Perched on her favorite tree, Yalda spotted them the moment they turned the corner.
As usual, Doda and Alex were holding hands, engrossed in impassionate discussion. Yalda had been waiting for this moment the whole afternoon, ever since Alex had told her in the morning that Doda had prepared a brand new game for today.
“Now, I’ll tell you as much as I can without endangering anybody,” she heard Doda confide to Alex as they passed under her without raising their head. Yalda was about to call out to them, then thought better of it. After all, it was Doda’s birthday, not her own. Doda should be the one to decide when to start the game.
Alex seemed to have forgotten everything about their planned meeting at the gate, so Yalda climbed down as quietly as she could; her ears pricked so as not to loose a word of Doda’s confidences to Alex. It wasn’t really eavesdropping, since they were meant to be together from the moment they passed the gate. It was all part of the game, wasn’t it?
“Promise you won’t get cross!” smiled Doda to Alex, her face bright with excitement, half teasing Alex, half protecting herself from his judgment on a sensitive subject.
“I’m already cross,” growled Alex, struggling not to give in to Doda’s attempts to charm him. “So what difference does it make? Anyway, you organized this trip to Mora without telling me a word about it, didn’t you? You talked to her last week, or so you just said. A whole week without as much as breathing a word about it…” he grumbled on.
“But, you’d never have let me go, would you?” interrupted Doda, pouting.
“Of course, not! Who needs that old witch’s fairy tales?” he snapped back at her.
“So you see, I had no choice…” Doda laughed, wrapping her arms around his shoulder and kissing him lightly on the temple. “Come on, be a sport. Tell me you forgive me and I’ll tell you all I can tell…” she crooned, her eyes pleading.
“All right, you little witch…” Alex surrendered, smiling despite himself. “I don’t understand what you need Mora for, though. You get everything you want with your own wiles…” he added gracefully.
“Don’t be silly,” Doda giggled, blushing slightly. “So,” she continued, looking more serious. “As I was telling you, I popped in to see Mora again, this morning before school. She gave me this,” she said, carefully extracting from her schoolbag a package wrapped in brown paper. “She says it will take me to Mum and Dad, but I have to be very careful. If I make a single mistake, I might never be able to come back.”
Alex put a warning hand on Doda’s arm. “Don’t do anything foolish. I don’t like any of Mora’s stuff. She was the one who put all these ‘quest’ ideas into your parents’ head. And now they are gone…”
“And I have to find them”, Doda continued. “They must have got waylaid. Mora says they came to see her the day before they went missing. She said they showed her some kind of amulet they had found at the archeological dig in the fields. My mother was adamant that it would help her find out what had happened to her before she was found by the British army and sent to an orphanage. Mora said that she told them not to use it because it was dangerous, but that they didn’t listen to her.”
Alex smirked. “She also says she knows the secret of eternal youth, though you’d never guess it by looking at her. She looks like she could be three hundred years old. Don’t believe everything she says. She has great stories, but that is all they are, stories… Bedtime stories to frighten little children. Your parents are dead, Doda.”
“How come they were never found, then?” protested Doda.
“Every winter people disappear during the storms. And the currents wash everything away from the shores. You know that as well as I do, Doda. Anyway, what did she give you? Can I see?” he asked, his hand reaching for the packet.
Doda jerked it away. “Hands off!” she shouted, “I can’t tell you what’s in there. Just that it is the key to the underworld. She made me swear not to show it to anyone. Not even to you. It could ruin everything if you saw it.”
“Come on, Doda!” pleaded Alex, “Don’t be a spoilsport. You have to tell me, otherwise how will I be able to fetch you if, God forbid, you get lost like your parents?”
“You just said my parents were dead. So you don’t even believe this could be dangerous. Why do you worry so much about Mora’s bedtime stories, if that is all they are?” she answered, half jokingly.
“Because I am not sure Mora hasn’t got dangerous things in that cabin. I never liked the look of all those phials in there,” he answered, dead serious. “There have been a number of sudden unexplained deaths on the island, as you know, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that she knows a lot more about them than the police. Bedtime stories don’t kill people, but poison does. And most of these sudden deaths were somehow connected to someone who had a fight with someone else, who had been visiting Mora shortly before the event. Or at least, that’s what my mum says.”
“Your mum hates her. She disapproves of her living alone in a cabin when she’s been offered a flat in the best old people’s home of the island. She always rants about how it would never happen to her, as she’s not the island’s last native. Your mum is jealous, that’s all.”
“Maybe,” Alex pouted dubiously, “but that doesn’t explain everything. Your parents went to see her, and the next day, they disappeared and never came back.”
“So, now you’re saying that the poisons she stores in her cabin can sink boats. Even in my most fantastic stories, nobody sinks boats with poison,” Doda laughed. “Come on, just admit that you’re curious. You’re just a nosy little boy who wants to know what’s in my little package here. Let’s make a deal, shall we?” she offered. “There’s nothing to swallow in this package. That much I can tell you. So, no poison…”
“All right, what’s the deal?” smiled Alex, “I have to find you a boat on which you’ll embark alone, sail to Nether Land, rescue your parents from untold dangers and sail safely back to shore…?”
“Silly boy…!” Doda laughed. “Never would I presume such willingness on your part to indulge my whims…” she declaimed theatrically. “No,” she went on in a more serious tone, “I’ll just go into my room, try this on and if nothing happens, I’ll show you what it is. How does that sound?”
“You mean it’s all going to happen from the safety of your very own bedroom?” asked Alex, relaxing visibly as he realized she wouldn’t be taking any risks. “Have a nice trip to the FreeKingdom, then, and send us post cards…”, he added jokingly, stretching out comfortably in the shade.
As Doda skimped happily towards the house, Yalda got out from behind the tree trunk that hid her and shook Alex’s shoulder, excited at the prospect of a brand new game. “Is this the new game?” she asked him eagerly, flashing all her missing teeth as she smiled happily
“Hi, Kiddo,” Alex answered, sitting up and hugging Yalda. “I guess you could say so,” he continued, glancing at Doda who was struggling as Kelev, her large black dog, welcomed her by doing his best to lick every single part of her face. “But we’re not to play with her today. She is going to save her parents and she wants to be alone to do that,” he explained gently.
“That’s not logical!” protested Yalda. “How can she expect to save her two grown parents all by herself when it usually takes the two of you to save a little child like me? She’s sure to need some help!” she added and, not stopping a moment to think any further, she sprinted forward to catch up with Doda.
“Wait!” shouted Alex. “She wants to be left alone!” he continued. Then, seeing Yalda already halfway up the slope and Doda waving at her, he crossed his hands under his neck, relaxed against the tree trunk and proceeded to enjoy the coolness of the shade.
“Doda!” panted Yalda as she reached her auntie, “I can help you if you need me!” she added, her eager face turned up and her eyes gazing adoringly at Doda.
“Alex told you what my mission is today?” asked Doda affectionately, tousling Yalda’s curly hair.
Yalda nodded enthusiastically. “And I’m sure it would be better if someone comes with you. It’s hard to save two people all on your own, you know,” she added seriously, her mouth puckered and her eyebrows frowning.
Doda laughed at the obvious concern of her little niece. “I know how you could help me!” she exclaimed suddenly. “You could sit by my window and make sure that no-one – and I mean no-one, not even Kelev…– Come back here!” she yelled in the middle of her sentence as a minute orange monkey scampered away, triumphantly holding on to a piece of the brown paper of Doda’s package and a flimsy blue something torn from its content.
“Kofi! Come here this instant!” she ordered furiously, to the total indifference of the monkey, who screeched happily as it climbed to the highest branch of the jacaranda tree by the veranda.
Doda glanced at the damage to her precious package, frowned, shrugged and resumed her conversation with Yalda. “So you see how much I need your help,” she whispered in Yalda’s ear conspiratorially. “It is of the utmost importance that nobody sees me. So please, stand guard at my window. And keep an eye on Kofi! Don’t let him sneak behind your back! He’s a real devil, that monkey.” She paused for a moment. With a slightly tense smile, she added “And if anything happens, you take Alex with you to save me, otherwise, he’ll feel left out.”
“You have my word!” declaimed Yalda, who had not noticed the trace of worry in Doda’s voice and was keen to start the game.
