The Meeting

James’s arm pressed Linda protectively to him as they walked the dirt path through the village. It was barely populated; most of its inhabitants had fled to other nearby villages after the fire, claiming this area to be cursed, the old woman explain hoarsely as she slowly led them through the debris left after the fire. From the orphanage, the flames had burnt their way through the forest and into the many family-filled wooden homes of this settlement. Most of the affected houses had collapsed in the ensuing flames, as frightened families ran for their lives into the dark night. Over the many months since the fire, the inhabitants that had remained living on the far edge of the village had cleared the street from most of the charred debris littering it, but the events of that night could still be seen in the few bits that remained.

 

Barefoot and dirt-smeared children ran across the path and Linda almost ran after them, certain that one could lead her to Jeremiah quicker than this strange woman. With every little house they past as they neared the far edge of the village, Linda’s eyes searched more and more thoroughly in the windows and open doorways to catch a glimpse of a toddler, a toddler who would resemble Jeremiah so much that she would immediately know it was him. She had only seen photographs of him, but she would recognise him, Linda told herself.

 

After all those months of grief and doctor appointments, Linda’s mind was going crazy with the possibility of seeing Jeremiah again. What had the woman meant when she’d said he was part of a different world now? Was she leading them to a cemetery where he was buried? Had he been found dead in the aftermath of the fire and cremated, his ashes spread over a field beyond the village? Or was he well and truly alive, living in this little hidden village of twenty or so remaining wooden houses?

 

Linda had tried to make eye contact with the few villagers that came their way, but after a few hostile glares James had advised her to avoid it and trust the woman, whatever she was up to.

 

Finally, the arduous journey was over. Physically, Linda felt like she could run for miles in search of her lost child, but mentally she was at her wits’ end. A couple more steps would have sent her knocking on every window and door in the vicinity and calling his name. “Here.” The old woman pointed a hand at the door to her left. “Now I leave you.”

 

Linda stared at the woman’s wrinkly, round face and then at the crooked door just off the path, wondering how she would enter without the language and the confidence her guide had provided. How would she tell the inhabitants of the home who she was and who she was looking for? These questions plagued Linda’s mind as she turned back to the woman in confusion. But the fire had come back into the stranger’s eyes, and fury threatened to boil over the rims of her yellowing eyeballs.

 

“Go. Now,” she commanded.

 

As Linda turned to walk up the narrow steps to the little hut, James stepped in quickly behind to make sure she safely mounted the creaking stairs. As she slowly placed one foot in front of the other on the cracked wood, the dust flying up from around the soles of her shoes stun her eyes and made her queezy. Suddenly she felt like she was suffocating, that she needed to run before the old hut drew her into its dark and dusty corners. But she kept stepping. One more step. One more step and she was on the tiny porch outside the door which stood tilted on its hinges, the wood bitten and rotting at the edges. Before Linda could tentatively knock, the door to the home slowly opened and a young face showed through the dark gap.

 

Linda didn’t recognise the face but she knew this must have been a relative of the elderly woman. The resemblance was unlike any Linda had seen before. The same fire burnt in the young girl’s eyes as she let them into the house, but it wasn’t anger that fuelled it. Rather, it was strength and kindness.

 

The girl smiled politely as she silently ushered them into a smaller room in the dimly lit house. There was no electricity here, only candles and what natural light could find its way through the small, dusty windows. But none of that mattered to Linda as she saw what the elderly woman had brought her here to see, and what the young girl was holding now in her arms.

 

Linda saw the most beautiful baby. A boy. A beautiful, smiling little toddler, lifted up high in the air by the young Thai girl as she played with him, giving him exhilarating rides up and down while he giggled and waved his arms and legs in excitement.

 

As James pressed her hand in his, Linda stood in awed realisation that this was not a dream. Nor a nightmare, like so many she had had in the past long months of believing she had lost the child she had worked so hard to adopt and who she had completely fallen in love with. Now seeing the smile on his lips and the quirky giggle he issued every time he was lifted up higher into the air to come riding down on an invisible rollercoaster, it was as if two worlds previously torn apart by some angry monster had finally found a way to link back together.

 

Spreading out her arms to the little fingers that came to press hers, Linda whispered, smiling: “Hello, Jeremiah.”

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Comments

This is such a moving story and you have the reader right in the palm of your hand, hoping that Linda will find Jeremiah then it happens. I wonder if you could build on this just a little bit more and draw out the tension....the stepping into a strange house, being left on her own with the old lady. You could describe the steps, the smells, the sounds, the forest which will be almost suffocatingly close as her anxiety rises. Build on that so that when she sees the boy there is a sense of enormous relief for the reader. The intensity of the moment could be elevated.

 

Thank you, Suraya! I added some more description to one of the paragraphs to make it seem more like she felt suffocated, afraid.