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Authors: Natalie Dias Lorenzi

A Long Pitch Home

BOOK: A Long Pitch Home
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To the new kids in class, and to those who befriend them.

Text copyright © 2016 by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
Jacket illustration copyright © 2016 by Kelly Murphy
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
Charlesbridge and colophon are registered trademarks of Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.

Published by Charlesbridge
85 Main Street
Watertown, MA 02472
(617) 926-0329
www.charlesbridge.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Lorenzi, Natalie Dias, author.
A long pitch home / by Natalie Dias Lorenzi.
Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, [2016] | Summary: When Bilal's family suddenly moves to
America, his father stays in Pakistan, and Bilal embraces baseball, an unexpected friend,
and a new language. But this new way of life does not feel so special without Baba—will he ever get to America to see Bilal pitch a game?
Identifiers: LCCN 2015026830 | ISBN 9781580897136 (reinforced for library use)
| ISBN 9781607348702 (ebook)
| ISBN 9781607348719 (ebook pdf )
Subjects: LCSH: Pakistanis—United States—Juvenile fiction. | Pakistani Americans—
Juvenile fiction. | Families—Juvenile fiction. | Culture shock—Juvenile fiction. | Cousins—Juvenile fiction.| Fathers and sons—Juvenile fiction. | CYAC: Pakistanis—United States—Fiction. | Pakistani Americans—Fiction. | Muslims—Fiction. | Family life—Fiction.|
Culture shock—Fiction. | Cousins-Fiction. | Fathers and sons—Fiction. | Baseball—Fiction.
Classification: LCC PZ7.L885 So 2016 | DDC [Fic]—dc23
LC record available at
http://lccn.loc.gov/2015026830

Printed in the United States of America
(hc) 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Display type set in Paquita Pro by Juanjo Lopez
Text type set in Adobe Caslon Pro by Adobe Systems Incorporated
Color separations by Coral Graphic Services, Inc., in Hicksville, New York, USA
Printed by Berryville Graphics in Berryville, Virginia, USA
Production supervision by Brian G. Walker
Designed by Diane M. Earley

Table of Contents

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-one

Twenty-two

Twenty-three

Twenty-four

Twenty-five

Twenty-six

Twenty-seven

Twenty-eight

Twenty-nine

Thirty

Thirty-one

Acknowledgments

 One

T
hey took my father three days ago, a week before my tenth birthday.

No one knows where he is. Or if they do know, they are not telling me.

Daddo has her own theories. “They took my son because he is the best engineer in all of Karachi—no, in all of Pakistan.”

“Who are
they
?” I ask.

My grandmother frowns as she strips the mango skin from its flesh. I actually feel sorry for the mango.

She does not answer my question, so I keep talking.

“But Daddo, there are a thousand engineers in Karachi. Why couldn't they—whoever
they
are—get their own engineer instead of taking Baba?”

“Bah.” Daddo scoops up the mango peels and dumps them in the trash. “You are still too young to understand these things, Bilal.”

“Almost-ten-year-olds are not too young to understand these things.”

I hold my breath, waiting for her reaction. I am not supposed to be disrespectful during the month of Ramadan. Or any of the other months, either.

But Daddo doesn't look mad. She just shakes her head and says, “One day you will understand.”

Here is what I understand.

Four days ago I was planning my birthday party with my mother. Ammi called the Pie in the Sky bakery over by Zamzama Park and ordered my favorite cake—chocolate malt with fudge frosting.

The next day my father never came home from work.

I understand nothing.

Ammi has not cooked a thing since my father disappeared. Daddo cooks double of everything to feed the relatives who stream into our apartment every day, waiting for news about my father.

Usually my family is loud, and we talk all at once except when we're laughing. But whoever took my father took our laughter, too. The grown-ups smile whenever I come into the room with my little sister, Hira, who hasn't let me out of her sight since our father disappeared.They clap whenever Humza, my baby brother, toddles over and calls out a nonsense word. But I can see in their eyes that they are scared. Their fear sits on my chest like an elephant.

