The problem with me is that I cannot finish a. It doesn’t matter if I am speaking or writing, my sentences just kind of tail. Sometimes they stop halfway, while at other times I almost make it to the. This causes me great problems as you can. For my last essay my English teacher gave me a grade of zero out of. So I have decided to. I have packed my. You will never find. I will start a new life somewhere else, where I will tell everyone that I am deaf and. That way no one will expect me ever to. Everything will be. I’m going to look for a job where I can communicate without. I may become a sculptor like my mum was before she. So I am really just writing this note to say. I am writing this note to say. To say. This is so. I could tear my hair. What I am trying to say. Well you know what I.
“I do,” Rose Au Yeung said. “I know exactly what you mean.” She was speaking out loud, although there was no one in the room to hear her.
She was holding the letter that Jack Shin had left for her. There was something about the pain in Jack’s stop-start attempts at communication that made her want to celebrate simple pleasures: such as speaking complete sentences.
“My poor little Jack,” she said to herself. “Poor, poor Jack.”
Rose quickly dialed Ravi Bin’s number.
“Ravi? Rose. Listen, Jack’s run away.”
“Again. He left a goodbye note that doesn’t say goodbye. You know how he is. He tries to say goodbye but never quite gets there.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ll come over.”
Five minutes later, the two teachers sat at Rose’s desk at East Island School, coffee mugs in hand, discussing the most challenging case they had ever had.
“I feel awful about what we’ve done. I mean, I feel like we have betrayed him,” she said.
“You mean by putting that radio frequency chip on him? It’s for his own good. How would we find him otherwise?”
“I know, I know. Yet at the same time, it’s kind of creepy to track people down. It’s illegal, too, isn’t it?”
“It’s not illegal if we have the permission of his parents or guardians.”
“But he doesn’t have a parent or guardian. He never really had a father, and his mother died four years ago. That useless uncle of his is supposed to be looking after him.”
“So that makes us his guardians, for all practical purposes. And we’ve given ourselves permission to track him. It’s for his own good.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.”
The computer on the desk in front of them tracked Jack across town. The little flashing blip on the screen eventually stopped moving, coming to a halt on the screen map on the outskirts of Chai Wan, on the road towards Cape Collinson.
“Chai Wan? Isn’t there a noodle shop there?” Ravi asked.
“Yes, I think so. There’s a café opposite. Listen, I have an idea.”
Rose bit her bottom lip as she tried to get her thoughts together. “Instead of just rushing down there and picking him up, as if he was some sort of villain on the run, let’s go the café and get a table by the window. If he sees us there, and wants to join us, then he will.”
Ravi nodded. “That way he kind of turns himself in, instead of having us jump on him.”
So that was the plan.
They found the café—Ah Fat’s Tea House—and sat there for half an hour, trying not to focus on the small boy staring at them from the noodle shop on the other side of the road.
Every few minutes, Rose sneaked a sideways peek to make sure Jack hadn’t vanished.
“How can anyone stay in a noodle shop for so long? It must be so boring,” Ravi said.
“He’s got his Gameboy with him. What I want to know is how he can make one bowl of noodles last so long. They must be horribly cold and soggy by now.”
The two teachers talked about the most difficult children they had to deal with. “There’s Ronnie Pan,” said Rose. “He won’t say a word for days on end. And Chi-kin Tong, who runs away three times a week, without fail.”
“Amanda,” Ravi said suddenly, focusing over Rose’s shoulder.
“Oh yes, Amanda Cheng: she never stops interrupting,” Rose laughed.
Ravi raised one hand to signal his colleague to stop talking. “Hi, Amanda, how are you?”
Rose turned her head and was surprised to see the girl she was talking about standing behind them. “Amanda, what are you—”
“Doing here? This café belongs to my uncle—he’s Ah-Fat. The guy the restaurant is named after?”
“Help him out, yeah. Earn some pocket money.”
Ravi said: “Could you bring us—”
“Another pot of tea? Sure.”
Rose peered through the café window across the road at the noodle shop. Her eyes darted around as she looked for Jack Shin. “I can’t see him.”
They both stared through the window—but Jack had disappeared.
“Cancel the tea,” Ravi called to Amanda.
She quickly returned to their table and was clearly surprised to see them so agitated. Rose was chewing a fingernail and Ravi was trying to boot up his laptop computer.
“Oh, nothing,” Rose said. “We’re trying to keep an eye on a young man who tends to go wandering. It’s hard to keep track of him. He was over there, at—”
“At the noodle shop?”
“That’s right. A little lad with—”
“Blue plastic glasses?”
Amanda smiled. “I know him: Jack Shin.”
“You know—?” Rose asked.
“Jack? Sure. And I know where he goes, too. He comes down here quite often, and always ends up in the Chai Wan graveyard.”
Rose’s mouth dropped open. “That’s where—”
“His mother is buried,” Amanda interrupted.
The two teachers thanked the young waitress and raced off to the cemetery.
Rose laughed as she walked.
“What’s funny?” Ravi asked.
“Did you notice how Amanda kept finishing our sentences? I just thought it would be poetic justice if she grew up to marry Jack Shin. He can’t finish a sentence and she finishes everyone’s sentences for them.”
“Nice thought,” said Ravi. “But real life is never so neat.”
They found Jack Shin at his mother’s grave. But he didn’t look unhappy. He looked busy. He was holding what looked like a toothpaste tube, and was carefully studying a statue of an angel at the head of the grave.
He turned his head as Rose and Ravi approached, but didn’t seem surprised to see them.
“The doctors can’t cure,” Jack told them. “Loads of them have tried, and they have all. I’m fed up of not being able to complete a. So I decided to leave and find somewhere else to. But first, I want to try.”
“What are you doing?” Rose asked. “Is that toothpaste?”
“It’s a type of glue used by. Used by. Stone masons use this stuff for repairing. I looked it up on the.”
He held it up and Rose read the words on the side: “Rocrete Epoxy Stone Adhesive.”
Ravi stepped forwards. “Can I help you? What are you doing?”
“My mum used to be a. She made this statue of an. Just before she. But you see, it’s—”
“Damaged,” said a girl’s voice.
They turned to see that Amanda Cheng had followed them to the cemetery. “It’s damaged. The tip of the tongue has snapped off.”
Rose examined the angel’s head closely. Amanda was right. The angel on his mother’s grave was singing, but the tip of her tongue had been chipped off.
Jack held up a sliver of grey stone. “I’ve got the missing. I found it on the. It was right here, at my feet, the last time I. So I got this stuff and I’m—”
“Going to glue it back on?” Amanda said.
Ravi read the instructions out loud and Jack followed them carefully. He cleaned the surfaces, applied a thin layer of glue to each side, and then pressed the missing piece back in place. It had to be held there for three minutes.
“Let me help you,” Rose said.
Jack snapped at her: “No, I want to do this by.”
So they all waited quietly, watching the boy, until Ravi announced that three minutes was up.
“It’s time,” Ravi said. “You can—”
“Let go now,” interrupted Amanda.
Jack Shin released the angel’s tongue and stepped back. The piece stayed in place. Now the statue was complete. The angel looked much better.
Rose imagined that it had more of a smile on it, but decided that it must be her imagination playing tricks on her. “Well done,” she said.
The boy grinned.
“I think it’s going to be fine, now,” Jack said. “Mum will be much happier.”
The four of them stood looking at the statue for a few seconds. Then the silence was broken by the tinkle of an ice cream van.
“Let’s celebrate,” said Rose, taking out her purse.