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Authors: Kate Brian

Lucky T (8 page)

BOOK: Lucky T
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"Well, okay, then. It's settled," her mom said as she rose from the floor and left the cordless phone on her dresser. "Cal your dad and thank him. He's in Taiwan, so don't be too long."

"Did you tell him why I wanted to go to India?" Carrie said worriedly. She was concerned that once he heard the story, he'd want his daughter committed to the psych ward.

"I just said that you were going to find yourself," her mom said, and then winked.

One week later Carrie clutched her "lucky" rabbit's foot in both hands, wondering how she had forgotten that she hated flying. They had just taken off on the second leg of their trip, from London to Calcutta, and as far as Carrie was concerned, the ascent had been less than stel ar. Granted, she hadn't been on a plane since last summer, when she had gone to visit her dad in New York for a week, but at least that pilot had known how to take off. None of these dips and bumps and even bigger dips. Didn't they know that the public had been trained to believe that most problems happened in the first five minutes of any flight? Wouldn't that inspire all pilots to do whatever they could to make those first five minutes as heart-attack free as possible?

It didn't help, of course, that they had stuck her in aisle 13. Planes shouldn't even have an aisle 13. But since they clearly had to have one, then there should be some rule on the books that all owed superstitious people to automatically switch seats with someone else. As it was, no one Carrie had asked had wanted to move. Now all she needed was for a flight attendant to kil a stowaway ladybug and Carrie would officially flip out.

Finally the plane seemed to level out and Carrie loosened her grip on the rabbit's foot and looked down at her notebook again. She had been working on a game plan for finding her T-shirt. Unfortunately, she didn't have much to go on. She still had the receipt number for the original package Celia had sent out to Help India, and she had compiled a list of women's shelters from the Web. Unfortunately, the list was about a mile long. So Carrie's course of action upon reaching Calcutta would be to go to the Help India headquarters and find out if they gave to specific shelters. Maybe she could narrow the list down a bit from there.

"I can't believe you're coming to India to find a shirt," Dor-mean said with a sneer.

"I can't believe how much food is stuck in your braces," Carrie replied.

"Shut up," Dor-mean spat.

"No, you shut up," Carrie replied.

"Listen, you have no idea what you're getting yourself into," Dor-mean said with an unappealing snort. "It's not like we're staying at some Hilton where everybody speaks English and waits on you hand and foot."

"I know," Carrie said. "I'm not expecting a four-star hotel." Maybe two, two and a half, she thought.

"That's surprising. I'm amazed that you didn't wuss out the minute you realized you'd actually have to work on this trip."

Carrie was offended to the core. "Hey, I'm up to whatever anyone asks me to do. So don't you worry about it, okay?"

"Whatever you say," Dor-mean said, eyeing her.

"Well, it's not like we're not going to have any free time. They're not going to have us toiling away twenty-four/seven, right?" Carrie said.

"Do you mind? I'm trying to read," Dor-mean huffed, and buried her nose in another Let's-Go-India-like tour book.

"Fine," Carrie said, sitting back in her seat, thinking about how everyone at home was at the pool soaking up harmful UV rays. "As long as I have a little time to get some kind of tan, I'll be okay."

Dor-mean snorted again into her hand. "Um, I don't think you'll be getting a tan," she said.

"Why not? Aren't we going to be outside working all the time?"

"Yeah, but it's monsoon- season in Calcutta," Dormean said in her usual know-it-al tone of voice. "There's not gonna be much sun, Jockstrap." Then she placed the headphones on her Discman over her ears and hit play. The volume was cranked up so loud, Carrie could hear every word.

"The PhAAAAAAAAntom of the Op-er-a is there! Inside your mind!"

Carrie tucked her rabbit's foot into her pocket and opened the guidebook she had purchased at the London airport. As her wretched neighbor closed her eyes with a blissful smile, Carrie propped her tiny pillow between her head and the wall. She turned the book to the section on Calcutta ("recently renamed Kolkata," it read at the top) and curled up in as tight a ball as possible. At least she hadn't thought about the fact that she was on a plane for the past five minutes. If she could just read for a while until she fell asleep, she would be out for a few hours. And if she was lucky, she would miss three shows'

worth of music and maybe a few turbulence pockets as wel . Then when she woke up, she would be that much closer to her destination. That much closer to her lucky T.

