Making Trouble: Chapter Three

GOODBYE

Charlie parks in a short-stay space at the Civilian Terminal, and I’m out of the car and running towards the taxi rank before she cuts the engine. Down a flight of stairs, through double doors crowded with people and luggage, and across the drop-off lanes to the security barrier. I look around, turning as I walk, looking for taxis. Looking for Nasrin.

I check my watch. We’re early, but Nasrin’s father likes to be prompt. I look past the barrier, and the armed guards. What if she’s already inside?

The guards are checking tickets and passports. I can’t get into the terminal if I’m not booked onto a flight. All I can do now is wait.

Charlie walks out through the car park doors and waves. She’s too far away to shout, but she lifts her arms in an exaggerated shrug, and I shrug back. She shields her eyes with one hand and pretends to search for something, up and down the drop-off lanes. When she sees me grinning, she gives me a thumbs-up, and turns away to sit on a concrete ledge next to the ticket machines.

I walk up and down, scanning every taxi for Nasrin. There’s a constant stream of vehicles – taxis, cars, and buses, and I’m afraid I’ll miss her in the crowds.

And then she’s there. Stepping out of a black taxi, leaning back through the door to grab her bag, her long blouse skimming the tops of her legs and her favourite blue skinny jeans.

My heart stops. This is it. This is goodbye.

I can’t speak. I can’t move.

What if …?

And then I can hear Charlie, in the car.

It’s time to be brave.

I make myself step forward, towards the taxi.

*****

“Toph! Oh my god! What are you doing here?”

She’s frozen, her bag half on her shoulder, one hand holding it in place. She’s wearing dark blue nail varnish and a pale pink blouse, and her long black hair is tied back in a neat plait that reaches almost to her waist. Her nails match her jeans, and her fur-edged boots.

I stare at her, and everything I wanted to say vanishes from my head.

She looks beautiful.

“Toph – I didn’t think you’d come.”

She drops her bag on the floor and runs to me, throwing her arms round me and pressing her face into my neck.

I can’t move. When I breathe in, the familiar scent of her hair drowns the traffic fumes and the burned-fuel airport smell, and I feel as if I’m floating away. I can’t believe this is the last time we’ll see each other.

“Toph?”

She looks at me, her dark eyes shining.

“Nasrin.”

I wrap my arms round her, and pull her close.

*****

When she steps back, I have to force myself to let her go. My arms feel empty and awkward, as if they were made to hold her.

“Don’t kiss me,” she hisses, as she steps away. She glances over her shoulder and rolls her eyes. “Dad.”

Her father is standing with the family’s luggage, watching me. I step back and tug on my coat, straightening it, trying to look respectable.

“Christopher,” he says, stepping towards us, one hand held out for me to shake. Nasrin was born in the UK, and her London accent matches mine. If you couldn’t see her, you wouldn’t think she had olive skin and dark eyes. You wouldn’t call her an immigrant. But her father grew up in Syria, and I can hear the foreign sounds behind his words.

“Mr Amari.” My voice is shaking, and my hand trembles in his.

“So kind of you to come.” He claps his hand on my shoulder and steps back.

I nod, trying to think of something to say.

“I’m sorry, Mr Amari.” He raises an eyebrow. I take a breath, and try again. “I’m sorry that you have to leave.”

He nods, a serious look on his face. “That’s kind of you, Christopher. Thank you.” He puts his arm round Nasrin. “And thank you for being such a good friend to my daughter.”

Nasrin bites back a laugh, and I have to hide my smile. Friend. Sure. Whatever helps him sleep at night.

“We’re not all bad, Mr Amari. We’re not all …”

“Racist pigs?” I nod, embarrassed. “I know, Christopher. And I’m grateful.” He shakes his head. “But there are too many people who want us to go home. People who don’t think we’re British enough to stay.”

I bite my tongue. ‘Home’ for Nasrin is London. I’m angry that anyone could think otherwise.

“So – Canada?”

He smiles, and nods. “Canada has been kind enough to accept our application for citizenship. We’re looking forward to starting new lives, somewhere we can feel safe.”

Somewhere where racist pigs won’t burn down your shop and your house in the middle of the night.

“Good luck, Mr Amari.”

“Thank you. Now I suppose you two want to say your goodbyes?”

I nod, and he gives me a wide smile. He nudges Nasrin. “Make it quick. And no kissing!”

A dark pink is rising in her cheeks as she steps towards me for the last time. Her father turns his back, fussing with the luggage and making sure her mother and sister have all their bags.

“So he does know!” I whisper as she takes my hand.

She nods, tears brimming in her eyes. “Yeah. I guess.” She smiles, but the tears are falling onto her cheeks.

“Bye, Toph,” she says, and stands on tiptoes to brush her lips against my cheek. She slides her arm round my waist, and I cradle her head in one hand, running my thumb over her face, smudging away the tears.

Her father coughs, loudly, and we step apart, smiling, my hand still in hers.

And I remember the backpack. The plan. All the things I was going to say.

“Wait,” I say. “One moment.” I twist the rucksack off my back, dropping her hand and fumbling with the zip. She looks down at her hand, still holding it out to me.

This isn’t what I wanted. This isn’t romantic. This is clumsy and stupid.

I reach into the rucksack and pull out the teddy bear.

“This is …” I can’t remember what I was going to say. She looks at me, tears staining her cheeks.

I’m making a mess of this. This isn’t what I planned.

“This is for you.”

If I say any more, my voice will break. I’ll cry, and I’ll ruin everything.

She reaches out and takes the bear, as if it’s made of gold. She wraps her arms round it and holds it against her chest.

“Thank you, Toph.” She whispers, and she bends her head and plants a kiss on the bear’s nose.

And that’s when I turn away. I can feel tears on my cheeks, and I don’t want her to see. I don’t want anyone to see.

I throw my rucksack over one shoulder and start to walk away, brushing the tears away with my sleeve.

“Toph?”

I press my sleeve against my eyes, then turn back to look at her again.

“I love you,” she mouths, silently, so only I can see.

I smile, and nod, and then she’s walking away. Past the soldiers and their guns, her father holding out passports and tickets for the whole family. Past the barrier, and across the pavement, into the terminal building. She looks back as the doors close behind her, and waves.

And then she’s gone.

Chapter Four

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