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I am Here by Arna Radovich
Second Prize - Charlotte Duncan Award 2016

Lara had just started eating dinner with her family when Mum suddenly put down her knife and fork and said: 'I need to talk to you about something'.

Oh no! Lara thought. What have I done now?

She'd overheard Mum saying to her friend Helena the other day, 'I don't know what's gotten into Lara. She's, she's ...'

'You mean she's almost a teenager?' Helena laughed.

It made Lara cross to hear her mother talking about her like that.

Lara Hughes lived with her mum, dad, and little sister Maddie in the Blue Mountains. Lara and Maddie both had their own rooms that looked out over a deep, beautiful valley. And everything was pretty good - until - now!

'Well,' said Mum. She always said that when she was about to say something that Lara didn't want to hear. 'You know how Deda, Grandfather Josip, is getting pretty old now?'

Mum's eyes flicked around the room and she twisted her wedding ring round and round and looked at Dad, who didn't seem too happy about what she was going to say either.

'Well,' Mum said again.

'For heaven's sake! Just tell them!' Dad grumped.

Mum took a big breath. 'Deda Josip is coming to live with us and ...' she turned to look straight at Lara, 'and you are going to have to share with your sister for a while until we sort something out.'

'What?' shouted Lara. 'No way!'

'Lara!' Dad said.

'I'm not sharing with a five-year-old!'

'Now Lara, just hear me out,' Mum said.

But Lara was having none of it. She stood up and pushed her chair out of the way and before her mother could say another word, she stomped out of the room and slammed the door of her room. HER ROOM. And there was no way she was giving it up for someone she hardly even knew. He might be her deda, but he lived on the other side of the world. And what was he to her anyway? Just a birthday card each year with spidery writing.

Lara lay on her bed and cried hot angry tears. She looked around her room. She loved her room. It was her refuge when everyone was being annoying, which seemed to be more and more often these days.

She heard a tap on the door.

'Go away,' she said.

'Love - I really need to talk to you. Can I come in?'

'No!' Lara said.

'I'll come back when you've calmed down,' Mum said through the door.

That'll be never! Lara thought.

This was just too unfair. She picked up her maths homework book and threw it at the wall, but it didn't make her feel any better.

Lara stayed in her room for the rest of the night. Usually, if she was sick or really upset Mum would come and bring her a plate of something, but not this night. She listened out for her mother's footsteps, but all she heard was Mum telling Maddie to go to bed and Dad yelling at the dog to get off the lounge.

It was a long night. Lara's stomach was rumbling and grumbling. Sometime after midnight she tried to sneak out of her room to find something to eat, but when she got outside the door she could hear her mum and dad in the kitchen, talking.

'I know it's not ideal,' Mum was saying, 'but there aren't any other options at the moment. I'll figure something out - but we can't just leave him there like that Mick'.

Lara heard her mother blowing her nose.

'His PTSD is getting worse, and I think he's really lonely.'

'I know Katia,' Dad said, 'After all he's been through ...'

What? thought Lara. What has he been through?

She crept back to her room, still hungry and spent the night tossing and turning under her warm doona. She didn't really know much about her deda; Mum said he had PTSD - Lara had heard of that, it was something people can get when something really bad happens to them. She knew that Deda and her Mum had been in the war in Bosnia, but that was all.

The next morning Mum didn't talk about it. Lara kept waiting for Mum to try and persuade her, but her mother said nothing.

'You won't believe what Mum said last night,' Lara said to her best friend Brittany when she got to school.

'I have to give up my room because my deda, my grandpa, is coming - to live with us!' She expected Brittany to be as outraged as she was, but Brittany just said, 'I know. Your mum rang my mum last night and told her.'

'It's not fair,' Lara said.

'Yeah, but your mum said he can't look after himself anymore,' Brittany said. 'You wouldn't want him to be homeless would you?'

'I just don't want him to live in my room,' Lara said and she grabbed up her backpack and walked off in a huff. Why wasn't Brittany on her side?!

Lara's mum didn't say anything when Lara came home from school either. Finally Lara couldn't stand it any longer.

'So,' she said. 'What's happening with Deda?'

'It's only for a while, until I can find a place for him.' Mum was giving her that look that said, please, please can we not fight about this.

'Well, I guess I have to, don't I?'

Mum tried to give Lara a hug, but Lara was still too mad for hugs.

She spent the weekend moving her stuff out of her room into Maddie's. Maddie was really excited about it, but Lara just felt angrier and angrier.

Deda Josip arrived on Monday. Mum let Lara and Maddie have the day off school and they drove down to the airport to get him. Lara stared out the window and said nothing all the way down.

Deda Josip was very old and bent over like he was carrying a heavy weight and his hands as he held Lara's were rough and leathery, and two fingers were missing on his right hand.

He put his hand on her shoulder as she turned away. 'I understand you give me your room?' he said.

Lara shrugged.

'Very kind thing,' Deda Josip said. 'If I have my own room when your age, I not want to give up to anybody,' and he winked at Lara.

Deda Josip was very tired after his long flight and he went to bed early, but in the middle of the night, Lara heard a terrible shrieking coming from her room.

She sat up suddenly and whacked her head on the top of Maddie's dumb bunk bed. Then she jumped up and ran down the hall just ahead of Mum. It sounded like someone was trying to kill Deda Josip. At the door she stepped back and Mum pushed open the door and ran in.

'Stop!' he cried. 'Get away from her! Leave her alone!' He was thrashing around and his covers were half on the floor.

Mum crouched down beside Deda. His hair was all messed up and his eyes wild.

'They are trying to take her away,' he said to Mum.

'It's okay, Tata,' Mum said and then she said some words in their language.

'Ne, ne, ne,' Deda was howling and shaking his head. Suddenly he saw Lara and he just stopped and stared at her like he couldn't believe it.

'Ah,' he said. 'Marta - you are here - you okay?' and he held out his hand to her.

Lara stepped back towards the door. She looked at her mum in confusion.

'What's he saying?' she said. She didn't know what to do.

'He thinks you're Marta,' Mum said. 'My sister - who died in the war.' Lara could see her face was wet with tears.

'Yes, she's here Deda, all is okay,' Mum said.

'He thinks I'm your sister?' Lara said. 'Why?'

'Because - you look like her - when she was young,' Mum said.

Lara stood in the shadows and watched as her mother held Deda's hand and stroked his face and whispered words that Lara did not understand. As she watched, Deda slowly relaxed and lay back against the pillows, but his eyes never left Lara's face.

Lara, moved closer, step-by-step. She knelt down beside the bed. And just like Mum, she held Deda's hand.

'I am here Deda,' she said, 'and it will be okay.'

Copyright © 2016 Arna Radovich.