by Rafael Henry

Chapter 2

A letter arrives

I looked at the postmark. It was dated the 15th of May. I knew the letter was from home; the same kind of envelope, the same handwriting spelling out the address of the school, the same handwriting I knew so well. Mum's. She writes every week with the same news. At least I know she's still there. Like me, she must struggle to think of anything new to say. We have to write home every week, and they check that we have. But this letter is different. It contains a photo of the person who will be mum's Paying Guest, our new language student. The first thing I do is to look at the photo. There are four figures in it, on the outside are, I assume, the boys' mother and father, left and right, and in the middle, the two boys, one younger than the other, and clearly brothers. I stare at the images for a minute, at least, examining every detail. I'm excited.

Mum explains in her letter. The language school provides a form that the student's parents, or someone else, has to return together with at least two photos of the student, one of which should include the parents or guardians, the other just of the student. The form asks for information about the applicant; interests, food allergies, and any other info that might be relevant to the family hosting the boy or girl. All this is passed on the potential Host. Another form concerned with educational issues is kept by the School.

The father, I assume, has his arm around the older boy, and the mother, hers is around the younger boy's shoulder. They are all smiling and dressed for the beach. The background is clearly some resort or other with flags flying in the breeze and people sitting at tables with drinks and so on. The younger boy is dressed in a tee shirt and a bright blue bathing costume. The older boy also sports a patterned tee shirt, but he's wearing shorts. They are very pale blue and appear to be lightweight ones, in fact not much of them at all, and pulled up, almost uncomfortably. The younger boy is a smaller version of the elder, long legged, long fair hair and slightly curly. I can't make out the colour of his eyes, but at a guess they are a bluey grey; something like that. As my eyes drift down the image of the boy, I have an odd feeling in my tummy. I know that feeling. I get it quite often when I'm excited about something.

On the shelf in our 'study', a small room I share with two other boys, is a magnifying glass belonging to Oliver who uses it to study insects he finds around the place. Looking through it, I can see much more detail in the photo. I'm looking at the elder of the two boys. He's smiling for the camera, like the others, but I'm not looking at his face at this precise moment. There's no mistaking it; that is definitely what it is.

My mother's letter is very encouraging. Lael is almost the same age as me; just a couple of months older in fact. He will be arriving on the 15th of June, brought to our house by the Welfare Officer from the Language School. Our house has already been inspected and passed as suitable accommodation for a male student. He has his own room next to mine, and we are to share our own bathroom. Three weeks after his arrival, and assuming he settles in well and doesn't run away, I shall see him for the first time, home for the long summer holiday. In the meantime I just have to wait, enduring the hours, days and weeks of the long drawn out end of year boredom, my darkness lit by the prospect of sharing in the life of the boy from Finland called Lael.

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