The boy waved them over from his tent, so they went to him. He held out his hand to shake theirs.
"Hello," said the boy. "Are you looking for someone? Are you Americans?" he asked.
He was a small, skinny boy, about their age. He wore an old taped-up parka over a long-sleeve shirt and jeans that were a bit big on him. He continued to smile.
"I am. She's Spanish," said Turtle.
"I am Ehioze," said the boy. "I'm from Nigeria."
"Pleased to meet you," said Agata. "Do you live here?"
"I do. Are you Red Cross?" asked the boy, looking up at Mr.
"No, we're not. We're looking for my mother," said Agata. "She's
"In the center, building 13? That is a bad place," said Ehioze. He
turned around to where his mother lay sleeping on a cot in the dim light of the LED lamp. He closed the tent flap and led them around the side. One of the teams scored another goal, and there was a clatter of cheers through the camp.
"I think I can take you," said Ehioze.
"You said that was a bad place?" said Turtle.
"It is. When we came here in a boat, the Italians put us here.
They said it was only going to be for a short time For many days there were some British coming and going from the building. They
say they are Red Cross, but they aren't dressed like Red Cross. It's cold here, and sometimes they don't have coats, and we don't see them drive here."
Agata looked at Turtle and they both nodded. "That's where we need to go, Ehioze," she said.
"We need to be very quiet," said Turtle.
"OK. Not a problem. Quiet is my, how do you say, specialty," he said, smiling. "Is this your father?"
Mr. Partridge chuckled. "No, just a family friend. Is your father here?" he asked.
"No, he is dead," said Ehioze. "I am with my mother. She's sick." A chill went down Turtle's back.
"Thank you, Ehioze, for your help," he said.
Ehioze knew how to move between the tents without being
noticed and helped them stay out of sight. He peeked around corners, waited for the cheers to rise up again, and then led them all across a darkened space between two tents, cutting corners and staying away from well-lit portions of the camp.
"It is a football match today. Egypt versus Saudi Arabia. Everyone is watching and making bets," said Ehioze. "I don't like football as much. But lucky for you everyone else does."
"Ehioze, why are you here?" asked Turtle.
"There is war in my country. We tried to get away as fast as we can, but many of us didn't make it," said Ehioze. He was surprisingly nonchalant in the retelling. "My mother didn't want us to grow up in such a place anymore, and she could not stand to be in the place where my sister died, in our home. So she took us on a boat here. We had money in Nigeria. I watched American television. We paid the captain to take us. We crashed on the beach a few months ago. They maybe will let us get out so my mother can work, so we are learning English and Italian just in case."
"How will you get out of here?" asked Turtle.
"Maybe the government will let us stay. It's called asylum. But until then we are to stay here."
Turtle thought about what Mr. Goode had said. Whole armies moved behind the battle lines. Men and women smuggled into hidden places.
"How many people are here?" asked Turtle.
"They said ten thousand, but it's more every day," said Ehioze. He led them down a dark aisle and to what looked like a stand of little kiosks where men were selling candy and cigarettes and other items laid out on blankets. Most of the men were watching television behind their stalls and didn't notice the children. Another was idly looking into his cell phone, his face illuminated by the glow of the bright screen.
They were close to the central building now, and they saw it was made of wooden pallets nailed together. Ehioze pointed to the upper level. As they looked more carefully, they noticed that the pallets were built up around a steel and concrete frame, like part of a bunker. There were stairs that led up, and the empty windows were obscured by white blowing curtains. The building was three stories tall and painted a chipped red. A stream of smoke came from the lower floor while a crowd inside cheered and still more jostled to look through the door. Another goal and another roar ripped the night in two.
The man with the cell phone looked up and right at them. Turtle and Agata swiftly moved back into the shadows. Ehioze waved, and the man simply went back to his screen, ignoring the boy. Ehioze said something in a different language, and the man replied curtly.
"Egypt is doing very well, it seems," said Ehioze as they moved along the perimeter of the square. "No one is kicking us out yet. Usually this place is very guarded."
The building loomed above them. Floodlights picked out the top floors, and a diesel generator chugged along next to the wall, pumping out noxious smoke. A splotch of oil on the ground showed where the exhaust pipe was belching out onto the now-dead grass. The ground was packed dirt, a little bit wet but mostly solid. There was a pile of rotten fruit near the corner of the building, and a skinny dog, his fat tongue lolling out of his mouth, was nuzzling through it. He barked once when he saw them and then went back to the fruit.
"How do we get in there?" asked Agata.
"Stay down and I'll let you in. There is a wall broken on one side. Follow me," he said.
They skulked past the edge of the building and around a
corner. Ehioze peeked through a hole in the makeshift wall. The room was packed with men, all smoking and yelling, watching a small television on the opposite wall. All eyes were on the game. The children slipped through and up the stairs in a flash. No one noticed them.
The second room was dark and empty. A small table and three chairs sat in a corner, and there were three cots on the floor next to military-issue backpacks. "The guards are outside," said Ehioze. "I saw one. He is my friend's older brother. He is very mean."
"Ehioze, thank you so much for your help. I know it was dangerous," said Turtle.
"Not dangerous," said Ehioze. "I was bored anyway. If you need me, find me in sector 6, row 10. We are tent 61022. Are you sure you are fine here by yourselves?"
"I guess we'll find out," said Agata.
Another cheer from below and the floorboards creaked above. Someone was up there. Ehioze slipped out after saying good-bye again.
Mr. Partridge placed his foot on the first step, and it creaked ominously.
"You stay down here," said Turtle. "We'll yell if there's trouble." Mr. Partridge slowly removed his foot from the step.
"Are you certain?"
"We'll be fine, Mr. Partridge," said Agata.
The children crept up the stairs to the half-open door at the top of the flight and crouched down.
Agata had to stop herself from gasping.
YOU ARE READING
Imagine if, right now, clattering underneath your feet was a secret train system that could take you anywhere in minutes. Imagine a trip full of mystery and excitement from New York to Barcelona to the wind-swept coast of Italy to the edge of space...