The Accident

Word List

Que es esto? = What is this?

Funeral = funeral

Un ladron, una ladrona = thief (male, female)

Keeping my eyes on Victoria’s face, I was saying inside, Guy, are you crazy? That’s almost like accusing her. But it was too late now. All we could do was watch her face.

“Camera?” she looked from one to the other of us with a puzzled face. I couldn’t pick up the slightest scent of guilt or fear. She was either innocent or a stupendous actress.

“It was probably stolen Sunday,” I said. “From our room. We’ve searched everywhere, and we’ve announced it to the group, and they’ve been searching.”

“Un ladron stole your father’s camera?” she repeated, staring at me.

“Or una ladrona,” I said quietly.

She shot a glance at me, and I could see her mind working quickly. “But Lilia is gone.” Then she fell silent for a moment, eyes staring thoughtfully at the stick of sugar cane in her hand. Guy and I waited apprehensively for her next words.

“I am sorry,” she said simply. “What can I do to help?”

Guy said, “Do you know who might have stolen it?”

She shook her head, wide-eyed. “Lilia steals, but she is gone.”

“Nestor?” I suggested. “The Salvadoran workers on the project? Bundo?”

She put a hand to her cheek, still stunned–apparently

–by what we had told her. “I do not know. But tell me how it looks.”

“You mean what the camera looks like?” I said. I described the black body, the name Pentax on the front, Dad’s initials and Social Security number scratched on the bottom, and even the toothmark.

After I’d finished, Victoria simply nodded.

We walked Victoria back to the orphans’ wing of the girls’ dorm, where she had some chores to do. As we approached the boys’ dorm, we saw Bundo sitting at the base of the bat tree. He beckoned us over to him.

“Why is my father here?” he asked abruptly.

“Your father?” Guy said, stalling.

“Yes. My father is a policeofficer in the town. I saw him go inside there, and I asked him, and he would not tell me. Why is he here?”

Well, I could either lie, or stall some more, or tell the truth. I glanced at Guy, and decided–as he’d done with Victoria–to take the direct route.

“There’s been a robbery,” I said.

He became very watchful. “What was stolen?”

“A camera.”

He smirked. “Rich Norteamericanos should be careful with their cameras.”

“It was my father’s camera.”

Bundo raised an eyebrow.

Guy asked, “Do you know who might do something like that?”

Again we saw the sarcastic grin cross his face. “Anybody. It is very easy.”

“We’d really like to get that camera back,” I said. “Do you have any ideas?”

He took a deep breath and expelled it, puffing out his cheeks. “I have some friends in town,” he said. “I will ask them today.”

Guy and I glanced at each other. “Thanks,” I said.

Bundo asked me to describe the camera in detail, and then left us, sauntering in the direction of town.

Later, riding the bus toward town for the second day to help at Vacation Bible School, we saw an interesting and very sad sight.

“What are those people doing?” asked Mrs. Campbell, peering out her window.

Balancing ourselves as best we could in the jouncing bus, we moved over beside her. Some of the orphans knelt on their seats and stared curiously.

Across a narrow meadow was another road, parallel to ours. Along that road walked a long line of people. They were following a small, slow-moving pickup truck. On the back of the truck was a long wooden box covered with flowers.

Suddenly I remembered a sentence from the Berlitz book.

“Que es esto?” I asked one of the orphan girls.

“Funeral,” she said. It sounded like “fooh-neh-rahl.”

“A funeral,” whispered Mrs. Campbell. “Look at that, will you? And I suppose that’s the body, on the back of the pickup. No hearse, no family car, just that little yellow Toyota. There must be about 100 people in that group of mourners.”

A stand of trees finally hid the funeral procession from our view, but all of us in our bus–even the orphans–bounced down the road in thoughtful silence.

* * *

“Eighty? Is that what you counted?” Mrs. Campbell asked me as craft time was starting at VBS.

“That, or pretty close to it,” I answered. “Some of the smaller kids were moving around pretty fast.”

“Let’s hope we have enough supplies,” she said under her breath.

Today’s craft consisted of decorating a furry ball about the size of a Ping-Pong ball attached to the end of a pencil. Guy and I helped hand out supplies and then went up and down the rows again, he with a glue bottle putting two tiny globs on each fuzzy ball. I followed with some plastic eyes, which I helped the kids press onto the glue globs. Then some other helpers followed with more decorations.

Most of the kids were really cute, with big dark eyes, and they would point to their pencil-and-ball crafts and ask me questions about them in Spanish. I felt foolish that I couldn’t talk to them, so I changed the subject and asked them, “Como se llama?” or “Como esta usted?” One little boy, who couldn’t have been more than 3, got close to me and hugged me around the leg, staring up at me all the while.

As on the previous day at VBS, I found myself thinking serious thoughts about spending at least part of my life in foreign mission work.

“Guy, look,” I whispered later.

Craft time was over, and Mrs. Campbell was leading the kids in a few more songs. Guy and I were standing off to the side.

“Look at what?”

“That boy in the middle about five rows up on the aisle. He’s holding his sister on his lap. He looks like he’s about our age.”

Guy scanned the crowd and spotted him. The little sister was singing at the top of her voice, but the boy wasn’t even listening to the music. Instead, he was staring out the window with such a blank, despairing look in his eyes that my heart went out to him.

“What’s wrong with him?” I whispered.

Guy watched him awhile. “I’m not sure. Maybe he doesn’t like baby-sitting.”

“It’s worse than that,” I said. “He looks like he’s lost his last friend. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget that stare of his.”

On the bus ride back to the school a few of the orphans gathered around Guy and me and good-humoredly tried to teach us Spanish, while we tried to teach them English. Guy showed them a trick that makes it looks like you’re removing the tip of your thumb, and with my Flexgrip pen I drew faces on their hands, with the eyes positioned right over the palm’s natural creases. Then when they closed their hands, the eyes winked.

We came to a stop in front of the boys’ dorm, where Victoria was waiting for the orphans. The kids said cautious, experimental English “`Bye”s, and then followed Victoria away to their rooms. When Guy and I stepped off the bus, we noticed Mr. Kinney standing beside a long white van belonging to the school. He was beckoning to us with urgent arm motions.

“Mark? Mark, come here.”

Guy and I hurried over.

“Mark, there’s been an accident. Your father has fallen off a ladder.”

My heart doubled its speed. “Where is he?”

“He’s in a small clinic downtown. Hop in. I’m just going there.” He glanced around and lowered his voice. “Al Denton thinks there may have been foul play.”

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The Accident

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