The adults gather in the living room, where the curtains are drawn against the late-afternoon sun. They stop whispering when I come around the corner, so I catch only snippets of their conversations.

“He should have transferred out of that office.”

“How many times did I tell him not to push the issue?”

“I've never trusted Tahir.”

I understand none of it, especially the part about Tahir, the father of my very best friend. He and Baba work together. They have been friends since they were boys, just like Mudassar and me.

When the sun sinks into the sea and the
azaan
sounds from the minarets of the Mubarak Mosque, our prayers do not feel joyful. I kneel on my
janamaz
, touching my forehead to the prayer mat. But when I recite the traditional words, I am really asking Allah to bring Baba home. When it is time to break the fast, no one rushes to the table; they shuffle and murmur and sigh. Daddo brings out the steaming bowls of
qorma
, and the smell of chicken and curry makes my stomach rumble. I feel guilty for being hungry, because who knows if those people who took Baba are letting him eat. Daddo must hear my rumbling belly, because she leans over as she passes the plate of dates and whispers, “Eat, Bilal
jaan
. Worrying is hungry work.”

We mumble an unenthusiastic
Bismillah
in thanks for our food. Maybe Allah heard our prayer, because next we hear the knock at the door. Everyone freezes except for Humza, who stuffs his mouth with fat fistfuls of mushy rice and peas.

Nobody moves because that first knock is just a regular one. But then it comes, Baba's special knock: two fast raps—pause—another quick knock like a hiccup, followed by two solid thunks.

We burst from our chairs in a blur of movement, our voices exploding with hope and disbelief. Someone's water glass clanks over and my chair crashes to the floor, but I do not look back. My legs race down the hall until my palms slam against the front door.

My fingers work the locks as fast as dragonfly wings, and then—
click!
—the last of the locks is free. I pull the door open, and there stands Baba. His suit is wrinkled and his shirt is torn near the pocket, and he must have lost his glasses somewhere along the way. But it's him, all right, and he is home.

“Baba!” I yell. My father smiles and steps inside, then falls to his knees and opens his arms. Hira and I just about knock him over. His cheek has the beginnings of a beard that prickles my own cheek, but I keep my arms tight around him. Everyone surrounds my father, crying and laughing and asking him where he's been. He only shakes his head and takes turns holding us close.

Baba doesn't speak about those three days he was missing from our lives. But two days after his surprise homecoming, he says this: “Bilal, it is high time we leave Pakistan to live with your Hassan Uncle and Noor Auntie in America.”

America? That's on the other side of the world.

Ammi, my siblings, and I will leave in a few days, and Baba will come later. In the meantime, Baba says we can tell no one we are leaving, not even Mudassar. Especially not Mudassar. If Baba and Tahir are no longer friends, does that mean I have lost my best friend, too?

We have two days to pack our things. Not all of our things: only one suitcase each. How can a person fit his whole life into one suitcase? It is impossible. Ammi says it is hard to decide what to take because we have so many nice things, and for that we should be thankful. But I am not thankful I have to leave my cricket bat behind—the one my teammates signed after we won last season's Karachi Youth Tournament. I do take my cricket uniform and the photo of Mudassar and me grinning after our final win. I unpin another photo—the one of Baba when he played on Pakistan's national team. I run my finger along the row of famous faces sitting near Baba—left-arm bowler Waqas Akram, and the team captain, the great Omar Khan. The picture was taken right before Baba injured his knee and couldn't play in the World Cup. It was the last season he ever played.

The only thing left on my bulletin board is the ticket stub from the Karachi Zebras versus the Peshawar Panthers match—the very first cricket match Baba took me to see. The ticket stub is wedged between the cork and the bulletin board's frame, and I have to tug a few times to get it out. I leave my cricket helmet. There is so much I cannot take.

BOOK: A Long Pitch Home
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