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But She Could Fly
By
Angela Lucas

'Amy Jo, move yourself, you're a lazy, good-for-nothing brat.'

The child had just woken from the respite of the night. No one knew how she dreaded the beginning of each new day, that is no one except Peter.

Peter, knew, she told him everything, he was her one real friend, and a sorry sight if ever there was one. One arm ended at the elbow, and the back of his head was missing, but the doll was her friend, the keeper of her secrets, the unlikely listener when she was sad.

Amy knew a thing or two in spite of her mother's continued comment of 'you've got no brains.'

Peter listened as the abuse from Ma's mouth got louder and more abusive with each frustration of the day. Maybe he was such a good friend because he had no brains either, they went missing as the back of his head fell off when he was dropped from a wall by Amy Jo's brother, but brains or not, Peter was the only one who really knew...

The child was a bookworm, and would go to Mr. & Mrs. Ellis, the people next door. 'Hallo, child, want another book? You sit here while I get the cookie jar.'

Mrs. Ellis once had children at home her bookcases were full of the books left behind when they had gone away to college. Adventures of the Secret Five. Just William and Violet Elizabeth Bott who were always in trouble with the Vicar. Best of all were the Charles Dickens' books. Each story seemed to start with sadness or a mother giving birth in a garret, then handing her child away with her dying breath.

The books were an escape to another world of dreams, magic and possibilities. There she read of heroes, adventures and changelings.

That word, changelings, was magic and excitement and mystery, another life where her name would be said with softness, and she would wear dresses like other girls instead of the old khaki shorts handed down from her brother.

That word took her into a world where no-one would threaten her with 'just wait 'til I get hold of you.'

Changelings, a gentle, beautiful thought. One day her real mother would come to find her. The ache in her heart told her that some horrible happening had occurred at the hospital when she was born. Her real mother had been given the wrong baby, and she had been given to Ma.

Maybe one day there would be a man from the Palace, bringing a note from the Queen. The note would say, 'Dear Sir or Madam. I have sent a coach to collect Amy Jo who was given to you by mistake. Really she is the daughter of my maid. We will make a new home for her in the cottage in our garden.'

It could even be a nervous Mrs. Ellis who came to talk to Ma. 'We know that you have your hands full one way or another and we would like to take Amy Jo with us to Australia where we have bought a house by the beach.'

Somewhere there had to be her real mother who loved her and was searching, searching, crying and weeping until she found her own little girl.

Reality hit as hard as Ma's hand round her head. There was no other mother, the Queen would never send for her; Mr. and Mrs. Ellis were too old to go to Australia.

The child decided to run away. She took her skipping rope, a packet of custard powder, a torch, a jar of jam and her doll, Peter. The shed at the end of the allotments smelt bad, but this was happiness. The shed would be her home. She would be her own mother and sing songs to herself as she went to sleep.

Ma wouldn't miss her 'til the usual early morning growl of 'Move yourself.'

Nobody ever went this far down the field. The allotment plots were neglected and the few sheds were rotten. Amy Jo chose the shed tucked into the corner, it had one small window at the back and the door still fitted into the frame.

Sitting Peter against the wooden wall, she wrapped her arms around herself in mother love.

It was the events of the previous day that had caused her to run. She remembered the cruel jibes hurling through the air as neat as the whip that landed across her legs. 'You are a waste of space. What are you? Hey, what are you? Wipe that insolent look off your face right now, and you can stop snivelling. I never wanted a dratted girl, so what are you doing here? Blasted brat, that's what you are.

'And what do you call this hey? A school report? What do you call this, a mark or impertinence? I always said you had no brains. Failure, that's what you are, an insolent failure. Get out of my sight, and if you know what's good for you, you will stay out.'

So get out, she did. She told Peter how scared she was as, unscrewing the jam jar, she put it next to her doll. Carefully she tore the top off the packet of custard powder; dipping her finger into the soft contents, she could imagine it was sherbet dab as she licked the vanilla flavour with its warm comforting smell.

Reaching for the jam, to her horror, she saw that a wasp had got into the jar and was frantically trying to get out of the sticky trap. The fright of the wasp took hold of her and echoed into the dark night of her heart, dragging her down. She was trapped like the wasp.