“So, as Mum always says: ‘Keep it over your life, as by breaking it, you loose yourself!’’ Doda declaimed back at her, winking, before adding, “Off you go. Tell me when you’re ready and I’ll do what I have to do!” she egged Yalda.
“You do that!” smiled Doda, “And, remember, if there is any need to save me, you call Alex for help,” she giggled, remembering how worried he was for no reason at all.
“Promise!” beamed Yalda as, proud of her mission, she prowled to the back of the house and crouched underneath Doda’s bedroom windowsill.
“Ready!” she shouted through the closed window.
“Perfect!” answered Doda from inside. “Be quiet now. I’ll call you as soon as you can come in.”
From her post, Yalda heard Doda lock her door and tear some paper, probably the package’s wrapping. Soon after, a weird muffled music seeped out, and then …
Suddenly, the wall that had been standing behind Yalda barely a moment before was gone. Vanished! So was Doda’s entire bedroom, leaving a gaping void underneath Mum and Dad’s bedroom that jutted above exactly nothing. Or, even more exactly, above a swirling multi-colored tunnel spiraling down into the infinity that had swallowed Doda’s bedroom, its contents and its only occupant.
“Doooodaaaaaa!” screamed Yalda down the multihued whirlpool that had robbed her of the solid ground of everyday reality. She was breathing in to fill her lungs enough to send her screams all the way down to hell if need be when, as suddenly as it had gone, the bedroom was back.
“Doda…! What happened? Have you got them?” shouted Yalda excitedly through the mesh screen that kept insects out of Doda’s room.
Only silence answered.
“Anything wrong?” panted Alex, who, alerted by the anguished sound of Yalda’s voice, had been running to see why she had been screaming so loud.
“I don’t know. The room was gone and then it came back and Doda doesn’t answer,” blurted Yalda very fast while peering uselessly in the dark space behind the mesh.
“Is this a game you and Doda cooked up because she wanted to be saved for a change?” asked Alex half-jokingly, patting Yalda’s head with affection. Noticing Yalda’s puzzled face; Alex was suddenly filled with dread. There was something in Yalda’s expression that he had never seen before and he did not like at all. “I’d better go in and check on her,” he said, forcing himself to sound unconcerned, true to his usual role of protecting Yalda from real or imaginary dangers. “I don’t quite understand what you mean when you say that the room was gone, but it doesn’t sound right to me,” he mumbled to himself. “Wait for me here,” he added louder.
A short moment later, Yalda could hear Alex’s fists banging on Doda’s oak bedroom door. “Doda!” she could hear him shouting through the stubbornly locked door. “Open up! This isn’t funny any more.” When no reaction came from inside, he returned to Yalda outside. “I’ll have to get in through here,” he said, pointing at the screen. “She’s not answering and I want to make sure she’s OK,” he added, taking a Swiss knife out of his pocket and using the blade to unscrew the mosquito net frame.
Confident that Alex was going to solve everything as he always did, Yalda, her worries momentarily gone, observe with interest the way he struggled to keep the blade in the screw wedge, noticing that he was using the back of the blade, probably to avoid blunting the sharp edge.
“What are you doing?” boomed Yeled’s voice, startling both Yalda and Alex, neither of whom had noticed him and Raver coming up to the house. “Is that a new game of yours?” Yeled added, looking at the half-unscrewed screen. “I’m not sure Mum will like it. If there’s one thing she insists upon, it’s that we keep flies and mosquitoes out of the house…” he added, rubbing his nose. “What’s it about anyway?”
“It’s not a game,” explained Yalda, still confident that Alex was going to fix whatever it was that went wrong. “Doda was gone to get her parents back, and then a spinning tunnel swallowed her bedroom and then spit it back into place and since then, Doda doesn’t answer,” she finished, eagerly explaining the situation to her big brother.
“Wow! That’s a good one, kiddo!” exclaimed Raver admiringly. “Much better than your usual damsel in distress stuff. Did you make this one up, bro?” he added, turning to Alex, with whom he bore a striking resemblance, except that, unlike his brother, Raver was stocky and muscular.
“It’s not a game,” Alex answered, lowering the screen and leaning it against the wall. “I really don’t know what happened this time,” he added, inserting the blade of his knife in the small space under the window lock and fiddling with it. “She was given something by Mora…” he continued, his face screwed up as he tried to force the lock open.
“That fat, smelly so-called witch!” exclaimed Raver, oozing spite. “How did she happen to meet Doda?” he continued, all of his previous irony about Yalda’s game gone, replaced by something that could have been mistaken for worry by anybody who did not know Raver.
“Doda met her last week at the grocery. That’s when they organized this morning’s meeting. Couldn’t wait a single day after her fifteenth birthday! Anyway, she got a present from her. Some kind of key to the FreeKingdom…” Alex sputtered bitterly. “At last!” he exclaimed as the lock finally yielded to his efforts.
He pushed the window open and jumped inside. “Doda? Where are you?” he shouted. He opened the wardrobe door, checked under the bed, all the while calling for her.
“Is she there?” asked Yeled from outside.
“I can’t find her!” answered Alex from under her desk.
“I’ll find her!” shouted Yalda confidently as she tried to climb over the windowsill.
Yeled helped her up and she jumped in. “The Sea!” she shouted as she landed. “Where’s the Sea gone? It was still there when I went out to wait for you,” she added in a strangled voice, tugging at Alex’s sleeve.
“The sea’s down there, kiddo! Next to the beach, you know…” smirked Raver, peeking in from outside.
“Not that sea, stupid!” retorted Yalda. “Doda’s Sea! All her blue clothes that she always spreads on the floor for her mermaid to feel at home,” explained Yalda, exasperated by Raver, with whom she had never got along.
“Where is the mermaid, by the way?” asked Yeled, his head appearing next to Raver’s in the window frame. At this, they all looked at Doda’s bed. The large sculpted mermaid that usually adorned her bedstead was nowhere to be seen. The top of the two posts meant to support it only sported empty screw holes. Those looked as if the mermaid had been brutally torn out, wood shards hanging out and some spread on the pillow.
“The mermaid!” shouted Yalda, staring wide-eyed at the mermaid-free headstand. “It’s gone! It’s impossible! It was there just before Doda and Alex came back from school. I saw it! I saw it as clearly as I don’t see it now!” she insisted, a wave of worry strangling her voice as, though she lived mainly in fairy tales, she began to realize that imaginary tales did not affect the real world. In the real world, headstands staid at their appointed place until someone actually removed them. Only in made-up stories did they vanish without a trace.
“Yes, I thought it wasn’t there,” said Yeled quietly. He paused for a moment, and, when no-one said anything, he continued, thinking out loud. “Surely, that means Doda won’t be back for a while. She wouldn’t have taken her mermaid with her just for a short trip, would she?”
“But she can’t have gone anywhere!” protested Alex, stating the obvious. “Her door is locked from the inside and Yalda was there, just under her window. There’s no way she could have left this room.”
“Didn’t you say she had received a key to somewhere from Mora?” asked Yeled. “Maybe the lock for that key was in this room and Doda used it,” he suggested. “After all, this is one of the oldest houses on the island, or at least parts of it,” he added, remembering the numerous times Uncle Victor had told them about the history of the house and how the oldest parts of it had been build by the islanders before the arrival of the various invading colonizers. Mora was the last 100% native islander and, if anybody something about long gone secrets hidden in the house, it would be her.
“It wasn’t a door!” stamped Yalda, the pitch of her voice rising alarmingly as she fought the rising panic that was creeping in her chest. Doda was in real trouble and needed help. And she was the only one who had seen what had happened. If Doda was ever to be found, they had to listen to her, though they all seemed intent on discarding what she said as she was just a little girl and nobody ever listen to her. Everybody seemed to think that people saw better when they grew older, which made no sense whatsoever. She could see very well, and people, no matter what their age, could not see anything if they were not there. “It was a tunnel, and it took the whole room with it. And there is no key on a tunnel, even on a spinning multicolored one! So it can’t be that! She has to be here!” she insisted with despair, wanting to be heard, as they would never find Doda otherwise.
As Yalda finished her sentence, Yeled looked at her concernedly. “Are you speaking about a black hole?” he asked her.
