Testing, testing, one, two, three, testing.
Tony watched the volume indicator needle on his cassette tape recorder dance with each word he spoke into the microphone. “This is Tony Parks, testing, testing.”
Carefully, he adjusted small, round control knobs, searching for the setting that would assure a clear recording with no hint of distortion.
“Coming to you live from the Parks farm, it’s the Tony Show, with your host, Tony Parks!” The boy forced air along his throat, trying to mimic the sound of thunderous applauding and cheering. Closing his eyes, he imagined himself surrounded by state-of-the-art broadcasting equipment with millions of admiring fans sitting by their radios excitedly awaiting his every word.
“Thank you, thank you!” Tony returned their adoration.
“You welcome, you welcome.” Startled, the would-be announcer looked up to discover Tie Li standing in the doorway.
“Oh, you scared me, little sister. How long have you been there?”
“I just come now. I thought you listening to the radio.”
Tony brightened. “You did? You thought I was the radio?”
“Yes. You sound like someone I hear all the time.”
Pride filled the boy’s chest. “I do? Who?”
“That man who sells cars and sits on a horse. I see him on TV too.”
Tony’s smile faded. “You don’t mean Wild Bill Branson, the used-car salesman? He’s terrible! He sounds like a goat.”
“But he have very nice horse.”
The boy sighed and lifted his hands to his head. “My career is ended. I’m crushed.”
Tie Li walked over to her brother. “I just kidding, Tony. You sound much better. You sound like newsman on TV.”
Tony looked through his fingers. “Are you just saying that to make me feel better?”
“Yes. I mean no. I mean–I’m confused.” Tie Li threw her hands up in frustration. “If you had radio program, I’d listen to you every day. I promise.”
Tony burst out laughing. “It’s OK Tie Li. I know you would. But I’m going to have to wait till my voice changes before I audition for the networks. For now, I just like to pretend.
The girl nodded. “Me too. Sometimes I pretend I’m a doctor, and I help people who get hurt. I go back to my country when the war is gone. I make everybody well and happy again.”
Tie Li sat down slowly beside Tony. “People can get well and happy again, can’t they?”
“You bet, Tie Li. But sometimes they need more help than a doctor can give.”
The boy nodded. “Yes.”
Tie Li traced a design on her skirt with her finger. “Will man in city help him?”
Tony looked down at his sister. “I think so. If anyone can, he can. That’s what Mom and Dad say.”
The two sat in silence for a long moment. Suddenly Tony jumped to his feet. “Aren’t we forgetting something?”
Tie Li jumped up too. “Yes. What?”
“Simon Gorby. We’re supposed to be making a tape to send him, remember?”
A smile returned to the girl’s face. “Yes, yes! We make a tape right now, OK?”
Tony motioned toward his desk. “The recorder is ready to go. I put a brand-new tape in it.”
The two sat down in front of a microphone Tony propped up on his study desk. The boy punched a few buttons and then, with professional poise, pointed at Tie Li.
Taking a deep breath, the girl began to speak.
“Hi, Simon. This your friend Tie Li talking. Thank you for sending me and Tony a letter. I read it five times already.
“I hope you like your new home in Florida. It’s nice that you live near the beach and can go swimming a lot. I don’t think you want to go swimming here. Last night it snowed six inches.
“Do you know what? My brother Kim is not–is not dead. He alive! He came on the airplane.” Tie Li’s voice faltered. “I see him at the airport. I-”
Tony leaned toward the microphone. “That’s true, Simon. We were there to meet Sister Martinez and a bunch of other kids from Tie Li’s country, and there he was. Boy, was it a shock!
“He speaks real good English–better than you. Government schools must be tough.
“Mom and Dad said we could adopt him, too, just like we adopted Tie Li. Hey, Simon, I’ve got a brother who can beat you up. Now he shows! ” Tony laughed out loud. “Where was he when I needed him?”
Tie Li joined in. “His bed is in attic room. He has little window, and can see the barn and pastures. He likes to sit by window and watch the cows.
“Sometimes I sit with him. I tell him about the farm and about how I fell in Bentley’s Pond and how Tony and I helped the chipmunk. But he doesn’t talk very much. He just listens to me. I think he’s very sad.
“I ask him to come play with Tony and me. He says he’s tired. When I’m building a snowman in the yard I look up at the window and I see him there watching me. I wave. Sometimes he waves to me too.
“Mom and Dad took him to a special man in the city. He’s like a doctor, but doesn’t do operations and stuff like that. They say he will help my brother feel better. I hope so. I love him and want him to be happy, the way he was before the war came to our village. This his home now. Here on farm. The other home is gone. Now he live here with me and Tony.” The girl hesitated. “I don’t know why he so sad. Why doesn’t he play with me like before?”
Tie Li’s voice drifted into silence. Tony quietly reached over and pressed a button on the recorder. With a click the tape stopped turning. The girl looked up at her brother. “Why, Tony? Why doesn’t he play with me?”
Tony stood up and walked to the window by his bed. His room was right below Kim’s. He could see the barnyard and pastures spreading out under the new snow. At the comer of the barn was the door to his workshop. Could his invention help Kim? Tony wondered. Would the man in the garden, the baby in the manger, help a boy with so much hurt inside? He stood staring into the cold afternoon air.
Far from the farm, amid the towering steel fingers of the city, another face stared from a window high above the throbbing streets. Lines of frustration appeared on the man’s forehead as he studied the skyline. Taking a deep breath, he spoke with controlled agitation. “How am I supposed to help you if you refuse to talk to me? ” He turned and looked at the 13-year-old boy sitting hunched down in the big overstuffed chair across the room.
“Look, I’m not trying to embarrass you. I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable. I’m just trying to help. But you’ve got to talk to me, tell me what’s going on inside that head of yours.”
The boy looked at the man by the window. “What’s it to you? Why do you have to know everything about me? My name is Kim. My home is a burned-out hole in the ground in a country far away from here. What else matters?”
The psychiatrist hurried to his desk. “A lot more matters. I know your past is painful, terribly so. But you have a future, a new home, people who want to love you. And you have a sister who needs you very, very much.”
Kim jumped to his feet. “What do you know about it? Have you ever had soldiers burn your village to the ground? Have you seen your parents–?” The boy fought to control his emotions. “You don’t know what it’s like. No one knows. No one!”
Kim buried his face in his fists. A groan escaped between clinched teeth. “I don’t have a home anymore. I don’t belong anywhere. Just leave me alone!”
The doctor closed his eyes. A familiar anger rose in his heart. Innocent victims were the worst casualties of war. Sometimes the mind suffered the most. And the mind was the hardest to heal.
He watched the boy rock back and forth in the chair. How do you create a home for the homeless? How do you return love to someone who has seen it snatched from him so violently?
“I cannot leave you alone in your suffering, Kim,” he said quietly. “For every person who hates in this world, there’s someone who’s willing to love.”
Kim looked over at the doctor. “You’re wrong. All love burned up in my village.”