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Authors: Sally Rippin

Lina at the Games

BOOK: Lina at the Games
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Contents

1  Poor Bruno

2  Family Secrets

3  The Mother Superior Approves

4  Boy on the Bus

5  Let the Games Begin!

6  Butterflies

7  A Girl Like Me

8  Olympic Dreams

9  Gold!

10  A Letter that Changes Everything

11  A Surprise at the Back Gate

12  An Australian Girl

13  A New Way of Looking

 

 

Note from the author: Lina's family would have
spoken Italian to each other and their friends, but
their conversations have been written in English
so that you can understand them.

L
INA
dabbed gently at her brother's split lip with a wet cloth. With her other hand she pressed a folded handkerchief over the cut at his hairline. It took all of her strength not to burst into tears each time she looked at her brother's bleeding face.

‘Bruno, we have to tell somebody,' she whimpered.

‘No!' her brother said. ‘I fell down the stairs after school, okay? You start blabbing about the Carlton Park Gang and they won't just be after
me
, you understand?'

An image of the sneering pimple-faced gang leader she had bumped into in the alleyways of Carlton came into Lina's mind and she shivered at the thought. Bruno and Lina were hiding in the laundry out the back, having crept through the house before Nonna could catch them. Lina had filled the trough with a little cold water to wash the blood off Bruno's face and now the shallow pool had turned a sickly pink. When her brother winced or caught his breath in pain, Lina felt a rush of dizziness.

‘You might need stitches, Bruno,' she insisted, screwing up her face. ‘I don't even know if I'm doing this right!'

‘There are bandages in the bathroom. They'll be good enough. You're doing fine.' He patted his sister's cheek and tried to offer her a smile, but when he stretched his lips the blood began oozing again.

Lina threw her arms around her brother. ‘Oh, Bruno!' she sobbed. ‘Why would anyone do something like this to you?'

‘Because there are stupid people in the world, that's why,' Bruno said, stroking her hair, ‘and they're scared of things they don't know.'

‘But they couldn't have done this to you just because you're
Italian
?' Lina said, brushing the tears from her eyes.

‘How do you think wars are started?' Bruno said. ‘People get killed just coz of the colour of their skin. Or their religion. Papa talks to us about this kind of stuff all the time.'

‘Yes, but he said that was in Italy,' Lina insisted. ‘That's why we left, wasn't it? Wasn't Australia supposed to be a peaceful place?'

‘It mainly is,' her brother said, dabbing at his lip. ‘But there are crazies everywhere, Lina. You can't escape human nature.'

‘But what can we do?' Lina said. ‘Those bullies can't just beat you up and get away with it! Shouldn't we at least tell Pierino?'

‘No!' Bruno said angrily. ‘You especially don't talk about it with Pierino. He's in enough trouble as it is.' He murmured these last few words but Lina's ears pricked.

‘What kind of trouble, Bruno?' she said, now more alarmed than ever. ‘Who with? Pa? At school?' She gasped. ‘Not the Carlton Park Gang?'

‘No, no! Just forget I ever said anything,' Bruno growled. ‘Forget all of this, Lina. Just keep your head down and stay out of trouble, okay? Promise?' He gripped Lina's hand and wouldn't let her go until she promised.

Lina swallowed. ‘I promise,' she said. But as she helped her brother tidy up the laundry she boiled with anger and frustration. Why would anyone do something like this to Bruno? she thought. What's he ever done to hurt anyone? And now Pierino's in trouble, too? Pierino has never done a bad thing in all his life! What's going on?

N
ONNA
gasped when she saw Bruno's swollen face. ‘Oh,
mama mia
!' Her hand flew to her mouth. ‘What happened?'

Lina glanced at Bruno, who widened his eyes threateningly. ‘He fell down the stairs after school,' Lina mumbled, watching to see if her grandmother would believe her. But Nonna didn't question their explanation.

‘You go and lie down!' she commanded. ‘Lina, you take him some water. I will make you some
brodo
, my poor Bruno!'

Bruno lay on his bed and Lina pulled the curtains to shut the light out. ‘I haven't put the chickens away . . .' he murmured.

‘I'll look after them!' Lina said crossly. ‘You just rest, okay? I'm sure that stupid rooster can handle being outdoors for another hour or so.'

