A Second Chance -- Chapter 68

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A Second Chance

By Dawn Natelle

Here is the September installment of A Second Chance. There will be several more appearing monthly. First day of high school next month: Dawn

The Barron family was in the arrivals area of Pearson Airport in Toronto. Rachael was holding a colored drawing of the Zambia national flag, and Bobby held a sign reading ‘Lullana’. The flight from Paris had arrived 20 minutes ago. Lullana had to fly to South Africa, then up to Europe, and finally over to Toronto. She must have been in the air for over 24 hours, counting layovers.

And that is when everything went to hell.

Three border security agents, two men and a woman, one walked up to the family, and asked Geoff: “Is your name Ray Barron?” Confused, Geoff said “No”. “Is it Shel, or Sheldon?”

No, my name is Geoffery Walter Barron,” he said.

“Alias then,” one agent murmured to the other. “Are you here to meet a young lady named Lullana D’Tabe?”

“Yes we are,” Geoff said with a smile. “Is she here?”

“Please turn around sir, and place your hands behind your back.” Geoff complied, and handcuffs were placed on his wrists. “You are being held for suspicion of human trafficking. Please follow us.”

“What? I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Yeah, they all say that. Come with us,” the men each took one of Geoff’s arms and marched him away.

“We need to go with them,” a suddenly frantic Maria said.

“No you don’t. In fact you are safe now, and he can’t hurt you again,” the female agent said.

“He has never hurt me,” Maria protested. He is my husband. We are just here to pick up an exchange student who will be studying in Canada for the school year. What is going on?”

--------

Several hours before, a very tired Lullana was sitting in the rear of a jumbo jet. She had been amazed at the plane at first. Each leg of her journey had been on a bigger and bigger plane. The ride to Johannesburg had been on a small propeller-driven plane. Then the ride to Paris was on a larger jet, and finally the Air Canada jumbo jet to Toronto was bigger again. But after a few hours in the air on each plane, she became bored, and was quite happy when a stewardess on break sat down next to her on the final leg.

“Do I need to speak French in Canada,” the girl asked, having seen the announcements at the start of the trip given bilingually.

“It depends on what part of the country you are going to?” she glanced at Lullana’s ticket. “No, you are going to Toronto, and almost everyone there speaks English.”

“My native tongue is Bemba, but we learn English in the school,” the girl said.

“Really? Languages interest me,” the stewardess said. “Can you speak a few words of it?”

“Ishina lyandi niLullana,” Lullana said. “It means “My name is Lullana.”

The waitress then had to dart away, but a half hour later she had another lull and sat next to the girl.

“So who are you going to see in Canada,” the pretty hostess asked.

“Oh, I am going to meet Ray-Shel Barron,” Lullana said. “They sent my bride price of four goats with the missionary, and I want to go see my new family. The missionary said they were very nice.”

The attendant was gob-smacked. Did this young girl, a teenager, say that she had been purchased? She immediately left and went to alert the captain, who radioed ahead to Toronto to alert them of a potential crime.

---- -- -----

In the holding area Geoff was completely confused by the questions he was being asked. He had all Lullana’s entry paperwork … or more to the point, Maria did, and she had been taken somewhere else, adding to his worries. When he asked to have someone either bring Maria too him, or at least send someone for the papers, the men scoffed, claiming they had no interest in forged papers.

Instead they asked how many other girls Geoff had brought to Canada in the past, and when he said none, there were more scoffs. He was continually asked about Ray, Raymond, Shel and Sheldon, which they referred to as his aliases. He was told that Lullana had identified him as having paid a bride price and he was illegally importing her to Canada.

They demanded he show his passport. “I can’t. I didn’t bring it with me,” Geoff said.

“You can’t travel without a passport,” the agent said, as if it were important.

“But I am not travelling. I am only picking up an exchange student. This is all a big mistake,” Geoff protested.

“Oh sure, they always are,” the agent sneered.

_______ _____ ___

The agent with the rest of the family was having better luck. The agent with them actually listened, and with all the papers Maria was carrying, she was starting to think this might just be a misunderstanding. She explained the situation that the airline had relayed in, and suddenly it clicked for Rachelle.

