Authors: Siobhan Dowd
Tags: #Ages 8 and up
‘Salim isn’t there,’ I said.
Then I said, ‘Salim has disappeared.’
Kat groaned. ‘Mum and Auntie Glo are going to be livid.’
What Goes Up Doesn’t Necessarily
We walked over to where Mum and Aunt Gloria were having coffee.
‘Let’s lie,’ hissed Kat. ‘About taking that ticket from a stranger.’ She grabbed me by the wrist so hard it hurt.
‘Lie,’ I repeated. ‘Hrumm. Lie.’
‘We could say that Salim got lost in the crowds, that he—’ She let my wrist go. ‘Oh, forget it,’ she said. ‘I know telling a lie with you is useless. And stop doing that duck-that’s-forgotten-how-to-quack look!’
We reached the table where Aunt Gloria and Mum sat talking up another storm. We stood by them in silence. A pounding started up in my ears, as if my blood pressure had shot up above normal, which is what Mum says happens to her when Kat drives her distracted.
‘There you are,’ Aunt Gloria said. ‘Have you got the tickets?’
Kat waited for me to say something.
I waited for Kat to say something.
‘Where’s Salim?’ asked Mum. ‘Not still in the queue?’
‘Hrumm,’ I said. ‘No.’
Mum looked as if Salim might be behind us.
‘We don’t know!’ Kat blurted. ‘This man – he came up and offered us a ticket. For free. He’d bought it and then decided he couldn’t face the ride.’
‘He had claustrophobia,’ I said.
‘That’s right. And the queue was terrible. So we took the ticket. And gave it to Salim. And Salim went up on his own. And he didn’t come down.’
Aunt Gloria shaded her eyes and looked up. ‘So he’s up there somewhere,’ she said, smiling. Kat had a hand to her mouth and her fingers were wriggling like worms. I’d never seen her act like this before. ‘No,’ she said. ‘He went up ages ago. Ted and I tracked his pod. But when it came down – he wasn’t on it.’
Mum’s face scrunched up, which meant she was a) puzzled or b) cross or c) both. ‘What on earth do you mean, he wasn’t on it?’
‘He went up, Mum,’ I repeated. ‘But he didn’t come down.’ My hand flapped and Mum’s mouth went round like an O. ‘He defied the law of gravity, Mum. He went up but he didn’t come down. Which means Newton got it wrong. Hrumm.’
Mum looked more cross than puzzled by now. But Aunt Gloria’s face remained smooth like paper without a crease. ‘Bet I know what happened,’ she said, smiling.
‘What?’ we all said.
‘He probably went round one more time.’
The simplicity of this solution struck Kat and me at once.
‘That’s it. He just stayed on,’ said Kat. I looked at my watch. ‘In which case he’ll land at twelve thirty-two.’
We went back to the Eye, this time with Mum. Aunt Gloria said she would stay where she was, because Salim would know where to find her if we missed him.
We watched several pods open and close, but no Salim. 12.32 came and went. No Salim. Mum asked the staff if they could help. A woman from customer services came to talk to us. She said she’d like to help but couldn’t. She said that the London Eye management policy states that children are not supposed to ride without an adult accompanying them.
Mum’s eyebrows met in the middle. ‘Kat,’ she said,
‘I relied on you. You should never have accepted that ticket. You should never have let Salim go up on his own.’
Something terrible happened then. Kat started crying. She hadn’t done that in ages. She pressed her knuckles up against her cheekbones. ‘It’s always my fault. Never Ted’s. I’m always to blame. Ted never does anything wrong.’
‘You’re older, Kat. But obviously not much wiser.’
Mum bit her lip and they both stared at each other.
‘Why don’t we call his mobile?’ I said.
Mum frowned as if I’d said something stupid; then her face cleared (which is what you say when someone’s been looking unhappy and then they suddenly cheer up, and I like this phrase because it is another weather metaphor. A face can clear just like the sky can when a dark cumulonimbus cloud has passed over and the sun comes out again). ‘Of course! Ted,’
Mum said, smiling, ‘you’re a genius. We should have thought of that right away.’
We hurried back to where Aunt Gloria was waiting at the table. There was no sign of Salim. When she saw us come back without him, she gave a big sigh. ‘Where has that boy
to?’ she said. Mum picked up Aunt Gloria’s handbag. ‘Call him. Get your mobile out. Give him a call.’
