Fate Says

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
Fate Says is about a girl named Fate from Khaderi, Madhya Pradesh, India. When she's six years old and goes to the village school for the first time, she's sent to England in a boarding school, supposedly because she's fluent in English without ever going to any predominantly English-speaking place, and never been taught English, or heard it before in here life. This happens every seven to nine years in Khaderi, and the kid is always sent to the place where their accent is from, because they never, ever, not once speak English with an Indian accent. She meets a whole bunch of people, 99.9% of these people as dull as sawdust, but, thankfully, a couple of people in this bunch stand out to her particularly brightly.

Submitted: April 09, 2017

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Submitted: April 09, 2017

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‘Tell me something?’

‘Yeah?’ 

‘Why are you here?’ 

‘I’m here to show you your life.’ 

‘Right, like that’s a brilliant answer that answers all my questions.’

‘Do you even wanna see?’

**Scoff**

‘Why should I? It doesn’t matter, does it? I’m not going back. Ever. It’s worthless down there, stupid. Everybody’s an idiot and they don’t think about anything.’

‘What do you want me to do about that? I can’t do anything about that. You have to figure it out yourself. And if you can’t, then you die. Just try, why don’t you? It might actually be worth something. Just come, and look, okay? Please?’ 

**Sigh** 

‘Hmph. Fine. Show me the miserable human life that is going to be so awesome and wonderful and amazing.’ 

 

A little brown boy, being birthed out of a large woman. He screams and wails and cries and they clap and cheer and are like, ‘Yes, he’s alive!’ 

 

‘What, was I not supposed to be alive? Is that it? Did she see me through in her fat, fat stomach just to be kind? So as not to have the death of a baby, an unborn baby on her conscience?’ 

‘Just watch.’ 

‘Fine.’

 

‘Wait.’ (In Indian language) ‘Not a boy, It’s a girl! What? The tech going to be in trouble.’ 

‘A girl? What? Are you kidding me?’ The woman on the table shouted out. 

‘Yes, ma’am. A girl.’ 

‘What’ll we name her?’ 

‘How about … Fate?’ 

‘Yeah. Fate. I like it.’ 

Fate was the actual name as the Indian woman, let’s call her Nagini, and the Indian man, let’s call him Geet, said the name. So, the name was Fate. 

 

‘Wait.’ 

‘What now?’ 

‘My name is Fate?’ 

‘Yes. They just said that.’ 

‘Fine. Get on with it.’ 

 

Fast-forward two years to Fate at two years old. She’s playing in a sandbox with a bindi on her head. Nagini is sitting on a bench a few yards away talking with another mum, touching her pregnant stomach. 

‘Fate! No! You don’t eat that! What are you doing, girl?’ Nagini rushes over and slaps the wood chips out of Fate’s hand, slaps her wrist, hard. Fate begins to cry. ‘Be quiet! Girl! Fate!’ Nagini hisses from her post at the bench. ‘Shut up!’ Fate just wails louder. ‘Be quiet! Do I have to call your father?’ Fate is at an age where she can understand her mother’s language, but nobody else’s, so she shakes her head no. ‘Good. Shut up, then. Okay?’ 

 

‘That’s my mom?’

‘Yes. What is so wrong about that?’ 

‘She’s telling a fucking two-year-old to shut up, and she’s slapping said two-year-old on her tiny two-year-old wrist! I’ve got a fucking abusive mother. That’s great.’ 

‘Just wait.’

 

Fast-forward four years. 

Fate is sitting at a school desk in a golden room. There is a teacher at the front of the room writing words in Hindi and English. 

‘Huna, isa n? k? kahin? hai?’ The teacher is speaking in Punjabi. Fate does not understand what he is saying. 

‘Kisamata hai, isa n? k? kahin? hai?’ He was looking at Fate. She shook her head and tried to run out of the classroom. ‘Kisamata d? hai, jith?, tuh?n? th??h? bakav?sa j? rah? h??’ He grabbed her, but she did not know what he was saying. 

‘No! Leave me alone!’ She said in a surprising British accent and perfect English. 

‘K?? K? hai tuh?n? hu?? h? kih? s?? Takad?ra?’ Again, Fate did not understand him, but she let him grab her and drag her out of the room, to a large office on a lower level. ‘She do English! She do English!’ The teacher shouted into a window at a fat man smoking a cigarette on the other side of the window. 

‘Bring her in!’ The teacher roughly shoved Fate inside the office, where there was a mahogany desk and two folding chairs. ‘Fate? Kismat? Hindi?’ 

‘Jee shreemaan.’ (Yes sir)

‘Angrezee?’ (English?)

‘Naahin Saahab.’ (No, sir)

‘Yes!’ The man shouted in Fate’s face. ‘You speak English! You do! Bhargava say you do English, you do English! You hear me?’ 

‘I do not do English!’ She didn’t seem to notice that she wasn’t speaking Hindi anymore, for she kept on talking. ‘I did not even want to come to school! I wanted to go to the field with the boys, with my brothers and father and my uncle! I didn’t even want to do this, but Father and Mother say that I have to, so stop yelling in my face!’ The man looked shocked and he sat back down in his chair. They were silent as Fate panted from the yelling and the man puffed on his cigarette. 

‘tum apane aap ko sunane ke lie nahin hai, aap aisa karenge, ladakee? aap vishesh bachche hain. aap jaanate hue bhee , ya sikhaaya ja raha hai bina angrejee bolate hain. aap vishesh bachche hain.’ (You do not hear yourself, do you, girl? You are special child. You speak English without knowing or being taught. You are special child.)

‘kya aap ke baare mein , sar mein baat kar rahe hain?’ (What are you talking about, sir?)

‘Svayan ko suno. My name Narayan. I am principal teacher for girl school of Khaderi, Madhya Pradesh, India. You are Fate. You six years old. You speak English.’ 

 

‘Two months!’ Ranted Nagini later that day. ‘Two months to pack for Fate to go to England! What does he expect!’ 

‘Nagini,’ said Geet with his soothing, deep voice. ‘It is okay. She’s going to be fine. It’s an amazing opportunity.’ 

They obviously weren’t speaking in English, but this is just to save you the trouble of trying to pronounce the phonetics of Hindi and Gujarat. Anyway:

‘Mother, Father, why do I have to go to England? There it is raining, all the time. There is no fields to row, and no wheat. What do I do over there? I do not do anything. I just sit in a room and stare at the rain. That is what I do. That what you want me to do? Sit in a room and stare at the rain?’ 

‘Fate! Stay out of it!’ Nagini hissed. 

‘No! It is my education. I think I ought to have a say in where I go, okay?’ She replied. 

‘Nagini, Fate, get out of each other’s faces. I will talk to Narayan. I will see if she can stay. Okay?’ 

Geet was always an agreeable man, and this agreeableness is one of the traits that Nagini loved about him, but today, he was pushing his luck. 

‘No! Geet! Get out of my house, Geet! This is not your decision! She is six year old! She is not smart enough or old enough to make her own decision. Get out of my house until you see the light, you idiot!’ Nagini shouted at the man. 

‘No! Father! Don’t go! I don’t want him to go, Mother! If he goes, then I go, too!’ Cried Fate. 

‘Fate, it is okay. I will be back, soon. Do not worry about me.’ Geet said, crouching down to Fate’s eye level. Fate just hugged her father around the neck and gave him a kiss on his cheek. He left the house quickly. 

 

Chapter Two

 

'Fate? Are you Fate?' A tall, blonde-haired, big-chested and big-hipped lady in a pink blouse, black pencil skirt and black blazer said as she came to greet the timid looking six-year-old girl from a tiny village in India standing at the end of the school drive. 

This lady, her name's Margaret Finch. She's usually very tired, very devil-may-care, but she's the headmistress of a boarding school, a co-ed boarding school, the name of which you'll learn later. Margaret Finch was once the popular girl of the boarding school she now runs. She slept with every boy, she went to every party, she drank all of the alcohol and she missed every lesson, although she somehow managed to pass with Honours, because she did so well on her final tests and such. 

'My name's Mrs Finch. I suppose your parents or your school principal have told you about me?' She was speaking slowly, like she didn't expect the girl to understand her at normal speed. 

Fate just shook her head. 