“I am Ray-shel Barron,” she said suddenly. “The girl must have an accent, and be speaking my name that way. I did pay her bride price, but not to marry her. I have a boyfriend, and am not into girls. I paid for four goats to get her father to allow her to come to Canada. She can learn so much more here. We hope she can do four years of high school in Ingersoll, and then four years of college. Our Presbyterian Church is sponsoring her trips back and forth, and my family is looking after her living expenses.” Maria was nodding the entire time.

“And you are legally Mr. Barron’s wife?” the agent asked Maria. “Yes. We have been living together for several months now, but we legally got married two weeks ago. I don’t have the marriage certificate with me … we didn’t think it would be needed. I can give you the number of the pastor who married me though, if you want to call?”

The agent did, and phoned Helen, finding her at home. She confirmed the marriage.

The woman agent then went into the other room, and related her findings to the men. They only glanced at the paperwork, declared it a forgery, and suggested that the call to Helen was a ruse. They were bound-bent that they had a human trafficker in custody and would only see evidence that supported the claim, and not what didn’t. The Ray-Shel/Rachael explanation just went in one ear and out the other. They would not allow Maria to see her husband, insisting that she and Rachael were victims of Geoff, and declared that Rachael and Bobby were too old to be Maria’s children. They said that he must have coerced them into claiming that.

Meanwhile, as soon as Helen got off the phone, she and Steve rolled into action. Helen got the church copy of the marriage license, glad that the church now had a secretary who was so efficient. Then they took off to Toronto in Steve’s cruiser, travelling at 90 miles an hour with lights flashing, all the way to the airport, which is far enough out of Toronto so that traffic didn’t delay them. They arrived 90 minutes later, and tried to find their way to the Barrons.

During this time, the female agent had gathered up the “forged papers” and went to her superior, who was also into the mind-set of the male agents, thinking they had a human trafficker. Then the woman took a big career risk, and went to her boss’s boss, the director, telling her about what she had learned.

Steve and Helen entered the room where Geoff was, and he looked relieved to see people from Ingersoll. Steve showed his badge, and Helen got out the wedding license. Another forgery, the men said, and then looking at Steve’s badge, one noted that: “We intercept dozens of these every week. No doubt some get through.” He then took the badge, and tossed it in a trashcan. He then handcuffed both Steve and Helen, calling them ‘suspected accomplices to human trafficking’.

That was the point where the director walked into the room. She sent the female agent off to bring the rest of the family to the meeting room. She ordered her agents to explain their findings, looking more and more disgusted at the lack of real evidence.

“What is it about these papers that makes you think they are forgeries,” she asked.

The older agent finally looked at them for the first time. “Uhm, the logo here is a little off, and the signature is wrong.”

“Did you compare them with known copies,” the woman said sternly. “No, we didn’t get around to them.”

“I have one here from the front desk. Compare them.”

The man gulped, and looked for some time. He then did the same with the visa, the educational permit, and the sponsorship forms from the church. “They all look genuine.”

“So with that, the only evidence you have for having this man in cuffs is … a suspicion by a flight attendant who spent a few minutes with the girl. Is that right?” She then turned to Steve, then Helen, and finally back at Steve. “I know you. Your face is familiar.”

“A mug shot?” the younger male agent said hopefully.

“Shut up,” the director said. “No. I saw you on television a month or so back. You were involved in a grow op in a little town to the west. You were commended for killing a man who injured a SWAT officer, and then saved three boys from a burning building.”

“Only two boys,” Steve said. “And I really am the Inspector of the local police department. You can find my badge somewhere in that trashcan.” He pointed. The younger agent fished into the can and brought out the badge, which wasn’t damaged from its temporary discarding.

“I thought it was one of those forgeries that are always coming in from China,” the older officer said.

“And how many of the forgeries are for Ingersoll Police, or any other rural force, for that matter?”

“None, ma’am,” he said.

“And did you look at the paperwork under the badge? It is signed by the same Solicitor General that signed yours. Compare.”

The men fished out their badges, and compared. “They look the same,” the younger agent said.

Leave your badges on the bench, but give the Inspector his back. And get him out of those handcuffs, and …” she looked at Helen.

“His wife. Helen Winslow, junior pastor at Ingersoll West End Presbyterian Church. I brought the marriage certificate of Geoff and Maria.”

“Who is Maria?”

