impatiently Esmeralda freed herself from one scratchy bush and dodged another. Manuka, she believed it was called. It was all over the place.
What in the Goddesss name was she doing in this tiny, sparsely populated land anyway? If she’d had no luck finding the child on Earths continents and more densely inhabited islands, what chance had she in a place isolated from most of its world by huge stretches ofsea and ocean? But these islands of almost impenetrable forest and bushland were certainly her last chance.
And at least even the poorest children werent dying of the relentless famine cursing so much of this overcrowded world. The child she sought needed to be healthy, as well as strong and fearless, to survive the ordeals awaiting him. She darent dwell on the consequences of failing to find him: a boy whose age she could only guess, of whose looks she had no idea, and in the search for whom she had but one cryptic cluethat he bore the mark of the willow.
But her sense of impending climax right now was so strong she knew he had to be close by. It was as though the weird hat found among her dead husbands belongings, in getting blown into this overgrown reserve of trees, shrubs and treeferns, was leading her somewhere.
Grimacing ruefully, she retrieved the hat and continued climbing. It was fortunate the situation wasnt reversed: that this teeming planet wasnt hers and she an Earthling tryingalone and in secretto trace one child among billions
Ah! Shed finally reached the end.
And Esmeralda pushed past her last obstaclea sweet-smelling pine that she knew wasnt native to this landto find a flat green sward fronting buildings of a type she instantly recognised. Shed visited countless numbers of them during her quest. The English-speaking of Earth called them schools, institutions for which her people, tragically, had no use. The buildings were clearly empty. Shed have to return in two days when the school week started.
But earthlings didnt like strangers around their schools. Especially ones asking children peculiar questions. Luckily she could deal with that by disguising herself as an ordinary Earth mother
That was when she saw the boy. He lay asleep in the sun, the diamond-shape of a white kite abandoned beside him. Her excitement mounted. Was he why shed been drawn to the school in spite of its being deserted? If so, she had to speak to him at once. Her enemies, determined to stop her claiming the child she sought, had long been on her trail. And they were getting closer. If they alerted this boys parentsor the citys law enforcement peopleto her undoubtedly illegal intentions Well, the results didnt bear thinking about.
Resolutely Esmeralda stepped into the open.
At that moment her tall, pointed black hat was snatched from behind. She found herself frozen to the spot, unable even to turn. So her enemieswith infinitely more power than she had despite her importance to the land from which they all camehad caught up with her.
Without her late husbands strange hat she couldnt even return home!
© Laraine Anne Barker, 1992