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My mother's voice came straight through the floorboards. She was almost screaming, but partly laughing, too.
I sat up to listen.
"Kevin, we can't go tomorrow," she was saying. "It's just impossible! A family can't dash halfway around the world on a day's notice."
Daddy said something, but he wasn't talking as loud. All I heard was the soft rumble of his voice.
I dumped my book and shot down the stairs. As I skidded into the living room, Daddy was finishing, "--special price we just can't afford to pass up."
"Tomorrow?" I interrupted. "We're going to the States tomorrow?"
"No, we're not," Daddy said. He looked tired and thin because he'd been so sick. He'd caught hepatitis (that's a disease you get from dirty water and stuff) at an African church leaders' training conference in Thika. Ever since then, he just seemed to get more and more tired. But his big grin right now made up for how tired he looked.
"But, you said--," I blurted, then stopped. I swallowed and continued. "I mean, we have to go to the States, right? We can't stay here in Kenya, because the hospitals don't have the right medical tests for you here. And I heard Mom say 'tomorrow.'"
"We are not going to the United States of America tomorrow," Daddy insisted.
"Kevin, quit teasing her," Mom interrupted, then turned to me and said, "We're coming to Ganada!"
"Ganada?" I asked, and then it clicked. "Oh, you mean Canada!"
Daddy and I were both laughing, and Mom looked irritated. Mom gets her words tangled up sometimes when she's in a hurry or upset.
"Tomorrow?" I asked again.
She spread out both hands and looked atDaddy, "So your father says. I still think it's impossible. We just can't pack up our entire household in twelve hours."
"I'm sure we'll have help," Daddy said.
Mom said, "Mmmm," but she didn't look convinced.
"Well, are we going tomorrow or not?" I asked again.
"Yes, we are. I've got the tickets," said Daddy. "You run and get Sandy. We've all got work to do."
As I ran out the door I could hear Mom telling Daddy that he should be resting, not working. I just shook my head. I couldn't believe we were really leaving.
We'd lived in Kenya all my life. Mom and Daddy are missionaries, and we live on a mission station near Machakos. The mission station is a big, loose circle of houses, and all the people who teach at the Bible school or work in the Christian Education office live in those houses. One of the families that lives close to us is the Stewart family. I glanced at their house--that was probably where Sandy, my ten-year-old sister, was. Sandy and Traci Stewart are best friends.
But I didn't head for the Stewarts' house. I just had to tell Lisa Barnes first. Lisa is the only other kid on the station who is my age. She hadn't been in Kenya very long, and I remembered how much I didn't like her when we first met. She hadn't been too crazy about me, either. I could still see the grossed-out look on her face when I showed her a chameleon. I mean, I love animals of all kinds, and I think chameleons are cool. Lisa, on the other hand, figured I was just trying to scare her off. For a while it seemed like we'd be enemies forever, but then we'd had a wild adventure together...
I thought about that, and my fingers went to my forehead. The ridge of a scar under my bangs was still sore and lumpy from where a drunken fisherman had hit me with a pole. That was some adventure, I thought, grimacing.
It still made my head hurt when I thought about getting clobbered with that pole--but I guess it was worth it. After all, it was because of what Lisa and I went through that we finally became friends. In fact, she was my very best friend ever. Something else that adventure did was to finally make me quit rebelling about going to the States.
"Lisa!" I yelled as I burst into the Barneses' house. "Lisa! Where are you?"
I skidded around the corner of the hall and into her room. She was sitting on her bed with headphones on. She hadn't heard me, so she nearly jumped out of her skin when I grabbed the 'phones off her head.
"We're going tomorrow!"
"Already?" she said and then grinned. "At least your forehead is only pale green now, instead of purple."
My stomach got tight. "I thought it was almost OK now. Do I still look weird?"
She grinned even wider. "No weirder than normal."
I threw a pillow at her, then headed for the door. "I've got to find Sandy and get packed," I said over my shoulder. "I just wanted to tell you."
When I was almost out the door, Lisa said, "Wait, I'll help."
"Come up to our house," I yelled and kept going.
At the Stewarts' house, Sandy wouldn't believe me at first. Then Traci's parents started asking questions, so I told them to come over to our house too.
"That's right," Daddy explained to everybody. "Just before I walked into Menno Travel Agency today, a group of six canceled their charter tickets on a flight into Amsterdam. I was able to pick up four of their tickets for a very good price. We are going to have to pack up quickly and travel light."