“It was not black, it was full of colors, like a kaleidoscope!” answered Yalda eagerly, thrilled that at least her brother seemed to be willing to pay attention to what she actually saw. “But you can call it a hole, though I thought it looked more like a tunnel,” she concluded, having no idea about what a black hole was but, since Yeled seemed to think that what she saw did exist in black, she was more than willing to call her tunnel a hole. After all, a tunnel was a kind of hole between two places.
“Well,” he answered, looking increasingly concerned, “I think we should warn Mum and Dad that Doda’s gone missing, don’t you think so, little sister?” he said ever so gently, his blue eyes fixed on Yalda, unblinking, sending her all the warmth he could muster.
The unusual softness of Yeled voice, the underlying sadness in his bottomless eyes, half hidden under his dirty blond forelock, the slow movements of his body, all these elements finally clicked together in Yalda’s childish head. The last remaining shreds of hope that it was an elaborate game. Something serious had happened and nobody knew where Doda was. Yeled was right. Only Mum could sort things out. Struggling against the sobs that threatened to strangle her from the inside, Yalda stammered “Mum’s at the harbor helping Dad. I’ll, … I’ll go and get her.” Tears overflowed from her shining eyes as she finished her sentence.
Astonished to see Yeled suggesting getting help from adults, Alex gaped for a moment before checking himself and adopting the leading position that was his when Doda wasn’t there. “You’re right Yeled. I’ll go down the harbor and bring them back. You stay here in case Doda reappears and I suggest Raver takes Yalda down to your Uncle Victor’s cottage and brings him up here. I guess your Mum will appreciate having him by her side…”
Through her tears, Yalda looked up at her brother. “I think that’s a good plan,” said Yeled, nodding reassuringly at her. “Raver, you be nice with her, won’t you?” he added warningly, turning to Alex’s brother with a menacing frown. “It’s my sister you’re taking with you, not just anybody, so beware, no teasing. Even if you do not believe a single word of her story! I want her back here as soon as possible; and with Uncle Victor!”
“Keep your hair on!” shrugged Raver, “I won’t eat her… Come on, Kiddo, off we go!” he added, hoisting Yalda on his back. Yeled tapped her back encouragingly. “You tell Uncle Victor what you’ve seen, exactly the way you’ve seen it, all right? It’s very important!” he added tensely.
Yalda, now invested with a crucial mission, wiped her tears and imagined she was riding a fiery steed in order to find Doda before she suffered a fate worse than death. Nothing in the world would stop her from gathering the knights she needed to assault the enemy’s fortress. No monster, however repugnant, however gigantic, would even slow her pace down as she galloped to the rescue.
“There we are, Kiddo,” said Raver, letting her slide down from his back as they reached the cottage at the bottom of the slope. Yalda hopped down and ran to the door.
“Uncle Victor! Uncle Victor!” she shouted, banging on the door. “Open up! We need you!”
A fat woman opened the door and finished wiping her hand with a towel before bending over Yalda, her yellowing teeth uncovered by her smile. “Chiquita querida!” she beamed, delighted to see Yalda, her favorite child on the island. “Don’t disturb your uncle now. He’s busy preparing Doda’s birthday present. He gave me strict instructions not to let anyone disturb him.”
“But, Ozeret!” protested Yalda, “He has to come now. It’s… it’s an emergency!” she blurted, torn between her frustration at being delayed by Ozeret and her pride at having remembered the word ‘emergency’, a word that was sure to overcome any objections.
But, to her disappointment, it did not work. “What kind of emergency, querida?” asked Ozeret with affection, her hand on her hip to assert her authority in protecting Uncle Victor from being interrupted in his preparations. “If it’s outside, I’ll come and fix it. No point in disturbing your uncle for your games today.”
“It’s not a game, Ozeret!” interrupted Yalda vehemently. “Doda’s bedroom swallowed her and the mermaid, and Alex has gone to fetch Mum and Dad, and Yeled is standing guard alone in her bedroom, and Uncle Victor has to come and find her and…” She spoke as fast as she could, keen to put in as much information as possible before being cut off by Ozeret.
“Doda’s been swallowed by her bedroom and Yeled is sitting in it waiting for her?” Ozeret scolded gently. “Really Yalda, it’s not like you to come up with such unlikely stories. Even to get your uncle away from his study.”
“I think you’d better go and fetch him,” intervened Raver, shushing Yalda’s protests with a quieting hand on her shoulder.
“I didn’t know you condescended to take part in their games,” scoffed Ozeret, forced to acknowledge Raver’s presence, which she had so far successfully ignored. “It does not seem to improve their quality, though,” she scorned, standing as tall as she could so as to better look down on Raver.
Ignoring Ozeret’s comment, Raver continued “This is unfortunately not a game. My brother has gone to get Mr. and Mrs. Mishpaha from the harbor and the presence of Mr. Yodea is required at the house. I can tell you that he won’t be grateful to you for keeping us away. Not this time…” he concluded, his voice as cold as ice.
“Maldito! Chico maldito!” exclaimed Ozeret, her red face rapidly turning purple. “I will not tolerate a mere Negro threatening me in my own house!” she shouted raising her towel as if to strike Raver with it.
“What on earth is happening here?” boomed Uncle Victor’s voice as he rushed out of his study.
“Uncle Victor!” shouted Yalda, darting forward and grabbing his waist as she failed to jump high enough to reach his shoulders. “It’s Doda! She…”
“Just a second, darling,” cut Uncle Victor before turning to Ozeret. “Ozeret!” he said, fuming, “I will not tolerate a single other racist comment in this house. And remember, this is my house, even if you’ve lived here for longer than me. Now, go back to the kitchen while I see what I can do for these children.”
Ozeret shuffled back to her kitchen, mumbling angrily in Spanish and banging the door shut when she left the entrance hall.
“Now, children,” Uncle Victor frowned, “You’d better have a good reason to try to force your way past Ozeret. Especially as I am sure she told you I did not want to be disturbed.”
“It’s Doda,” blurted Yalda, “She’s gone missing…”
“Nonsense!” said Uncle Victor, “I saw her walking back from school with Alex less than half an hour ago.”
“Yes, but her room swallowed her and the mermaid and the Sea and…” Yalda sobbed, unable to cope with both Doda’s disappearance and Uncle Victor’s rejection. Tears streamed down her face and she sniffed loudly.
Uncle Victor picked her up and rocked her gently. “What’s going on?” he asked Raver, who was standing stiffly, still nursing his wounded pride at being called Negro by Ozeret.
“I don’t know exactly,” he grumbled, “Alex has gone to the harbor to fetch Yeled’s parents and he said you’d better come up and help.”
“And where is Doda?” asked Uncle Victor, beginning to realize that something was amiss.
“You’d better ask the crying baby in your arms,” Raver answered sulkily, “She’s the last one who saw her.”
“Yalda?” asked Uncle Victor tentatively as he picked her up and hurried towards the house, “Do you know where Doda is?”
Safely tucked in Uncle Victor’s muscular arms, Yalda sniffed bravely and, swallowing her tears, told once more about the multicolored tunnel that had robbed her of her auntie. If anybody was to find Doda, she had to tell exactly what happened the way she saw it. Surely, with both Mum and Uncle Victor joining in on the search, they would find her in no time. There was nothing they could not do.
She was just finishing telling Uncle Victor about the events when Alex ran back, panting, Mum and Dad in tow.
Without even pausing to comfort Yalda, who was still red eyed from crying, Mum ran to Doda’s bedroom. The moment she entered it, she began acting weird. She started to sniff around the bed, then she crouched on all four and, sticking her ear on the wooden floor, her hair sweeping dust motes, all the while listening intently while waving irritably at Yalda and Uncle Victor, intimating them to be silent.
Then, her ear still glued to the floor, she began buzzing. She sounded exactly like a mosquito.
“Anna dear?” asked Dad, in the scolding voice he usually reserved for the children when they displayed bad manners. “What exactly do you think you’re doing?”
“Quiet!” she snapped angrily before resuming her frantic buzzing. “Wezz hazz tzzoo fzollozz zzz!” she said after a while, half talking, half buzzing “What?!” exclaimed Dad, Uncle Victor, Yalda and Alex in unison. The four of them stared at Mum, bewildered by her quaint behavior and unable to understand a word she had said. Dad looked dejectedly at his wife and left the bedroom, shrugging and scratching his head, thus messing up his impeccable hairstyle.
