Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll (2 page)

T
he next day Kelsey went with her mum and a lady, who also looked like a nurse, to a clinic. The lady was called Seema and she opened the clinic door for them. Kelsey thought it would be like the hospital where Mum worked in Australia but it was just a room with a desk, a few chairs, a cupboard and two
charpais
.

‘Sit here and do your schoolwork,' Mum said. She set the laptop on the desk for Kelsey. ‘You can send your work to Mrs Penner later.'

Kelsey grumpily turned on the laptop to find her first maths sheet. She was picturing herself in Mrs Penner's class with Chantelle when a lady wearing baggy trousers and a long top came through the door. Her baby boy was sick so Kelsey's mum took his temperature and gave the lady some food and medicine. Seema explained to the lady everything Mum said. The baby was so tired, he didn't even cry.

A stream of women and children came in one after the other. They sat on the
charpais
. One boy had a broken arm and Kelsey's mum put a cast on it. Kelsey took the laptop over and showed him how to play a game so he wouldn't get upset.

All the patients wore the same outfit of baggy trousers and long shirts. Her mum wore it too; she had bought it at the airport. But no one's clothes looked as fresh as her mum's. Everyone else's looked as if they'd been swimming in mud.

At one o'clock Kelsey's mum thanked Seema. ‘We'll go home now.' She wrote on a list. ‘We'll need more medicines and sewing machines too.'

‘Why sewing machines?' Kelsey asked.

‘I think the women's spare clothes
have been lost in the flood. They need new
shalwar qameezes
.'

‘What's that?' Kelsey asked.

‘The loose trousers and long tops everyone wears.'

Mum glanced at Kelsey. ‘Did you get much schoolwork done?'

Kelsey shook her head.

‘Maybe you can write what you saw today when we go home.'

Kelsey thought she'd rather write a story about a porcelain doll.

T
hat afternoon Kelsey sent an email to Mrs Penner with her maths sheet and a journal entry about the clinic. Then she clicked on Skype to ring Nanna Rose.

‘I went with Mum this morning. Everyone's sick,' Kelsey said as soon as Nanna's smiling face appeared on the screen.

‘Have you been to a clinic?'

‘Yes.' But Kelsey didn't feel like talking about it. ‘Nanna, can you tell me what Amy Jo is doing now?'

‘She's flying on an aeroplane far away from where she was made.'

‘Won't she be lonely?' Kelsey asked.

‘Yes, I think she is,' Nanna said.

There was a dog howling. It sounded worse than the growling bears. Often there had been a dog in the Teddy Bear Shop. The shop assistant had brought it with him, but it was old and sat in a basket. It never howled.

This dog was frightened, Amy Jo could tell. She was too. She didn't know where she was going. She hoped it was somewhere nice: a house where someone played with her every day and let her sit on the bed.

It felt as though they'd travelled forever when suddenly there was a jolt and an engine screamed. The dog howled louder. If Amy Jo could make tears she would have. What was happening? She missed the bears. Even though they were growly, they told her everything.

The terrible screaming stopped and Amy Jo felt her box move. She was jolted as though her box landed on something hard. She heard an ‘ouch' and the dog barked. He sounded hopeful. Maybe this was the end of their journey.

Amy Jo was moving again. Then she heard voices. ‘Postal bags for customs here.'

She wondered what would happen next. Just then the lid slid off and a man was looking at her.

‘You're a first-class doll,' the man said. ‘But we have to check you for bombs.' He squeezed her body. ‘I don't know why we bother with customs when the flood is still bad.'

He ran a clicking machine over her.

‘All clear,' he said.

Just then, the dog growled and pulled away from a man taking him out of his cage. He jumped into the air, grabbed Amy Jo in his mouth, and ran out of the building. Two men ran after them, shouting, but the dog was too fast.

Amy Jo could feel drool dripping down her face. She hoped the dog didn't think she was good to eat. Maybe her porcelain head would help her after all. Surely the dog wouldn't eat anything so hard.

