When Mum said we were moving back to Edinburgh, I chucked a radge. That’s Scottish for getting angry and losing your temper. I stamped and slammed doors and shouted rude words.
When I finally calmed down enough to talk to her about it, I said, ‘How can it be back to Edinburgh? Cairo is my home, it’s where we live, where I go to school and where my friends are.’
Especially Camilla. But I didn’t say that. I thought that if I said her name out loud I might cry and never be able to stop. Camilla is my best friend. It’s always been Ruth and Camilla, the short and the tall, the fair and the dark. We’ve been in the same class since we started school. I suppose that’s not saying much, because it’s a small school for international students and we’re both twelve, nearly thirteen, so of course we’d be in the same class. It takes pupils from five to sixteen.
‘But it’s where you were born.’
‘What?’ I was thinking so hard about Cami and about how I could persuade Mum to stay, that I’d lost track.
‘Edinburgh. It’s where you were born. So we’re going back.’
‘But I don’t have any friends there.’ I tried to stop my voice wobbling. I asked all the questions and made all the excuses I could think of, but Mum had an answer for everything. Eventually I stormed off into my room.
As I went, Mum said, ‘You’ll soon make friends. It’s a big school. There’ll be lots of choice.’
I didn’t want choice. I wanted Camilla.
I took out my phone to WhatsApp her. I started: Guess what Mum’s just told me? But that sounded like a nice surprise, so I deleted it and started again: Disaster! The hospital where Mum works is closing. We have to move to Edinburgh. But there was so much explaining to do, I couldn’t write it all. I’d have to tell her at school the next day.
At bedtime Mum came to tuck me in. She said, ‘Sorry, Ruthie,’ and I burst into tears, because I knew it should’ve been me saying sorry. Then she sat next to me, and we cried together.
Finally, she said, ‘It’ll be OK, honey. We’ll stay with Granny McKay until we find a place of our own. And you remember the youth club you went to two years ago, when we were on a summer break, visiting Granny – what was it called? Something beginning with E? Energy?’
‘Yeah, Energise,’ I said, and I dimly remembered joining a group of teenagers for a trip to a fairground. Mum had been a guest speaker at the church, talking about working in Egypt, so Energise had invited me even though I’d only been ten. They were friendly, and there was another girl about my age – Abigail? Alison? Yes – Alison.
But Mum was continuing, ‘Edinburgh’s really a wonderful city with so many fascinating things to do. There are leisure centres and cinemas and dozens of parks. And climbing walls.’ She knew I loved climbing. ‘You can be out in the countryside in half an hour, or at the beach. There are theatres and galleries and fish and chip shops!’ It was a joke between us. Egyptians don’t like fish and chips, but we’re British.
She kissed me goodnight and closed my door behind her. I lay on my back with my eyes open. Car headlights made patterns on the ceiling. I didn’t want to stay with Granny McKay. I didn’t know her very well, even though she was my granny, because we’d always lived so far away from her. Anyway, her house had smelt of cigarettes. But I couldn’t say that to Mum. Granny was her mum, after all.
I thought about Miss Samuel, my year tutor at school. She said Jesus understood if we got angry. We could tell Him about it. So I prayed. ‘It’s not fair. Why do we have to leave?’
The next day at school, I wondered how I could tell Camilla. I’d have to wait for break, but when it came, Mr Kuhlmann asked Cami and me to help to mount artwork on the wall. I should’ve been glad, because Mr Kuhlmann is cool, like his name. He’s tall and lean with blond hair and one earring and wonderfully colourful clothes. Like a real artist, Mum says.
‘This wall,’ he said, pointing to one side of the art studio, ‘is for your year. As the season changes, we’ll add more, showing a progression, so that by Easter it will be a glorious…’ He stretched out his arm to demonstrate, and it was then that I burst into tears.
‘Ruth! Whatever’s the matter?’ His arm dropped to his side, and he stared at me. I couldn’t answer. He looked at Cami. ‘Camilla? What happened?’
‘I don’t know!’ Cami said, and put an arm round my shoulder. ‘Ruthie! What’s wrong? Is it your mum? Is she OK?’
I nodded, then shook my head, and sniffed and hiccupped. Mr Kuhlmann said, ‘Now, sit down and let’s see if we can help.’ So I had to sit down and explain that I wouldn’t be there by Easter, that we’d be gone – to Edinburgh!
Mr Kuhlmann said some nice things about how much I’d be missed, and that I’d soon settle in to my new school and all that kind of stuff. Then he sent me and Cami out to sit in the sun and eat our break snack.
We went out, but of course I couldn’t eat anything. Once we were outside, all Cami’s questions came spilling out. ‘When are you going? Why are you going? Doesn’t your mum like it here any more? What about your education? This is a very good school. Why can’t you continue here? Doesn’t your mum realise that it would be awful to take you away just now? Couldn’t she home-school you? Jack and Annabelle are home-schooled, you know, and…’
‘But they’ve got a dad. Their dad goes out to work while their mum stays at home.’