“That is me,” Maria said as she was brought into the room with her children. She rushed over to Geoff and hugged him. At first he was still handcuffed, but then he was released and was able to put his arms around her.”

“These are?” the woman looked at Bobby and Rachael.

“I am Ray-shel Barron,” Rachael said. “It was my name that caused all of this mixup.”

“Your name and some really shoddy investigation,” the woman said, turning to her embarrassed agents. “Would one of you go and get Lullana? I wish to meet this girl.”

Five minutes later a thin girl was led into the room. Rachael was astonished. She was used to having beautiful friends … Larissa was a former fashion model. But Lullana actually looked prettier. She was tall and thin, with smaller breasts. She was wearing a lighter dress, and you could see that her legs, arms, and face were a darker black than most North American blacks. And the skin was flawless, without a blemish. Her black hair was curly, but less than an inch long. She had gorgeous deep brown eyes.

Rachael held up the flag she had made. Over the past three and a half hours, it had gotten rather tattered looking, but Lullana recognized it. “Ray-Shel?”

“That’s me,” Rachael said, and seeing that the girl was shy and timid she decide to embrace her. For a few seconds the taller black girl was stiff, and then she melted into Rachael, sobbing: “I was so lonely. They kept me in this little room. A couple times people came to ask me questions, then they left me alone. I don’t like Canada so far.”

After the girl stopped sobbing, Rachael introduced her family, starting with Bobby.

“You are very pretty,” he said, the perfect statement, causing Lullana to smile, and immediately like the boy.

“This is my mother, Maria, and my new father Geoff: best baker in Ontario.”

“Welcome to our little family, Lullana,” Maria said. “We will do our best to make you like Canada really soon now.”

“I am liking it better already,” the black girl said.

“And these two are Steve, the Inspector for the Ingersoll Police. And his wife Helen, pastor of our church.” Lullana tensed up at seeing Steve, but Helen immediately embraced her in a hug.

“In Kasaka the police only come when there is trouble,” Lullana said tensely.

“Here the police help people,” Rachael said. “Steve is a good guy and came all the way here on his night off to help us. He is a hero too: he pulled two guys out of a burning building not too long ago.” This let Lullana relax and enjoy the hug.

Soon they were escorted to the luggage carousel to pick up the girl’s single bag. The woman agent accompanied them: the other two and their manager were kept in the meeting room to be grilled over, and to see if they would be allowed to pick up their badges.

On the ride home Lullana sat between Rachael and Bobby and described her trip. Bobby had never been on an airplane, and asked many questions, and the girl quickly relaxed, noting that Bobby reminded her of her eight-year-old brother, who was always wanting to learn more.

“Maybe we can get him to come to Canada too, when he is older,” Rachael suggested. Lullana’s eyes went wide.

“That would be so wonderful. If both of us can learn here, and take it back to our people, it would be so good. The Canadian men, and the young girls who came to the clinic to help last month, know so much. Our men can build things, but sometimes they fall down. Your men … the hobos … know so much, and build things the right way.”

“The nursing students will be coming home in a couple weeks, but next summer they will be there for four months. You will get to go home at the end of June, for two months, and then come back,” Rachael explained. “But in between we are going to have so much fun.”

------ --- -- -----

The next morning Lullana was up with the sun in spite of her long flight, which was still pretty early in late August. In Africa it would now be nearing noon. Rachael had spent the night in Grandpa’s room, which had been empty since his passing. She decided that she would move into that room, and give Lullana hers. She felt honored to be in his room, and last night he had visited in a dream and told her he would love for her to share his room, since it make him feel closer to her.

Lullana was sitting on the couch when Rachael came out (it was handy having a small bathroom ensuite.) Last night when they finally got home, Rachael had shown Lullana the bathroom upstairs, and how everything worked. The girl even took a shower, which amazed her as much as the indoor toilet did. Rachael had to go into the bathroom to show her how to towel herself dry, and was again amazed at her wonderful skin tone.

Then, wearing a borrowed robe, Lullana, Rachael and Bobby all gathered on Bobby’s bed, where Rachael realized that the girl would need help in reading, and intended to repeat the readings.

Now, it was breakfast. There were almost two weeks before school started, and so much to do. Lullana was surprised when Rachael made a full breakfast for her, and the family, with eggs, bacon, toast, and hash browns. Lullana said it was more food than they got back home all day.