"I know you need to get yourself all checked out, Kevin," boomed Uncle Joey. He's not my uncle, really. He's Lisa's dad, but MKs (that's short for missionary kids) call adults who they know really well 'Aunt' and 'Uncle.' Uncle Joey was OK, even if he did always talk too loud. "Where will you be getting your tests done?"
"We'll be staying in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, with Hazel's brother, Kurt Malcome," said Daddy. "He's recommended a doctor there."
Where? I thought. I could vaguely remember Uncle Kurt--we'd gone to visit him and his family once when I was seven. But I couldn't remember anything about "Kalgry," or whatever Daddy had called that place. I started to ask Mom, but she just shoved a suitcase at me and told me to pack up all of my clothes that were presentable.
Pretty soon half of the people on the station were over packing books and dishes and things into boxes for storage. Our house looked like a bomb had hit it! There were people everywhere, yelling across the house to ask what to do with this or that. Lisa and I were folding up my clothes and sticking them in a suitcase.
It was hard to think with all the noise, but I didn't mind--I didn't really want to think. I especially didn't want to think about how I'd fit in in North America, or about having to stay there forever if Daddy's medical tests came out wrong...
My stomach hurt.
Lisa was folding up one of my old sweatshirts. I flopped a sweater over twice so it kind of looked folded. I couldn't remember ever being in Canada.
"Have you ever been to Canada, Lisa?" I asked.
"I've been in Vancouver a bunch of times with my dad," Lisa said. She held up my old blue shorts and said, "At least you'll be able to get some better clothes there."
I stopped dead and stared at her. Some of the kids at the mission's boarding school had nice stuff from North America, but lots of us didn't. "I'll look like a total geek over there, won't I?" I wailed. "A green-headed monster geek!"
Now my stomach felt like I'd swallowed a lead pancake.
"I never said that," Lisa said, and I could tell she was sorry she'd said anything. "The green bruise on your forehead hardly shows now. You'll be OK, really. Probably better than I'll be at boarding school for the first time." She made a face, then added, "Besides, like I said, you can get nice clothes now."
I frowned and thought, I doubt it. You need money to do that.
Mom made Sandy and me go to bed early. She tried to make Daddy do the same thing, but he wouldn't.
"I won't be able to sleep anyway with other people in the house packing," he said.
I stopped brushing my teeth to listen. Sandy was listening, too, and her eyes were wide and worried.
"Kevin, you know you've got to rest," Mom pleaded. Daddy didn't even answer. He'd been trying to rest because he had promised us that he would, but he just wasn't very good at staying in bed when there was stuff to do.
I crawled into bed, then lay there, staring at the ceiling and listening.
"You can leave all your furniture here, at least until you know the test results." Uncle Joey's voice boomed up through the floor. "If you do stay in North America, we can arrange to have it sold for you."
I stuck my pillow over my head to shut out the voices. If we had to stay in the States, everything in my whole life up would be changed. I'd never sit in the gray rocking chair again, or climb the mango tree. I'd never get to eat another samosa, or watch another sunset over the Rift Valley, or read my favorite copy of the Mowgli Stories while sitting on the porch, or even talk Swahili. Everything--absolutely everything--was staying here.
My throat hurt and the back of my eyes stung. I swallowed hard. I didn't want Sandy to hear me crying, but I couldn't stop it. The salty taste of hot tears was in my mouth.
"Anika? Anika? Are you crying?" Sandy whispered.
I rolled over with a thump and didn't answer.
"I thought you decided it was OK to go to get Dad's tests done," she said. "It really is OK, you know."
"Don't you even care?" I blurted. "Our whole life is gone, and you say it's OK. Leave me alone!"
"Our life is not gone."
"Yes, it is. How do you know we're coming back? I bet you can't even take Roo. She won't fit in the suitcase." That was mean and I knew it. Roo was this sort of cross between a blanket and a stuffed kangaroo that Sandy never ever slept without.
"Mommmm!" Sandy yelled. "Mommm!"
"Shh!" I hissed, but it was too late.
"What is it, Sandy?" Mom said as she walked in. "I told you to get to sleep."
"Well, Anika started crying and then she said we're never never coming back to Kenya and that I had to leave Roo here!" Sandy said, all in a rush. I could tell she was scared.
