Copyright J. S. Raynor 2017
Chapter Ten : A long journey
Raffaele was used to the sound of his brothers’ snoring, but, strangely, it was more disturbing now they were all together in the same bed. He had thought that the comfort of the bed would help him to sleep better, but the fact was that it was so different from what he was used to, that it made a restful sleep impossible. He lay awake, thinking of his new-found situation and wondered what the future may have to hold for him and his siblings. Around five o’clock, he had enough of lying in bed and wandered into the bathroom. He was curious about the shower and thought that he would like to try it out. He took the handset off the wall and, turning the tap, was shocked at the pressure of the jet of water shooting from the head. He quickly turned the water off again and began to take his clothes off, dropping them untidily onto the floor. After climbing into the bath, he cautiously held the shower handset as he turned the water on again. “This is luxury”, he thought as the powerful jets hit his skinny body. Marco and Rico had heard the noise and wandered in to see their brother enjoying the shower. “Come on in”, shouted Raffaele. “It’s great!”
It did look fun to the two young boys and, very soon, all three were in the bath, Raffaele pointing the water at the two, normally grubby little boys. The water running down the plug-hole in the bath was dark and muddy from the three as they indulged in their new-found experience.
Wrapped in huge towels, the boys ran into Dolores’ room, where she lay awake. “We’ve had a shower!” Marco and Rico said in unison.
“I heard you.” She sounded very sleepy. “You were making quite a noise.”
“You should try it”, said Raffaele. “It’s much better than a bucket of cold water.”
“I might just do that.” She smiled at her three brothers, who were probably cleaner now than they had ever been in their lives.
Within an hour, all the children had eaten breakfast and, under Raffaele’s guidance had packed their belongings and some food into various bags. Dolores had brought Isabella’s medicine and gave her a dose before they left the luxurious house at seven-thirty.
This area was so tidy and elegant, in sharp contrast to the shanty houses they had been used to and it was with some sadness that they left the big house which had been their home for just one day. As they returned to the shanty area, there was a noticeable hum of activity. Many children were carrying bags, presumably full of their belongings. Raffaele, his brothers and sisters followed the direction of these children and, very soon, the long school bus came into sight. Instead of the mournful queue of children waiting for the bus to take them to the drudgery that they called school, the children were talking excitedly and loading the vehicle with as many bags as they could fit into every conceivable storage space. The bus was a bit battered in places, bright yellow and at least twenty-five years old, but to the children, it was magnificent, and a magnet to all the children in the area.
Jose saw Raffaele and shouted, “Raffaele! I was hoping you would come. I’ve saved some seats for you, near the front.” Within a few minutes, the family was sitting in the long, school bus, excited about the journey in front of them. Although capacity was designed for only about forty, at least sixty, noisy children were squeezed into the bus, using every available seat. News of the planned bus journey to Florida had spread and more children were turning up, hopeful of finding a space, but any more would have resulted in the bus being over-loaded. “Come on, Pepe. We just can’t fit any more. Let’s go.”
“Okay, I think I’m ready. I hope you’ll help with navigating, Jose.”
“Yes, of course.
Pepe started the engine and, hoping he could remember everything his father had shown him, he engaged the gears. The bus lurched forward, causing all the children to grab hold of any nearby rail. Pepe sounded the horn loudly as more children appeared, running towards the bus in a desperate attempt to board the vehicle. Many were disappointed and stood in stunned silence as the bus disappeared out of view. Two brave, eleven-year old twin boys ran after the bus and jumped at the back, scrabbling to hold onto anything firm. They climbed onto the top of the bus and held on tightly to the edges of the vents in the roof of the bus. Worried about their safety, Pepe pulled up and quickly helped the twins down from the roof. The triumphant smiles on their faces showed that their gamble had paid off and they happily squeezed themselves towards the back of the bus.
Pepe was sweating as he carefully maneuvered the heavy vehicle through the small roads and felt relieved when, at last, they reached the main highway 85 heading north towards the border. Even then, he had to avoid the many vehicles which had crashed as their drivers disappeared. Pepe concentrated on his driving and was exhilarated by the task of controlling such a powerful vehicle, finding it easier to keep in the fast lane of the four-lane highway. While driving, Pepe was showing Jose the various hand and foot controls in the hope that he could act as a reserve driver, when necessary.
The children on the bus were excited at the prospect of actually being in Florida and they chatted happily, imagining what their new life would be like away from the slums which had been their home since birth.
Raffaele had asked Jose how long it should take to reach Orlando. The distance was about two thousand miles and, depending on progress, it could take at least a few days. After a while, the noise from the children abated as they gazed at the scenery they were passing, while others fell asleep. In places, the four lanes reduced to only two, making it more difficult to pass the hundreds of wrecked cars dotted along the highway like some huge three-dimensional work of art. After about four hours driving, Pepe felt exhausted by the strain and responsibility placed upon him. He continued for a while longer, but eventually had to pull in for a rest. Thankfully, he had stopped at a service station, allowing several of the children to use the toilets. Pepe was aching from the strain of having to keep in one position for a long time and his arms ached from the effort of turning the large steering wheel. He knew that his father would be proud of his effort, but the experience made him admire his father even more. It saddened him to think that he would never see his parents ever again.
Pepe had been keeping a watch on the fuel gauge and it was now indicating only about one third of gas left. He was nervous about the prospect of filling up with gas, as he had no idea just how to do it, but, now, it was necessary to fill up, rather than running dry in the middle of nowhere. Even locating the fuel cap took a while, but, with the help of his friends, they managed to operate the pumps and filled the tank to capacity. Best of all, there was nobody demanding money for all that he had put into the aging bus.
After a break of about thirty minutes, Jose, who was fifteen years old, took his place at the steering wheel and started the engine, ready, with Pepe’s guidance, for the next part of this strange journey.
After a jerky start, he soon gained in confidence and drove the long, yellow bus, keeping a steady speed of about fifty miles an hour through the baking afternoon sun. Jose, now used to the task, managed to drive skillfully and without tiredness for hour after hour. After a few hours driving, the journey became more mountainous,, but this improved as the freeway widened to six lanes as they approached the Texas border.
It was a great relief, when he spotted the border area at Nuevo Laredo in Texas. He had set the gauge at zero as they had started their journey and he found they had already driven over six hundred and fifty miles. As he came closer, he realised that there was going to be a problem. Not from security now that President Trump and his border control no longer existed, but rather from the cars which had stopped at the crossing when all adults had disappeared. There were about seven cars still waiting. It seemed strange that they would be waiting for ever, unless somebody did something about them. Jose drew up, pulled on the hand brake and switched off the engine.
Copyright J. S. Raynor, 2013, 2017
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