Yeled was about to ask him where he was going to when Mum stood up and began earnestly buzzing to them. “Bzzz, Bzz, bzzbzzbzz,” she said. They goggled at her uncomprehendingly.
Exasperated, she resumed her buzzing, sounding very irritated by then.
“Anna, you don’t make any sense…” said Uncle Victor gently. “Are you all right?”
Gesticulating wildly, she looked like someone explaining the obvious to a particularly thick interlocutor. Unfortunately, she sounded just like a pack of bloodthirsty intent on devouring the first prey they came across. The contrast between the beautiful slender woman and the irritating sound emanating from her was rather disquieting.
“The police are on their way” announced Dad bursting in. “I just called them. They said…” He stopped in mid-sentence as Mum lounged at him, buzzing furiously. Mum’s buzzing now sounded like an attempt to contradict Dad, as if she opposed to the police coming over.
“Anna, darling!” exclaimed Uncle Victor, understanding that Mum was not quite herself. “Why don’t you come with me to the kitchen? I’ll make you a nice cup of tea while we wait for the police to arrive,” he added soothingly, putting his arm around Mum’s shoulder and gently egging her towards Doda bedroom’s door. As if bitten, Mum jerked away from him and retreated to Doda’s bed on which she sat determinedly, obviously determined not to move an inch from there.
“Better call a doctor, too,” Uncle Victor whispered to Dad before adding louder to Mum. “I’ll bring your tea here, then.” With that, he hurried out.
From the bed, Mum gestured to Yalda to come closer. Confused, Yalda looked at Yeled for guidance. He nodded for her to go to Mum. Yalda walked to the bed where Mum picked her up and sat her on her lap before gently buzzing into her ear.
“Mum, I don’t understand a word you are saying,” said Yalda, increasingly bewildered. “There’s something wrong with your voice.”
Surprised, Mum arched her eyebrows. Then she mimicked writing and looked beseechingly at Alex, who was standing flabbergasted in the doorstep. He looked at her blankly, as she repeated her mimicry of writing. “I think she wants you to bring a pen and paper,” said Yalda. Mum nodded enthusiastically.
Alex ran out and, in almost no time, was back with a piece of paper and a chewed pencil. “Will that be all right?” he asked her as he gave it to her. Mum nodded gratefully and waved him away. Then she looked intently at Yalda and put a finger on her lips, before pointing it alternatively to Yalda and to herself.
“You want this to be a secret between you and me?” asked Yalda, secretly thanking Doda for the hours they had communicated by sign while playing, as it was really helping her understanding Mum now.
Mum nodded with relief and began writing. She gave the paper to Yalda with a big show of hiding it from other people. Yalda peered at the paper, eager to read whatever secret Mum so much wanted to share with her.
“Mum. I can’t read anything. It’s just lines and dots,” she said, handing her back the paper, covered in squiggles.
Mum sighed and, taking back the pencil, began writing again. This time, she exercised great care, as scrupulous as she had been when teaching Yalda her alphabet. She showed the result of her efforts to Yalda, who shook her head negatively. Though the lines and dots on the paper where thicker and spread over more space, they still did not look anything like letters, let alone words.
Outside, the screeching sound of a siren signaled the arrival of the police. Dad and Alex left to welcome them. The moment they were out of sight, Mum began scratching her head with one hand and her armpit with another, while looking intently at Yalda.
“Kofi…?” Yalda wondered aloud. Mum nodded frantically. Then she tore a part of her skirt and waved the piece of fabric in front of Yalda. “You want Kofi to tear my clothes?” Yalda asked, puzzled. Mum shook her head. She put the torn piece of her skirt in Yalda’s pocket and mimicked Kofi again before pointing at the blue cover on Doda’s bed.
“Wait Mum!” begged Yalda, desperate to understand what Mum was trying to tell her. There was no way to know what Mum had heard from underneath the floorboard, but that was where Doda had disappeared. It was essential that she understood what Mum was telling her. It might just be the clue that would enable them to find Doda. “Not so fast. You want me to understand something to do with Kofi…” Mum nodded. “A piece of torn clothes?” Nod. “And Doda’s cover?” Mum shook her head. “Doda’s bed?” Again, Mum shook her head. Yalda concentrated, casting her mind to the last moment she had seen Kofi. Suddenly, she remembered she had seeing Kofi running away with a fragment of the brown paper of Doda’s package and catching a glimpse of something blue. “I know!” she exclaimed, as she understood what Mum had to be trying to tell her. “You want me to get back from Kofi the blue thing that he stole from Doda!”
Mum nodded frenetically, smiling and giving Yalda the thumbs up.
“And what will I do with it?” Yalda asked, excited as she finally seemed to be getting important information. She had to understand what Mum meant her to do with the blue stolen thingy as this somehow would lead her to Doda
Mum stood up and began a complicated mime. Yalda studied her moves attentively, but did not have the slightest clue of what it meant. Again and again, she asked Mum to explain, and Mum complied, repeating her gesticulations, bending her slight frame at the waist, straightening up again and then dancing a complicated step, all the while buzzing a sad melody, her green eyes looking deep inside Yalda’s, as if trying to speak with her eyes as well as with her body, but Yalda understood nothing.
“She’s in here with her mother,” came Dad’s voice from the hall, causing Mum to freeze in the middle of her ‘explanation’. He entered the room accompanied by a tall policeman. “Yalda,” he said, “Would you mind telling this gentleman exactly what you saw?”
Yalda turned to Mum who nodded and winked, before briefly brushing her lips with her index in a swift move only Yalda could see. With reluctance, Yalda left Mum, hating the policeman for interrupting her as it was much more important that she understands Mum’s message than to explain what she saw to the policeman. Of course, the police was supposed to be in charge of finding missing people, but Yalda knew that, in this case, they would probably be useless. After all, a spinning multicolored tunnel seemed to be outside the realm of the adult’s world, except for Mum’s, and there had been no abduction in the usual sense. Mum seemed to have some idea of what had really happened and, for some reason, she thought Yalda was the only one she could tell. Why did she have to waste time with a policeman instead of finding out what Mum was trying to tell her? She had to hurry in telling him the facts so that she could return to ‘talking’ with Mum and understand what she meant with her bizarre dance.
As Yalda sat down at the table with the policeman, the doorbell rang. “That will be the doctor,” said Dad. “You’d better go to the living-room, he might want to examine Mum here,” he added, turning to Yalda and the policeman and escorting them out of Doda’s bedroom.
After telling the policeman everything she knew, which took quite a while as he was adamant that it was not possible for a bedroom to be sucked into the earth and insisted on getting “a true report of the facts”, Yalda left him with Alex, who also had to give a statement, and returned to Doda’s bedroom. At last, she could get Mum to ‘tell’ her how to find Doda! When she reached the hall, she saw Dad and the doctor dragging a furiously buzzing Mum out of the bedroom. The moment they passed the doorframe, Mum collapsed on the floor, unconscious.
The doctor crouched next to her and checked her pulse. His face turned livid. “Call an ambulance!” he shouted, running into the bedroom to get is bag. He extracted a syringe and a box full of flasks and, while Dad ran for the phone, he gave her an injection. He checked her pulse again and seemed a bit relieved.
“Mum!” shouted Yalda, jumping on to her and shaking her, “Mum, wake up! You have to finish telling me how to find Doda! You cannot sleep now!” Then she bean to weep, as it dawned on her that calling an ambulance meant that Mum was very sick. The world was slipping away. Mum could not be sick. She needed her. They had to go and find Doda together. Mum was never sick anyway. She was fine a moment ago when this stupid policeman arrived. She was fine, part for the buzzing! What did they do to her?
Uncle Victor gently, but firmly pulled Yalda away. “Don’t worry,” he whispered in her ear as he hugged her. “The ambulance is on its way and I am sure she will be fine.”
“But, Uncle Victor” sobbed Yalda, “It’s the doctor that made her sick,” she blurted, not quite knowing what she was saying. “He made her do something she did not want. She wanted to stay in Doda’s room,” she continued, as it became clear to her that Mum’s had been dragged out of Doda’s room against her will and that she fainted only after passing through the doorframe.
