He was still sitting in front of his computer, he looked up as she closed the door. His eyes went to Mehret’s empty hands. ‘What’s the matter? Joint no good? Read all their books already?’
Mehret half-smiled. He was doing a funny voice again, from an old black and white film. ‘The library was closed.’ Mehret went to the kitchen. There was a tantalising smell emanating from a large flat box, she couldn’t help grinning; leave her father alone for long enough to order a pizza and what happens?
‘Was it? What were you doing?’
‘I met a girl from school on the way, she told me, about the library, and we got talking.’
‘Is she in your class at school?’
‘Uh huh,’ Mehret had a mouthful of pizza.
‘Do you like her?’
‘Yes Poppa.’ Mehret was surprised to realise that she did like Sylene, as she heard herself say the words. She might be intimidating, but she wasn’t like the other kids at school. There was something about her. Wow, three weeks in America and there was one person who might, just might, become a friend. Count them. One. And the library was closed; she had nothing to read. And she really ought to think about something else. ‘Poppa, that voice you were doing earlier, the film star voice, who is it?’
‘Which one? Cagney? Durante? Bogart?’
‘Oh. Is it more than one?’
‘Ouch. Cut me to the quick, why don’t you? And I thought I did them so well.’
‘I’m sure you do, I’m sorry.’ Mehret was mortified, she hadn’t meant to offend her father and though she knew he was mostly joking, she felt as if she had failed him, somehow. ‘It’s just, it’s just, there’s so much I don’t know. There’s so much I don’t know about everything.’
She could feel words and feelings getting all jumbled up as they tripped over each other in the rush to get out. ‘I thought it would be easy because they all speak English, but I have to think so hard about everything they say or none of it makes any sense at all and and and everyone knows what’s happening except me.’ Mehret burst into tears.
‘Oh. Oh oh.’
Mehret felt strong arms wrap around her. Small noises of comfort came from her father, better than words, they simply said ‘I am here.’ When the tears had stopped flowing and the sobbing had subsided and Mehret thought she could speak without weeping, she tried to explain, without making it sound as if she wished the whole school and everything in it could be consigned to the asteroid belt. It all came out in a rush, and Mehret had to admit it didn’t sound that bad, but it was all piled one on top of another until she felt she couldn’t move under the weight of it.
‘And there’s no horses, and I haven’t even done any running since I started there,’ she sniffed. ‘I haven’t done any running at all.’ She nuzzled into her father like a foal seeking milk. ‘And I sound stupid, but it’s not just that, it’s everything. And I feel such a fool.’
‘Ah. Do you want to come into work with me tomorrow? We can think of some excuse.’
‘No, because that would be like giving up.’ She looked up and smiled at her father, she didn’t want to seem ungrateful. ‘I wish you had asked me before, because then I could have said yes.’
‘Hmm.’ He sat quietly for a moment. ‘I’m sorry Princess, I hadn’t noticed you felt so strongly about school. I’ve been too wrapped up in my work, I can only apologise.’
‘Don’t be daffy Poppa, it’s me, being s-silly. I know it’s my fault, but I hate feeling a fool; being the only one who doesn’t know. It’s just all so different. I just don't feel like I belong here. There’s no space. Everything is so big, but I feel so hemmed in. And it's all full of cars.’ Mehret shook her head. If only they were horses; but it seemed she'd arrived in the wrong millennium.
‘What is the one thing that we should do first that will make a difference?’
Mehret wanted to ask if they could leave, go back, but she couldn’t. She had to think of something, but what? ‘Running.’ The word came unbidden to her lips and she knew it was the right thing to say. Running. She could lose herself in running. More to the point, she could lose her worries. Nothing cleared her head, made her feel fresh and new-made, like running did. ‘I haven’t run in weeks.’
‘Haven’t you done any since we came over?’
Mehret shook her head, feeling almost ashamed, though it certainly wasn’t her fault.
‘Don’t they have a track team?’
‘Haven’t you spoken to your teacher about it?’
‘She treats me like I’m dumb because I don’t know the rules of basketball.’
‘Really? Well they just made me a professor and I don’t know the rules of basketball,’ he grinned, then looked at Mehret quizzically. ‘Hasn’t she seen you run?’
Mehret shook her head. ‘We’ve done softball and basketball and I don’t understand any of it. No one could be bothered to tell me the rules.’
‘Well that would explain . . . Still, at least they haven’t made you play cricket.’ He got up and went to his computer. ‘I’m just going to have a word with a colleague of mine.’
Mehret toyed idly with Huckleberry Finn as she listened to the rappety-tap of keys being hit. Huck couldn’t catch her attention and she was just about to put the book down when her Father said ‘there,’ a clear note of satisfaction in his voice.
‘Any objection to me coming into school with you tomorrow? Not for the whole day; I don’t want to come to your lessons or anything, just to have a word about getting you out on the track.’
‘Would you?’ Mehret almost squealed. ‘Oh Poppa. Thank you.’ She leapt at him and gave him a great big hug.