game.

Rabia poured the coffee and brought it back to the table. “Hello,” she said shyly, not sure if they remembered her.

The woman smiled at her. “Thank you. The coffee smells wonderful.”

The boy gave Rabia an icy stare and went back to his book. All the friendliness he had shown her on the airplane was gone.

Millie brought a juice pack over and put it in front of Colin. “Where are you from?” she asked.

“New York City,” the woman replied. “I'm Catherine Erickson and this is my son, Colin.”

“My,” Millie said. “I'm meeting people from all over the world.” She put a hand on Rabia's shoulder. “Sure, Rabia came all the way from Afghanistan.”

Colin looked up from his book. “Afghanistan. Isn't that the same place Osama bin Laden is hiding?”

Rabia did not miss the hostility in his voice. She was so dumbfounded by his remark that for a moment, she didn't respond. Then she folded her arms across her chest, dark eyes flashing. “Yes,” she said. “Same place.”

Colin fixed her with an accusing glare.

Catherine Erickson smiled apologetically at Rabia. “I hope you enjoy your visit.”

“I go to America to live.”

“To live!” Colin scoffed. “After what your people did? Good luck.”

“My people…they do nothing.”

The boy was about to say something else, but his mother put a hand on his arm. “Colin…” she warned.

“Rabia, my love,” Millie said. “Maybe you should run home if you're going on that trip this afternoon. Can you find your way back to the house? I'll call Jason if you like.”

“No. It is okay.” Rabia took off her apron. “I will walk.”

So, this is how it is going to be,
she thought as she walked back to Millie's house. Who did that boy think he was? She could hear Father's voice in her head.
People act unreasonably out of fear, Rabia.
Maybe so
, she thought, struggling to contain her anger.
But it is hard to feel sympathy for this ill-mannered boy.

When she reached the driveway, Jason and Karim were just leaving the house. Although her brother was shy with strangers, he seemed to have formed a special bond with Jason.

“Hi Rabia,” Jason called. “We're going over to Aunt Flo's. Want to come along?”

“How is Mama?” Rabia asked. Mama wasn't feeling well when Rabia left the house that morning.

“She's sleeping,” Jason told her.

“Then I will come,” Rabia said, falling into step beside him.

“Are you okay?” Jason asked.

“Fine,” she answered. There was no way she was going to admit that some silly American boy had upset her.

Chapter 16

Catherine frowned at Colin over the rim of her coffee cup. “How could you be so rude to that poor girl? None of this is her fault.”

Colin shrugged. After seeing the towers plummet to the ground yesterday, it was as if something cold and hard had curled around his heart. And for some reason the girl really bothered him. Maybe it was the stubborn way her small chin tilted in defiance. More and more Muslims were coming to the United States all the time. “How do we know she's not a terrorist?” he said.

“Colin, for heaven's sake! Listen to yourself. You can't go making a judgment every time you see someone in a headscarf.”

“I heard the president on television in the teacher's
lounge yesterday morning,” he told her. “He says he'll bring in Osama bin Laden, dead or alive.”

Catherine cocked an eyebrow. “Charming.”

Colin took a sip from his juice pack. For a long time, they sat in silence. He couldn't get the image of planes flying into the towers out of his head. From time to time, a quiet sadness crept through him like a wisp of smoke. The looming towers of the World Trade Center were always the first things he saw when he got up each morning. In second grade, his teacher had taken them there on a field trip. He learned that each tower had one hundred and ten floors. Now they were reduced to a huge heap of ash and rubble. Ground Zero.

Studying his face, Catherine reached across the table and covered his hand briefly. “We'll get through this,” she said.

Colin nodded. At least his family was safe. Many of the stranded passengers had family members they hadn't been able to reach.

Earlier this morning his mother had walked to Newtel, the Newfoundland telephone company. Tables with cell phones had been set up on the sidewalk in front of their offices so passengers could make free long-distance calls to family and friends. Mom called London, and Grandma informed her that Dad had phoned from Africa after hearing about the attack. She had also called a number of her friends and co-workers to make sure they were okay.

Colin used the free service to call his friend Grant. He left a message saying he was in Canada, that he would call again soon, and to hug Jake for him. What he should have done, he realized now, was to leave the Goodridge's phone number.

“Well, look who's here,” Catherine said, jolting Colin out of his thoughts. “Leah.”

Colin looked toward the door. Leah waved as she approached them. She was wearing jeans and a pink hooded sweater, her dark hair pulled back into a ponytail.

“Leah, good to see you, dear,” Catherine said. “Is your Aunt Flo volunteering here again today?”

“Aunt Flo had to go back to work. But, she's invited you and Colin to a barbeque this evening.”

“A barbeque! Sounds wonderful. What time is she expecting us?”

“She said before seven.” Leah turned to Colin. “I was wondering if you want to hang out at our house today.”

Colin looked at his mom.

“Go ahead,” she said. “I'm going to enjoy a second cup of coffee.”

Colin picked up his empty juice pack and dropped it in the garbage. He'd been to Leah's house twice already, and Granny and Aunt Flo had welcomed him like family.
What would it be like to live in Gander?
he wondered.
Neighbors drop in on each other unannounced and no one seems to mind at all.

On the way to her house, Leah told Colin about a phone call from her mother who was away in Corner Brook, training to be a nurse. “A man was brought to the hospital this morning,” Leah said. “He was found in a ditch. Someone robbed him and left him there. He's still unconscious, so they don't even know who he is.”

“That's a shame,” Colin said politely, but wondered why Leah was telling him this. People got mugged all the time in New York.