Lullana had come in on a Monday: Geoff and Maria’s day off, so Geoff was gone before the girls got up. They were early enough to catch Maria, and Rachael made up three plates for her to carry to the bakery, so Geoff, Mike and Maria could have a good breakfast there.

After the kids finished washing the dishes. Lullana got a tour of the kitchen, where she was amazed at how much food was in the fridge, freezer, and pantry shelves. Rachael was a little amazed as well. When it had been just the three of them in the old house, there never was so much food. She had forgotten how it was to be poor.

Bobby had already disappeared to find his biking friends, to get the most out of the scant remaining summer vacation. Rachael and Lullana unpacked her suitcase, and Rachael knew there was a need for a shopping trip. For one thing, heavier clothes would be needed for fall and winter: boots and even shoes. Lullana was used to wearing sandals.

After her things were packed in Rachael’s closets, they carried Rachael’s things down to Grandpa’s closet, which Maria had cleared out several weeks ago. Rachael also took down several of her photos, including the one of her and Robert, the BFF shot with Mikki, and her sleepover photos.

“Don’t worry, you will soon have some of your own to put up, Lullana,” Rachael said.

“Oh no,” the girl said. “That is much too expensive. We can’t get used to all the Canadian luxuries.”

Rachael laughed. She pulled out her phone, and took a shot of Lullana and showed it to her. “See, it is that easy to make a picture in Canada. And Mikki is a professional photographer, or nearly so. She would be upset if she couldn’t take photos of you.”

“Is that what I look like?” Lullana asked. “I had my picture taken for my passport, but that was only my face. It is interesting to see yourself like this.”

Rachael closed the door to the closet, revealing the full-length mirror on it. “Look there. That is you.”

Lullana stared into the mirror for nearly 15 minutes, moving about and seeing her reflection move about as she did. Rachael got into the picture a few times, and the girl was astounded, especially when she stood next to the mirror, and it looked like there were two Rachaels.

Thus it was nearly 10 when they got out, and headed down Mikkis. Carla and Larissa were both there, waiting eagerly to meet their new classmate. Once there Mikki went into photographer mode, taking Lullana down to the basement studio where she took some pictures of the girl alone, and some duet pictures with Larissa: the contrast between the beautiful girls made an excellent composition.

She also took BFF pictures with Lullana and Rachael, Lullana and Carla, Lullana and Larissa, and had Rachael snap the shutter of one with her and Lullana, after she had set up the camera and poses. Lullana would soon have numerous photos for her new room.

While all this was going on Rachael mentioned that Lullana was short of clothes and a shopping trip was in the works, and did the other girls want to come. There was a chorus of ‘yesses.’ Then Larissa noted that she had some clothes that were too small for her, and suggested that Lullana try them on.

So the gang headed over to Larissa’s, where Lullana tried on dozens of outfits, including some from fashion shoots in Paris. The black girl was just thin enough to get into the older clothes. She wasn’t as tall as Larissa, but the difference was mostly in Larissa’s super-long legs, so skirts, shorts and dresses tended to fit perfectly. It was only jeans where the difference showed up.

----- - ----- ---

Lullana was fitting well into the family by Friday, with the girl helpful around the house, even to the point of making a Zambian feast for supper on Thursday to show off her culture. But Friday was Rachael’s day to go to the farm, and Donna came in to pick up the girls at noon. In return they helped make lunch for the men in the barns.

When the men came in to eat, and meet the newcomer, Lullana kneeled down in front of an amazed Frank Jackson. She asked for his blessing as the headman of Ingersoll. She had seen the huge farm and the many cows coming into the barn for milking, and assumed that Frank must be rich beyond imagination: perhaps a King.

Rachael had to tell her that the Jackson's were an average farm family. “A bit above average,” she said with a smile, “but nowhere near rich.” Wealth in Canada is determined by money, not livestock, with the richest people having no cattle or other animals at all, she explained.

Rachael then noticed Steve, one of the twins, was acting oddly. He couldn’t seem to keep his eyes off Lullana. When Rachael suggested that Robert and the girls would go for a ride on the horses after the dishes were done, Steve quickly invited himself along, although he seldom had ridden with Rachael in the past.