And once you get your T-shirt back, everything will be fine, Carrie thought as Dor-mean started to whisper- sing along to the song. Good things will start happening again and you'll be the lucky Carrie you once were.

Chapter Five

Eyes tired and bloodshot, throat dry, skin oily, and hair a raggedy mess, Carrie dragged herself off the plane behind Celia and Doreen. Gingerly she lifted her heavy, borderline-carry-on backpack onto both shoulders. After an entire day and night sitting in the same seat, her back ached and her muscles were wound so tight that she'd need an army of masseuses and chiropractors to get her feeling normal again. Carrie was so exhausted all she could think about was stretching out on a soft bed and getting some real sleep. The line of people paused at the end of the jetway, and Carrie looked out the window for her first view of India. The glass pane was streaked with rain, the coconut trees bending under the weight of the downpour, and the sky was the color of ink, even though it was the middle of the day.

"It wasn't raining when - we landed," she said in astonishment.

"These storms, they come out of nowhere," said the small -framed elderly man who was shuffling along behind her.

Doreen grinned over her shoulder. "Told ya."

Don't kil her, Carrie thought. If you kil her, you'll be sent to an Indian prison and you'll never find your T-shirt.

The line inched forward and opened up into the small terminal, where families shouted and cheered and hugged the arriving passengers. A pack of women in bright saris--colorful, flowing garments with sparkling beads and glitter dangling everywhere--grabbed a skinny girl in a maroon UCSF sweatshirt into their many arms. A family in faded jeans and worn T-shirts greeted the old man who had been behind Carrie on line. A guy in a thoroughly wrinkled and sweat-stained white button-down shirt covered a beautiful giggling woman in kisses. Unfamiliar faces and rapid-fire foreign languages surrounded Carrie. Flight attendants and airport workers and tourists and families bustled around her. Everyone seemed to know where they were going and why. Everyone but Carrie.

Oh my God, I'm in India, Carrie thought, wishing she had Piper or one of her parents to hug. I traveled a zil ion miles from home ... to look for a T-shirt. I am certifiably insane.

"Oh! Nana! Nana-Ji!" a robust woman shouted, running at Carrie with arms outstretched. Carrie ducked out of the way, narrowly missing having her eye gouged out by the lady's super-long nails as she threw her arms around an excited middle-aged woman who was carrying a bunch of Disney World shopping bags and wearing a Goofy hat. This symbol of American culture plucked a vulnerable heartstring in Carrie's heart. I want my mommy, whimpered a small voice in her overwhelmed brain. Then she noticed that Celia and Doreen were hustling through the crowd at least ten yards ahead of her. She was not going to lose sight of the only people she knew in this place. Carrie adjusted her backpack and jogged to catch up, dodging and weaving around packs of people like the basketball star she was.

"Prandya!" Celia shouted, throwing her arms up and squealing. She raced toward a pair of women who stood at the edge of the crowd. "Prandya!

Teensy! It's so good to see you!"

A stunningly exotic, voluptuous woman in a black tank dress hugged Celia as they jumped up and down. Her hundreds of silver bracelets jingle-jangled as the massive bun at the back of her head bounced. The second woman, a frail-looking older lady who flinched when Celia turned her ridiculous energy on her, barely managed a real smile. She had hypnotic dark eyes that Carrie could tell just by staring into them that years ago this woman was probably the catch of her vil age.

"This is my daughter, Doreen," Celia said, turning toward Doreen.

"Nice to meet you," Doreen said. Then she pressed her hands together and bowed slightly. "Namaste."

"Namaste," Prandya and Teensy repeated, looking impressed. Of course, why wouldn't they be impressed with Doreen? Nobody ever really got to see her as "Dormean" except for Carrie.

"And this is our newest recruit. Carrie Fitzgerald, this is Prandya," Celia said, gesturing to the larger lady. "And this is Teensy," she added, pointing to the smaller one.

At least it will be easy to remember her name, Carrie thought, raising a hand in greeting.

"It's such a pleasure to have you all here," Prandya said, putting her arms around Celia, Doreen, and Carrie. "Come along. We'll get your bags and then we'll find you all some food. You must be starving."

Carrie's stomach grumbled audibly and they all laughed, even stone-faced Teensy. The plane food just hadn't cut it.

"This one, she needs a little biranis," Teensy said, patting Carrie's arm with a fluttering touch.