"I did not!" I interrupted, "I just asked how you know we'll ever come back."
Mom sat down on the edge of my bed and stroked my head. Her hand felt cool. "You're right, Anika, we don't know. If you're worried, talk to God about it. He's always here to help." She was quiet for a minute, then she sighed. "I know it's not quiet in the house, and it's been a traumatic day, but we've got another big day tomorrow, so you two try to get to sleep now."
Mom kissed both of us, then she slowly shut the door behind her, making the square of light from the door narrow to a line and then disappear.
"It's going to be fun on the plane anyway ... and seeing Aunt Doreen and Tianna and stuff," Sandy whispered. She sounded like she was trying to convince herself. When I didn't answer she added, "I don't remember what Uncle Kurt looks like, do you?"
"Yeah, sort of. He's kind of fat and really tall," I said.
I really didn't remember him all that well. I knew Tianna was almost the same age as me, but all that I really remembered even about her was that her room had seemed completely full of Barbie dolls and comic books.
The next morning I woke up with the sun shining in the window and the sound of ibises flying over the house. Every dawn the iridescent, goose-sized birds flew over calling, "Ma'nga! Ma'nga!"
I stretched and smiled--and then I remembered: this might be the last time I ever slept in this bed or heard the ibises in the morning.
I propped myself on my elbow and reached for my Bible like I do every morning. It dropped open kind of in the middle, and I read, "Jehovah himself is caring for you! He is your defender. He protects you day and night ... He keeps his eye upon you as you come and go and always guards you."
Wow! I thought, that fits! Then I saw that somebody had stuck a bookmark in my Bible, which was why it had opened there. Probably Mom, I thought, but I read the whole chapter, Psalm 121, over anyway. It really made me think. God was promising to look after us ... He said he is never sleeping and that he wouldn't let anything hurt us.
When I looked around, Sandy was sitting up looking at me. "You still scared?" she asked.
I just kind of grunted, and she said, "I'm not. It will be fun and--"
"OK! Everybody up!" Mom threw open our door. "Get dressed and let's get going. I want you to lay out dresses to wear to the airport."
"Mom! We can't!" I interrupted. "I hate all my dresses."
All Mom said was, "Let's not start the day by arguing. I want you downstairs in ten minutes."
The rest of that morning was like a strange dream. I wandered across the station by myself, touching things, saying good-bye. Things seemed closer and bigger than usual: the smell of frangipani, the feel of the bark on the jacaranda tree, the warmth of the strong golden sun on my shoulders, and the smell of the dry red dust. It was hard to pay attention to people at all.
"Anika!" Sandy yelled, "Anika!" She ran toward me through the Stewarts' yard. A shock went through me. What time was it?
"Boy, are you ever in trouble. The car's loaded, and everybody's looking for you," she yelled. "Come on!"
I raced after her, and Mom started scolding as soon as I hit the door. She followed me upstairs, still scolding. I yanked my dress on, but it was tight under the armpits so I jerked it down.
"Anika, you knew that dress was too small," Mom's voice drilled at me. "Don't you care how you look?"
"Hazel, Anika! Hurry up!" Daddy called.
Too small or not, the dress would have to do. I grabbed my carry-on case and ran downstairs, with Mom following right behind me. A few minutes later we were on our way.
The airport was like a blur. The loudspeakers were announcing flights in cool voices; everything smelled like cigarette smoke and jet fuel. After Daddy checked the luggage through, we boarded the plane, found our seats, and buckled in. I ended up with a window seat, sitting by Daddy. Sandy and Mom were in front of us. As we taxied, I watched the lion-colored grass that lined the runway. Then the engines screamed and the plane shuddered for a second. When the pilot took the brakes off we were pressed back into our seats, and then we were off.
Daddy's shoulder was heavy where he leaned up against me to watch the takeoff. He reached across me to point out the Aberdare mountains, then Mount Kenya, its snow shining in the bright sun. He likes to explain things all the time like he's a tour guide. Right now I just wished he would leave me alone. My throat was so tight I couldn't say anything at all. How could I ever fit in anywhere else when Kenya was so beautiful?
After a bit, Daddy stopped talking. I looked over at him. He had leaned back with his eyes closed; he looked so thin and tired. I turned back to the window and frowned.
Why did God have to let him get sick in the first place? I thought angrily.