A river flowed level with the road. The dog stopped near the water and sat down to chew Amy Jo. Ow! Amy Jo felt like squealing. The dog's teeth were sharp on her head. Soon it would crack in two.

But Amy Jo was right about her head being too hard. The dog's teeth could not bite into her porcelain skin. He shook her instead and Amy Jo thought her body would rip. The dog gave his head such a shake that she flew out of his mouth right into the water.

The dog bounded away but Amy Jo was in trouble. She had never seen water before, let alone a flooded river. And this one was carrying her far away from the land.

O
n Friday, Kelsey decided to go to Mr Waheed's instead of the clinic. There was only one way to visit Mr Waheed's house and it was by water. Kelsey and her dad walked to the river's edge and saw a young man sitting in a small wooden boat. It had flowers and birds and fish painted in bright colours on every plank. Kelsey thought she'd like to make a cardboard boat and paint it just like that.

‘Waheed sent me,
janab
,' the man said. ‘I am his youngest brother, Izaak.' He held out his hand to help Kelsey in. After she and her dad sat down, Izaak started the motor.

Everywhere Kelsey looked there was brown murky water and things floating by: branches of trees, mattresses, furniture and even something white and furry.

They were nearing a village in the middle of the river. ‘Look.' Kelsey pointed. ‘An island.'

‘It wasn't always an island,' Dad said. ‘It's a hill really. This is how high the floodwater has come.'

Kelsey peered into the water again. It was so muddy she couldn't see well, but there must be houses down there. She wouldn't like her house to be underwater for people to float over.

Then Kelsey noticed something else strange. ‘The trees have snow on them.'

Izaak laughed. ‘Not snow, miss. Spider webs.'

‘Spiders?'

‘
Ji
, yes. The spiders do not like the flood and so they make their house in the trees.' Kelsey was still watching the cocooned trees when Izaak turned off the motor.

Mr Waheed and a girl with a long black plait were waiting for the boat to arrive. Dad jumped out and he and Izaak pulled the boat close to the bank.

‘Welcome,' Mr Waheed said, when Kelsey was standing before him. ‘This is Shakila.'

The girl smiled but she was too shy to say anything. So was Kelsey. Chantelle wouldn't have been shy. She could always think of something to say.

‘Come, meet my family,' Mr Waheed said. ‘We all live here, my parents, brothers and their families also.' Kelsey walked with Shakila up to a house made of cement. It looked like a huge box – even the roof was flat.

Inside there were so many people, Kelsey wondered where they all slept. Her dad shook hands with the men. They were drinking
chai
, sweet, milky tea.

Shakila took her to a courtyard. It was like an Australian patio with the rooms around the edge and plants in pots. It smelt like jasmine and Kelsey thought Nanna would like it. Women sat on short stools cutting up vegetables on trays. Children ran around playing.

‘These are my aunties and cousins,' Shakila said. ‘That one is my
ummie
.'

She pointed out a lady dressed in a blue
shalwar qameez
. The lady smiled at them. Kelsey could tell Shakila wasn't used to speaking English. Her words were hard to understand but Kelsey guessed
ummie
was Shakila's word for mum.

‘Your mother?' she asked to make sure.

Shakila nodded. ‘Raza!
Ao
, come.'

A tiny boy toddled over to her.

‘Kila!' he shouted.

‘This is my brother. He had his first birthday before the flood.' She sounded proud. ‘All the other children are my cousins.'

‘Do they all live here because of the flood?' Kelsey asked.

Shakila gave a shrug. ‘We have always lived together. But
Ummie
's relatives lost their houses. They are living in tents.'

She pointed to the children. ‘Some of these kids are theirs.'

The children crowded around staring at Kelsey. One even touched her hair. She smiled at them nervously wondering what to say next.

‘Do you play with dolls?' Kelsey blurted.

Shakila shook her head. ‘I am too busy at school. When I am home I play with Raza and look after our goats.'