'Hmm. Well, I am the Headmistress of this fine establishment, and that little girl over there, Charlotte Adams, is going to be your guide for the first few weeks here, okay?' She pointed to a stern-looking little girl in a green and blue plaid skirt, grey and black blazer, black Mary-Janes and a white button-down with a green and blue tie in it at the other end of the drive. A sudden roll of thunder boomed in the sky. 'Oh, well, it looks like it's going to rain, so we better get you inside, okay, dear? Where's your trunk?' Fate just shook her head again. She'd only had three shirts, a skirt, a green saree, and one pair of black jogging pants up until then. She had all of that and a book of Hindu legends and a book with forty sheets of paper and a pencil that was down to a nib in a little grey backpack that Nagini had spent three hundred and five rupees on, which she was originally going to spend on food for the family of nine. She patted the backpack she was clutching to her chest. 'That's all you've got? Is it? Alright. Come on with me, dear.' They walked to the girl, Charlotte Adams, and they entered the school. It was a big, vast front foyer, with pillars of granite and floors of marble. There was even a statue of a lady without arms. 

'Fate? What kind of a name is that?' Said someone behind the three girls. It was an older girl, probably in the senior school, leaning against a pillar. 

'It's the name my mother chose for me. Problem?' Fate said, bravely, as she rounded on the girl. 

'Hey, I thought you were Indian. Why're you talkin' like a Briton, girl? Trying to fit in where you know you won't already?' 

'Girls, girls.' Said Margaret Finch. 'Katelyn, what are you doing down here, and not in lessons, dear? You sure you want to be down here, when final tests are coming up?' 

'I don't care. I'm going to beauty school. They've already accepted me. Definitively. So, no matter what grades I get, I've got a future. I'm not stuck here for the rest of my life. Like you.' Katelyn said back to Finch. 

'Just get going. I'll let your father know you've been skipping lessons, and he'll take you right out of beauty school. Won't he?' Finch always knew how to play her hand right. 

'Fine!' She stomped off in the other direction. 

'Sorry about that. You know, how do you have that accent, Fate? You were born in, er, what was it?' 

'Khaderi?' Said Fate. 

'Yes that was it. You were born there, weren't you?'

'Ask my father. Nobody ever told me where I was born. I just know that I'm from Khaderi, India; my mum is Nagini, and my dad is Geet. My oldest brother is Dakshi, he's nineteen years old. My youngest brother is Danvir, he's two years old. My oldest sister is Hamsa, she's twenty-two years old, and she's a doctor in Austria. My youngest sister is Tamanna, she's thirteen years old. My name is Fate, and I'm from Khaderi, India, and I live in England, but I used to live in Khaderi, India.’ Fate said this all very fast, rushing through it like it was a school presentation and it was the first day. Let me tell you, in case you couldn’t guess: Fate was not accustomed to people actually talking to her, asking her questions, and so she was scared. So, because of her being scared, she just wanted to get the answers over with, so she didn’t have to give them again. 

‘Charlotte?’ Said Finch after a few minutes of them standing still in the hall. 

‘Yes, Mrs. Finch?’ Charlotte replied. 

‘Take Fate to your room, now, please. Tell the other girls that she should be left alone for a while. All right?’ 

‘Yes, Mrs. Finch.’ Charlotte said. Finch staggered away, touching her forehead. Charlotte and Fate stood silently regarding the other for a moment before Charlotte said, ‘Can I take your bag?’ Charlotte had been born into a very elite family, so she’d been trained in politeness and manners from the day she could talk. Fate shook her head no. ‘Oh. Okay. Let’s go then, shall we?’ 

Fate didn’t respond, only nodded slightly and followed Charlotte up the six flights of stairs to the sixth floor, down the corridor to the right, take another right, to the room with the number ‘618’ on the door in brass letters. Charlotte opened the door. There were six beds in the room, all but one were unmade and had a lot of clothing, books, and pens and notebooks on them and around them. Each of them had a night table on their left, with a lamp and an analog clock. 

‘Welcome.’ Charlotte said as she went into the room and waited for Fate to go in, too, and shut the door. ‘Come in. It’s okay. Shut the door, please.’ Fate went in as she was told to, and shut the door. Charlotte pointed to each of the beds, starting at the right, beside which there was a brown wooden shelving unit, with clothes and tissue stacked all over. There was another identical shelving unit parallel to the one on the right, just less cluttered. ‘So, that’s Beth’s bed. That’s Mary. Alice. Me. That’s your’s.’ She said that while pointing to the only unmade, clean bed without a whole bunch of random items all over and around it. ‘And that’s Connie’s. She’s really mean, most of the time, except when she wants something from you. When she wants something from you, she’s sweet as honey.’ 

‘Oh.’ Fate said. 

‘Right. Do you have your uniform? You’d better change out of those clothes before the Matron comes for dinner reports.’ 

‘Matron? What’s that?’ Fate said. That was the first time she was actually speaking to Charlotte. Charlotte was a tiny bit shocked, but took it in stride. 

‘She’s like… Kind of the babysitter for us. She comes round, and if anybody’s in their room at breakfast, dinner, or supper, then she writes it down and then sends us down without another word. She’s also the lady who’s in charge of choosing our meals and arranging religious service on Sundays and Wednesday evenings. I think her real name’s Rita, but if you ever call her anything other than Matron, then she’ll bite your head off and spit it out and then feed it to the dogs.’ 

‘Oh. So, dinner reports is when she comes round and… All that?’ 

‘Right. So, you got your uniform?’ 

‘Er… No, I don’t think so. Nagini and Geet only just had enough money for the bag. All that I own is in it.’ 

 

‘Oh, right. Well, then. Let’s go see the clothes officer for a minute about the uniform, shall we?’ Charlotte said, hopping down from her bed. She took Fate’s backpack out of her hands, laid it on her (Fate’s) bed, and smoothed down the wrinkles on the sheets. Charlotte grabbed Fate’s hand, forgetting all about etiquette and do this, not that, seeing that the girl was scared and shy and didn’t actually want to be at the school, so she could probably use a friend. 

 

Chapter Three

 

Pardon my abrupt interruption of the story, but I feel as though I should give you an inkling of what Fate looks like, especially as I haven’t said anything about it at all so far. So, Fate’s got short, well, shoulder-length black-brown hair, light brown skin, beautiful almond-shaped deep brown eyes, a round, round face, but it’s not filled out because she’s been underfed. She’s very, very short, especially for her age. Compared to her new schoolmates, she’s basically a dwarf. Where Charlotte is three-foot-ten inches, Fate is two-foot-four inches. This height oddness is also partly due to being underfed for the majority of her young life. And it’s also partly due to the fact that her whole family, except for her oldest brother and sister, and her uncle Mandar, is all exceptionally short. Okay, back to the story.

‘Charlotte?’ Said an older, plump woman with grey hair in a loose bun, from behind a counter. 

‘Hi, Madam Lee!’ Charlotte called to woman, who had now come out from behind the counter, and proceeded to hug Charlotte on the side. 

‘What can I do for you today?’ Madam Lee said. Madam Lee always had a tape measure around her neck, some type of woollen skirt, almost always her favourite grey cardigan and a knitted sweater on over her shirt,  that nobody ever got to see because she never took off her sweater. She had wire-frame round spectacles attached on a clip round her neck, and she had a habit of peering over them when she talked to you. And she always wore black, glossy kitten heels, too. 

‘This is Fate.’ Charlotte said, gesturing grandly to Fate, who was standing in the entrance to the brightly lit, orangey-yellow painted office. ‘She doesn’t have a uniform, and she needs to get one before Matron sees her.’

‘Oh, right. Right. Okay. Let’s see what we can do for her, shall we? Follow me, girls.’ Madam Lee led the girls into a grey-painted room with a circular platform, a little dressing room off to one side with a curtain as the door, and a whole bunch of uniform skirts, blazers, shirts, ties and other uniform articles of clothing that I will probably mention later on hangers and rolling racks. Madam Lee flicked a light switch that neither of the girls was tall enough to see, and the room lit up vibrantly. ‘So, you’re… Six years old, dear?’ Fate nodded. ‘Okay, so, I don’t think a fitting is necessary, you Charlotte?’ 

‘No, not at all.’ Charlotte replied. 

