Flying. Near enough, anyway. Michael Jordan in the air, basketball in hand, looking like he’d never come down.
Richard stared at the poster: MJ in motion, whereas he had stalled. Sitting in his room on his bed and holding the phone, a piece of paper in front of him, seven digits written in blue ballpoint pen. Written in her handwriting. He had the phone in his hand, ready for him to dial.
They’d have a conversation. What did he have to talk about? His boring life, the basketball trials, how NZ compared to back home... No, that was all useless. The conversation needed to be good. He didn’t want to screw this up.
He should call her right now, no more hesitation. Doing stuff, making it all happen, that’s what he did. So what was this, cowardice? What would the others think, if they saw him like this?
Okay. Call her. This could be the beginning of something.
Richard took a deep breath and dialled. He put the phone to his ear and closed his eyes, and he heard the pip as the connection came through, and then the first ring –
– and there was a knock on his bedroom door.
Richard clicked the phone off, exhaling. He took a second to compose himself. ‘Yeah?’
The door opened and Richard’s father came in. Daniel King was tall like Richard, his beard grey and his face caught in a frown. ‘Oh, were you on the phone?’
‘It’s okay,’ Richard said.
Daniel nodded. ‘I’m afraid your mother and I need to talk with you.’
Richard felt a sudden, awful vertigo.
The clock on the living room wall ticked off the seconds. Around it was a collection of framed photographs: Gran and Grandpa at the old house, the whole family at Thanksgiving, Richard’s uncles and aunts. Home.
Also a photograph of here, their adopted home. An aerial shot of Wellington harbour with the sun shining brightly and the sea a spectacular blue. Richard remembered seeing that view five years ago, pressing his nose to the window as the plane circled in to land, bumping and rocking in the Wellington wind. The city had looked like it could be kept in a bottle. Boats on the harbour and houses on the hills and tiny cars rushing along the motorway. The view had been so fascinating he’d forgotten how unhappy he was supposed to be.
Naomi was waiting for them. Her smile was wrinkling the wrong lines on her face. Daniel sat on his favourite chair, and Richard sat on the couch. He didn’t want them to start speaking. His father’s frown, his mother’s smile, he knew exactly what they meant, deep down in his gut he knew. He didn’t want to hear.
‘We’re being sent back home,’ Daniel said.
Richard remembered getting off the plane for the first time, out in the Wellington air, the wind pushing him around as if it didn’t want him there. He hadn’t wanted to be there either. Someone from the embassy had been there to meet them, and they’d climbed into a car and driven away. All the colours were different, all the houses looked wrong.
Naomi was shaking her head. ‘I’m so sorry, Richie. This isn’t the best time for you, we know, in the middle of your last year at school. But we don’t really have any say in the matter. Your father has already tried.’
He remembered getting on the plane, watching out the window as it took off, seeing D.C. recede. He remembered what it felt like to watch it go.
‘Your mother’s right. When they pull the string, I have to jump. However, you have options. I’ve spoken to some colleges and they’re open to you starting this year. You can get right on with everything, if you want.’
He remembered saying goodbye to his friends at school. They’d laughed at him. They had all just been kids. He remembered joking that he’d be standing on the bottom of the world when he got off the plane, so he hoped he didn’t fall off.
‘There is another alternative,’ Daniel continued. ‘There’s no need for you to come with us immediately. If you want to finish your school year here, then we can arrange that.’
‘You could board somewhere,’ Naomi said, ‘and see things through, and then follow us over at Christmastime. That’s if you want to. The option is there, isn’t it. We don’t want you to feel like you’re cornered.’
Daniel gave a sad little laugh. ‘I’m cornered. You don’t have to be.’
Richard looked at him. ‘You’ve known about this for a while?’
‘Nothing was certain until today. I’m sorry. We didn’t want to trouble you until we knew for sure.’
This was how it felt, up in the air. Suspended over the future.
Richard shut himself in his room, sat back down on his bed. He felt sick and restless. This was no surprise. None of them had expected to stay this long.
He hadn’t wanted to come. Hated leaving his friends, his street, his school. He used to daydream about going back, just finding a way to go back. A few days after they’d arrived there had been a small party to welcome them. His father’s new colleagues, their wives and husbands. He’d sat in his room and watched the houselights shining in ragged hillside rows. His mother had brought him a plate of crackers and chocolate and sat beside him as the stars came out. They were upside down.
He felt stopped. Freeze-framed like Michael Jordan was in that poster. Untouched by gravity.
Don’t think. Just keep moving.
He looked out the window and dialled her number.