She changed out of her school clothes and began the chores. When Pierino came home, Nonna told him right away about Bruno falling down the stairs. Lina watched as Pierino narrowed his eyes. He knew as well as Lina that Bruno was the least likely of all of them to have a clumsy accident like that. He slipped into the darkened room to check on his brother.

Lina listened to the gentle murmuring coming from behind the door and when Pierino came back out she saw the rage pulsing at his temples. She had no idea what Bruno had told him, but when she tried to meet her oldest brother's eye, he looked stubbornly at the ground.

Lina's uncle was the next person to get home but, as usual, he went straight into the lounge room and closed the door. Ever since Lina had seen him hanging around at Johnny's he seemed to be looking for work again, but it was hard to find. He always looks so unhappy, Lina thought as she set the table. I hope he gets a job soon so at least he can bring his wife here to join him.

Before long, Lina's mother came home from the factory and her father woke up. Bruno didn't come to eat with them and nobody seemed to want to discuss what had happened. Only Enzo chatted noisily, as usual, banging his spoon and complaining about the broad beans in his pasta. Lina's mother took some broth into Bruno and when she came out of the darkened room her eyes were ringed red.

Why doesn't anybody say anything? Lina thought. She couldn't bear to see her parents just pretending that nothing was wrong.

After dinner she climbed into her father's lap while he sipped his black coffee and skimmed the Italian papers before his nightshift.

‘Papa,' she ventured. ‘Did Bruno tell you about how he got hurt today?'

‘Lina,' he said, putting down his coffee cup to give her his full attention. ‘He fell down the stairs.'

‘But Papa . . .' Lina whimpered.

‘Lina!' her father said, cutting her off. ‘If Bruno said he fell down the stairs then that's what happened, okay? This has nothing to do with you.'

Lina stared at her father in disbelief. But he simply changed the subject.

‘How about you? Tell me how you are going with your school magazine,' he said.

‘It's going fine,' Lina said glumly, even though this wasn't really true.

Lina's father squeezed her hand tightly and whispered in a low, pained voice, ‘You know the saying:
The pen is mightier than the sword 
? Battles are always fought better through considered words than thoughtless actions, Lina.' Then he sat up stiffly, tipped the coffee down his throat, and gently pushed her off his lap. ‘I'll see you in the morning,
bella
.'

What's
that
supposed to mean? Lina wondered. She wanted her father to feel as angry toward those bodgies as she did. She couldn't understand why he didn't want to
do
something. It was so unfair!

In the quiet of her bedroom, Lina took out the parts of the magazine she had brought home to see what she could do on her own. Now that Mary had lost interest in the project, Lina and Sarah had decided to complete the rough draft for the Mother Superior without her. Lina still felt strange about working with Sarah. Especially after she'd been so nasty. But I guess there's not much else I can do if I want to get this done by the end of the week, Lina thought. I couldn't possibly do it all on my own! And besides, the Mother Superior had said that if she liked what the girls had done, she'd take them to the Olympics as representatives of the school magazine. Just like real journalists!

Every time Lina let herself think about it, excitement bubbled up inside her. She looked at the notes she had written on Dawn Fraser, her favourite Olympic swimmer, for the article she was going to write. Imagine! she thought, happily. I might even get to see her win gold! But for now, she and Sarah had to work hard to prepare the layout of the magazine. They were still deciding what to put on all the regular pages. The Olympic pages would come later.

Carefully, Lina cut out pictures from the pile of newspapers her father had given her. She was looking for images of books to frame the article she had written about the students' favourite reads for 1956. Many of the girls had read the new Narnia stories, everyone loved those, and most girls still said Enid Blyton was their favourite author.
Charlotte's Web
was still loved by the younger girls, as was
Anne of Green Gables,
and of course everyone still read the classics by Dickens and the Brontë sisters.

Lina decided to add in
The Diary of a Young Girl
by Anne Frank, because she felt it was an important book to include. She wasn't able to find a picture of it in any of the newspapers, so she guessed she'd have to draw the cover herself. After all, if more people read Anne Frank's story maybe they'll see for themselves how stupid and pointless fighting is? she thought as an image of Bruno's poor hurt face flashed into her mind.