‘Alright, how about a size four?’ Said Madam Lee, riffling through the clothing on the racks. She picked out a size four (UK) white button-down, a blazer, a skirt, and a pair of white socks from a bin on a shelf. There were also shoes on this particular shelf, but Madam Lee didn’t even seem to notice that Fate wasn’t wearing shoes. ‘Right, there you go.’ She said, putting the clothing into Fate’s small hands. Fate felt like she was going to cry right then, because never in her life had anyone ever given her so much of anything, especially clothing, and not such good quality clothing, either. But she bit back her tears and went into the dressing room. She’d never had any clothing like this before, but she was bright, and she figured it out quickly. The button-down fit well, as did the skirt, but the blazer was too big and the socks fell off of her feet. She went back out, with the socks dangling on her feet, and the blazer going down to her mid-thighs. 

‘It’s too big.’ Said Fate to Charlotte, in regard to the blazer. 

‘Oh, no, dear. It’s supposed to be a little roomy, isn’t it, Charlotte?’ Said Madam Lee. 

‘Right.’ Charlotte replied. 

‘But the socks we’ll have to do something about, won’t we?’ She gently took the socks from Fate’s tiny feet, and placed them in a chicken-wire hamper. ‘Oh! That’s my mistake, Fate! I assumed that you were a size five in your feet, but it looks like… You’re a size two.’ She riffled through the sock bin again and found a different pair of socks. 

Before I continue, I’m going to address a concern that would probably be wrapping itself about my thoughts at this point if I was reading this book: why in the world am I reading about Fate’s gain of a school uniform in such detail? The answer is: because Fate’s never actually had clothing. In the last chapter, that’s evident, is it not? She’s got a couple shirts, a skirt, no shoes or socks, and a pair of jogging pants. I didn’t mention that she’s had these clothes since she was three. She hasn’t grown very much, or really at all since then, but the clothes are in a state of pretty much disrepair. They’ve got tatters and countless curry stains. The saree she only wore once, to her cousin’s wedding, but that was it, and she was very careful to keep it in good condition. So, when she’s presented with good-quality clothing that’s actually supposed to fit her, she’s like, in her mind, ‘What are you doing?’ It’s unknown to her that she should have clothing that fits her and isn’t covered in curry stains and mud splatters. If that hasn’t answered your question properly, then I don’t know what will. Okay, back to the story.

Fate sat down on the platform and put the paper-white socks on her feet. They fit well. 

‘Okay, great. Now, put these shoes on, will you?’ Madam Lee said, passing her a pair of matte brown Mary-Jane shoes with a strap across the instep that had a tiny buckle. Fate at first looked bewildered at what to do with these odd-looking things, and then she realised, remembering what was on Charlotte’s feet, that they were what she’d gotten teased about not having at the local river: shoes. She slipped her feet into them, and they were so comfortable, like a cloud on her feet. She slowly did up the buckle and smiled up at Madam Lee and Charlotte. Madam Lee laughed at Fate’s amazed face, and got another five duplicates of the clothes Fate was wearing. ‘Here you go, Fate. Come and see me when they don’t fit anymore, okay?’ 

A sudden bell went off in the school, signalling dinner. 

‘Oh! That’s dinner! Let’s go, Fate.’ Said Charlotte, stuffing Fate’s new clothes into a bag from a shelf. ‘Bye Madam Lee!’ Charlotte called over her shoulder as she raced out of the office with Fate’s hand in her’s. ‘We can’t be late, otherwise all of the hot stuff will be taken and the milk will have been replaced with soy milk, which is really gross.’ Charlotte said. ‘I think that we’re getting tikka masala and toad-in-the-hole and fish and chips and crumpets today, which almost never happens all at once.’ Charlotte went as she led Fate down the long, numerous corridors to a large hall with several hundred people at the tables, most talking animatedly. There was a table to the left of the students’ tables, with all of the teachers sitting down, surveying the students, a couple talking to each other. ‘Oh, cripes, we’re late! Matron’ll have our heads. Come this way.’ Charlotte led Fate around the back of the tables, and since they were both not so very tall, none of the teachers noticed them. Charlotte led them to a table with ten other people, six boys and the other four girls. The boys were the same age as the girls. ‘Come sit here.’ Charlotte said to Fate, going to the two empty seats beside each other in the middle of the table. ‘Hi, Beth!’ Charlotte called to a brown-haired girl at the top end of the table, near the teachers’ table. 

‘Hi, Charlotte! Is this Fate?’ Said Beth, nodding at Fate. 

‘Yes, I’m Fate.’ Fate said to Beth. 

‘Hi! How are you? What’s India like?’ Said a red-haired boy at the other end of the table. 

‘Oh, go away, Charlie, she’s just gotten here!’ Said a blonde girl across from Fate. ‘Hi, Fate. I’m Alice, and this is Mary.’ She waved her hand at an identical girl beside her. Mary waved her hand at Fate silently. 

‘Fate, the girl to my left is Connie. Don’t talk to her, or look at her, or you’ll be done for, I swear.’ Charlotte whispered to Fate, while keeping her head down. Fate kept her eyes looking straight forward until a voice called from the teacher’s table, and the whole of the students stood up and looked at the voice, who it turns out was Finch. 

‘Hello, everyone! Just one thing before the meal can begin: whoever’s been writing obscene notes over the staff toilets’ walls, do stop it! WE do not need to read your inappropriate jokes about each other! Thank you!’ They all put their heads down then, and there was a resounding blessing across the hall, presumably grace that went: ‘Thank you, Lord, for allowing us to have this good food in our bellies, with our friends and our teachers, in a safe place. Amen.’ Fate had put her head down, but she’d never heard of a notion of thanking someone while not looking at them, so she didn’t say anything. They all sat back down, talking again. 

‘Year One and Year Two!’ A man called from somewhere unseeable. 

‘That’s us. We’re Year Two.’ Charlotte said to Fate. ‘It’s almost always a buffet.’ Charlotte continued as she led Fate into the line of five- and six-year-olds with trays and plates and glasses and bowls. ‘Ooh, yes! Tikka masala, crumpets, fish and chips, sausages, shepherd’s pie, and lamb! This is the best we’ve had since the Easter supper last year.’ Charlotte said as she piled her plate with quite a lot of everything. ‘Go on, take what you like.’ Charlotte instructed Fate. 

‘It’s okay?’ Fate said. She’d never seen so much of any type of food in her life before, and when she had seen any food in India, she was only allowed to take a very small portion, because it was always costing someone more than could afford to get the food. Unless they were a farmer of course. But then, most of the farmers sold what they grew. 

‘Yeah, of course. Don’t you have buffets in India?’ Charlotte replied. 

‘No.’ Fate said. Then she grabbed a tray and a few plates and put as much as she could onto each of her plates. She followed Charlotte back to the table. Charlotte sat down with a thump and dove right into her food. 

‘What’re you waiting for? Eat!’ Charlotte said round a mouthful of tikka masala and fish and chips. Fate was still unsure, but decided to take a chance and ate and ate and ate and didn’t stop until she’d devoured every last morsel on her plates. She looked up when she was done to see the whole table staring at her. 

‘What?’ Fate said. ‘Was I not s—supposed to..’ 

‘No! Not at all! We’ve just never seen someone eat so much so quickly.’ Beth said. 

‘Yeah. What, are you anorexic? Do they even have food where you come from?’ A snide voice said to the left of Charlotte.  

‘Oh, shut up, Connie.’ Said Beth, Charlotte, Alice, a couple of the boys and Mary. Connie just got up from her seat and walked away, out of the hall. 

‘She’s so mean, see?’ Charlotte said. ‘I’m so sorry, Fate.’ 

‘It’s okay.’ Fate said. ‘Boy, that tikka masala was so good. The last time I had tikka masala was when my brother got a job I Mumbai.’ 

‘They’ve got tikka masala in India?’ Said Beth.

 

‘Well, yeah. Usually, it’s much spicier than it was here, but it was good. So good.’ Said Fate. 

 

Chapter Four

 

‘Fate?’ Matron said, popping her head round the bedroom door. ‘Headmistress wants you.’