“The police put out a statement asking if anyone had information about the man,” Leah continued. “Trouble is, he can't be properly identified because his face was beaten so badly. But,” she added, “he has a scar on his leg.”

“Lots of people have scars,” Colin said, on reaching the house. “My dad has a scar on
his
leg.” He shrugged. “I suppose though, it will be helpful in identifying him.”

When Colin walked into the kitchen, he stopped abruptly. Brent, Jason, and another boy sat around the table eating. And who should be with them but the girl from Afghanistan — the girl who had been at the shelter less than an hour ago.

“What's
she
doing here?” Colin whispered.

Leah introduced everyone. Rabia seemed as surprised to see Colin as he was to see her.

“We're having some of Granny's bakeapples,” Jason said.

Granny took a couple of bowls down from the cupboard. “You're just in time to have some yourself,” she told Colin.

“I should have warned you,” Leah whispered. “Granny makes everyone try her bakeapples.”

“Bakeapples?”

“Berries,” Leah explained. She pulled out a chair for Colin to sit down. “They taste good with cream and sugar.” She took a seat across from him at the table.

Colin shook his head. What odd people they were. In the short time he'd been in Newfoundland, he'd eaten so many strange foods. Last evening someone had brought moose burgers to the shelter.

Granny put a bowl in front of him and spooned the orange berries out of a bottle. She opened a can of cream and put it in a dish on the table. “Any word about when the planes are leaving?”

“None so far.” Colin watched Leah sprinkle sugar on her bakeapples and add a dab of cream. He followed suit, aware of the girl across the table, her dark eyes watching him. He lifted a spoonful of berries to his mouth. They tasted like peaches, but more tangy.

“I heard there might be terrorists on the plane,” Jason said.

“That's why they wouldn't allow the planes into the States,” Colin said grimly. He looked pointedly at Rabia and Karim. “They could be among us, just waiting to kill us.”

“Oh, my!” said Granny.

“They hate us,” Colin said.

Granny studied him with interest. “Why is that, my love?”

“Our president says it's because we have so much freedom.” Colin put down his spoon. “President Bush is going to hunt down Osama bin Laden — smoke him out of his cave.”

Granny's lips twitched. “Tough words.”

Jason pushed back his chair. “We should be going,” he told the others, “if we're going on that trip this afternoon.” He carried the bowls to the sink. “Thanks for the bakeapples, Granny.”

“You're more than welcome, my love. Have fun in Salvage.”

Jason headed for the door, Rabia and Karim following.

“That poor girl had her foot blown off in a landmine,” Granny said when the door closed behind them.

A landmine?
Colin paled slightly. He didn't like her, but still…

“Ah, 'tis a wicked world we lives in.” Granny met Colin's gaze. “How's your poor mother?”

“She's been fine since her headache went away,” he told her. “She called Grandma in London this morning. Grandma told her that my dad called from Kenya.”

“Your dad's not in New York?”

“No,” Colin said, wishing he could take back his words. He hated having to explain why his parents weren't together. “Dad's in Kenya. His work takes him all over the world.”

Granny didn't see anything strange about that at all. She said that three of her grandsons had to leave their families to go out to Alberta to look for work. Leah's dad had worked in construction before he got killed. One year, he went to a place called Fort McMurray. Left in July, and didn't get home until Christmas.

Granny smiled. “Got any other relations in New York?”

“No, but my friends are there. I've been trying to reach my friend Grant to make sure he and his family are okay.” He looked from Granny to Leah. “Would it be okay if I left your telephone number on Grant's answering machine? That way, he could call and leave a message.”

“Go ahead, my love. Call from here.” Granny nodded toward the telephone on the kitchen wall.

“Thank you,” Colin said, tipping his bowl to get the last of the berries. He took the dish to the sink, went to the phone, and dialed Grant's number from memory. The phone rang three times before it was picked up. The Taylors hardly ever answered their phone, so Colin was surprised to hear Grant's voice.

“Grant? It's me, Colin.”

“Colin! I got your message. You're in Canada?”

“Our plane was diverted,” he explained. “How are things?”

“Very sad since Nelson and David came crashing down,” Grant said grimly. “Nothing but a pile of rubble now.”

Colin swallowed over a lump in his throat. “Must have been hard, seeing it all.”

“I was in school when it happened. We watched from the window.” Colin heard a catch in Grant's voice. “It…it was horrible. Ben Dillard's dad was killed.”

“Oh, that's
terrible
.” Ben was a boy in their class. “And how are you, Grant? Is Jake okay?”

“We're doing okay. Jake too, but I think he misses you. Does your dad know where you are?”

“Dad called Grandma in London right after he heard about the attack.”

“Called from New York?”

“Dad's in Kenya,” Colin said. Grant knew that.

“Your dad was in New York on September 11,” Grant said. “He called our house shortly before the planes hit the towers.”

Colin sucked in his breath. “Are you sure?”

“I took the call. He wanted to know your flight number.”

Colin gripped the receiver, his heart racing. “Dad was calling from New York?”

“Said he was in Lower Manhattan. Mom had the flight information, but she was in the shower. Your dad was on his way to his friend Ed's office so he said he'd call back for the flight number when he got there.” There was a slight pause. “He never called back.”

Colin dropped into the nearest chair. Ed Nestor was a lawyer. His office was in the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Dad often went to him for advice concerning his work. If he had gone there just before the attack…. A chill went up Colin's spine.
But Mom told me that Dad had called Grandma from Kenya
.
Mom lied. Why? Was it to protect me from the truth?
It felt as if all the air had been sucked out of the room.

Dad was missing.

BOOK: A Long Way from Home
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