“I think that’s everything.” Mr. Gorby gave a final tug on the rope he’d strung over the bundle of belongings piled on top of the old, battered station wagon. “You ready to head for sunny skies?”
Simon jammed a small suitcase into the tightly packed back seat and stretched his tired arm muscles. “You never know how much junk you have until you’ve got to move it. Next time you change jobs we’ll probably need a trailer or something.”
Mr. Gorby smiled. “Ah, the rewards of success’having more stuff than you can pile into a 1967 Chevrolet.” Looking up at the apartment building, he added, “And we’re going to get a place of our own, out away from the city. No more apartment living for us!”
“Yeah, Dad. Just you, me, and the alligators!” Simon settled himself in the front seat. “And no more cold weather. Florida’s sounding better all the time.”
Mr. Gorby shifted the car into first gear and eased away from the curb. As they drove out of town, the man glanced over at his son. “You’ve changed, Simon.”
The boy sat watching the fences and telephone poles speed by. “I have? How?”
“You’re not as . . .” Mr. Gorby searched for the right word. “. . .as angry as before. Do you know what I mean?”
Simon was silent for a long moment. “I think so. I’I found out something about myself, about why I am the way I am. I found out I was listening to the wrong voice.”
“The wrong voice? What are you talking about?”
Simon took a deep breath. “I’m going to tell you a story, Dad. It happened a long time ago. You see, there was this garden . . .”
The old car sped along the highway, heading south, away from the city, toward a new beginning for Mr. Gorby and his son Simon.
High above, hidden by the clouds, a giant airliner banked to the left and started descending in the direction of a long runway resting against the horizon. Tray tables and seat belts clicked amid the happy chatter of children as Sister Martinez scurried from row to row, making sure each small person in her charge was ready for landing.
By a window sat the boy from the jungle clinic, his face pressed against the Plexiglas, staring down on the clouds drifting below.
Sister Martinez touched his shoulder. “Your seat belt. Be sure to fasten your seat belt before we land.”
The boy nodded. Reaching down, he adjusted the silver buckle in his lap and pulled the belt snugly around himself. What was this new country going to be like? What did life have in store for him now? His eyes searched the horizon for his first glimpse of America.
The terminal building swarmed with people hurrying from gate to gate, looking for connecting flights or incoming friends and family members. Tie Li and Tony stood in the enclosed observation deck, watching the big airplanes land and take off. As each plane came into view, the girl would tug on her brother’s arm. “Is that it? Is that it?”
Tony would study the writing on the side of the airplane. “No, that’s not Global. Don’t worry. It’ll be here soon.”
A few minutes later the boy pointed at a large airliner just about to touch down. “There. That’s Global. I think that’s the one they’re on.”
Tie Li jumped up and down. “Soon I see Sister Martinez and my friends. I very excited.”
“Oh?” Tony said, watching his little sister. “I could never tell by looking at you.”
Tie Li laughed and ran to where Mr. and Mrs. Parks were sitting. “They come,” she called. “They come right now!”
The family made their way to the long glass partition separating the customs area from the waiting room. Since this particular flight originated out of the country, all passengers would have to pass through customs and have their passports and baggage checked before they could legally enter the United States.
Soon a door opened on the far side of the customs area, and passengers began filing in. Tie Li pressed her nose against the glass, waiting to catch a glimpse of her beloved Sister Martinez. Tony smiled down at his sister. “You’re making your face all flat,” he teased. “They won’t be able to recognize you.”
“They know me, even with flat face,” she said breathlessly.
A woman in a long, flowing black gown came through the door. Tie Li let out a squeal. “There she is! Look, Tony. That Sister Martinez!”
The woman caught sight of the girl and waved. A row of children followed close behind her as she made her way toward the passport checking gate. Several of them waved excitedly at Tie Li, who returned their greetings with happy shouts.
“They can’t hear you,” Tony said. “But I think they get the idea.”
In no time the group of children ran into the waiting room and swarmed around Tie Li like an energetic, noisy flock of birds. Tony watched his sister hug every squirming body. They spoke in a language totally foreign to him, but he knew how much they cared for each other by the look of love on each face.
Tie Li drank in the sounds of her native tongue. How she had missed talking to people in the language of her own country! She chattered away, just to enjoy the way the words rolled around in her mouth.
Because of the commotion, no one noticed when a young boy entered the glassed-in customs area and took a seat near a big window overlooking the parking ramp. Sister Martinez had decided that since he didn’t know anyone at this airport, he could wait here for their continuing flight without going through the checkout gate with the rest of the children. He sat down on a chair and studied the airplanes moving slowly along the taxi-ways.