It was only the early morning hours, the rest of the girls weren’t yet awake, but Fate had become known in the college to wake up super early and wander round the halls, and usually get lost and have to stop an older student and have them guide her to breakfast. She was actually just getting dressed and ready to do that when Matron came in and gave her her summons. This was at Christmastime, actually two weeks before Christmas holidays began, and Fate had been getting asked a few times a day by her schoolmates where she was going for Christmas. She’d become a bit of a celebrity in the college. She was in Year Seven English and Maths, Year Six Music and History and Geography, and Year Five Science. Everybody knew that she’d come from India, and they expected her to be completely clueless and have to go back. Nobody, except for the staff, Matron and Finch even knew why she was there. Fate’s village had a tradition: if a child went to school and knew English before being taught, and that happened at least every seven to nine years, then, depending on where their accent was from, they’d go to a boarding school for their education, and when they finished their education at the boarding school, they could  either go back to the village, or they could stay in the new country and go to post-secondary education and/or get a job. Nobody knew why it happened that some of the kids knew English, but they did, and it’d become Just A Thing That Happened for most of the people who’d grown up in the village, or had parents from the village. Some people believed that it was  Gift From The Gods, and they tried to petition the family and the school to keep the kid in the village to bring The Godly Presence into the village, but it never actually happened that way. Occasionally, the parents of this miracle child would die or be killed, and they either wouldn’t have any siblings or their siblings couldn’t take care of them. When Fate went down with Matron to Finch’s office, she was half-expecting, half-denying Finch to tell her that her parents were dead, and did she want to stay in England or go back to India? 

‘Hi, Fate. How’ve you been settling in? I hear that you’ve become a bit of a celebrity in the school. Is this true?’ Finch said as Fate went into the office and closed the door behind her. Fate simply shrugged. ‘So.’ Finch sighed deeply, and lit a cigarette. She dragged on it, long enough to be fatal, and blew it into the air above Fate’s head. ‘Fate. I’ve got some—some news. Bad news.’ 

‘My parents are dead, right?’ Fate said, not batting an eyelash or welling up with tears as she spoke. 

‘W—W—How..’ Finch exclaimed, almost dropping her cigarette onto the desk, but catching herself. 

‘It happens. A lot of the time, when a kid like me goes to their new home, their mom or dad or whoever’s taking care of them dies, and they usually come home and sell their stories to the tabloids in Mumbai. Nagini’s always been a smoker, and she’s always had a rough temper, so it was just a matter of time before somebody beat her to death for yelling at them over not leaving the money in the little box at the end of the drive or something. And Geet’s been dying for years. I wasn’t expecting him to last till I was eight. It doesn’t surprise me.’

‘Right. Well, we’ve got a bit of a dilemma here, you see?’ Finch spoke through the smoke from her fag. ‘Your schoolmaster, Naro, Nera,..’

‘Narayan?’ Fate said. 

‘Yes, yes. He’s making an appeal to the school boards to continue to pay for your tuition, and so that’s taken care of, just thought you should know, but, now, with your parents gone, and the school closing for the Christmas holidays, you…’ She sighed again, and took a last drag on her cig before stubbing it out on the ashtray. ‘You have nowhere to go. If you’ve got a friend who you can stay with, here, or possibly a sibling to go and stay with, maybe?’ 

‘I don’t know where my older siblings are now, and they don’t like me, anyway.’ Fate replied. 

‘Oh. Right. Well, do you have a friend, maybe? How about Charlotte? Her mum’s very open to it, I’ve already spoken to her, and you two seemed to be getting along quite nicely, right?’ 

‘Uhm…’ 

‘Right, then! I’ll ring her mum again and tell her you’ve said yes. You better get on to lessons, right?’ Finch said. 

Fate had wanted to say something like, ‘Are you sure that I won’t be imposing?’ But Finch had cut her off before she could have said anything. 

Fate’s first class was English, with Mrs. Archer. Mrs. Archer was a fine woman; she originally came from Ireland, but had to move when she was sixteen because her father’d gone bankrupt and her mum, grandma, and Aunt Lucille hadn’t wanted to stay in the same country as him, so they moved to England. Mrs. Archer’s husband had died six years ago, when they’d been married a good thirty years. They got married when she twenty-two and he was twenty-four, so she was fifty-eight right then. She’d wanted to be a teacher since she was four years old, and she made her life after her husband died revolve around being a good teacher. And she was one. 

‘Fate! Good morning. How are you doing?’ She said the first two greetings happily, then on the question, she remembered that Fate’s parents were dead and she just found out. 

‘I’m fine, thank you.’ Fate replied. Fate was actually quite early, no other students were in the class, and she felt a bit uncomfortable being in there with just Mrs. Archer. It wasn’t as though Archer was a female pedophile or anything, just that she had an unrecognised habit of asking people very direct, inappropriate questions, such as, ‘Are you on your period today? You must remember to shower when you’re on your period, girls! If you don’t you end up smelling like the boys!’ Most of the students would laugh, although they all secretly were cringing. Fate was never told about periods or any of those things, so she just got on with her work and didn’t think anything of it. 

‘Are you sure you’re doing okay?’ Archer persisted. She’d been very close with her parents, and it was unthinkable and impossible, in her mind, to find out that your parents are dead at six years old, in a foreign country, with almost no actual notion of what ‘dead’ really means, just that they weren’t anywhere anymore. 

‘Yes, Mrs. Archer. Are you doing okay? I noticed that you’re not wearing your stockings today, perhaps they’re squeezing your legs too much?’ Mrs. Archer was actually in great shape, especially for her age. She just looked down at her legs, and grimaced back at the chalkboard where she was writing things about analytical thinking while reading a text. 

‘Right,’ she muttered. ‘Well, did you get the homework done?’

‘Just about. I’m going to finish it up now, alright?’ Fate replied.

‘Right. Perfect. Carry on then.’ 

Fate and Mrs. Archer continued to work in silence except for the tapping of the pencil and chalk. After about forty-five of that, people started filing into the classroom. 

Fate sat on the right of a girl named Cassandra Pound, which was kind of ironic because she was basically a pencil. Cassandra Pound was twelve years old, but she was turning thirteen on 14 December, which was the Monday that Christmas holiday started. It was an odd length for a Christmas holiday, but it ended on 11 January. That’s four weeks off, in case you don’t have a calendar for that year handy. 

Fate sat to the left of a boy named Jeremy Case, who was from Ireland and was fourteen because he started school two years late. He was constantly trying to get the prettiest girls in the class to talk to him, but only a couple did: Lady Mira, who was in Fate’s maths class; June Lumibaw, who was from the Philippines, and wasn’t observant enough to notice that Jeremy only talked to her because she was pretty and he wanted to make out with her; and Annie Carter, who was rumoured to have slept with a boy in Year 10, Jonathan Bosh. Jeremy would only every two to eight days notice that there was an Indian six-year old sitting in between him and Cassandra, who was regarded by most as one of the prettiest in Year 7 that year. Cassandra was always noticing Fate, though, and would frequently check on her and ask did she need help, or did she need a pencil, or was Jeremy bothering her or something neutral yet considerate like that. 

When the whole class of thirty people had gone in, Mrs. Archer started the class:

‘Good morning, all! How are we doing today?’ She would always start the class with that question and the person who could come up with the most creative, funny or just plain interesting question in the least amount of time didn’t get homework that day, and Mrs. Archer always gave homework. Fate never put up her hand. Except for that day:

‘F-Fate? You-You have a question?’

Fate stood up.

‘No, Mrs. Archer, I have an answer.’ She said this in a very loud, proud, brave voice that made a lot of the people turn round and careen for a look at the tiny six-year-old invading their year. 

‘All-all right. Let’s hear it then.’ 

‘Today, I found out my parents are dead, and I’m wondering when my brother and sister, Dakshi and Hamsa, will be ringing the school to tell Finch that they were eaten by my brother Danvir’s pet teenaged crocodile. Danvir’s pet crocodile is named Lukban, after the Filipino girl he had a crush on who he saw every day for three years at the watering hole. Lukban will eventually get eaten by Tamanna’s pet king cobra snake, who she found in a little alcove in the basement of our slum house. So, today I’m doing particularly well.’ 

The class wasn’t sure whether she was serious or whether she was just trying to get no homework, so none of them said anything or moved or breathed. 

 

‘Right.’ Mrs. Archer muttered. ‘Well. No homework for you then.’ Fate sat back down, looking smug, but inside feeling as though she was going to cry any second. 

 

Chapter Five

 

‘So, you’re really going to stay with us until you’re done at school?’ Charlotte whispered across the gap between her and Fate’s beds.

