Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll (3 page)

B
ack at the village, Kelsey tried to do her schoolwork. Her Barbie sat on the table beside her as she typed what she had seen. But she kept thinking how awful it would be to lose your house and everything in it. Just then she heard the bubbly sound of a Skype call. It was Nanna Rose in her favourite pink shirt. As soon as she smiled Kelsey said, ‘I miss you. I wish we could have afternoon tea. The
chai
here is too strong and sweet.'

‘I miss you too, Kels, but you must be seeing interesting things and meeting nice people.'

‘I saw more of the floods today, and it was so sad. I met Shakila too. She's nice, but she doesn't even have a doll.'

‘Why not?'

‘Maybe they don't have the money.' Kelsey wondered what it would be like to not have enough money for a doll. She glanced at her Barbie and that was when Kelsey decided to give her to Shakila. It made her feel lighter and she told Nanna more news.

‘We went in a boat and saw where Dad's going to build a new village.' She stopped to take a breath and suddenly said, ‘Nanna, we're not here long enough. There are so many people living in tents. It would take forever to build them all houses.' She felt a prickling behind her eyes. How will Dad be able to do it in a few months?

‘Perhaps other people will carry on the work after you have left.' Nanna Rose sounded so sensible.

‘Kelsey, what do you think Amy Jo is doing now?'

‘She's still in the water. It would be awful, Nanna. I know because I've seen it close up.'

The river was taking Amy Jo far away. She drifted with the water like a leaf. There was nothing she could do about it and she bumped into horrible things.

Once she was pushed up against a huge, black body. It was bigger than the giant bear in the Teddy Bear Shop. Planks of wood floated past and scratched her arms and face. A book bumped up against her stomach and cloth swirled around her legs.

Suddenly she was caught. The water couldn't wash her away. She was stuck in some wire with her arms above her head.

She could feel the cold water dripping into her body between the arm and leg joints. She was growing heavier and her legs weren't floating anymore. The water was up to her neck. It was seeping in where her head joined too. She was going to sink. No one would find her and she would never know the love of a child!

Just when the water was up to her nose, she heard a voice. A man in a rowboat was fishing out rubbish from the river. He pulled some wood into his boat. ‘Ah, I need this wire too,' he said.

He tugged on the wire and rolled it around his elbow. Amy Jo felt the wire dragging on her arms.

‘It's caught on something,' the man murmured. He gave the wire a yank and it came away from the branch it was entangled in. Along with it came Amy Jo, her hair streaming like a waterfall.

‘What's this? A
gudiya
, a doll?' He carefully unhooked her from the wire and stared at her. ‘You could be sold. Soon we might have enough money for the foundation of a house.'

He put her on the floor of the boat along with two flapping fish. They flicked water all over her face. They were not happy and soon they lay quiet. When the boat reached the shore the man took Amy Jo and the fish to a long line of tents. He stopped at one with a
charpai
outside in the sun.

‘Zebi,' he called. A girl appeared at the tent flap. ‘Here is dinner, and see what you can do with this doll. We shall sell her if you can clean her up.'

‘
Teik hai, Abu
. Okay, Dad,' she said.

Zebi carried Amy Jo to her mattress as if she held gold.

‘You are too special to sell,' Zebi said to Amy Jo. ‘I shall call you Gudiya, Gudie for short. I know you've come from far away, Gudie. Some rich family has lost you and a girl must be very sad. Are you sad too?'

Zebi put her ear against Amy Jo's mouth. ‘
Ji
, yes, I thought so. You are very wet and very sad.'

She took off Amy Jo's clothes and tipped her upside down to let all the floodwater drip out. With a bucket of water and soap, she washed Amy Jo, taking special care to get the mud out of her golden hair. Then she washed her dress and socks. Amy Jo had lost a bootlace so Zebi found some white embroidery thread to crochet a new one.

She combed Amy Jo's hair and plaited it just like her own. While Amy Jo's dress was drying, Zebi let her sit on her mattress. Amy Jo thought this was much better than standing on the shelf in the shop. Zebi was gentle and she cared about Amy Jo's feelings.