Her thought were interrupted by the arrival of the ambulance, all sirens blasting, the irruption of medics with a stretcher where they laid Mum unconscious body before carrying her away, dad holding her limp hand.
Then the ambulance left, the sirens sounds receding as it sped towards the hospital. When everything was quiet again, Yeled crept out of Doda’s bedroom. As usual, no-one seemed to notice him.
In the evening, the hospital called to say that, though Mum was not in physical danger, she was catatonic and they had not yet found the reason why she “did not react to external stimuli.” Uncle Victor explained that this meant that she was like a sleepwalker, sitting up in a world only she could see and unable to see the world we could see.
“Does that mean that Mum’s mind is in the world Doda has gone to?” asked Yalda, trying hard to make sense of the events of the last few hours. She was very shaken, the house feeling incredibly empty with neither Doda telling her wonderful sorry nor mum to hug her and feed her home made cookies. No skirt to hide under when playing hide and seek, nor any woman arms to cuddle in. Sure, Uncle Victor was doing his best to cheer her up and Yeled was unusually kind with her, which was nice, but she missed Mum. She needed her to find Doda. She missed Doda too, but mainly she felt crushed by the growing feeling that it was her mission to find her. Her mission and hers alone.
“I doubt it”, answered Uncle Victor somberly. Yeled, however, looked at Yalda with the astonished gaze he reserved for the rare occasions when she answered rightly to a question he was sure was too hard for her.
“I’ll make us a hot chocolate”, Uncle Victor went on, “and we’ll put you to bed, now. It’s almost midnight and I’m sure your father will stay with your Mum at least until tomorrow, in case she comes back to our world and is frightened to find herself over there” he concluded, putting a pan of milk on the stove.
“Can I sleep with you?” Yalda whispered in Yeled’s ear as Uncle Victor busied himself around the cooker. “I’m a bit scared when Mum’s not at home”, she shamefacedly confessed, still whispering and staring fixedly at the tip of her shoes. Doda had always told her she had to be brave, but now she was missing, and Mum was sick and it was really hard not to cry. Yet, Uncle Victor was there, and Yeled too, and Dad was with Mum and surely, they would make things all right somehow. Still, she did not think she could be brave all alone in her bed.
Yeled hugged her gently. “Sure, little one”, he answered with no hesitation. “Don’t worry about anything. I’m here and I promise I won’t leave you, ever”.
Soon after, curled up in the crook of Yeled’s arm, Yalda cried herself silently to sleep.
As neither Mum nor Doda were there to comfort Yalda the following days, Uncle Victor and Yeled took turn in lifting her spirits. Dad was too busy running from the harbor to the hospital, doing the shopping and burning meals, to be concerned with their emotional well being. So while Uncle Victor wiped Yalda’s tears away, Yeled hovered over her and did his best to keep her mind focused on the happy side of life.
Alex visited daily, ranting against Mora and accusing her of all the evils of the universe. Raver, on the other hand, was undergoing a bunch of tests designed to find out if he was the next Einstein. He was so involved in ensuring his entry into the gifted children program at the local university that he hardly even called for updates. As he said casually: “Alex will tell me if I’m needed…”
Alex was Yalda’s best ally. Since Doda had made her promise that she would not do anything to save her without him, Yalda nagged and nagged until he finally agreed to go and see Mora, to know more about what was in that fateful bag that had robbed he of Doda. Yet, that proved to be her biggest mistake. After he finally went to see her, he abruptly changed and stopped coming over. Yeled said that he had begun befriending the worse louts of the school and that he refused to even speak to him anymore.
For ten days, myriads of scientists swarmed in and around the house, snooping with ultra-sophisticated instruments with which they found exactly nothing, on the basis of which nothing they declared that, “due to the volcanic nature of the island and its well documented seismic activity, it is our conclusion that a momentary fissure opened under the house. The brevity of the seismic event was such that the fault only opened long enough to assimilate objects of a sufficient mass such as the adolescent unfortunately present at the time of the phenomenon and the massive wood headstand.”
Bemused, Yalda listened to their conclusions, not understanding many of the complicated words they used, but getting enough of the general drift of the results of their research to figure out that they had failed entirely to get even a fraction of what really happened. So, there would be no help from them. Mum had to get better soon. She was her last hope of getting help to find Doda. Dad kept saying that Mum was well taken care of and that the best specialists were studying her case and that they surely would soon find a way to cure her. Yet, somehow, after hearing the conclusions of the scientists, Yalda was increasingly doubtful that the doctors would be able to help her Mum. It seemed to her that whatever was behind Doda’s disappearance was also responsible for having shut Mum’s thoughts out of reach.
The same day, after running a battery of tests on Mum, the doctors informed Dad that Mum did not respond to any known treatment and would have to remain hospitalized for an indefinite period of time, maybe days, maybe years and that they could not promise she would ever be well again.
When the doctors delivered this sentence, Yalda swallowed hard and suddenly stopped crying. Gently but firmly, she motioned Yeled and Uncle Victor to leave her alone. She needed time to think. Obviously, the adults could not do anything to either help Mum or bring Doda back. They were giving up. Yet Mum had tried to tell her something essential before they forced her out of Doda’s bedroom. Mum had obviously known she was in danger and had also known what to do to either protect herself or save Doda or both. And Mum had thought that only she, Yalda, would be able to use that information. Otherwise, why would she have insisted on secrecy? Why would Mum choose her, when Yeled was there, and also Raver, the now certified genius?
Since Raver was always pulling Yeled into weird experiments and always had some elaborate scientific explanation for everything, from the twirls of milk in a coffee cup to the trajectory of a typhoon, Mum’s choice of Yalda as a confident surely meant that science was not the answer, Yalda was sure of that much, especially after hearing the seismologists’ conclusion. A localized earthquake, really…
No point in wasting time and energy on adults’ theories. Obviously, they were useless. What clues did she have? Doda got some kind of key from Mora and disappeared while in her bedroom. Mum’s parents went missing after they showed something to Mora. Kofi stole a piece of something from the package Mora had given Doda. Mum wanted her to find that piece and use it, either to find Doda or to help her.
Of course, without Alex’s help, she could only find her, not save her, as she had promised only moments before Doda disappeared, but, if she only found her, she would not be breaking her word, so she could indeed look for her all on her own.
It all pointed to Mora. Yalda began to form her plan. She would find what Kofi had stolen, then she would somehow sneak out and visit Mora. Surely, Mora would be able to get to Doda if she had a piece of the key. No point in taking the risk of going to her without that, though. Finding Doda would also mean finding out what had turned Mum into a statue of sorts, and then, with Doda’s help, they would heal Mum’s mind.
Meanwhile, she would inspect every inch of Doda’s bedroom. The scientists had been looking for rational explanation and found nothing. She, on the contrary, would be looking for indications that magic had taken place. And magic was her domain. That’s what she knew a lot about. That had to be the reason why Mum had wanted to confide in her
Bottom line, it was all down to her to go and find Doda. Doda would know how to bring Mum back to reality, and then all would be fine. That was it! She just had to find Doda…
– CHAPTER TWO –
THE MUSICAL BAG
“Fetch, Kelev! Fetch!” shouted Yeled, throwing the stick far into the sea.
Kelev ran and swam through the waves, proudly bringing the bitten through stick to Yeled as if it was an invaluable treasure. He barked happily and dried himself, showering all those foolish enough to stand too close. “Kelev!” shouted Yalda, not really cross. It was swelteringly hot, and she did not mind the dog splashing her light summer dress with seawater.
She was so small for her age she could barely see over Kelev’s back. In another four weeks she would be eleven. Yet she was hardly taller than an eight-year-old child.
“Yeled, Yalda! Dinner time!” shouted Ozeret from the window. They barely heard the words, as they lived on the fifth floor, but Ozeret’s voice was very recognizable and everyday she summoned them with the same sentence. Back in the lobby of the building, they unhooked the towel to dry Kelev. It certainly wouldn’t do to bring him back into the flat all sandy and wet, so Yalda energetically rubbed him dry.
After Monday’s hamburger and fries, they brushed their teeth, washed their face and hands and went to bed for their daily chat with Dad.