‘I don’t know. I didn’t really get a chance to say no, so I think I have to.’ Fate whispered back. There was still some light from the moon outside, above their skylight, which made it possible for Fate to see Charlotte’s face look dejected. ‘Not that it’s a bad thing, or that I don’t want to, but, you know, with the circumstances and all, it’s not like I’m going to run around jumping and whooping with joy, right?’ Charlotte’s face cheered up a bit. 

 ‘Right.’ 

 

That was the night before all the students left for Christmas holiday. Charlotte woke with the sun, but Fate was awake about an hour before her, which was about five-thirty in the morning. She wasn’t in her bed, or under anyone else’s bed, or in the toilets, or in the nearest corridors. Charlotte was getting worried, when she looked out of the skylight and saw Fate sitting on the roof outside the window, whistling to the birds. Charlotte opened the window and crawled out. 

‘What are you doing out here, Fate? If Matron comes to check on us for breakfast, then we’ll get into trouble.’ Fate turned her head round to look at her friend, and gave her a stare that said, ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘What?’ Charlotte asked, not realising what Fate was trying to communicate without speaking. 

‘I’m not going to breakfast and I don’t care about the matron. Not today.’ Fate said. 

‘Well—What? What do you mean you’re not coming to breakfast? Matron’ll have your head on a stick if she finds either one of us out here. And why ‘not today’? What’s so special about today?’ 

‘Today’s the day that my village lost it’s money two years ago. I was four. I remember it all. The angry screams in the streets, if you could call them that, the shop owners trying to shout that their store had gone out of business a week ago over the babble of their confused and yelling customers, Nagini and Geet arguing over why the factory’d fired him. It was a horrible day.’

’So? It was two years ago. And you’re not even there anymore. It’s over.’ Charlotte said.

‘It’s not over. It’ll never be over. Because three days ago, I got a letter from my sister in Austria saying that she got a letter from my brother in Mumbai saying that my father had been killed because he’d refused to sell the grain he’d been growing. He wouldn’t sell it because it wasn’t ready yet. And my mother was killed because she’d tried to hold a homemade foods sale to raise money for the school, but nobody thought that the school was that worthy of a cause. So, they got their guns and shot her in the head. And the chest. And the stomach. Thirteen times. My father got a much less violent, gory death: he had poison in his tea and died in his sleep that night. It’s not over. Because the people of Khaderi are still reeling from the loss of the money and most of them live in the hills of the slums. It’s not over, Charlotte. So, today I’ve decided that I’m going to go into the forest and never come out.’ The school grounds were surrounded by dense forest and some acres of field or corn or wheat crop every now and again. 

‘Fate, that’s ridiculous. You can’t go into the forest and never come back. You’ll starve. Or be beaten to death by a wild beast. Come on, I think I hear Alice and Mary talking. They’ll be wondering where we are. Come on.’ Charlotte said. 

‘No. You go on. I’ll be in soon.’ Fate replied. 

At night, before, even in the rain and the snow and the freezing, freezing cold, Fate would sneak out the window and lay down on the roof and whisk herself away down the fire ladder and she’d lay down in the tall grass in the lacrosse field and stare at the stars and the moon and the tiny, tiny planets that looked like red mosquito bites. Nobody ever knew that she did that. They just knew that she got up early and went to bed late. They never knew where she went. 

 

‘Charlotte!’ A red-haired woman wearing a long, grey coat with rubber wellingtons and a weird-looking woollen hat with a purple pom-pom and different colour patches on it called to Fate and Charlotte at the end of the school drive. ‘Charlotte! I’m here!’ Charlotte pointed the woman out to Fate and they walked along to the black Lincoln. ‘Hi. Fate?’ Fate nodded solemnly. Her plan to live in the woods had been foiled when she’d never actually gone down to breakfast and Matron was doing her room-checks and then she wasn’t in the food hall, so she called the safety monitor to get her down from the roof. ‘Great to have you. How you doing? I’m Charlotte’s mum. Are those all your clothes? Well, we’ll have to do something bout that, won’t we? You can call me J. Back or front, Charlie?’ J said to Fate and Charlotte. 

‘Mmm, back. With Fate.’ Charlotte replied, smiling warmly at Fate, only to be met with a stone-cold glare. J opened the door to the back of the car, and they both got in, grateful for the warm seats and blankets in the middle-seat storage compartment. It had been a cold, overcast December day, perfect for Fate’s mood. 

‘So, Fate, you’re from India, right?’ J said as they started their hour and a half drive through the countryside. 

‘Mmh-hmm.’ Fate replied. 

‘Right. What state?’ J asked. 

‘Madhya Pradesh.’ Fate replied. She was trying not to talk so that she wouldn’t be asked the question she’d been asked about a million times since she’d gotten to England: are you really from India? You don’t sound it. 

‘Charlie tells me you’re in the higher year classes, right?’ J said.

‘Yep.’ Fate said. She was really wishing that J would stop being nice and polite to her like she was a friend of hers and just turn her eyes to the road for the rest of the drive so that Fate could look out the window and contemplate her predicament. 

‘Well, that’s great then.’ J seemed to unconsciously create a strained look on her face, as she was trying to think what else she could ask this mysterious super-smart Indian girl who her daughter’d been assigned to watch over. ‘Hmm.’ She didn’t seem to have anymore questions in here, so they kept driving, and nobody talked after that. 

Fate had heard about Charlotte’s family and out-of-school upbringing; Charlotte had made it seem like her family, because they were rich, were elite and high-class, but, to Fate, for a high-class family, Charlotte’s mum at least seemed pretty weird. The only thing that alluded to their wealth was the Lincoln J’d shown up driving. 

 

After the hour and a half drive through the countryside, they pulled up to a large, what looked like four-storey yellow-brick house, with cobblestones on the drive. J got out of the front and opened the back door for the girls. Fate almost didn’t realise that J had opened the door for her because she was so consumed with the house. There was a fountain with a white stone peacock in the middle of the round drive, and a lion rearing back to attack on both sides of the entrance to the house. There was a rooftop balcony that looked to weave round the whole exterior of the house. There were great, tall evergreen trees around the house, and some large oaks and ashes and birches as well. 

‘Come on, girls. We’ll have some lunch, then you can go to the lake, how about, Charlotte?’ J asked Charlotte as she scrambled out of the car. Fate stood behind the car, still in awe of the magnificent house. 

‘Come on, Fate.’ Charlotte, said locking her arm into Fate’s. They skipped along behind J into the house. 

They stepped into the large, pearly white front foyer, and they were greeted with yelling and a bombardment of random items thrown at them. Fate just recoiled and held up her hands to shield her face. 

‘Boys! Stop it! Stop! Charlie! James! Gideon! Stop it! Stop, stop, stop!’ J shouted as a bunch of little boys ran around the girls’ and J’s legs, still yelling. 

‘Oi! Is that any way to greet your sister home?’ Cried an older, taller boy. He looked about eleven or ten, and was wearing a tailcoat and a white bowtie with black slacks and pink socks. 

‘Oh, Humphrey. How are you doing, dear boy?’ J said, hugging the older boy, Humphrey to her side. 

‘I’m fine, Mother. Is this the Indian girl?’ Humphrey asked J. 

‘Humphrey! Her name is Fate.’ Charlotte scolded him. 

‘Hello, Fate. Pleased to make your acquaintance.’ Humphrey said, holding out his hand for her to shake. She didn’t take it, so he gently patted her shoulder with his white-gloved hand. 

He looks like an English child-butler in training. Fate thought. And he really, really did. 

An older man carrying a baby in soft pants and no shirt came out from the other side of the staircase. 

