Excerpt from "Isabelle"

The door to the plane was slightly ajar. Fernando went up the stairs, opened the door, beckoned to Isabelle and stepped inside. Isabelle followed him, breathlessly. Lights concealed behind a cornice at the top of the curved interior wall provided soft illumination. Banks of seats lined the perimeter of the plane with tables in front of them. A girl was curled up in the far corner. She was covered with a large, colorful Peruvian shawl. Her long, chestnut brown hair fell in soft curly waves down to the floor. Her eyes were closed, she looked completely relaxed and fast asleep.

Isabelle stoppped short and gazed at her. "Anna..." she called softly.

Fernando walked over to the girl and shook her shoulder gently. She blinked and opened her eyes, gave him a tentative smile, then sat up, rubbed her eyes and yawned. Her hair tumbled around her shoulders and down her back. Her eyes were golden brown, a little lighter in color than Isabelle's. Carlos and Gus entered the plane. Carlos walked up to Fernando and the girl, sat down beside her, said something in Quechua and pointed to Isabelle. Anna got slowly to her feet and regarded Isabelle with a serious expression.

"I am happy to meet you, my mother," she said, in careful singsong Spanish. Her voice was high, light and breathy. She continued to look at Isabelle with grave reserve, unsmiling. She was several inches taller than Isabelle, with long, slender arms and legs. Her eyes were large and round, rimmed with dark lashes. Her nose was thin and pointed, turning up slightly at the tip. She had a heart shaped face and a rosebud mouth. Isabelle thought she had never seen anyone quite as beautiful as her daughter. She felt tears come to her eyes.

"Anna..." she said, walked over to the girl and put her arms around her.

"Mama," said Anna, returning the hug. Then she laughed, a high-pitched, tinkling, girlish giggle, stepped away from Isabelle, turned to Carlos and said something in Quechua.

"She asks if you want to see the locket," Carlos said in Spanish. "She's very proud that she kept it secret all these years. Dodo told her to never let anyone see it and made her hide it. Dodo always said her mama and papa would come back for her some day and they would want her to keep the locket safe and not let anyone steal it."

"Of course, I'd love to see it," said Isabelle, wiping away her tears. "Who is Dodo?" she asked. "Is that the Indian woman who took care of her?"

"Dodo was the first woman who took care of her," Fernando said. "But she died about a year ago and Anna has been staying with some other people since then. She didn't like them. They've been trying to marry her off to an old man, one of the leaders in the village. It wasn't difficult to persuade her to come with us, in fact she told us she was about to run away from the village so she wouldn't have to marry the old man. Besides, she had been waiting for years for her mama and papa to come and get her. She told us she had never given up hope."

Anna dug around in a duffel bag made of bright colored Peruvian cloth. She straightened up and walked over to Isabelle, smiling broadly. A large, heart-shaped gold locket on a chain dangled from her hand. She held it out to Isabelle, who took it and opened it with trembling fingers. Inside was a faded picture of herself and her young husband Guillermo. She clutched the locket to her chest, overcome with emotion. Everything had come back to her so strongly. She could smell the gunpowder and hear the rat-a-tat-tat of automatic wapons. She experienced again the desperate grief and fear she had felt as she watched Guillermo crumple beside her, right before the government troups stormed in the door. She bowed her head, working to control herself.

Anna suddenly noticed Gus, who had remained by the door of the plane. "Papa!" She cried, dashing over to him and throwing her arms around him. Gus smiled tenderly and put his arms around the girl.

Carlos rushed up, chattering in Quechua. "I'm explaining..." he said to Gus in Spanish. Anna drew away from Gus and looked at him sadly, then said something to Carlos in Quechua. "She's apologizing," he explained to Gus.

"No need to apologize," said Gus, smiling at the girl and putting his arm around her shoulders. "Come, my dear," he said to Isabelle, beckoning her with his other arm. "Let's take our daughter home."
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