‘OK,’ Aunt Gloria said. ‘He’s probably only a few yards away.’
She pressed some buttons and put the phone to her ear with a smile and a nod of her head. Then her expression did the opposite of ‘clear’. It clouded over.
The mobile phone you are calling has been switched
,’ she repeated. ‘
Please try later
She dropped the phone down on the table. Her lips trembled.
‘Why’s his phone off?’ she whispered. ‘Why?’
Kat said later that we spent the next hour darting around the South Bank like headless chickens. It is a puzzling fact that chickens can run around in a frenzy for some seconds after being decapitated, but I do not think they do this for a whole hour. We looked everywhere but there was no sign of Salim. We went back to the staff, who called in the police. A constable took our names and addresses. He asked if we thought Salim knew his way back to our house. Probably, we said. Then he told us to do three things:
a) keep trying his phone
b) go home and wait, and
c) try not to worry.
He said he would report Salim’s disappearance to the rest of the squad on duty in the area. If he hadn’t reappeared in a few hours, an officer would visit us.
Kat tried to explain about how Salim had vanished sometime after getting
the wheel and before getting
. He looked at her as if she was imagining it.
‘Children don’t evaporate into thin air,’ he said.
‘Not in my experience.’
So then we did b) and went home to wait. We were hoping to see Salim in our front garden but he wasn’t there. So Aunt Gloria did a), that is, she pressed and repressed the redial button on her mobile phone. Mum got her inside and made tea. Kat fetched a china plate and arranged some chocolate fingers on it. This was Mum and Kat’s way of trying to do c). But nobody ate any. We all tried not to worry but nobody succeeded.
Then Mum called Dad and told him what had happened. He said he was round the corner at the Barracks and nearly finished for the day. He’d come home to see if there was anything he could do to help. Mum hung up. Immediately the phone rang. Aunt Gloria grabbed it.
‘Salim!’ she said loudly.
She listened for a few seconds and her face turned into a mini ice age (that’s my own expression and I hope you can guess what it means). She slammed the phone down.
‘Some man,’ she said, ‘selling conservatory windows.’ She made it sound as if selling conservatory windows was a crime against humanity. She looked at the clock on the mantelpiece.
‘Three hours,’ she said. ‘He’s been gone three hours. This hasn’t happened before.’
Then she started pacing up and down the room, punching one fist into the palm of another. It was very interesting to watch. I wondered what kind of weather she could be compared to and decided on a thunderstorm, very localized, with forked lightning.
‘Salim,’ she said, as if he were in the room, ‘I’ll have your guts for garters.’
I had never heard this before and wondered what garters were. Kat told me later that they are what women used to wear around their thighs to keep their stockings up and they are elasticated. I do not think guts would be a tidy way of doing this.
Then Aunt Gloria said, ‘Oh, my boy, what have they done to you?’
I wondered whom she meant by ‘they’.
Then, ‘You’d better be back by Wednesday or we’ll miss our flight to New York.’
Then, ‘That stupid policeman. Saying not to worry. I’ll bet
doesn’t have children.’
Then, ‘Supposing some terrible gang has abducted him? Oh, mercy, mercy, no!’
Then she noticed me watching her.
staring at?’ She pointed a pinklacquered fingernail at me and jabbed the air. ‘If you hadn’t suggested going to the London Eye, this would never have happened. You and your bloody bicycle wheel in the sky!’ She flopped onto the sofa and made a wailing sound. ‘Oh, Ted. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.’
‘Glo!’ Mum said, rushing to sit beside her. ‘Calm down, love.’ She flapped her hand at me as if I was an annoying fly. I figured out that this meant she didn’t want me anywhere nearby.
I went to see Kat, who was in the kitchen sitting at the table. She had her headphones on and her head down on her arms so she couldn’t see me or hear me.
So I went up to my room.
Dodos, Brigantines and Lords
I jumped onto my bed, down next to the lilo where Salim had slept the night before, and banged my fist against the wall, then jumped up on the bed again and down again, wall again, and I went,
,’ bed again, floor again . . . This was the routine I’d had when I was small, before Mum and Dad bought me the trampoline. Then the trampoline came and I jumped on that instead. Then the trampoline broke, but I didn’t go back to the old routine because Mum said it would damage the walls and furniture now that I was bigger.