Life was slated to go on like that forever, with fish on Tuesday and spaghetti on Thursdays, Wednesdays being Uncle Victor’s day; but instead, the next day…
“Kelev, Fetch! Fetch!” shouted Yeled as he threw the stick.
Kelev jumped into the waves, his black fur staining the white foam. But as he was about to reach the stick, a strange music wafting up from the bottom of the sea distracted him. Instead of catching the stick, he was suddenly sucked underwater and vanished, swallowed by the sea.
“Keleeev!’ yelled Yeled and Yalda together.
“Stay here!” ordered Yeled to his little sister. He threw his sandals away and ran into the sea shouting “Kelev! Keeelev!”
“Yeled…! Come back! You’ll drown! Look at the flags, the currents are too strong today! Come back!” shouted Yalda who stood rooted to the spot where she was standing, petrified with anguish.
Struggling against the waves, Yeled was already waist deep into the sea when Kelev popped out the water, something black hanging from his mouth. He swam back ashore and proudly brought his findings to Yalda before barking his customary bark.
This time, he didn’t manage to shower her, as she sped towards Yeled, anxious to check that he was all right. Jumping over the last wave, he waved her worries aside.
“What did he bring?” he asked, panting. “Let’s go and see,” he added, grabbing Yalda’s hand and breaking into a run towards the dog.
Wagging his tail, Kelev was standing guard next to the dusty bag he had rescued from the sea. “What is it, Kelev?” asked Yeled as he picked it up. Kelev gazed up at him adoringly, his tail wagging increasingly as Yeled tapped his head.
“Good boy, Kelev. Good boy,” he praised him before bending down to examine what the dog had brought. It was a mid-size black handbag, the kind of hard leather bag with a copper clip at the top his great-grandmother would have liked.
Yeled opened the clip and the same music they had briefly heard escaping from the sea before Kelev’s dive welled out of the interstice that had just cracked open. It sounded much louder now. He closed the bag and the music stopped. When he opened it again, the music was quieter. He pulled the two sides of the bag apart, with effort as the hinges were rusted shut. The melody seeping out of the bag was of a kind he had never heard. It sounded a bit like Chinese opera with Walt Disney lyrics dubbed in a foreign language, maybe an African one. Inside was a bundle wrapped in waterproof fabric. Yeled was about to take it out when he heard the faint echo of Ozeret’s voice calling them for dinner. He stuffed the bundle back inside the bag, closed it and stood up.
“Don’t say a word to Ozeret or Dad,” he intimated Yalda as they made for home. “It will be our secret,” he added more gently. “We’ll check it later, when they are asleep. I promise I’ll wait for you.”
“How will we sneak this inside?” Yeled wondered aloud, waving the bag, as they reached the building. With Ozeret’s eagle eye, there was no way they would ever manage to bring in such a bulky package without her noticing something. And she certainly wouldn’t be thrilled at the sight of a “stinky piece of garbage only gypsies would think of bringing home.”
“I’ll hide it in this,” Yalda offered eagerly, waving the towel she had just dried Kelev with. “I’ll tell Ozeret it needs washing. Which is true, by the way…”
“Brilliant!” answered Yeled, calling the lift. As the lift went up, Yalda wrapped the bag in the ragged towel, almost succeeding in giving it the appearance of an innocent towel carelessly rolled up.
“Shall I put it in the laundry basket?” she asked Ozeret, pointing at the towel as they entered the flat.
“Already!” wondered Ozeret suspiciously. “It’s a new one from yesterday.”
“Yes, but Kelev was extremely wet and sandy today. And he smelled of fish…”, Yalda answered quickly, stating only the truth, but not all of it. Ozeret marched out of the kitchen to check the towel and stopped dead in her tracks as she noticed Yeled’s soaked clothes.
“Santa Madonna!” she yelled, throwing her hands in the air. “Why are you all wet? What happened?”
“It’s nothing,” Yeled answered with a shrug. “Kelev jumped on me when he brought the stick back and I fell back in the sea.” he invented, glimpsing Yalda sneaking quietly behind Ozeret back, the bag held tightly to her chest. “Good girl!” he thought, barely paying any attention to Ozeret’s irate vituperation.
“Scoundrel!” Ozeret was yelling, “Did I raise you to be an anarchist? Dio mio! Don’t you know better than to go in the water on a day like this? If it was up to me, I’d have you grounded for a year! Wait till your father comes back! You haven’t seen the end of this!” she ranted, her large bosom heaving comically up and down as she punctuated her threats with erratic wavings of her massive arms.
“Ozeret!” Yeled tried to interrupt her. “The water was not even ankle deep… It’s not as if I went swimming or anything!”
“And you’re supposed to set an example to your little sister!” she continued, as if he had not said anything. “And look at the mess you’ve made!” she shouted. “You’re dripping all over my clean floor! What am I breaking my back for, I’d like to know!? Go and have a hot shower. You’ll catch your death in soaked clothes like this!” she added more gently, having exhausted her anger. “I’ll make you a grog.”
“Ozeret, it’s summer. It’s hot! I couldn’t catch a cold to save my life. I’ll just go and get changed for dinner,” Yeled shrugged, eager to get away from Ozeret.
Tuesday’s baked potatoes were slightly overcooked that evening, due to the fuss over Yeled’s clothes, and Dad came back before they had put their pajamas on.
“What is this?” he grumbled half-jokingly. “Not ready for bed at this time? This house is falling apart,” he added, carefully hanging his jacket in the cupboard at the entrance.
“It’s all Yeled’s fault!” glared Ozeret. “This young delinquent went swimming with his dog and all his clothes on. How am I supposed to keep this household functioning with young hooligans giving me heart attacks instead of looking after their sister? And that’s not to mention having to deal with the seawater and piles of sand he brought back. I had to scrub the whole house afresh after he dripped all over the floor! He deserves a serious whacking!” she ranted, whipping the air with the kitchen towel she was holding when Dad came in.
“Thank you, Ozeret,” frowned Dad. “That’s quite enough. I will decide what to do with him. You’d better get on with what you were doing,” he added, nodding at the towel in her hand. Then, frowning at Yeled, “I’ll see you in your room in five minutes, ready for bed,” he intimated. “You’d better get ready too,” he said to Yalda affectionately. “I’ll come and give you a kiss as soon as I am finished with this rascal.”
Yeled and Yalda hurried to the bathroom. “Where did you put it?” whispered Yeled after closing the door.
“Under your bed, but you’d better push it further. You don’t want Dad to ask questions about it, do you?” she answered, her voice almost covered by the noise of the water running over her toothbrush.
“I’ll come and fetch you half an hour after they go to bed” he mumbled, spattering toothpaste on the mirror.
Through the paper-thin wall between her bedroom and Yeled’s, she could hear Dad scolding him. “…have to be more careful. You know how treacherous the sea can be. On a day like this, with the black flags out, you shouldn’t even let Kelev in the water. Actually, I’m surprised he wasn’t sensible enough not to get in… Any way, why on earth did you go swimming with your clothes on?”
“But Dad, I didn’t go swimming at all. It’s just…” Yeled protested, defending his case and complaining about Ozeret.
While Dad argued about how nice it was of Ozeret to look after them, and about how much she loved them, Yalda’s mind drifted into a reverie about life in the old house, before Doda vanished. Mum was with them then, always singing and ready to play silly games. Meals depended on what fruits and vegetables were in the garden and Mum’s inspiration of the day. She had Doda and Alex to play with every day after school.
How Yalda longed for the day Mum would at least recognize her! For the time being, their weekly visits to her were still the same. On a good day, Mum would be sitting on her chair, rocking gently back and forth, her eyes staring straight ahead, gazing at nothing in particular. On a bad day, her eyes seemed to contain all the sorrow of the world and tears streamed freely down her hollowed cheeks.
Uncle Victor, who visited her daily, claimed that every now and then he could catch a glimpse of understanding in her eyes. So Yalda kept telling her about everything that happened in her life. The only good side of the new apartment is that it was next to the hospital. So, whenever she felt like it, Yalda could pop in there and tell Mum about her problems. Most of the time, she would unload the weight of being so lonely at school, where her classmates teased her about her undying belief in the fact that Doda had somehow been cursed.
None of her extensive searches of Doda’s bedroom, the house or the garden, had yielded any clue. She had not even been able to find the blue thing Kofi had stolen and Doda was still missing. She was not one inch further in her search than the day it had all happened.