‘Oh, Ruthie! I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have…’
‘It’s OK,’ I said.
I was so small when Dad died, I don’t remember him. I sometimes miss having a dad, but it’s not the same as missing a person.
‘Well, couldn’t your mum find a job in a different hospital?’
‘She’s tried. Most of the hospitals are Muslim. Not every clinic wants foreign nurses, especially Christian ones.’
‘But there must something she could do.’
Then I got defensive, because even Cami isn’t allowed to criticise my mum. I knew I’d said exactly the same things to Mum as Cami was saying to me but, well, we’re a team, Mum and me. Team Lawrence. We’ve had to be. But then, so are Cami and me. I began to cry again.
Our school was a Christian school, and in assembly at the beginning of each school day, our head teacher used to say a prayer for any family that was facing changes. Sometimes the changes were good, like a new baby or someone getting a new job. Sometimes they were bad, when anybody was sick, or they were going to leave and move away. In my last week, the head teacher prayed for me and Mum. Everyone closed their eyes and I felt Cami grip my hand tightly. I tried to believe that God really did have good things in store for me.
The year before, we’d had a school trip to the Red Sea. It was brilliant. We swam and snorkelled and there were little fish that were so brightly coloured I’d thought they were plastic! They were like Disney cartoon fish, but they were real. We collected shells and I found a smooth heart-shaped stone. Back at school, Miss Samuel suggested I write a Bible verse on it. ‘Here’s one to keep in mind for your whole life,’ she said. ‘“My God is my protection, and with him I am safe.”’ I came across it again when we began packing up ready to move. But I didn’t feel safe at all.
Cami came for a sleepover shortly before we left. It was late February, so the weather in Cairo was beginning to warm up. Mum took us out for a burger for a treat. She said we could do that often in Edinburgh, but I think she was really trying to cheer me up. We had cheeseburgers and fries and apple pie. The meal came with a small soft toy, even though we were almost teenagers. My toy was a little fluffy lion. I’ve still got it. I’ll keep it forever.
Back at our flat, we went to bed early, not to sleep, of course, but to watch silly videos on my tablet. We laughed and laughed, even though some of the videos weren’t all that funny. I think we were trying to keep the sadness away. When we went to sleep, it would be the end of our last day together. Mum didn’t come in to shush us, and it was pretty late when we finally switched off the tablet and the light.
But as soon as we were quiet, we could hear that a wind had got up. Wind was unusual in Cairo. True, there was always a breeze along the Nile, and it was refreshing in the hot summers. But here we were a mile from the river, and this was much more than a breeze. It was blowing the curtains in, even though the windows were shut. I could hear bins and plant pots toppling over, and smell the choking desert dust.
I got out of bed and went to the window. Cami joined me. ‘Wow, the weather’s as upset as we are!’ she said.
I laughed. ‘Usually, the weather’s bright and sunny and hot, even if I feel gloomy or cross or scared! But you’re right. It’s different tonight.’
The wind was trying to rearrange everything. There were occasional flashes of lightning. In their brief brilliance, we could see clouds that looked orange. But there was no rain.
Now there were pieces of trees joining the race of debris dashing down the road. With a brief knock, Mum came into my bedroom and joined us at the window. She put an arm around each of us. ‘How awful to be homeless in this,’ she said. ‘Imagine living in one of those refugee camps, with only a canvas awning around you.’
I shuddered. I’d never thought much about refugees, though we heard plenty about them on the Egyptian news channel every day.
Mum often seemed weighed down by other people’s troubles. Maybe all nurses were like that, or maybe it was just Mum. Occasionally she spoke about her patients. She never named them, of course, but at times I felt she carried their problems, never mind any of her own. Sometimes we could hardly manage ourselves. What could we do to help refugees?
Eventually, the wind dropped as suddenly as it had started. ‘There’ll have to be such a clean-up in the morning,’ Mum said. ‘But it’s time for sleep now, girls.’
She kissed the tops of our heads and went back to her room. Cami and I didn’t talk any more. We got back into bed, but I didn’t sleep for ages. I don’t think Cami did, either. I could hear her shuffling around in her bed.
In the morning, Cami’s parents came with her little brother, Alexander, to collect her. We had made a vow to each other that we wouldn’t cry, but that we would keep in touch with each other via WhatsApp every day.
When she’d gone, Mum and I began to clear up. There was a thick layer of sandy dust on everything. A cloth duster wasn’t enough. We had to sweep all the furniture first with a brush and dustpan. I began with my own room, while Mum began with the kitchen. When I got to the windowsill, I found Cami had written a message in the dust with her finger. I will miss you. Sisters always. I took a photo of it before I cleaned it off.