‘Do you like sitting here, Gudie?' Zebi asked Amy Jo.

Zebi listened carefully for Amy Jo's response. ‘
Ji
, I thought you would.' She rearranged Amy Jo's dress to cover her knees. ‘I had a doll once. My
ummie
sewed it for me. She had buttons for eyes and
Ummie
embroidered her a smiling mouth.'

Amy Jo wondered where the doll was now.

Zebi sighed. ‘But she was lost when our house got swept away in the flood. She wasn't a real
gudiya
like you, but I loved her just the same.'

K
elsey put on the
shalwar qameez
. It was red with white polka dots. Then she dressed her Barbie in a new outfit too. She thought Shakila would like it: bright pink shorts and a shirt.

Mum walked in with folded washing. ‘Are you coming to the clinic today? Later we can go to the bazaar to buy cloth for the ladies' sewing lessons.'

‘I can't, Mum. If I go with Dad he will drop me at Shakila's. Look.' She held up the Barbie. ‘I want to give this to her. She doesn't have any dolls at all.'

Her mum hesitated. ‘All right,' she said. ‘But be careful. Don't drink any water in their house. Tea and soft drinks are okay.'

Mum said there were bugs in the water that gave tummy upsets and she boiled their water before they drank it. ‘Don't go too close to the river without an adult.'

Kelsey wasn't sure she'd manage the last bit. All the adults at Shakila's house looked too busy to take children to the river. It was even Shakila who looked after her little brother.

‘Thanks, Mum.'

Kelsey grabbed her drink bottle, lunch and backpack, and a notebook and pencil for Raza too. She ran to catch up to her dad at the river. It was just like running to the front gate at home.

He pulled her ponytail when he saw her. ‘Haven't had enough of floods yet, Kels? I thought you were going with Mum today.'

‘Shakila said I could visit. Can you drop me there, please?'

‘Jump in,' Dad said. Izaak flashed her a smile as wide as Mr Waheed's.

Kelsey walked up the rise to Shakila's gate and knocked. When it opened she saw the women sitting in the courtyard on low stools preparing vegetables and washing clothes by hand.

‘
Salaam
, hello,' Shakila's mother said.

‘
Salaam ji
, Mrs Waheed,' Kelsey said.

The ladies giggled behind their scarves. Kelsey thought she must have said it wrong, even though Dad made her practise what to say if someone said hello.

‘Is Shakila here?'

Mrs Waheed shook her head. ‘School,' she said. ‘
Ao
, come. I will take you.'

Kelsey didn't want to go to the school. Everything would be strange. The kids would stare at her and she wouldn't understand.

Mrs Waheed held Kelsey's hand and led her to the tent. She entered the open flap with Kelsey close behind.

All the girls stood up together like an army parade standing to attention.

‘Good morning, Mrs Waheed,' the teacher said. ‘Who is this?'

‘Miss Parveen, this is Shakila's
dost
, her friend.'

Kelsey was too shy to look around the tent to find Shakila.

Miss Parveen called Shakila to the front. ‘Shakila, your friend may stay in school but you must look after her.'

Shakila was excited, Kelsey could tell by her eyes, but she quietly said, ‘
Ji
, miss.'

‘Come with me,' she whispered to Kelsey and showed her where to sit on an old rug. Some girls moved to let Kelsey sit down. ‘This is our English lesson,' Shakila whispered.

Kelsey felt happier about that.

‘Open your books to page twenty, girls,' Miss Parveen said. ‘Say this after me.' She read out a sentence in English and all the girls repeated it, including Kelsey.

Shakila put her hand up.

‘Yes, Shakila?'

‘Miss, Kelsey comes from Australia. Can she read the sentences today?'

‘That's a good idea.' Miss Parveen beckoned for Kelsey to stand.

‘Go on, read the lesson,' Shakila whispered.

Kelsey thought her throat would dry up, but she managed to speak. ‘The black buffalo fell in the mud.'

All the girls repeated it and then they giggled. Miss Parveen said, ‘
Chup
, quiet.'