Yalda was startled out of her daydream by Dad’s voice booming again from Yeled’s bedroom.. “Don’t you think we lost enough people to the sea as it is?” he shouted, obviously wanting to stress his point, since he almost never raised his voice any more since neither Doda nor Mum were at home and he had to deal with everything by himself. “Please, be careful next time. Don’t get so near the water when I am not with you”, he continued more softly. “Good night now,” he concluded. Yalda heard him getting out of Yeled’s room and waited for her goodnight kiss.
After Dad’s unusually brief good night chat, she could hear Ozeret grumbling in the living room and Daddy talking to her soothingly. At last, the clock chimed ten and they went to bed.
– CHAPTER THREE –
It was hard to stay awake in the dark with the dreamy sound of the waves lulling her. Yalda was slowly drowning into sleep when the clock chimed the half hour. Soundlessly, she slipped out of bed and stole into Yeled’s room.
“Sshhht!” he said as she got in. He slid the bag from under his bed and was about to open it when Yalda stopped him. “The music!” she whispered “It will wake Ozeret up. Better go to the kitchen.”
“Well spotted,” Yeled whispered back. He took the bag and they tiptoed to the kitchen, closing both the living room and the kitchen door behind them. Ozeret’s bedroom was at the other end of the flat. There were now three closed doors between her ears and the bag. As for Dad, his sleeping pills were the best ear plugs one could wish for.
Yeled lifted the clip and slapped it down almost immediately. The sound bursting out of the bag sounded like an explosion in the silence of the night. With bated breath, they waited to see if it had woken up anybody. Only Kelev started whimpering miserably from the balcony, begging to be let in.
As quietly as possible, Yalda opened the door and grabbed him by the neck. “Silence!” she whispered. Kelev sat next to the bag, Yalda’s arm still around his neck. Yeled was sitting crossed legs in front of the bag, examining it attentively.
“Yalda,” he asked his sister, “Any idea how we could turn its volume down?”
Letting go of Kelev, Yalda took the bag and examined it closely. All the time, she was muttering. “Can’t afford to make any more noise. Would wake up Ozeret for sure and then we’d really be in trouble…” She held the bag close, as if it was one of her dolls, and put her thumb on the clip, very gently pressing it open. This time, the music was barely audible. Kelev lied down on the floor, pressing his head flat on the floor, nudging Yalda’s leg. Slowly, slowly, Yalda opened the bag, took the bundle out and gave it to Yeled, rocking the bag and humming softly to keep it quiet.
As Yeled begun to unwrap the bundle, the music grew fainter and stopped altogether when Yeled stuffed the wrappings back into it. He was holding a very old book, its cracked leather cover dotted with humidity stains, its musty smell disturbingly alien to the bleached, immaculate kitchen.
Yalda tried to let go of the bag, but the eerie music began afresh the second it stopped being in contact with her. She rocked it back to silence and gestured Yeled to come closer. He came next to her and opened the book. A page fell off. It was a yellowed parchment with an ancient ship’s drawing. It landed on Kelev’s muzzle, who started whining pitifully, cowering on Yeled’s lap.
“Look! The people in the drawing are moving!” murmured Yeled excitedly, showing it to Yalda. On the ship, people dressed in clothes from centuries past were climbing up and down the shrouds, while the sails flapped miserably. Yalda blew gently on the drawing and the sails suddenly billowed. Immediately, the captain started barking inaudible orders and the sailors scrambled to the masts to pull at halyards and hoist more sails.
“Whoa!” exclaimed Yeled under his breath, gaping at the drawing. “That’s really something!”
Kelev was whimpering louder now, hiding his shaggy head under Yalda’s nightdress. “Sshht!” she whispered, momentarily distracted from the frantic activity in the picture. Her gaze fell on the open book lying on the floor. Gothic letters spelled strange words in a language she could not identify. “What’s that writing?” she asked Yeled, nudging him to attract his attention.
Yeled quickly glanced at the book. “I don’t know. It’s not English,” he whispered absentmindedly, his eyes drawn to the flurry of activity in the drawing.
“Dong…” chimed the clock, startling Yeled who jerked upright and let the drawing fall on the floor. “Midnight already!” he whispered as Yalda shushed Kelev’s renewed whimpering by tucking his shaggy head comfortably on her lap and scratching him behind the ears. On the floor, the action in the drawing had stopped, the sailors frozen in the middle of whatever they were doing, some in what seemed highly unstable position, with barely a foot on the nets they used as ladders to climb up the masts. Yeled shook the drawing, trying to get the action back on but to no avail. Soon, he gave up and turned his attention to the book, attempting to read the strange words in gothic letters.
Navirus flotamus ad infinitus and tempus terminatum.
Laboranti arivantem mi tempi futuri.
Ve gam mi medinot shonot.
The drawing started shaking as he read, and the pages of the book suddenly flipped back to the beginning, as if blown by a wind no-one could feel. When the first page was on top, the drawing stopped shaking. Yeled was about to start reading the first line when Yalda put a hand on his arm. “Maybe we shouldn’t try this now. We don’t know what may happen. It might be noisy. Let’s take it to the beach tomorrow,” she whispered.
Ignoring her warning, Yeled shook his arm free and went on muttering the words.
Le kol erat she rotse letayel be zman ve liriot ad ha netsar
The drawing popped out of Yeled’s lap, its parchment suddenly stiff as a board. It began to grow. The music returned faintly, its volume growing with each syllable. “Sshhht!” ordered Yalda, slapping the book shut. Immediately, the music stopped and the drawing’s parchment became flexible again. “Not now,” she said, straining her ears to check if no noise was coming from Ozeret’s bedroom. “We have to wait to be alone to read it.”
“Yeah… You’re right,” admitted Yeled reluctantly. He slid the drawing back inside the book, wrapped it up and put the bundle inside the bag. “Listen!” he told her as they tiptoed back to their respective bedroom. “Tomorrow, I’ll put all my school things in your schoolbag and I’ll take this in mine. We can’t leave it lying around here. Ozeret is sure to find it.”
Back in her bed, Yalda intended to think hard about the possible meanings of the book and about it’s potential dangers but her head had barely touched the pillow that she fell asleep.
The next morning, after an eventless breakfast during which Ozeret muttered about Yeled turning into ‘a criminal in the making’, Dad drove them to school on his way to work at the bank. Back then, when Mum and Doda were still at home, healthy and happy, he had been the captain of a tourist boat but now, as he had to be home and close to Mum instead of away at sea for days at a time, he had taken a job as a bank clerk.
As usual, he turned on the news while Yeled and Yalda sat in the back of the car, whispering intently to each other.
“An extraordinary cloud was seen over the Bay last night,” said the anchorman as Dad maneuvered outside the parking. “Alerted by a bizarre echo on the radar, the authorities sailed to the Bay and were unable to explain what was happening right before their eyes. A massive cloud, about half a mile long and a yard thick, was hovering above the waters. Not only was this cloud of an unprecedented color, it was behaving as if scanning the waters, moving back and forth in a regular and organized fashion. We interviewed Officer Lashoote as the patrol boat came back ashore. Here is what he had to say: ‘I would never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. A solid cloud of mosquitoes running a surface search of the Bay area. That’s what it was. Millions of mosquitoes in a square formation probing the water, in a square cloud…”
On the back seat, Yeled and Yalda were whispering to each other, reviewing the events of the nights in the kitchen, not listening to a word of the news report.
“I’m not sure,” Yalda said, as Yeled and her discussed the best place to pursue their experiences with the book. “The beach is safe from Ozeret and dad, but it is quite close to where we found it and there was a boat on the drawing. If this book has evil intentions, I would prefer not to be too close to the sea where the boat could easily escape.”
“Good point,” answered Yeled, “Yet, the kitchen is not such a great place either.”
“Oh, I wish we still lived in HaMakor!” regretted Yalda as Dad slowed down, having almost reached the school. “We would have the whole garden to ourselves over there.”
“Of course! You are a genius!” exclaimed Yeled, just as the car stopped at the school gates. “Dad, can I go to Raver after school?” he asked Dad in a normal voice. “I’d rather not have to put up with Ozeret’s bad mood if I can avoid it.”