‘Boys!’ The man exclaimed. ‘Stop it!’ He said, addressing the younger boys still running around the hall. They looked up and ran up the stairs. There were four of them, all about four or three years old. Two of them were blonde and carrying foam swords, and the other two were brown-haired and were holding soiled socks balled up in their hands. ‘Hi, J!’ The man said, leaning down to kiss J on the lips. ‘Hey, Charlotte. Pleased to meet you, Fate.’ The man addressed them all in turn. The man was very tall, and was wearing flared, extremely worn blue jeans, a plain navy T-shirt, and no shoes. He had messy brown hair and had just the hint of a beard on his jaw. ‘I’m Sidney. You can call me Siddy, though, like Charlotte does, if you want.’ Sidney went on. ‘You’re just in time for lunch. It’s bangers and mash, toad-in-the-hole, chips and turkey and orange juice. That’s okay, right, Fate?’ Fate nodded, looking forward to tasting his food. The cooks at the school rotated on a weekly schedule, so every week the food tasted different, and a lot of the time it wasn’t quite so good as other times. Fate hoped that Sidney’s food tasted good. Or, at least, edible-tasting. Sidney led the group into a large kitchen, with a long, rectangular table with ten chairs and a high chair sitting at it, all willy-nilly. ‘Boys! Lunch!’ Sidney called in the direction of the stairs. He sat the baby down at the high chair and then went to the counter, and brought to the table a few large plates, with bangers and mash, toad-in-the-hole, chips and turkey. He then brought over a large pitcher of fragrant orange juice. He put plates and forks in front of everyone, and glasses, and then put a knife in front of him, J, Charlotte, Fate and Humphrey. ‘Okay, dig in!’ He said as the younger boys came roaring down the stairs and all jumped into the chairs. Fate was unsure about taking their food, as always, but nobody noticed her hesitation, so she assumed that it was fine to eat. 

She took some of the toad-in-the-hole, and the turkey and put it on her plate. She started to peel the turkey skin from the meat, and took a bite with it in her hand. Then she ate the toad-in-the-hole and took chips and more turkey. Then some bangers and mash. Then more chips. And more turkey. Then she swallowed all of the orange juice in her glass. She sat back in her chair and sighed in contentment. 

The rest of the people at the table were still eating, but Humphrey noticed that she was done and stared at her over his turkey and chips. She stared back at him. 

 

‘Good, yes?’ Humphrey asked, patting his white cloth napkin across his mouth and chin. Fate nodded. And it was good. 

 

Chapter Six

 

Skipping forward to Christmas Day:

Fate had been keeping to her school habits, and the Adamses had a forty-acre plot of land, so she’d wake up, put on the clothes that they’d gotten her to replace her old, stained, tattered ones from India, and climbed down the ladder outside of her window to the ground. 

It was the same that Christmas Day.

Fate had woken up with the sun, and, although she had realised that something significant was going on, due to her being on holiday, and the younger boys’ attitudes of excitement getting bigger and bigger as it neared that day, she still had no idea what ‘Christmas’ actually was. So, she went about her schedule as usual. She climbed down the ladder, jumped off from the second rung, and walked through the dewy grass to the forest. 

She had made a little cave about a quarter-mile down the footpath, out of twigs and branches and grasses and leaves, where she could sit and observe whatever was going on around her without disturbing the animals and their natural behaviours. That day, she went on her normal route to the cave. But when she got there, it wasn’t unoccupied, as it usually was. She could hear a pretty whistling from the cave, and she could see black in the cracks between the twigs and branches and grasses. She ran up to the cave. 

‘Hey! What’re you doing in my cave!’ Fate shouted. The whistling stopped and gasp came. The person exited through the small hole in the bottom of the cave ‘wall’. It was Humphrey. Humphrey had only been seen for the last couple of weeks at supper and at that first lunch. He’d become a subject of elusiveness, especially to Fate and Charlotte. Sometimes, they’d lurk outside his room and wait for him to come out or go in, but they only saw him once, and as soon as he noticed them, he went back into his room with a bit of a startled expression. Fate had never seen him on her morning walks before, so this time it was her turn to be startled by his presence. ‘What’re you doing here?’ Fate said, less defensive and aggressive now. 

‘This is your’s?’ Humphrey said, referring to the cave. 

‘Yes. I’d think that if there was a homeless person living on your land then somebody would have let you know.’ Fate replied. 

‘Well. I’m sorry then. Shall I go? I’ll go.’ Humphrey said, and started to leave.

‘No, that’s okay. You can stay. I can make it bigger for both of us to fit. You can help me. Go climb that ash tree over there and grab some leaves and some branches. I’ll go to the river and get some big stones.’ Humphrey looked bewildered. 

‘Uh..’ He called out to Fate’s retreating back. 

‘Ah?’ Fate called out back, turning around. 

‘I don’t know…’ The rest of what he said was too quite for her to hear.

‘What?’ She called. 

‘I don’t know how to climb trees!’ He said, louder. 

‘Oh. Well, then I can teach you. Come on.’ She said, leading him to the ash tree she’d pointed to. ‘So, here’s your first foothold.’ She said, slapping a tiny, but thick branch near the base of the tree. ‘Put your left foot there.’ She said. He didn’t move. ‘What?’ 

‘I’m-I’m… Scared. I’m scared of taller heights. I don’t want to.’ Humphrey said timidly.

‘Oh, well, okay. I’ll do it. You go to the river and get four big stones, okay? There’s a basket in the badger hole by the oak. Okay? Is that okay?’ Fate said. Humphrey nodded, disappointed that he couldn’t comply with her request. But he went to the badger hole and got the basket and then went to the river and started to fill up the basket with the four big stones. He came back in thirty minutes with the stones in the basket. Fate was lying on the pine needles and a pillow of her blue-grey sweater under her head. Her eyes were closed. She sat up when she heard him, though. 

‘Are these okay?’ Humphrey asked, putting the basket on the forest floor. 

‘Yes, they’re great.’ Fate answered, taking the basket and she started to take apart one wall of the cave. She took the stones and propped the wall in between two of the stones. She did the same for the opposite wall. Then she gathered the twigs and branches she’d collected from the trees and started to weave them together with birch bark she’d cut from an old silver birch tree. With the other twigs and things she’d collected, she connected the new wall with the other part of the old wall, and continued to extend the height of the cave, so that they could both stand up comfortably in it. She moulded the twigs and branches and bark so that there was an opening in the bottom of the North-West wall. She then took leaves, moss and grasses she’d found around the ground and trees and rocks and stuffed it into the openings in the walls and the ‘roof’, if you could call it that. 

‘There. Done.’ Fate said, stepping back to survey her work. ‘Great. Do you want to go in now?’ She asked him. Humphrey nodded, and he wriggled in through the opening. She wriggled in after him. 

She stood up in the cave and looked up at the sky and the trees that towered over fifty feet above her. He stood up behind her looked up too. They both looked up, and he put his hand on her shoulder, and they were good there. And they were serene. 

 

Ten Years Later

 

‘Hi!’ I called as I entered the Adams’ house, almost exactly the same as it was ten years ago, except that as I entered I was greeted by a glance from Humphrey and a hug from Charlotte and a hug and another hug from Sidney and J, respectively. ‘Charlotte! How’s the fella doing?’ 

 

Charlotte and I were now sixteen, and we’d both done our GCSEs and had gotten good marks. Charlotte was thinking about going to med school, but wasn’t entirely sure about it. And I was enrolled in a visual arts program and had already sold four paintings at the gallery I’d contracted to. Charlotte had a boyfriend, and I was secretly in love with a someone who you’ll find later. Charlotte’s boyfriend was in auto mechanics college, named Carter Jeffrey. We’d stayed friends with each other, and Charlotte looked a lot less stern from afar than she did that first day. 

On Charlotte’s family: Humphrey was now twenty, and an e-book author on a site called Smashwords.  He mostly wrote apocalyptic-romantic-literary-fiction and fictional literary novels that almost completely revolved around the meaning of this colour and type of flower or that colour and type of flower. Her two sets of twin brothers, Ash and Charlie and James and Gideon were now thirteen and twelve, respectively. The youngest one, Paxton, was now ten years old and a violin and piano prodigy. J was now a fashion designer but she was always at home, and managed her design company online and through post. Sidney was now the assistant editor of a magazine called Sane Publications which published poetry and short stories once a month. 

Every year since that first Christmas, I had lived with Charlotte’s family on holidays and whenever I had to. I wasn’t exactly a sister, more like a friend of the family who’d been around a while. 

 

‘Oh, he’s fine. Quite fine.’ Charlotte replied to me with a mischievous smile on her lips. I returned her smile as we walked round the back of the house and went through to the backyard. We locked arms and kept on walking. ‘So, any special fellas catching your eye, dear Fate?’ 

‘Maybe.’ I said softly, smiling to myself. 

‘Oooh, do tell.’ Charlotte said. I had never had any boyfriends and Charlotte would have known if I was lesbian, so this confession was intriguing. 

‘No. I-I don’t think he likes me back.’ I replied. 

‘Oh! Well, you really oughta make a move, you know, just to be sure. Right? It couldn’t hurt.’ Charlotte persisted. 

