It had been a few weeks since the note from Neal had been found. As usual there were more snow days than school days.
Biff is complaining how hungry he is and how tired of the soup he’s gotten, while Baako, Badr, and Gage are all coughing loudly. As Gage washes his hands he notes that Brava is the only one who hasn’t developed the deep rattling chest cough, that leaves a person weak and shaking after a coughing fit.
One particular afternoon Badr decided to bring up the journals to Gage right in front of Brava, she just rolled her eyes and ignored their conversation. Until they got to the topic of how old Baako was. Then she asked why it was that there had never been any kind of celebrations to usher in the major birthdays. Gage looked sad and asked what would she have them do? Break the law and hold a party that would attract out laws? Turn the soup into something it wasn’t? She looked glum and took herself back to the chess board out of boredom.
Gage woke up to an empty house, as he ate his soup he decided that the school bus must have shown up that day. This is good because it’s been two weeks since the last bus showed up.
Baako tells Gage that the bus driver was only a month or two older than him. Then he inquires how long does Gage think that the school will let him continue on. Gage honestly answers “probably not much longer.” Baako nods his head and works on his homework not knowing if a bus will come the next day or not.
Badr stalls on his school work, instead he asks Gage questions about the science lab and what it was like to work there. He’s asked these questions before but Gage always does his best to answer again with the understanding that this is his son’s passion and where he is already determined to get a job at even though he has over a year to go before he’s old enough.
Gage squeezes his eyes shut, Brava and Badr are loudly complaining to each other about yet another weeks worth of snow days. His head hurts so much and the chest cough won’t go away. He pretends to eat his daily rations of soup so none of them will catch on to how sick he is. Gage tenses as he feels a cough forming, he hopes he can hold this one off, if he doesn’t his soup will end up on the ground. He holds himself tightly for a moment, the wave passes with just a quite cough. He is happy no one seems to notices it.
As Baako climbs into bed he comments that the lighting or lack of it must be why his portraits keep coming out so dark. He wonders out loud if the bus will come again before his next birthday.
Gage stares at the chess board, even though the days not over with he’s already added some notes to the journals. He will play for a few hours before he makes the trek to the mail box after he pays the mid week bills he will walk out to Almas grave as he has done almost everyday for over a year now. He stares at the pages …. he misses his wife so much. He has written instructions for Baako and Badr in the book, their coughs cleared up his has not. Gage is certain that today will be Baako’s last day at the school, their height is the same. Baako’s face has filled out as have his shoulders. Gage counts back the days and years, yes this is the day Baako becomes a man, Badr is not much further behind 11 months maybe a full year.
Baako opens the door and heads down stairs to inform Gage that he has been declared to old for school. At Brava’s scream of “No!” he turns on his heals and runs up the stairs. All Baako can make out is a dark figure standing near the hills edge. It should be their dad, Gage, why is Brava so upset and racing as if chased by thugs. Biff isn’t to far behind her and running just as fast. Baako decides he had better catch up to find out what is going on.
Brava doesn’t stop running nor does she stop yelling “No, no, no, no …….” as if she could somehow prevent what she knows has already happened. She stumbles a step and then continues her dash when she spots the smaller marker buried by the snow next to their mothers marker, at which point her no’s take on a sobbing sound.
Baako isn’t sure what has happened just yet, but his gut is telling him that it’s not good.
The three of them stand there, the dark figure moves off and away from them before finally vanishing into the chill afternoon air. Brava wobbles on her feet like she’s going to pass out and Baako sends her inside. Today was supposed to be a happy day, the school had been open. Baako had received his slip of paper declaring him a graduate of the valley’s school. this was not how the day was supposed to go. On the up side they had enough soup that he didn’t have to start working right away.
When Brava claimed the bed as her own Baako didn’t argue. Why hadn’t their dad told them how sick he had become, then again would any of them been able to help him get better. Baako understands the answers to these questions even if he doesn’t like them. As Brava sleeps he reviews his dad’s last notes in the journal and adds some of his own, including how disgusted he is with Biff for gloating at their sisters misery.
Baako stared at the chess table for a few minutes, before heading to his sleeping bundle. He would miss the long games of chess that he and their dad had played together. Brava tossed in her sleep, every so often she would call out for their dad to stay. How long would it take her to recover this time and just how much torture did Biff intend to inflict on her. Looking around the room one last time Baako decided that getting a job would be a good thing, just so he could get out of the house on a regular basis.