But drawing wasn't Lina's greatest strength and after several messy attempts, she screwed up the notepaper and tossed it to the floor. I wish Mary was still doing the pictures, she thought in frustration. She's a much better drawer! Lina felt a pang of sadness when she remembered Mary's harsh words from the other day. Can she really think all those horrible things about me? she wondered.

Lina decided to go back to what she was good at: writing stories. She began thinking of what had happened to Bruno. Did Papa mean for me to write a story about it? Lina wondered, thinking about the strange advice he'd whispered to her before he had left for work. But Bruno might get cross at me if he finds out. He said not to tell anyone . . .

I know! she thought suddenly. I could write it like a fiction story, with made-up characters so that no one would know that it was about my brother. Lina liked the idea, and once she started, the words spun out from her pencil onto the page.

The story was about a young man from a small village where everyone wore green. When he left the village to look for work he found that everyone in the big city wore red. The man in green clothes was picked on daily and treated badly by everyone in the city. No one would give him work, so he couldn't earn the money he needed to buy red clothes. One day, he saw a beautiful woman working in the postal office. He wanted so much to talk to her, but he knew she could never be seen talking to someone in green, so he stole some red clothes from a washing line. The man visited the woman in the post office every day, and he was so kind and so funny that soon the woman fell in love with him.

Lina had just reached the part where someone recognised the green man in his red clothes when Ma poked her head into the bedroom. Lina snapped her notebook shut, not wanting anyone to see what she was writing. Just as quickly she saw a flash of hurt flicker across her mother's face.

‘It's okay,' her mother joked, trying to hide the wounded tone in her voice. ‘I'm not going to bother you about the magazine. I know you and Pa are the writers in this family, not me.'

‘No, no, it's not that . . .' Lina stammered, feeling awful that she had made her mother unwelcome. But her mother held up a hand to silence her.

‘I just thought you might like these,' she said. She came into Lina's room with a bundle of magazines tucked into her arms. ‘One of the women at the factory gave them to me. They're . . .
Women's Weekly,
or something,' she said gruffly, peering down at the covers and frowning at the English words. ‘They're not much good to me, of course. But I thought you might like them.'

Lina took the pile of magazines and spread them across her bed. ‘Thank you!' she said breathlessly. ‘They're brilliant!' She flicked through the pages of beautiful dresses, stylish homes and romance stories. They were much too pretty to cut up. As Lina traced her finger along the illustrated silhouette of a slender lady in pretty floral dress, she felt so many things bubble up inside her – inspiration but also envy and longing. Then she looked up quickly at her mother, feeling almost ashamed.

Her mother smiled. ‘One day you can have pretty dresses,
mia cara,
' she said gently, sitting on the bed beside Lina and stroking her hair. ‘If you marry a rich man you can have all the dresses you want.'

‘But Papa's not a rich man,' Lina protested. ‘And you married him.'

Lina's mother looked away wistfully. ‘If I had listened to my father I would have married old Giorgio's son, who owned the land we farmed. I would be a rich landowner's wife now, still living in Italy. Imagine!' she snorted.

Lina felt a butterfly of panic begin to stir in her stomach. ‘But you love Papa?' she blurted. It was meant to come out like a statement but it ended up sounding more like a question.

‘Of course I do!' said Lina's mother, frowning. ‘Don't be silly!'  Then she sighed. ‘But some day you will need to choose between your head and your heart, my daughter. Following your heart doesn't always guarantee your life will be easy.'

Then, as if waking from a trance, Lina's mother stood up, tall and stern again, and walked briskly out of the room.

Lina opened up her notebook. She tried to keep going with her story, but now the words wouldn't flow. So she pulled out one of the magazines from the pile and turned the pages slowly, savouring every word and picture.

Soon Nonna came into the room. She undressed slowly then slumped into bed, groaning loudly as her body hit the mattress. ‘You going to turn the light out soon?' she grumbled. ‘I can't sleep with all this light.'

Lina sighed. What I'd do for a room of my own, she thought. She put away the magazines and her notebook safely into the drawer of her bedside table. Then she slid under the sheets, pulled the itchy grey woollen blankets up to her chin and turned out the lamp, thinking of ways to end her story. In the distance a siren howled, a father yelled at his child and a tram rattled along its tracks. Somehow the darkness felt scarier now Lina knew that pimple-faced bodgie was out there roaming the streets. Why Bruno? she wondered. And why
now
?

BOOK: Lina at the Games
12.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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