‘Mm. I dunno. Maybe.’ I said. We’d established a little hangout spot on the other side of the woods near Long Leg Lake, which we’d dubbed because when you walked around it about a million times, you started to get a pretty clear picture of how it actually looks, and, to me and Charlotte, it looked like an unnaturally long leg, so Long Leg Lake. Anyway, that’s where we were headed to now. It was a surprisingly hot day for early summer in England, so we’d put on their swimming costumes under their dresses and brought towels in a small bag and proceeded to go to our spot for swimming. 

When we got to Long Leg Lake, we were shocked to see a whole bunch of fairly young men swimming only in their pants. We saw a shadow dart out from the trees behind them, and then Charlotte recognised a familial face while I shrank back into a tree hollow. 

‘Humphrey!’ Charlotte exclaimed at her oldest brother. ‘What are you doin’ here?’ Humphrey just stared past Charlotte at me, while I was trying desperately to avoid his eyes, and to make myself smaller inside the hollow tree trunk. ‘Humphrey! Answer me!’ 

‘What?’ Humphrey said from behind his shaggy brown hair and square spectacles. 

‘What… Are… You… Doing… Here?’ Charlotte said patronisingly. 

‘Oh, um, my-my friends… They… invited me.’ Humphrey said softly. He still had his eyes on me, but Charlotte was so preoccupied with what her plan was to get the boys to go away so she and I could swim in peace that she didn’t notice where he was looking. 

‘Right. Can you get them to go away?’ Charlotte said. 

‘Hm?’ Humphrey said, pulling his eyes away from me to look at Charlotte. 

‘Ugh, never mind. Come on, Fate. Let’s go to Jumper’s Pond.’ Charlotte said, glancing at me and picking up the bag with our towels in it. I walked around a fallen log and the fire pit and followed Charlotte, keeping my head down all the while. I could feel Humphrey’s eyes on me as I walked, and I wanted to turn back, but I didn’t. 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

I’d snuck out at four in the morning a couple of days after we went to Jumper’s Pond, to try and get away from Charlotte’s constant inquiries into my secret crush, but I’d vowed that I wouldn’t tell her until I had to. It wasn’t that I was ashamed of it, not at all, but that I was worried how she’d react once I told her. Charlotte could be very unpredictable at times, especially when she was told unpredictable news that she hadn’t even guessed was going to happen. 

I climbed down the ladder from my greyish-blue bedroom. It’d been a clear night, so the moon provided me a very small amount of light, but other than the moon, I could barely see a thing. 

I knew the land almost like the back of my hand, except there was that one birthmark that on some days looked really dark, and on others very pale, almost unseeable, in no particular pattern. So, there was a little bit of a thing that I didn’t know at all. But I knew my way to the lake, and I’d brought a candle and matches, just in case. And I’d brought a candle instead of a flashlight because Charlotte’s family, for some extremely bizarre reason, never ever had any flashlights. Ever. So. Off I went in the almost blackness of night, to the lake for a super-early morning swim in the dark. 

I got to the lake in fine shape, and I took off my dress and flops and waded into the bank. The water was warm, which almost never happened in that lake, or most lakes, as I knew then. I’d learned to swim at the watering hole in India at Geet and Hamsa’s insistence, so I was fine with going underwater at the lake. I floated on my back for a few moments, before I dived underwater, and notice a shape in the distance of the water. I didn’t think anything of it at the time; probably just a big trout looking for worms or something. I came back up from my fairly deep dive, and just did little twirls in the water when I heard a splash near me. Not so near that I could see what - or who - it was, just near enough that I could make the judgment that it was near. Then I felt the kind of weird-jelly-water feeling when there’re human waves around you, presumably being made by a human swimming underwater, and then… 

Humphrey appeared right up by my face, sopping wet, no glasses, and the smell of lake and the faintest hint of Indian cigarettes on him. I was completely surprised, I didn’t say anything or move, and I barely breathed. There was just the sound of the forest all around us. Birds were chirping and you could hear the wind in the trees, and the sounds of the wilderness waking up. And we just stood in the shallow water and stared into each other for a few minutes, and then he took the plunge and kissed me, passionately, and I wrapped my hands around his neck and kissed him back. And we just kissed and kissed for what felt like way too short and then he pulled his head back and looked at me, and then sun was just starting to peek out now, and then I remembered that I wasn’t even wearing a swimming costume but I didn’t actually care because I’d felt like I was in love with him since I was fourteen, and he kissed me and he touched me and he liked me, too. 

‘Is this real?’ He whispered. 

‘I don’t know.’ I whispered back. ‘If it isn’t, who cares?’ He smiled and kissed me again. I was the one to pull back this time, and he sighed, and smiled and we dove under the water and kissed again and again and it all felt surreal, like the feeling you have when you just wake up and you can remember your dream of your crush kissing you and then you’re not entirely sure if it was a dream or not. Then the sun came up fully, and I heard J and Sidney calling my name and I said that I had to go, but he pulled me back and we kissed again, and I tore myself away and I put on my dress and flops again and walked away, trying not to look back at him, my heart still pounding like a bulldozer in my chest. I hoped that J and Sidney wouldn’t notice my flushed cheeks. 

 

I didn’t see Humphrey for three weeks after that. He became the elusive creature you had to get a telescope with 1 000 times magnification to even get a fleeting glimpse of that me and Charlotte had known when we were six years old. 

Then one afternoon when Charlotte was out I’d lit a fire even though it was 21 degrees Celsius outside, and I was lying on  a white and cream rug beside the fire with Wuthering Heights in one hand, upside down, and another copy in the other hand, right side up, Humphrey came tramping inside in Wellingtons and a black rain coat, with two friends I’d never seen before behind him, talking and laughing. I looked away before any of them had noticed me looking. I’d been wearing a short-ish sundress that, I suppose, had ridden up some, because I heard the two other guys saying ‘oooooooohhhhh’ to Humphrey and him saying ‘shut up she’s just my sister’s friend.’ And then I heard one of the guys say, in a taunting voice, ‘Then why’s she not with your sister, eh?’ And then they went into Humphrey’s library and closed the door tight. 

I’d felt like I was going to cry right then because of how Humphrey had said, ‘just my sister’s friend.’ The way that he had kissed me was so… passionate, I mean not like, tonsil hockey or anything, but … Loving. The way that he’d kissed me was as though he’d been trying to say to me, ‘I’ve been waiting for this.’ And that kiss, those kisses… They made me believe that he had been waiting for it, as I had been. So, I blinked my tears away and I thought about why he’d say that I was just Charlotte’s friend. Firstly, our potential relationship was legal. I was sixteen. He was twenty. So, it was legal. Wasn’t it? That’s what they’d taught us in the unit in relationships relating to politics in … Whatever that class was called. Secondly, he could have said that because of his friends’ personalities, like, maybe they were the types to make serious fun of him for dating anyone. Not just someone that was sixteen, but anyone. Thirdly, it could have been because he didn’t want his parents or Charlotte to find out he was interested in me because of how they might react. J and Sidney, I could almost guarantee you, would be fine with it, but Charlotte was another matter entirely. She could, at first second, be like, ‘Yeah, sure, whatever, I don’t give a crap, as long as you both are happy, right?’ Then in a weeks’ time she could explode at Humphrey or me for not telling her that we were interested in each other, or something stupid like that, and then we would say that what she was doing was why we didn’t tell her, which would make her go to the wine cellar and steal Sidney’s oldest, finest wine that he got from a vintage wine shop in ’74 and he was saving for when he got promoted to primary editor at the magazine or something. (Which she’d done a version of when we were both fourteen and a boy, Colin P-something, had dumped her on the day of the New Year’s party where she was planning to lose her virginity to him. Luckily, she ended up losing it to Carter Jeffrey at the party we’d thrown behind J and Sidney’s backs while they were off and away doing something or other, because Carter was actually a really good guy.) 

I’d been thinking through all of this with my eyes closed, and by the time I came to the conclusion that he was worried about Charlotte’s reaction, the sun had gone down, and the fire was only a tiny flame that went out as I opened my eyes, and Humphrey was sitting in the cushion-y chair, looking at me and doing something on a piece of paper in his lap. The light was dim, but I could see that he was holding something like charcoal in his hand, and I could hear the sound of it on the paper, so I assumed he must have been drawing something. I opened my mouth to say, ‘What are you drawing?’ but he put a finger up to silence me and continued drawing for about ten minutes.