A painful deep cry erupted as Amy Jo felt the desolation of her despair; the child fell backwards, banging her head against the protruding nail in the wood and suddenly she was in the air. She was flying.

She could fly!

It was so easy, she was up above the shed, higher still up above the telegraph wires, flying on and on, over the street where she lived, over the school, swooping and soaring, effortless, joyous. She could fly!

Yes! She could fly!

The air was light, her body was light, her world was light, this was happiness even more than she had always believed every child should feel.

There was a strange smell in the hospital ward when she awoke. A tramp looking for firewood had found her in the shed. He saw the broken doll, and picking up the unconscious child, he also scooped up Peter, carrying them both to the nearest house for help.

The 'plane was coming in to land over Africa. Amy Jo had a dream. Every child has a right to be loved, to be wanted, to have enough to eat and to go to school without ever being afraid.

Life had moved on, the child grew into a young woman with a dream in her heart. She knew how to make dreams happen, just close your eyes and fly. Fly high, take your dreams and make them real.

Nurse Amy Jo was in Uganda. The weeping now would be for the children whose parents had Aids, for the children who would themselves die having been infected at birth. She would weep for the grandparents, old and ill, who had to be parents to their children's children.

The battered car took Amy Jo and her helper, Ferida, down the red, dust filled tracks. Old men and women watched with dignity as the two nurses unpacked the crates of medicine and food. Quietly they waited in turn to be examined and treated. The round pills promised hope; the food promised strength and a future.

Amy Jo and Ferida picked up child after child, holding each one with firm gentleness and tenderness.

Going from village to village and back to Base for more supplies then out again to another day of caring for the old and the children drained the energy of the workers. The day came when it was time for a different journey.

The 'plane landed at Heathrow airport. The air was cool after the African heat and dust. Four years had passed since the young nurse had flown form here; years that had matured her with each hurting child she held in her arms.

A car was waiting, sent by the Charity for which she worked. The Charity that had pledged itself to caring for damaged children. The winter evening caught her unawares. The street lights were strange after the dark African nights.

Amy Jo looked forward to seeing her friends in their big house by the Common; she looked forward to bed, some sleep and a new tomorrow.

The car stopped; a man in uniform ushered Amy Jo into an unfamiliar building. She was escorted along corridors, through a door and, into a blaze of light and applause.

Confused by the strong light, the cheering and the strangeness, it took a moment for her eyes to adjust. A man who was somewhat familiar came towards her; in his hand he held Peter, the old battered doll of her childhood.

Other faces came out of the crowd. Faces from her school days, from her nurse training, and dear black faces from Africa.

The dear black faces brought poems written back home. Grandpa Zoman was the first to approach her. He read his poem.

Fear

Despair hung over our heads
There was little to eat or drink
Our children slept on the floor for beds
Our heads ached too much to think

We had sons and daughters
They worked the land for grain
They put their babies in our arms
Then Aids brought fear and pain

God sent his love with Amy Jo
A love so warm and dear
It thawed our hearts with mother love
And stilled the dreadful fear

Suwel, a gentle old grandmother told the studio audience, 'One night I woke and looked out through the door. In the silence there were the slow footsteps of death. My sons had gone. Then I saw someone walking towards me with kindness, calling, 'We have food and medicine for the children.'

The last person to speak was a pleasant looking 60-something man. The tramp had kept the doll and visited the child in hospital. Finding her in the shed, her head badly bleeding, had frightened him. Indeed he was so frightened that he forgot to leave the doll at the hospital, but he kept it with his battered belongings, packed away with the remembering.

He remembered a little girl saying, 'I can fly.' As she recovered consciousness, the tears washed her face as over and over she said, 'Yes, I can fly.'

At the hospital he heard the story of her home life, how she had run away to be the changeling of her own imagination. For him, it was a time to change, sensing a better way to live. He got some education, became successful in his chosen field of television and was the Floor Manager of the programme being presented.

Story after story was told, each one holding the imagination and emotions of the audience.

Finally, the Compere took Amy Jo by the arm, led her to the centre of the stage and, handing her a big red book, said -

'Amy Jo. This is Your Life, a changeling indeed.'

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