Kelsey was amazed. No dolls? Chantelle had fifteen Barbies. What would she and Shakila do together? Though she thought a little brother might be as good as a doll. She could feed him real food and put nappies on him. But the little kids here didn't seem to wear any.

‘Come.' Shakila took Kelsey's hand. ‘I'll show you the goats.' The children followed them, staring at Kelsey as if she had come from the moon.

Outside in a walled-in yard, one of the goats butted Kelsey gently.

‘This one is Billie,' Shakila said. ‘She likes you.'

‘Why did you call her Billy?' Kelsey thought it was a boy's name.

‘We call cats
billies
and this goat reminds me of a cat. She is always rubbing up against people. I milk her every day before school.'

‘Why aren't you in school today?' Kelsey asked.

‘Friday is our day off, our holy day.'

‘Where's the school?'

‘In those tents over there.' Shakila pointed to some big square, white tents across a field. ‘The one further away is the boys school. The closer one is the girls school. Our proper schools were destroyed by the water.'

‘What else do you do when you're not at school?' Kelsey asked.

‘Sewing. Let me show you.' She took Kelsey into a room with mattresses piled up along one wall and some
charpais
.

Shakila pulled out a box from under one of the beds.

‘Is this your bed?'

‘Not just mine.' Shakila giggled. ‘Raza sleeps with me and sometimes
Ummie
.'

‘And your dad?' Kelsey was wondering how they'd all fit. It was just the size of a single bed.

‘Oh no, men are not allowed in here.' Shakila unfolded a piece of cloth and Kelsey put out a hand to touch it.

‘Did you do this? It's amazing.'

Shakila gave a sideways nod. ‘It is the story of the flood.'

Kelsey ran her finger along a thick row of stitches. They looked like a long chain of blue. ‘Is this the river? It's huge.'

‘
Ji
, yes. The river was much smaller. Now it is like the sea.' Shakila put the cloth and silk threads away. ‘I can teach you if you like.' Then she smiled. ‘And you can teach me English.'

‘You can speak it already,' Kelsey said.

‘But my homework is too difficult.'

Kelsey brightened. ‘I can help with that.'

‘My English must be good enough so I can go to university to be a doctor and help women and children get well.'

Shakila took something else from the box. It looked like folded clothes. ‘You are a guest to our country and this is a gift for you. I'm sorry it is not new. It is a
shalwar qameez
, our national dress.' Kelsey said thank you but she hoped Shakila had another one to wear.

Suddenly, Kelsey heard a single loud cry from the yard. ‘What
is
that?' she said. The sound was so sad it made Kelsey want to rush out and help whoever made it.

‘I will show you next time you come,' Shakila said.

Mr Waheed was calling them into the courtyard. ‘Come, girls, we shall take you to where we are building the houses.'

Kelsey and Shakila ran down to the river and climbed into the boat with Mr Waheed, Izaak and Kelsey's dad. Mr Waheed spoke about the flood. ‘Half a million houses were destroyed, and in our area hundreds of people live in tents. We need to build many, many houses.'

While they travelled Kelsey could see families walking through the floodwaters with ropes tied around the children's waists. A tiny girl was floating along in a large cooking pot. Their clothes were caked in mud. Kelsey even noticed two boys carrying a
charpai
with an old lady lying on it.

Shakila saw Kelsey staring. ‘That is so she won't get wet.'

When they arrived, they walked up a grassy slope past a sea of white tents. Children stopped their chores or playing to watch them walk by.

‘This place is far enough from the river to build houses,' Mr Waheed said. ‘We can ask people to raise the money for the foundations of the houses and your aid organisation can pay the rest.'

Kelsey's dad nodded and pulled out his tape measure.

‘The houses will have one room and a small courtyard,' Mr Waheed said. ‘This is all the people are used to.'

Kelsey thought one room didn't sound big enough. Shakila's house had three rooms and a courtyard but there were so many people living there. Kelsey counted in her head. Only three people lived in her house in Australia and they had six rooms and that wasn't even counting the bathroom, toilet, laundry or kitchen.

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