So I hadn’t done the routine in years. I’d forgotten how good it felt.
When I was tired of jumping, I got out some volumes of my encyclopaedia and curled up on my bed against the wall and looked at some interesting entries.
There was a knock on the door. Kat came in.
‘Ted,’ she said. She closed the door behind her and leaned against it. ‘You’ve still got your jacket on. Why do you always forget to take it off?’
I shrugged and drew it closer around me.
‘Ted, I need you now,’ Kat said. She did something odd, which was she sat on the bed next to me.
‘You’re all I’ve got. Mum isn’t talking to me. Auntie Glo thinks I’m Satan in disguise. Dad’s home from work now, but he just shakes his head every time I open my mouth.’
I looked up. ‘The dodo disappeared, Kat,’ I said.
‘The dodo. It dropped off the evolutionary path.’
‘Right. The dodo. So?’
‘It disappeared. Darwin would say it wasn’t adaptable enough to survive, so it didn’t.’
‘I don’t think Salim’s dropped off the evolutionary path, Ted.’
‘No, I know. But I’ve been thinking about disappearances,’ I said. ‘And looking some of them up in my encyclopaedia.’
‘There was this lord called Lord Lucan. People think he murdered the nanny who was looking after his children and then threw himself off a cliff in remorse. Perhaps he did. But his body never showed up, Kat. Perhaps he made it look that way, but really went off somewhere in disguise, under another name. One theory is that he went off to India and became a long-haired hippy.’
‘I don’t see what that’s got to do with—’
‘Then again, perhaps he was murdered himself. Perhaps he’s buried under someone’s patio.’
There was a long silence. ‘That’s not very helpful, Ted.’
‘There was the
was a hundred-foot brigantine ship from New York. It turned up in the Bay of Gibraltar with nobody on board. It was as if they’d been beamed into outer space by aliens.’
‘Ted, I don’t think this is a time for joking.’
I slammed the book shut.
‘OK,’ Kat said. ‘You weren’t joking. I should know by now. You never joke. So what
I didn’t really know what I meant. The only thing that linked the dodo, Lord Lucan, the people on board the
and Salim was that they’d all disappeared. I sat looking at Kat’s hunched-up shoulders. The room was silent apart from her breathing and mine. Somehow – it was a real effort but I managed it – I put out my hand and placed it where her shoulder hunched. It was bony and soft.
‘Kat,’ I said, ‘you and I are together in this. People disappear. And things. Most of them reappear.’
Kat rested her hand on top of mine and I saw some tears fall down her cheeks. Her head went off to one side – she was the one who looked like a duck that’s forgotten how to quack – and I felt a teardrop fall onto the hand on her shoulder. For a moment I didn’t know if it was her hand or mine. I hate touching people. The wetness of the tear and the confusion of hands felt as if neither of us knew where Kat started and I ended.
‘Ted,’ she said, shaking her head, ‘the
people never reappeared. Nor the dodo. Nor Lord Whatever.’ She stopped and blinked back another tear. ‘That policeman was right,’ she went on.
‘People don’t just evaporate. Salim must be
. If it’s my fault he went missing, I have to find him. But I need your help. I need your brains, Ted. Nobody’s better at thinking than you are.’
That was the first time Kat had ever paid me a compliment. I plunged both my hands into my jacket pockets and stared down at my trainers and went, ‘
.’ Then I realized that in one of the pockets was an object that shouldn’t have been there. I drew it out and Kat and I stared at it.
‘Salim’s camera!’ whispered Kat.
Kat grabbed the camera from me and held it in the palm of her hand. ‘When you took that last photograph,’ she said, ‘in the queue for tickets . . . You must have put it away in your jacket pocket without thinking, Ted.’
I reached my hand over to take the camera back. She held it away from me.
‘How did you feel, Salim,’ she whispered, as if he was in the room, ‘when you realized you’d got into the pod without your camera?’
I tried to take it again. She slapped my hand away.
‘Keep away, Ted! It’s
Typical Kat. One moment she’s saying how brainy I am, the next she’s assaulting me and telling lies. Predicting what Kat is going to do next makes predicting the weather seem easier than counting to three. Kat is not only more unpredictable than the weather, she is also more unpredictable than