I press my nose against the airplane window and breathe faster, faster, more, more, more. I try to erase what's outside. In my mind, I beg for someone to help me. Help me! I want to yell. But you know, who would? Who could? Only Dad, of course, and flying here was his idea in the first place.
Branches slam against each other in the wind and rain. The jungle is so crowded. How can anything possibly grow in it? My eyes trace a thick vine twisting around and around an enormous tree trunk, desperately trying to choke the life out of it. Who will win: the vine or the tree? I don't like that vine. I don't like it one bit.
I breathe even faster, and by the time the plane jolts to a stop, I've covered the window with mist. Now I can't see outside, can't see where I'm going to be stuck for the next nine weeks. All I can do is watch my father pack up the medical report that he's been poring over ever since we switched planes a few hours ago. "Come on, honey," he says, as if he hasn't just torn me away from home, as if he hasn't made me leave all my friends and memories behind.
He tucks the medical report neatly inside his army-green traveler's backpack. I unbuckle my seat belt and stand. My heart thumps, quick and light, quick and light, never touching down for a full beat. While Dad checks the messages on his cell phone, there's a creak. Then a loud, long roar. I crouch and wipe off the window to look for the airplane racing down the runway, about to escape. But I don't see another plane, only forest-green, olive-green, green-gold. And rain, rain, rain.
A blast of heat fills the cabin. The month of January really is summer in this place. Under my sweater and jeans, tiny beads of sweat bubble up all over my skin. I take off my cotton scarf and stuff it into my backpack while that strange roar grows louder.
A dark-skinned woman stands in the row of seats in front of me, her head wrapped in a bright red cloth. A tall, thin girl stands beside her, a younger version of the woman. The girl talks to her mother in a language that sounds like fireworks, full of bursts and pops. She holds her hand over her mouth, giggling. I try not to look at her. She probably has so many minutes with her mother she can't even count them.
I grab the gold heart pendant hanging around my neck, feel the dent that I chewed right into the middle of it. Mom made it for me a few years ago when she took a jewelry design class at the center for adult education. Dad slips his phone into his pocket and gives me a squeeze around my shoulders. I pull away.
"How long are you going to keep up the silent treatment?" he asks.
I check my watch and adjust for the eight-hour time difference between Boston and here. I haven't spoken for the entire trip, not even during the layover in South Africa. That would put me at a grand total of twenty-six hours and thirty-two minutes, never mind that I was sleeping for at least eighteen of them. It's so impressive--maybe even a world record--that I actually consider sharing the news.
But I don't, because that would break my promise, and in my book, promises are not meant to be broken. Not promises fathers make to daughters, like "I'll take care of you" and "I always have your best interest at heart." And not promises daughters make to fathers, like "I will never speak to you until you take me back where I belong."
I follow Dad down the cramped aisle. The rumble grows louder and my breath snakes up my throat. Soon I'm at the mouth of the plane. I realize it's the crazy storm outside that's making such a racket. Cold raindrops prick me like needles. There isn't even a tunnel connecting the airplane to the airport.
A flight attendant stands by the cockpit. "Welcome to Malawi," she says, and smiles. I know that I should smile back. It's the right thing to do. But I can't. I doubt I'll ever smile again.
A bolt of lightning strikes the treetops. I'm thinking it's pretty dumb to stand on a metal staircase in an African storm. We could be killed.
But my father? He's another story! He inhales the slate-gray sky like it's full of jasmine, like the smell of this place is a total thrill. Then he clomps down the metal staircase to the runway. I mean, I'm sure he's clomping, but I can't hear his footsteps; I can't even see him very well, because the storm is that vicious, that wild.
When he reaches the runway, he turns to make sure that I'm following. But I'm not. I'm not going.
"Have a lovely day," the flight attendant says. "Thank you for flying Air Malawi."
Rain screams down from the sky. Lightning too. Here I am, five years old again, standing on the edge of the high diving board. I suck in my breath and squeeze my eyes shut. One, two, three! Then I do it. I run down the steps and wait to be taken to my death--too young and too suddenly--just like my mom.
Copyright © 2012 by Shana Burg. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.