Then he said, ‘I was drawing you. I felt bad. I’m sorry.’ He said. He must have been outside a lot since I’d last really seen his hair, which was now a dirty blond, which I happened to know was what happened to almost every boy’s hair in their family during a sunny summer. 

 

He held out the piece of off-white paper to me, where my face was resting, with my eyes open and looking at him and my hair, which was really long and wavy now, fanning out about my face and my hands resting on my books and my face was exactly as it was in real life. I took it from him, and then placed it on the pillow I’d been resting my head on, and jumped on top of him and kissed him and tangled my hands in his hair, and I felt him touch my waist and my hips and my waist again, and then we heard a door open and close somewhere in the house and I jumped back down to the floor and he took the drawing and then went into the kitchen and started up the blender. I felt my face flushed again, and, for the second time that Summer, I hoped that nobody noticed. 

 

Chapter Eight

 

I was laying in Charlotte’s bed one night, and it was late, but I still had the lamp on because I was reading Romeo and Juliet for the eighteenth time in two years, which was a lot for me, when Charlotte turned onto her back, and she turned her head to face me and she said, ‘Is it Humphrey?’ And I said, ‘Is what Humphrey?’ as I put my bookmark in my page. ‘Is the guy you mentioned on one of the first days back here who you maybe liked Humphrey?’ and I said back, ‘If it was, how would you react?’ And she said, ‘I’d give you a hug and kiss and jump on the bed until you told me why you hid it from me. So is it?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And she gave me a hug and a kiss and jumped on the bed and rolled me up in her grandma’s wool blanket from forever ago and twirled me around and kissed me again. I was really hoping that this was her reaction as long as we were together. And she asked me the questions she felt obligated to ask me, as I was technically her sister-in-law, in her mind at least, such as, ‘When did he tell you? Or did you tell him? Have you kissed? How far’s he got yet?’ And then as I was thinking up my answers, she said, ‘Do you love him?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. Maybe. But I can’t tell him that yet. It’s too soon.’ And she said, ‘Well, I would’ve known that had you answered my questions!’ And she started to jump on her arse on the bed as I laughed slightly and told her the answers. 

 

J and Sidney saw that there was something going on, but, as they’d never asked Charlotte anything about her private affairs, as J liked to call them when she thought me and Charlotte or me and Humphrey or me and Humphrey and Charlotte and Carter weren’t listening, I didn’t expect J to leave a package of condoms on my night-table the night they were leaving for Paris for Fashion Week, or something. Even worse, the package had a note that said, ‘—J and Siddy’ sellotaped on it. I asked Charlotte and she said that J had given her her own package when she’d told her that she was with Carter face-to-face and she said that I was lucky that I got a package with a note on my night-table instead of a red face and an embarrassed hand. 

That night, the night that J and Sidney left for Paris, Charlotte went over to Carter’s house, and the younger boys were all at friends’ houses until they came back, which was in two weeks, after the boys went back to school. Humphrey slipped a note under my bedroom door that said, ‘Olly-olly-given-me-can-I-catch-you, well we will see’ in handsome, old-fashioned script on yellow notepaper. He’d taken to doing odd things such as these when no-one else was home. They’d established a spot to meet, and whoever got to the spot first decided where they went that time. I raced to the spot, without shoes on, in one of solid-colour sundresses, a pretty, deep purple one that time, and I got there about ten seconds before he did. 

‘Ah!’ He exclaimed when he saw me. He had a bag over his chest, a messenger bag, which is what I assumed had slowed him down. Usually, he’d have gotten there like ten minutes before me. He put his hands on his knees and panted while I leaned on a tree with a smug smile on my face for a few moments. Then he stood up and said, ‘Okay, where do you wanna go?’ And I said,’I want you to choose this time.’ 

I think that I should mention that it was quite late right then, but there was a full moon, which provided us light, and J’d gotten a builder to out lamp-lights across some of the footpaths because she knew that we liked to go out at night. And that it was my birthday in two hours when he’d gotten there. I was going to be seventeen. I hadn’t been expecting anyone to do anything special, because, as long as I’d been there, I refused birthday celebrations, and it became a tradition for me not to have birthday celebrations. But, of course, Humphrey had exceeded expectations, as always. 

‘Right this way, then.’ He said, holding his arm out, for me, reverting slightly back to the odd-English-child-butler-in-training I’d first known him as. I’m going to mention how he was dressed, so that you know what to imagine in your mind as you read this night’s tale: he was wearing green flops, a pair of dark jeans, and a hunter green T-shirt with a beaded bracelet I think Charlotte made him before I knew her. A little on his face: he had a strong jawline, quite a bit of actual man-stubble, blue eyes, his skin was quite tan by then, and he had oddly-striped square glasses on. Better? I hope so. 

He led me through a footpath lit by old-fashioned lamp-lights that I’d never been down before, to a quarry that seemed to literally sparkle in the moonlight. He stopped at the edge to the drop of quarry, that seemed to continue down into stone stairs, and I could hear water running somewhere close, and then he opened the messenger bag, which was actually looking quite full, and pulled out a large red blanket, a bottle of champagne from ’91, and a little woven purse that looked quite full, too. He put the champagne and the purse down beside him, and unfolded the blanket, then spread it out on the ground. He took off his flops, and motioned for me to sit down on the blanket as he did. I did so and he grabbed the champagne and the purse, and opened the cork on the bottle. Then he stood up.

‘My dear, dear Fate,’ he began in his best stuffy-English-child-butler-in-training voice. ‘How long we have known what hasn’t become of us yet, but here we are in a beautiful quarry, lit by moonlight, all by our lonesomes. I have wanted to tell you the things I am about to say for a very long time now,’ his voice went back to normal as he continued his speech, holding the champagne high above his head. ‘I’ve wanted to tell you that you’re as beautiful as beautiful can be. More beautiful than the Mona Lisa, than the Girl With the Pearl Earring, than even my mother Jodie, on the outside, and the in. I’ve wanted to tell you that I think I love you, and I want to be with you for as long as you’ll have me without complaint. I’ve wanted to tell you that I’m probably in love with you, and I probably have been since you were thirteen and I was seventeen, the same age that you’ll be in..’ He checked his watch on his left hand. ‘One minute, thirty seconds. But I’ve always been so scared: that you’ll say that I’m disgusting and you wish I would go away; about what J and Sid would say; especially about what Charlotte would say. But now, all of my fears have been quelled, abolished, have dispersed for some other poor love-struck young man to have to hold onto. And, now, my dear, dear Fate, I wanted to make a toast: to us, to Charlotte not biting my head off of my neck and spitting it out and feeding it to the dogs, or your’s either, to your new-found wisdom to be openly in love with someone, not just me, and to love. So, now I ask you: will you go steady with me?’ He said it so casually, as though he was asking his father to pass the peas.   Then he held the champagne out to me as if it was an engagement ring, and if I took it from his hands and took a swig, then I was saying yes. 

‘I will absolutely, completely…’ I kept my face completely neutral as I said that. The I smiled and said, ‘Go steady with you.’ I took the bottle and took a swig and raised it back for him to drink from. His face looked so happy, so, so happy, and he took a swig, and laughed and sat back down on the blanket. 

 

I laid down then and stared up at the night sky. It was a brilliantly clear, night. The sky as dark blue as dark blue could ever be around the moon, and the stars blinked and winked down at us, as though giving us their blessing. Humphrey laid down, too and we just laid down, occasionally passing the champagne between our hands and sitting up a bit to take a swig. And he eventually said, very timidly, cautiously, ‘Do you wanna… You know…’ He looked uncomfortable, but he stayed true to his gentlemanly ways until I jumped up and sat on top of him. I kissed him roughly at first, then it got more gentle and slow and I took off my dress and he took off his shirt, and then we took off all our clothes and put the cork back in the champagne bottle, and he kissed me and then he said, ‘You’re sure that this is okay, right?’ I kissed him again, and smiled as I did it, letting him know that it was absolutely okay. 

 

Chapter Nine

 

‘Everything goes to Sarah.’ Was my last sentence. 

 

‘Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?’ 

‘No. It was great.’ 

 

‘Fate says: it was great! Yaaaaaaahhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’  


© Copyright 2017 Drile Carey. All rights reserved.

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