"I don't know what that is, but I would love a cheeseburger," Carrie said with a laugh.

Teensy stopped in her tracks and everyone's faces fell. Carrie blinked.

"What? What did I say?" Carrie asked, instant panic seizing her. Had she already stumbled over the language barrier? Teensy turned and stalked off through the crowd without a backward glance and Carrie suddenly saw herself deserted by everyone in the middle of the bustling airport, left to fend for herself in a foreign land. She almost grabbed Celia's hand for a little security.

"Cows are sacred animals, loser," Doreen said under her breath.

Unfortunately, Carrie was too busy absorbing the fact that she had just made a mockery of this woman's religion, so she didn't have a witty retort ready to go.

"Not to worry," Prandya said, forcing a smile. "You'll find some of us take certain customs more seriously than others. Teensy, she never eats the sacred meat of the cow."

"Oh . . . sorry," Carrie said, swal owing hard.

In her mind, Carrie vowed to be more sensitive about her love of beef. Obviously it wasn't "what's for dinner" in this neck of the woods.

"It is all right. She will be praying for your soul tonight," Prandya said, patting Carrie on the back and nodding as if this was some kind of comfort.

"Okay, let's get going."

Doreen looked over her shoulder, shook her head, and sneered at Carrie as if she was the biggest idiot on the planet. Carrie managed to stick her tongue out at Doreen, which was immature but effective because Doreen turned back around. Carrie glanced back at the gate, wondering what she'd gotten herself into and if there was any way she could get out of it. Between Dormean, quirky Celia, prickly Teensy, this new sacred cow rule, and whatever else that was ahead waiting to fall on her like a two-hundred-pound anvil, this was going to be one long summer.

Calcutta was mind-blowing. Carrie had never seen anything like it in real life. In fact, she had never seen anything like it in the movies, on television, or even in those random documentaries Mr. Phil ips was always showing in world history. There were literally thousands of people. Pedestrians walked around in droves, pressing toward the windows of Prandya's tiny automobile, shouting to one another across the street. A trail of men carrying huge sacks of laundry stepped off the curb and traipsed right in front of Prandya's car, forcing her to slam on the brakes. While they were still stopped, a flock of chickens pecked their way in front of them from the other direction, pausing to take a poke around in the center of the muddy street.

Al around Carrie were men in suits, guys in polo shirts and shorts, women in saris, and teenage girls in jeans. Little kids sported everything from crisp school uniforms to plain T-shirts. Never had Carrie seen so many different types of people crowded into one place, moving and talking and working and shopping and playing and laughing. Sure, there were all different races and economic strata represented in San Francisco, but Carrie rarely got to see so much diversity all at the same time. It was very cool, if a little overwhelming. She dug her digital camera out of her backpack and snapped a quick photo through the windshield. No one at home was ever going to believe this.

The rain had stopped before Carrie and the others made it to the car, leaving behind a whole network of ponds and streams. Children skipped through the river that had formed at the side of the road, which was dirty and full of random garbage--lettuce and paper wrapping and bits of multicolored gunk.

Carrie bit her lip and felt her heart ache. Didn't these kids have playgrounds to run around in? Once she soaked up the atmosphere some more, she realized that a swing set and a slide might be hard to come by. Every inch of available space had been built up. These poor kids were lucky to have any sort of outside area to play in. Stil , it made her want to take them all home with her and bring them straight to the pool, regardless if Jason was lifeguarding or flirting with some bimbo.

Even Dor-mean, Miss I Am the Authority on India and Everything Else in This World, had a look of awe on her face. She was jammed in between Carrie and Teensy in the backseat, rotating her head back and forth as if it were on a pendulum. A bus crammed with people rolled by, followed by a pickup truck with at least a dozen men in the back, gripping whatever they could to stay inside as the truck bumped along the road.

How can this many people fit in one city? Carrie thought, gaping around at the buildings that lined the street. The structures all seemed to be leaning this way and that, huddling against one another for support to keep from slipping into the mire the roads had become after the downpour. Laundry that had been hung to dry in an alleyway now dripped with water. Half the windows were covered only by faded sheets or cracked shutters. Colorful placard signs, some in English, some in the exotic symbols of the Bengali language, advertised theaters, Internet cafes, custom- made furniture, and TV repair.

BOOK: Lucky T
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