Prose, Grades 7-9: Second Place

Home Again — Nechama Yardley

The bus stop is filled with men and women, all decked in the same green army uniform. Mom helps Grandma out of the car and opens her walker. I fidget. Everything seems to be in slow motion. Mom must notice my nervousness.
“Go on, Aniela. Go find him. We’ll be right behind you.” She smiles at me.
I can’t seem to manage to smile back. I turn and start to walk in the field of camouflage.
How will I know it’s him?
My heart pounds as the question whirls inside my brain. Every day for the last three months I asked myself this question. Sometimes I reassured myself that once I saw him, I would know. Other times I stared at the picture on Mom’s nightstand and imagined the man in the photograph a decade older. The same deep-set brown eyes, short trim brown hair, a strong jaw, and that single dimple that I inherited.
I hear all sorts of welcoming cries from all around me. Some people are sobbing. Some people are smiling. What will I do? Cry? Laugh? Maybe both?
I notice that some of the men coming out of the next bus are older. I squeeze through the crowd to see who is there. I approach a woman, deep in thought, who is sitting on a nearby bench. She has dark skin and long, thick hair. She clutches an old tattered photo and dabs a tissue to her damp eyes.
“Excuse me,” I say tentatively, not wanting to startle her, “would you know where I can find Lance Remington from Special Forces Unit 8?”
She looks up, her gaunt cheeks and moist shallow eyes making her look sickly and ill. Slowly she shakes her head. “I would try heading over to the south stops. They might be over there.” She escapes for a moment from her own sorrows and says, “My ol’ daddy used to say, ‘Patience is nasty bitter, but the fruit is heavenly sweet.’ Good luck, sweetheart.”
I thank her and walk away, pondering how such simple words can so quickly reach the heart.
I’m caught between running and dragging my feet as I push through the countless soldiers, my nervousness building up inside like a skyscraper. What if he doesn’t know who I am? After all, he hasn’t seen me since I was two. And even then, it wasn’t for more than a day or two.
I notice the sign swinging above my head. “South Entrance.” Apprehension fills me. I’m close, so close. I can feel it.
The faces of the soldiers are a blur. I try to look for a familiar one without any luck. There are too many people. I can’t seem to even find a way to swim out of this sea of green. Everyone is so tall and large around me. The noise of cries, laughter, heavy footsteps and luggage hitting the hard pavement is deafening.
Suddenly I hear a laugh. It is so familiar. That deep resounding, hiccupping laugh that only Grandma makes. I abruptly turn and am shocked how fast my pulse is beating. As I dart through the men, I feel the heat on my face. I hear the laugh again and follow it to the source. There I find a man. His back is turned to me, but it doesn’t take but a second to realize that a small child is clinging to his neck. It’s not him.
I turn back around, feeling my hope and excitement slowly ebb away. Defeated, I start to walk back to find Mom and Grandma.
“Corrine?” A voice cuts through the rest of the noise. I freeze. That’s Mom’s name.
“Corrine?” It rings out in my ears again. Everything is silent; I can’t hear anything but that voice.
I turn slowly, terrified, excited and nervous all at once. Three large army duffels are draped across his shoulders, and he is swinging a sack of oranges in his hand. I hear my own intake of breath. He looks exactly like the picture.
He looks at me and shakes his head. “Sorry, miss,” he says and turns to walk away.
He doesn’t recognize me. No! Don’t go!
“Wait!” my voice cracks, and he stops and glances in my direction.
“You aren’t the first person to mistake me for my mother,” I say.
His eyes grow round in recognition and for a moment, both he and I are frozen, just staring. Both realizing that this is the moment we’ve been waiting for.
We rush forward at the same second. I feel the weight of his bags on my feet before I am lifted in the air and into his arms. I bury my head into his shoulder and I hear him murmuring inaudible words. As I squeeze my own arms around his neck and feel hot tears start to flow, I don’t want to let go, ever. It’s my father. My father has come home. It has been 12 long years. And now he’s back.