After Tie Li had hugged Sister Martinez and everyone else within reach, she started introducing her friends to her American brother. “This Tony,” she said in English. “He take good care of me. He very smart. I think someday he be scientist or maybe astronaut.”
The girls all giggled. Tony felt embarrassed by the attention.
Mrs. Parks brought Sister Martinez up-to-date on her little daughter, telling about her progress in school, her admiration for Tony, and all the hilarious things she did each day. The sister laughed and nodded. “That sounds like our Tie Li, all right! Look at her. She’s such a bundle of energy. I’m so glad she has wonderful folk like you for parents. Thank God some of these other children will soon have new parents too.” Then she saddened. “But there’re so many more where these came from. We’ve got to find other couples who will volunteer to love these tiny victims of a horrible war. All my children need homes. No child should live without a mother and father to help him or her grow up.”
All too soon a voice came over the loudspeaker, announcing the continuation of Global Flight 311. It was time for Sister Martinez and her group of children to leave. Tie Li hugged and kissed her friends one last time, telling them to have courage as they began their new lives in America. She gave her friends her address and told them to write just as soon as they were settled.
Tony watched his sister bravely holding back the tears as each one slipped from her grasp and returned to the large customs area. Tie Li pressed her face against the glass again and waved weakly, trying hard to smile.
Then she saw the boy sitting by the window on the far side of the customs area. Her hand slowed to a stop in midair. Something was familiar about the curve of his neck, the line of his shoulders and arms. Tie Li studied his outline against the bright light flooding through the window.
Her face grew ashen and her mouth dropped open. Tony saw her back away from the glass, a look of agonizing unbelief in her eyes.
“Tie Li,” he whispered. “What is it? What’s the matter?”
The boy by the window got up and started walking toward the door to the waiting airplane. Tie Li’s breathing became rapid. Tony called to his parents. “Mom, Dad, come quick! Something’s wrong with Tie Li!”
The girl rushed back to the glass and began pounding on the thick, smooth surface. Unintelligible sounds escaped from her throat as she tried to speak. She was trembling, losing control of her ability to stand. The Parkses ran to her, unsure of what to do.
The boy paused at the exit door. A sigh rose in his chest. He felt tired. Alone.
Out of the corner of his eye he caught a movement across the room. A crowd of people were gathering around a little girl who was pounding on the glass. He could hear no sound, only see a small face pressed against the clear partition.
Halfway through the door he suddenly stopped. That face! He knew that face! The boy whirled around and stared at the little girl. Deep inside him he heard a laughing voice calling out his name. He saw loving eyes looking up at him. Those were the eyes! That was the face that lived only in his heart! His lips moved silently, speaking the words that had once meant the world to him. “Tie Li,” he whispered. “Tie Li.”
Tie Li stopped her wild beating on the glass and stood motionless, looking at the boy in the doorway.
Tony bent down beside her. “Who is that, Tie Li? Do you know who that boy is?”
“He Kim. He my brother.”
Tony looked up at his parents, then at the boy. Mr. and Mrs. Parks stared at each other in stunned disbelief.
The boy walked slowly across the room, his eyes never leaving the girl on the other side of the glass. Tears began flowing down his thin cheeks. How could this be? His precious Tie Li was dead. She was killed in the fires. This must be a dream. It had to be a dream!
The girl moved her lips. She was speaking his name, calling quietly to him. “Kim. Kim.” Tie Li repeated the word, almost afraid that her saying it might make the boy disappear. But he remained. He was real. She was looking into the face of her brother!
“KIM!” Tie Li screamed, running toward the door.
People tried to get out of her way as she stumbled around them, overturning plant stands, bouncing off suitcases. A guard at the door saw the little girl coming and tried to stop her, but she squeezed past him without even slowing down.
In seconds she was through the door, running in the direction of her brother. The boy dropped to his knees, hands outstretched, his eyes filled with wonder and tears.
Tie Li threw herself into his embrace. They wept together, lost in their unspeakable joy.
Mrs. Parks slipped her hand into her husband’s. “Well,” she smiled. “It looks like our family is about to grow again.”
Mr. Parks laid his hand on Tony’s shoulder. “How about it, son?”
Tony smiled up at him. “I was just thinking the very same thing, Dad.” He looked through the glass again. “I’ve always wanted a brother.”
Tie Li’s eyes met Tony’s. She reached out her hand toward him. Tony fought back tears. Once again God had done the impossible.