Authors: Kate Constable
Tags: #JUV000000, #book
Also by Kate Constable
Winter of Grace
(co-written with Penni Russon)
The Chanters of Tremaris series
The Singer of All Songs
The Waterless Sea
The Tenth Power
The Taste of Lightning
First published in 2013
Copyright Â© Kate Constable, 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian
Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or ten per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.
A Cataloguing-in-Publication entry is available from the
National Library of Australia
ISBN 978 1 74331 503 3
Cover design by Kirby Stalgis
Cover photos by Lynn Koenig/Getty Images
Set in 11/16.5 pt Sabon by Midland Typesetters, Australia
Printed in Australia by McPherson's Printing Group
10Â Â 9Â Â 8Â Â 7Â Â 6Â Â 5Â Â 4Â Â 3Â Â 2Â Â 1
For my parents, with love and gratitude
Julie stands in the doorway of the plane. The heat slaps her in the face like a hot, wet towel. Passengers crowd at her back, impatient to disembark. Sunlight blazes in her eyes as she picks her way down the steps to the tarmac. Instant sweat prickles on the back of her neck, itching under her ponytail. Brown-skinned local workers stand about, hands on hips, calling to each other in words she can't understand. Pidgin: that's what they speak here. She knows that much. Palm trees dangle their fronds, drooping and exhausted in the shimmering heat.
She's never been anywhere like this before. The air is so thick with humidity it's like trying to breathe soup. The sun presses down on the top of her head, as relentless as a hot iron.
Tony doesn't live in Port Moresby. She has to catch another plane to a different town, even smaller and more obscure, called Mt Hagen, a dot in the middle of the map.
The terminal building is hardly more than a glorified shed. Inside, the overhead fans turn languidly, barely disturbing the air. While Julie waits to have her passport checked, sweat dampens her forehead and rolls down inside her dress. Dark faces are all around, though the official who stamps her passport is white, and his voice is broad Australian.
âHave a nice holiday, love.' He gives her a wink.
Julie gathers up her papers without answering. For half a second, she contemplates telling the man,
In a few hours from now I'm going to meet my father for the first time since I was three
It had started almost as a joke, as a challenge to her mother during one of their endless arguments. She can't even remember now what Caroline said to spark it off, but Julie had snapped back, hot with fury,
Well, maybe I should go and live with Tony for a while and see how that works out!
And Caroline, suddenly calm, had said,
Maybe you should . . . Yes, maybe after thirteen years, it's time you two got to know each other.
And the next thing she knew, it was all arranged, and Julie was heading to New Guinea for the summer holidays, while Caroline took a solo trip to Sydney, which hardly seemed fair. She'd never taken Julie to Sydney.
Julie doesn't tell all this to the man in the official uniform. Instead she says, âI need to catch a flight to Mt Hagen with Highland Air Charters. Could you please tell me where I have to go?'
Sweat trickling down her back, carrying the mustard-coloured vinyl suitcase and the brown overnight bag Caroline lent her, Julie struggles through the terminal. In front of her, blocking her way, two Australian men, wearing shorts and long socks, stroll with treacle-like slowness.
âExcuse me!' says Julie loudly. The men half-turn, as if surprised to see her there, but they don't move aside to let her pass.
If I was tall and blonde and gorgeous, they'd let me through
. She is not tall and blonde and gorgeous; she is ordinary, with mid-length mousy hair and freckles across her nose. Scowling, she dodges around the two men and almost trips over the outstretched legs of a local man who is slouched against the wall.
People are sitting on the ground, anywhere they can find a spot, in family groups, chatting and sharing food. A woman leans back, her eyes closed, while her baby suckles at her bare breast, his head tipped back, his bright brown eyes wide and searching, gazing around at the upside-down world.
Julie drops her luggage and rummages in her shoulder bag for a hanky to mop her sweaty face. She looks up and her bags have disappeared.
It takes her a second to realise what has happened. Then she sees a flash of mustard vinyl, weaving through the crowd up ahead. A man has taken her bags and trotted away with them.
âHey!' shouts Julie. âHey, come back! Put those bags down! Thief! Thief!'
She starts to run. Her legs feel like lead, like legs in a nightmare, but anger fuels her, drives her onward. âStop!' she shouts. âHey, you, stop!'
People scatter before her, startled eyes turning on her. She's gaining on him; she can almost touch him. She gathers herself and leaps, hurling her weight onto his back, pummelling him with her fists. âStop, give me back my bags!'
He's not a big man, and he crumples beneath her. There's a soft
as his breath is knocked out of him. The brown bag and the suitcase go flying. Locked together, Julie and the thief crash to the floor of the terminal.
. What's all this?'
Julie sees a pair of brown shoes, and the inevitable long blue socks. A firm hand grips her shoulder and pulls her to her feet.
He's a young man. His skin is the colour of milky tea, though his accent is as Australian as Julie's own. She feels his hand burning through the fabric of her cotton dress onto her shoulder; the next instant, he lifts it away.
âThis man is stealing my luggage!' she says, breathless.
The thief still cowers on the ground, as if he's scared she might attack him again. Julie smoothes her hair with her hand, a little embarrassed.
The young man speaks to the thief in rapid, stern Pidgin. The thief answers, scrambling to his feet.
The young man turns to Julie. âHe wasn't.'
âHe wasn't stealing your bags. He was helping you to carry them. He's a porter.'
âBull!' says Julie hotly. âHe just took off with them. He didn't ask me; he didn't even know where I was going. If he's a porter, where's his uniform? Where's his badge?'
A suppressed smile creases the corners of the young man's eyes; then he makes his face stern again. Once more he speaks to the bag-snatcher. The bag-snatcher replies, wide-eyed with indignation. They argue back and forth for a minute or two. Julie is conscious of people staring at them. She manages to find her hanky at last and wipes her flushed face.
At last the young man turns to her. âYou do need a porter, don't you? Those bags look pretty heavy. Or is someone meeting you?'
. . .
I'm catching another flight.'
âThen why not let this guy carry your bags for you?' says the young man reasonably.
âNo way!' says Julie. âI'm not letting a thief take my luggage. He's not even a successful thief,' she adds.
The thief looks at her with venom. Julie is sure he can understand what she's saying. She folds her arms and glares back at him. She says loudly, âYou're lucky I haven't called the police!'
The young man laughs. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handful of change. He counts out a couple of coins and the maybe-thief's hand closes eagerly over them, tight as a trap. â
' says the young man. âGo on, get lost.'