I couldn't see anything now except the rough white tops of clouds. The plastic frame of the window felt cold, and the plane's vibrations ran right through my skull.
In spite of it, though, I must have gone to sleep. Next thing I knew, my head bumped the edge of the window hard and bounced. I sat up and put my hand on my temple where it hurt. The seatbelt sign went on with a 'bing.'
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking," said a voice over the intercom. "Please fasten your seatbelts. We will be experiencing some turbulence over the Ethiopian highlands."
Still half-asleep, I found my seatbelt and latched it. Another hard bump shoved me forward against the seatbelt.
I looked at Daddy. He was putting his seatbelt on, but he didn't look scared at all.
"Don't worry," he said, smiling at me. "The pilots are very careful to stay out of weather that the plane isn't designed to handle. Now that you're awake, Anika, there's something I wanted to talk to you about." He sounded really serious. I gulped. Maybe he'd tell me that we were going to stay in Canada for sure, or maybe he'd say that he was going to die. I shoved those thoughts away and tried to listen.
Glancing at me, Daddy went on. "Mom and I don't usually talk to you kids about adult problems, but this time we felt we should."
He paused. I couldn't stand it if he decided not to tell me after all. I did my best to look grown-up and responsible, so he'd talk to me. But it's hard to look that way when you're being joggled all over by an airplane that seems to have the hiccups.
Finally, he said, "Mom's brother, Kurt, and his wife, Doreen, are having serious problems with their marriage."
I let my breath out. At least it wasn't about him or Mom.
"Your uncle Kurt made a commitment to Christ when he was a child, but from what he's told us he hasn't been living the way he should. As far as we know, Aunt Doreen doesn't know Christ. Kurt wrote us a letter asking us to come stay with them. He ... he seems to be looking for help."
"You mean we're going to Calgary partly to try to help Uncle Kurt?" I asked.
"Well, I don't know how much we can help, but your mother and I have been praying for Kurt and Doreen. And we know that the Lord can help with any situation." Daddy said. "When the need for this trip came up at the same time as Kurt's invitation, Mom and I felt it was something God had set up. But God won't be using just Mom and me. You and Sandy are important parts of what God wants to do, too. Kurt said he wanted to see how a Christian family worked." Daddy paused for a minute, then sighed. "I'm not sure what Kurt expects to see in our family. It could make me a little nervous, if I didn't know that the Lord was in this."
Oh great! I thought. Now I not only have to try and fit into a place I've never been, but I'll have to do everything right so Uncle Kurt thinks Christians are good!
Daddy glanced at me. I must have been looking worried, because he reached over to touch my cheek and smile. "Don't worry, Anika. I know we're not perfect--we make mistakes and we get frustrated with each other ... but God never said we had to be perfect to be used. I just wanted to let you know a little of what's going on and to ask you just to be yourself. That's the best way you can help."
I thought for a minute about what Daddy had said. What would it be like to stay with people who were having marriage problems? Did they fight a lot? Were they mean to each other? I wondered what it was like for my cousin Tianna. I couldn't even imagine having Mom and Daddy mad at each other all the time.
I swallowed and said, "I can witness to Tianna, I guess."
"Be careful, Anika," Daddy said gently. "You tend to jump into situations and act without thinking. We'll have to proceed with a great deal of tact and even more prayer. In fact, why don't you and I pray together right now?"
"Can't I just pray in my head?" I asked. I felt confused inside, and I didn't want to try to pray out loud when I didn't know what I thought. Besides, what if a stewardess came?
"If that's what you want," Daddy said. He leaned back and shut his eyes.
I tried to pray for Uncle Kurt and Aunt Doreen, and especially for Tianna--but it's hard to pray for someone when all you remember about them is that their room used to be full of Barbie dolls and comic books. Worries about Daddy being sick and about how I'd fit in when we were in Canada kept getting in the way. It was like my brain was full of noise.
Then I got this idea that made it all make sense. I've never been able to be quiet about a good idea.
"Hey, I know," I said, sitting up straight and shaking Daddy's arm. "Probably God just wants us to go to Canada to help Uncle Kurt's family. After your tests are OK, and Uncle Kurt, Aunt Doreen, and Tianna all get to be Christians, we can just come back to Kenya."
Daddy laughed and said, "I wish everything was always that simple."
It made so much sense to me. I couldn't be wrong, could I?