Inside, the house was just like the sea. There were paintings of waves and whales, boats with giant sails. She had skeletons of big fish mounted on wooden stands. There were jars of shells everywhere. He noticed in the corner she had four of his shell hearts hanging on the wall. Two had red ribbons tied at the top. He was proud to see them hanging in her front room with everything else from the ocean.
“Here it is!” She handed him a big roll of silky green ribbon. It would last him a very long time. He smiled at her and nodded his head excitedly.
“You’re welcome,” she said. Toto liked how she seemed to understand him even though he couldn’t talk. She was like Leon that way. It made things easier for him.
Then he spotted a small pad of paper near the door and a pencil. He grabbed it up excitedly. He wrote his name and Killer’s name on the paper. He pointed at his name and then at himself, and did the same for Killer.
Miss Dorah held out her hand to shake his. “I’m glad to meet you, Toto.” She rubbed Killer’s head. “And you too, Killer.”
Toto took his ribbon and headed back to the bridge. He pulled out his finished hearts and added green bows to the top. They looked so smart that when he went out to sell, he sold three straight away. He and Killer had a nice supper and went to bed under the bridge with full stomachs.
In the night, the wind picked up and the rain poured down. Toto and Killer were alone under the bridge. Leon must have broken into the house and let everyone else in too. As Toto shivered in the cold, he wondered if he should have just listened to Leon.
In the morning, Toto felt wrong. He couldn’t stop shivering even after sitting in the sun, and his head ached. By the time he got to the place where he collected shells, he felt so hot even though it was a cold day. He tried to sift through the shells but his head was heavy. He moved onto the dry sand and fell asleep.
At first when Toto opened his eyes, he thought he was dreaming again. He was in a room. The walls were light green, not yellow, and the paintings on the wall were of horses, but not bucking ones with cowboys. Otherwise it looked like the room in his dream. Then he realised that he was awake, not dreaming. He was in a bed. Not with a golden blanket, but with a blue one. He tried to get up but felt dizzy and weak. Killer slept on a mat next him.
Miss Dorah came into the room.
“You’re awake. Toto, I found you passed out on the beach. I hope you don’t mind that I brought you here. I was scared. I had the doctor in to see you. He says you have pneumonia.”
Toto smiled weakly.
He slept off and on for three days. In between, Miss Dorah came with different kinds of soups for him to eat and medicine for him to take. Outside the bedroom window, he could see the rain was pouring and he was thankful to be inside.
“I brought you a sandwich; do you think you’re up to it?” Miss Dorah said.
Toto nodded. Miss Dorah handed the tray to Toto and sat down on the edge of the bed.
“This was my son’s room. He loved horses, still does. I loved the sea and he loved horses. Did I tell you I used to study the sea at the university in Cape Town? I was a teacher there.”
Toto shook his head.
“My son trains horses. He’s all grown up now.” Toto smiled again. “You know, the doctor said it’s not good for you to go back to sleeping under the bridge after you recover. He said it’s bad for your lungs. I thought, if you wanted, you could use this room. Killer could stay here with you. I don’t use this room at all, it just stays empty. You’d help me by filling it up.”
Toto looked out the window where the rain still poured. He ate his sandwich. He wondered about living here with Miss Dorah, kind Miss Dorah who loved the sea just like him. He thought he might like that quite a bit. He finished his sandwich and Miss Dorah stood up. It was properly dark now. She closed the curtains and picked up his tray.
“Well, I guess it’s time for me to get to bed,” she said.
Toto felt full to the top with happiness. He liked that he would stay in this horsey room in this house full of things from the sea. He wanted to thank Miss Dorah somehow.
He tried to speak and to his surprise he heard, “Goodnight, Miss Dorah.”
Miss Dorah stopped at the door, turned to him, and smiled. “Goodnight, Toto. Goodnight, Killer.”
Tell us: Why do you think Toto is able to speak again?