On the ride Steve saddled Lullana’s horse and helped her mount, then stayed close to the girl, who didn’t really seem to mind the attention. After the ride it was Steve who showed her how to brush down the horse. Before running off to the barns to help with the afternoon milking, Steve cornered Rachael as she was finishing up on Blackie.

“Rachael … uhm, your friend? Do you think I could ask her out to the movies tomorrow night? She is really beautiful, and I really like her.”

“I noticed,” Rachael said with a smile. Lullana was actually two years older than the Grade 9s, but was being placed in the Grade 9 class to compensate for the different education in Zambia. This made her only a year younger than Steve. “I’m okay with it, so long as you remember that she is pretty fragile, in a new country, a new world, really. Go slow with her, and if you hurt her I will personally make your life hell.”

“I could never hurt her,” Steve said. “I mean, she is sooo beautiful, and sooo perfect.”

The two went to a movie Saturday night, and Rachael stayed up until Lullana was home. When she got in, Rachael could easily see that she was a taken by Steve and he was with her. Rachael had peeked through the blinds in Grandpa’s room, and saw that Steve only kissed her on the cheek when he dropped her off. When Rachael came out, Lullana still had her hand on the cheek where she had been kissed.

Rachael made her run through the date step-by-step, starting with dinner in a Chinese restaurant, where Lullana found the food interesting, and occasionally similar to food back home. Then they went to the cinema, another first for the African girl. Steve was smart enough to choose a romantic-comedy instead of an action movie, and Lullana was enthralled watching the giant characters on the screen.

Apparently, halfway through the movie Steve had put his arm around the girl, and she really liked that, once she got over the surprise, and eventually cuddled right in with him. This allowed him to whisper explanations of some of the jokes in the movie that she missed due to cultural and linguistic differences. Finally, she admitted that he had kissed her cheek at the door.

“Will he want to do it again?” Lullana asked nervously. “I really, really like him.”

“If he calls tomorrow or the next day, it will mean another date. You should let him take you next Saturday. Just tell him you want to try McDonald’s for dinner this time. It is much cheaper than Wang’s. He will appreciate you not spending all his money,” Rachael said.

----- ----- ------

Sunday was church, of course, and Lullana went with the Barrons. Helen had asked that she say a few words to the congregation who was helping fund her stay, and Rachael had helped her prepare a short speech before she went on her date Saturday. As it was, the girl was so nervous that she begged Rachael go up to the front of the church with her, and help her through her speech. There was a tremendous applause from the congregation when they finished, and after the service many people stopped to chat and welcome her to Canada, making her feel wanted and appreciated. That, along with a short prayer to the painting, made her certain the long trip to Canada was worth it.

--- ------ -----

The girls went shopping on Monday, the last one before school (actually, the next Monday was labor day, a holiday, so no school and no shopping). Lullana had gone grocery shopping with Rachael in her first week in Canada, and was completely blown away by the amount of food in a single store. She was much more comfortable when she went the deli, meat market, and bakery, but still found it amazing that so much could be stored in even the smaller stores of the strip mall.

But the mall in London was even more amazing to her. (Maria drove all the girls there on her day off). The building was huge, and contained so many stores. Maria bought new clothes for both Rachael and Lullana, and the other girls had money from their parents to buy back-to-school clothing. Lullana needed the most, since all she had was thin sundresses, fine for summer, or year round in Africa, but woefully insufficient for the cooler fall weather that was coming. Rachael didn't need quite as much, but Maria bought her almost as much as Lullana – Maria had been waiting a long time to be able to treat her daughter with the money she now had. Maria also picked up more clothes for Bobby, who was growing. He had refused to come shopping, so she had to guess at his new sizes.

At the end of the day, the exhausted girls were dropped off at their homes, and then the Barron's took Lullana home, where Rachael and her filled their closets, working together one closet at a time.

That evening Lullana knelt the way Rachael had told her:

Dear Lord

Thank you for bringing me to Canada. I have not prayed to you before, but Rachael prays every night, and I think I should to. You have given me so much. Canada was scary at first, but it is such a rich country. I think I found a boyfriend. He called on Sunday afternoon and asked me to the movies again next Saturday. He sounded relieved when I said I wanted to go to McDonald’s for dinner. Rachael is so smart. She is a great friend, and her Mom has bought me so many wonderful clothes. And they eat so much rich food here. I hope I don’t get fat.

Amen



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