“Mummy, what is an exotic bird or an exotic plant?” Eleven year old Amelia’s enquiry didn’t interrupt her eye search through the pages on her lap.
Mrs. Lancaster’s knitting fingers didn’t pause for her reply, “Exotic means strange, foreign or different, Amelia. What are you reading?”
Amelia’s finger held the paragraph while she gave her attention to her mother. “It’s about a girl who visited a mission station in Brazil with her parents. They were from England, but the missionary was her uncle. So they were in a foreign country and everything must have been very different from their home. Perhaps she didn’t know the names of the birds and the plants. I would ask questions and write them down.” She turned back to her book.
Her mother smiled. Her voice was mild. “I know you would, my dear. But you haven’t read very much of the book as yet. Perhaps she did find out later, and her story will tell you when and how she did.”
“Perhaps.” Amelia’s tone brooked no further interruption.
Amelia had learned a new word. She researched it in her word finder and tried it out on her friends at school. She wondered if it described the Chinese dishes her father loved. She re-arranged her collections of stamps and postcards into Australian and Exotic.
Two weeks sped by. Amelia lost none of her enchantment with the exotic. She pestered an older brother to use his computer to discover birds, animals and plant life of different countries. These she listed in exercise books which she labelled ‘Near Exotic’, ‘Mid-Exotic’ and ‘Furthest Exotic.’
Amelia was the youngest child. Her whims and fancies were greatly indulged, sometimes encouraged. But as the days went by her exotic fancy began to pall. When efforts to change the subject failed, her brother tried another tactic. His ploy was to turn the word in on itself. If all the rest of the world must be considered exotic to an Australian, then surely everything Australian must be exotic to the rest of the world.
This had the effect of turning Amelia aside briefly before she caught her second wind and headed down another track, still following the word exotic. Momentarily Derek was discouraged. He turned to his seldom used dictionary for help.
Amelia was surprised when instead of avoiding her as he was beginning to do, Derek waylaid her. He led her to his desk. A sheet of paper lay on his closed laptop. On it was printed in large black letters: ‘OTIC’ and below that ‘EX’. He pointed to the dictionary opened at ‘o’.
“Look up ‘otic’, Amelia. What does it mean?”
Amelia obediently read, “Otic, relating to the ear.” Her look was puzzled.
Derek pressed on. “And ‘ex’ – what do you understand by ‘ex’?”
Amelia considered. “Something that has run out or gone away?”
“Right.” Derek paused before continuing. “Think about it: exotic is now ex – otic.” He placed his words separately, firmly, at her feet. “Ex – otic means I don’t want to hear any more about exotic. Finished. Do you understand?”
Amelia nodded. Unshed tears gathered in her eyes. Derek knelt and gathered his sister in a brotherly hug. “Sorry, Melie. Shall we look for another word and see if we can run that to death as well?”
The sun came out. “Oh yes! Derrie. That will be such fun. Shall we make it an exotic one?”
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