‘Why did they laugh?' Kelsey whispered to Shakila.

‘Because you speak proper English and it sounds different. Say it slower. Your English is too fast.'

Miss Parveen said, ‘Kelsey, please tell a story to the girls so they can listen.'

Kelsey paused and thought of Amy Jo and her quest to find someone to love. ‘One day there was a special porcelain doll called Amy Jo,' she said. The girls listened eagerly while Kelsey spoke.

Then Miss Parveen gave two claps. ‘
Accha
, good, Kelsey. Perhaps you can tell us more another day.'

It was time to leave the tent with Shakila, and Miss Parveen thanked her for helping. ‘Come again,' she said. ‘It is very good for the girls to hear English spoken by a native speaker.'

‘Let's run,' Shakila said. ‘I have something to show you.'

‘So do I.' Kelsey followed Shakila across the field to their walled-in yard. Shakila took her through the outside gate to a pen near the house. Suddenly Kelsey heard the strange cry that made her feel sad yesterday.

Shakila opened the pen and Kelsey gasped. ‘A peacock! It's so beautiful.' The bird strutted over to Shakila and she scratched under its beak.

‘I've never seen a live one before,' Kelsey said. ‘It's such a bright blue.'

Shakila laughed. ‘
Abu
found it in a cage in the flood and rescued it. It's still young but now we hope to find a mate. Imagine what a business we'll have. Chicks cost two thousand
rupees
to buy.'

‘Wow.' Kelsey crept up close to the bird but it stepped back and raised its tail. ‘It looks like a huge fan, with a circle of eyes.'

‘He is trying to frighten you, but he will get used to you soon.' Then she said, ‘Come, I must look after Raza. You can help.'

Shakila shut the pen behind them but Kelsey couldn't stop looking at the peacock. He gave another cry. He sounded heartbroken to see them go. Then Billie gently butted her just as if she knew Kelsey was sad too.

They found Raza in the courtyard with Mrs Waheed.

‘Kila!' he said. Kelsey thought it must be the only word he knew.

‘Here,' Mrs Waheed said when she saw Shakila. ‘Take him out with the goats.' She handed Shakila a cloth bag.

Raza let Kelsey hold his hand as they followed Shakila to the yard.

Shakila opened the outside gate. Billie and the other two goats pushed past her and ran out to the field. Raza clapped his hands and laughed.

‘Why did you do that?' Kelsey asked. ‘It will take ages to catch them.'

‘No, it won't. They need to find grass to eat. We can watch them while we eat our food.'

‘Okay,' Kelsey said, as Shakila shut the gate. ‘We can share my cheese sandwich.'

Shakila smiled. ‘I have food for you too.'

Inside Shakila's cloth bag were three rolled
chapattis
and inside each was a fried egg with salt and pepper. They sat in a grassy spot to eat them.

Kelsey thought
chapattis
had never tasted so good. Shakila liked the sandwich too.

‘I have something else for you,' Kelsey said when they had finished and Raza toddled off to play. She unzipped her backpack and took out the notebook and pencil. ‘First, this is for Raza to scribble in.'

‘
Shukriya
, thank you, I'll keep it for him.' Shakila's fingers curled around the pencil. ‘We had pencils and exercise books at our school before the flood but they all got washed away.' Kelsey thought she'd better bring one for Shakila too; she had a whole pencil case of them. Next she took out the Barbie and handed it to Shakila.

‘For me?' Shakila said, a hopeful light in her eyes.

Kelsey nodded.

‘
Shukriya
.'

Kelsey knew what that meant now. ‘You're welcome.' She watched Shakila's shining eyes as she cradled the Barbie.

Before dinner Kelsey wrote emails to Chantelle and Mrs Penner. She told them about the flood and the tent school. That was when she had an idea. If every person in her class gave ten cents then every girl in the tent school could have a pencil. She made a poster on the computer and emailed it to her teacher as well. It must have been late in Australia but Mrs Penner emailed back instantly. She thought raising money for pencils was a great idea.

Kelsey started the pencil fund straight away. She found a tin and put in fifty cents. Five pencils already.

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