“You should learn to pay for your crimes,” Dad smiled affectionately. “Maybe that would save you from a career as a jailbird… …” he added mischievously, his eyes twinkling. “Just joking! You can go if you take Yalda with you.”
“Of course I’ll take her with me,” protested Yeled, kicking Yalda’s shin to stop her from protesting. “Do you really think I would let her face Ozeret’s growls on her own?”
“Is that OK with you, Yalda?” asked Dad, his tone clearly indicating that he expected her to agree.
“Sure! Haven’t seen Kofi in a long time. I hope he will not hold it against me,” she answered, glaring at Yeled, as Raver was the last person on earth she wanted involved with that book.
As she spoke it suddenly hit her that this mysterious bag might have something to do not only with Doda, but also with the piece of fabric Kofi had stolen from Doda the day she vanished, the piece of fabric Mum had wanted her to find. Maybe, just maybe, there might be a way this bag could help bring Mum back to her old self. But she wasn’t going to speak about it with Yeled just now. First, she had to think. For the time being, she would focus on the links between the bag and Doda.
“All right then. I’ll call Ozeret and tell her. Be sure to be back at six, in time to take Kelev out. Bye then, I have to rush,” Dad added.
“Fortunately for us, the mosquitoes seem to have decided to leave the island. Except, of course, the few unfortunate ones Officer Lashoote and his team have successfully captured. Those will be sent to a specialized lab…” droned the anchorman as Yeled and his sister got off the car.
“What do you want to go to Raver’s for?” an incensed Yalda asked Yeled as the car sped away. She was absolutely furious at having been forced to agree to Yeled sudden decision to go to Raver’s place after school. Raver always treated her like a brainless twit unworthy of his attention and his head was so inflated by his status of the island’s genius that she could barely stand being in the same room with him. Since Alex had turned into a good for nothing semi-delinquent, she had banished the entire family out of her mind. Kofi had proven useless in finding what he had stolen from Doda and Yalda had gradually accepted that he had simply lost it and that she would have to rely on other means to find Doda. Yet, now, with this book, and the renewed hope that she would, at long last, get a lead as to how to find Doda, it seemed that the proximity of Kofi might somehow be helpful. After all, if he had played a part in causing Doda to disappear, it only made sense that he might play a part in finding her.
“He knows lots of languages, on top of the rest. He might understand what’s written in the book,” answered Yeled, keen to soothe his sister.
“You could have talked to me about it before asking Dad!” she protested, yet without her usual gusto as her mind was racing in too many directions to enable her to properly be angry. Especially as a she had to agree with her brother that Raver’s wealth of knowledge might definitely be helpful to decipher the book. Though she would not give Yeled the pleasure of admitting it out loud.
“Sorry. Just thought about it now. Didn’t think you’d mind. And Raver is Alex’s brother, remember? Maybe we’ll find a way to make him tell us something,” continued Yeled, sensing Yalda’s anger subsiding and keen on convincing her, as he wanted her to be nice with Raver.
“Alex?! That slob who keeps getting into trouble? He doesn’t even know we exist anymore,” snapped Yalda, as she had never forgiven Alex for giving hope of finding Doda. He had been her best ally until his visit to Mora. Though he never agreed to tell her what had happened there, nor what she had told him, he had come back from that visit convinced that the seismologist explanation was a valid one, as far fetched as it seemed, and had begun treating her like an annoying brat. His overnight change of attitude had hurt Yalda so deeply that she had banished him not only from her world but even from her thoughts, as his betrayal at Yalda’s most trying time was like a knife plunged deeply in her heart and she was afraid to remove it, lest it would start bleeding again.
“Maybe. But he used to be Doda’s friend. And he was there when she disappeared. Actually, he was the last one to see her.”
“Not true, I was!” protested Yalda vehemently, since, she was indeed the last one who had seen Doda and any mention of Alex was likely to bring her to tears, the last thing she wanted right now.
“You were just a baby. How could you understand anything?!” smiled Yeled paternally.
Yalda’s face darkened, as the pain Alex name had awoken in her blessedly turned into anger against her brother. She hated it when he reminded her that he would never consider her his equal. Having her own brother doubting her words just as she was about to face another day isolated from the other children because of what she had seen didn’t go down well at all. And with the emotional charge brought up by the reminder of Alex betrayal, her underlying anger turned into white hot fury “Nevertheless, I was the one standing just by the vortex that swallowed her. And nobody ever believed me. Not even you, until Kelev brought that book,” she lashed out, stamping her foot to stress her point, her jaw clenched and struggling not to jump onto Yeled and beat him up.
“I never said I didn’t believe you. I just said you might have been mistaken; it’s not the same thing.” Yeled answered quickly, taken aback by his sister. “And I told you that Raver never entirely agreed with the seismologic explanation, so I didn’t believe that! Anyway, don’t you think that this book is the path to find her? Alex might change his mind about relying on the police to find her if we show him the book and the drawing.” Yeled hurried to say, piling up as many arguments as he could think off to soothe his sister.
Breathing in deeply, Yalda succeeded in calming herself down, as she fought off the maelstrom of contradicting feelings that washed over her and forced her mind to regain control. As she considered the various aspects of the all series of events, the unearthly tunnel that had robbed her of Doda, the seismologists’ lame explanation, Alex’s betrayal, Mum’s illness and the police intervention, it hit her that the only aspect of the situation they had not yet talked about was the police.
“Maybe we really should bring it to the police?” she uttered, rather lamely, as she had to keep the conversation flowing and did not have the time to think it any further.
“Yeah, sure! You know what they would do, if they did anything at all” smirked Yeled, amused by the mere idea of involving the police at that stage. “They would call all sorts of experts and analyze it from every angle for years before actually doing anything with it. I want to use it to find Doda now! Not when I’ll be a grandfather!” he concluded forcefully.
Reminded of her main goal, Yalda resolutely shut her feelings out and forced herself to factor Alex in her train of thoughts “But it’s dangerous!” she said, “Doda’s been gone three years now. And if Alex knows where she is, how come he never went to get her?” she added, her anger ebbing.
“You said she took the key with her,” answered Yeled quite sensibly. “ Maybe this book is the key. Maybe she just sent the key back for us to go and get her. I’m sure that, if she was stuck somewhere and couldn’t find a way out, she would at least find a way to send for help.”
Now fully back into the conversation, Yalda wanted her brother to comfort her in believing that they finally had found something that would lead them to Doda.
“By throwing a bag in the sea? Isn’t that a bit chancy?” she protested, playing the devil’s advocate and hoping to loose her case.
“A bag that was found by her dog, remember? Her dog that always knew ahead of time what she was going to do, even though she did know it herself. Don’t you remember her wondering how Kelev always waited for her at places she had no clue she was going to go to? And the music! Didn’t you say there was music in her room before she disappeared?” retorted Yeled, with increasing confidence.
“Yes, but it wasn’t the same music as the bag’s.” Yalda contradicted weakly, as Yeled’s argument was undeniably becoming more and more solid.
“How can you be so sure? You only heard a few notes of that music, and it was 3 years ago. Maybe it changes when you read the book. Anyway, we’d better go. We’ll be late,” he added, hurrying towards his classroom.
As Yalda’s leg led her to her classroom, she tried to think about Alex and to make sense of his sudden change of mind after his visit to Mora, but Alex’s topic was still too painful to dwell on for any length of time and the book and its potential use in finding Doda soon banished Alex from her thoughts.
The day dragged by, the minutes feeling like hours. Yalda had a hard time concentrating on her sums. From the window, she could see Yeled and Raver debating intently under the statue at the back of the playground. If only she were a year older, her break would be at the same time as Yeled’s and she could be part of their discussion. As it was, they would start planning without her and she would be left out, as usual. Especially with Raver’s aggressively rational mind… Never, not for a split second, would he accept to devote a fraction of his attention to consider the remote possibility that the book might have a microscopic link with Doda.
Even Yalda’s break time was endless. It seemed pointless to pretend that she enjoyed her rope skipping daily practice while the key to Doda’s world might be lying in Yeled’s bag. Still, she thought it better to stick to her routine. Variations in her habit had a way of triggering her classmates to ask questions, and the answers she would give them now were sure to rekindle the jokes and teasing about her obsession with sorcery and magic.