The first time it happened, I was sitting under the kitchen table. It was a good place for a small child in a busy household. Out of the way, unseen, but aware of all the goings-on.
So anyway, the first time. It was a holiday, so I wasn’t at school and the kitchen was full of legs and interesting smells.
The air in front of me wobbled, then began to swirl. It looked like the last of the water spinning down the drain in the basin and it pulled me in like a stray soap bubble.
I whirled through and popped out the other side before I even had time to gasp, or squeal, which was lucky.
I was still sitting on a stone floor but the stone there was grey, and had red and blue rugs scattered on it. Our kitchen’s stone tiles were a honey-brown and the only rug-like thing was the hessian mat in front of the sink.
A boy was standing a little way from me, probably a few years older, he was certainly taller, even if I had been standing.
He pouted. “Oh, it’s just a boy.”
I pouted back. “I’m a girl.”
He frowned. “But you have short hair, girls don’t have short hair.”
He was so silly. “I have short hair.”
He shrugged. “So you’re not a girl.”
He was worse than silly. “I am a girl and you’re stupid. Now send me home.”
“I am not stupid, you are. Go away.”
And with that, I felt the whirlpool of air pulling me backwards, and I popped back to my spot under the table.
I didn’t hide there again. Someone else could go and argue with Stupid, I had better things to do.
The second time, I was ten and he was taller than ever. Still stupid though. He didn’t like it when I told him that was his name. He said his name was Maximillian and I should show proper respect to my betters.
He sent me home when I couldn’t stop laughing at him.
After that it happened every year, it was like he was waiting for something. He didn’t get any more polite, or any less stupid, but he finally admitted I was indeed a girl the year I turned sixteen.
I’d developed quite significantly in the twelve months prior and he blushed furiously at the sight of me sprawled on the ground, in jeans and a T-shirt (it was the one with the unicorn saying ‘I baked you a shut the fucupcake’) and spent the rest of our conversation with his gaze firmly fixed on the ground.
“Why are you permitted to shear your hair, is it not unseemly for a woman to do so?”
I shrugged, he blushed harder. Se he was peeking, ha!
“It’s hot and humid where I live and it’s much more comfortable for the children and easier for our mothers if our hair is kept short. I like mine that way, so I’ve kept it cut as I’ve grown older.”
I grinned. “You know, where I come from, hair the length of yours would be considered unusually long on a boy.”
He went to touch the shoulder-length locks. He had unfairly nice hair, all thick, glossy brown and wavy. Then pulled his hand away and scowled.
I didn’t have anywhere to be, or anything to do, at home. It was school holidays and Ma and Pa were both at work. I leaned back on my hands and stretched my legs out in front of me, crossing them at the ankles.
“Why do you keep hauling me through that whirlpool thing? You’re never happy when you do, I’d have thought you’d find better things to do with your time.”
He darted a glance at me, then spun and went to look out of the window. He’d officially gone right past tomato and into beetroot.
Without turning, he said. “You can leave the circle, you know, it won’t break anything and I’ll still be able to send you home.”
I looked around me. Honestly, how many visits? Eight? And I’d not even noticed the intricate design I sat inside. To be fair, it was woven into the rug, so I would have dismissed it as a fancy pattern even if I had paid attention.
I stood, brushing myself off, more for something to do with my hands than anything else, and wandered over to see what he was looking at.
I spoke as I went. I don’t think he’d cope very well if I snuck up behind him.
“Nice to know about the circle, but you haven’t answered my question.”
I came to a halt next to him and looked out of an honest-to-goodness castle tower. I leaned forward, head against the wavy glass to check up, down and side to side. Grey stone walls as thick as my arm was long, and more to be seen in all four sideways directions.
Straight ahead was a fancy garden, with people walking about, then beyond the high hedge, a wide strip of farmland, and the edge of a forest. The trees stretched as far as I could see, even from our height. It was maybe four or five stories up.
He tensed as my arm brushed his but didn’t move away. “I’ll answer your question if you’ll answer some for me.”
I turned, leaning back against the edge of the window. “I’ll trade you, one for one.”
He glanced sideways, then looked outside again, face set and a little grim.
“I keep summoning you because you’re what keeps coming through the portal every time I ask for help in keeping my … world … from collapsing.”
I blinked. “Woa, that’s a little heavy. What’s going wrong?”
He smirked. “I believe it’s my turn for a question now.”
I inclined my head. “Right you are, fire away.”
He frowned. “You say the strangest things.”
His shoulders straightened and he turned to face me fully. “Who are you?”
I blinked. “Not quite sure what you’re asking there.”
“Who are you that the pantheon keep sending you to me, every time I send them my most desperate plea?”
Oh wow. Way deep. I shook my head. “I have no idea why they keep dumping me on your floor. I’m a high school student, a runner, I like to draw and I hate practicing piano.”
I took a breath and continued. “Since you’ve never had the manners to ask, my name is Jaya and my home is in Singapore. Once I finish school, I’ll probably go on to University, I’m tossing up between studying Graphic or UX Design and Human Movement.”