Prologue

Heathrow, 2002

More than a thousand planes will arrive and depart today. One of them will be carrying Iris.

I have my instructions. I am looking for an eleven-year-old girl in jeans and pink basketball shoes. She will be carrying a red suitcase. Her black hair will be tied back. She has been told to look for a light-brown–skinned man wearing an old-fashioned hat.

Two nights ago the phone rang. It was Kiyomi, calling from New York. She was a sobbing wreck. Something had happened. There had been a car accident in Mallorca. Her mother was in critical condition in a Palma hospital and she needed a favour.

I pulled a chair back from the kitchen table and sat down, trying to take in the news and this voice speaking from the most distant reaches of my life, my childhood. Yes, I said, I understood she had to go to Palma immediately. Yes, of course I would take care of her daughter. Yes, I would pick her up when they stopped over at Heathrow. A week, yes, yes, she could stay, ten days, two weeks, fine.

So, here I am, waiting for Iris, trying to look undaunted, as if this is the kind of thing I do all the time, when I spot a small figure scanning the crowd, a yellow Post-it note stuck to the front of her grey windbreaker, pink basketball shoes on her feet. I take my hands out of my pockets and call her name. When she turns I lift my brown trilby in the air, waving it like a man greeting a transatlantic ship in another era. Salut and Benvenuti!

It is a full minute before Iris reaches me at the Arrivals waiting area, tugging her red suitcase across the polished floor, dodging a porter rattling by with a load of broken carts. She drops her suitcase right beside a No Unattended Luggage placard, and strides the last few yards towards me. I watch an echo of her mother move through her body and it’s all I can do not to gasp. For an instant, I am no longer a man ten days away from turning fifty, I am an eleven-year-old boy who has come to meet my best friend.

I step forward and shake her hand. “You must be Iris,” I say.

“And you’re Marcel,” she says, with her New York accent.

For a moment, we are very civilized, smiling at each other.

She peels the Post-it note off her chest and hands it over. I read aloud: “Marcel. Here is Iris. I am sorry I couldn’t come out to see you. Quick connection. Will call tonight. —K”

That’s it? I crumple up the note and look at Iris to gauge how she’s feeling about all this. Abandoned? Wary? Excited? Indifferent?

Watch the trailer for Stray Love
Read The Beautiful Afterlife of Dead Books an essay by Kyo Maclear
Read an Interview with a War Correspondent (Michael Maclear) by Kyo Maclear
Read a Further Reading list by Kyo Maclear