Beautiful Insight

                  Beautiful Insight

                           by 

                     Carla Day

               CHAPTER ONE... Songbird

 

     Every now and then something catches your eye and makes you look. It doesn’t have to be beautiful of ugly or even particularly unusual and more often than not, you don’t know why, but your eyes are just drawn there.

     Today is exactly one on those days for me and what catches my eye is actually so life-changingly bonkers, I need to share it. It all starts after a shitty row with my boyfriend that has me marching off in a huff and walking until my legs tell me no more. I find myself sitting at a picnic table on a cliff top, on a cloudless sunny morning, looking out over a silver-streaked see. The slight nip in the air makes me shudder but helps clear the week’s build of cobwebs. The sea is serene and as my shoulders drop. I find myself no longer wanting to hurl crockery at my boyfriend and I lose myself in the seas pull.

     I sit for a whole ten minutes, soaking up the little bit of warmth that this spring morning has to offer face tilted to heaven. I close my eyes and listen to the gentle shushes of the shore line.

     I open them to a flutter which for a second I mistake for a butterfly, this makes me snap out of my sleepy state. I stare down and the weather beaten table to what I now see is something quite extraordinary. I sit perfectly still, my interest piqued, my eyes wide open.

     Almost cartoon like and very striking a delicate grape-sized bird sits, looking totally odd in its surroundings, it hops towards me on needle thin legs, its plump belly scraping the table. It’s feathers are still ruffled on what I can only describe as stumps. Turquoise and white stripes gleam a golden hugh under the high lemon sun. It regards me with opaque pale-blue eyes.  A beak no larger than a daisy petal opens and closes. We stare at each other, me in amazement and it with a peculiar curiosity as its head twitches from side to side. I daren’t move a muscle, I don’t want to scare it away and wish I had my camera.

 

     What happens next still has me puzzled? It’s little beak opens wide to reveal a row of pin-head sized razor-shape teeth and a magical sound flows out, unlike anything I have ever heard, a melody so tranquil it makes me sleepy. Shivers ripple in waves through my entire body and something odd happens. I smile, not like a pleasant on-your-face kind of smile but a deep from within smile. I feel peaceful. If I could bottle this feeling I have, that continues to cloak me in silk and fill me with warmth, I am sure I would be a very wealthy woman.

Without warning this tiny phenomenon disappears in a dash of blue and I wonder was it real?

I saunter back to my house with a new sense of calm, I feel freckles pop out over my nose and cheeks and a number jumps into my head – 15. I absent mindedly twist a lock of hair around my fingers and another number appears 5,223 and I know this is how many strands I am twisting. I listen to the birds with a new clarity, not just a group of twittering birds in a tree but a variety, each with a distinct sound, a chirp, a shrill, a clatter, a series of clicks and a song. A sticky sound makes me stop and look to the ground; I see a snail with caramel stripes on its shell is attempting to climb the twig of a bush stripped bare of leaves and falls on to its back. I flick it over, I’m sure it said thanks.  I notice the bright yellow flowers offer their scent of citrus and earth, I inhale so deeply my nostrils close.

 

By the time I reach the shiny red door of my red brick town house. I have been stripped of all my cares and worries. It has to be the bird.

     I bump into my still-grouchy boyfriend in the hall. He seems to be mouthing something to me but a pass him and fly up the stairs to boot up the lap top, planting a kiss on his bristly cheek as I go, I leave him mid sentence.

     I Google birds, small birds, turquoise birds, unusual birds and stunning birds, but my search is fruitless and again I wonder was it real? Still puzzling over its reality, I go down to the kitchen and pop the kettle on to make a brew. Mark appears in the doorway bowing his head standing with one hip down so he doesn’t hit his head and I wonder why he doesn’t step forward so he can stand up right. I laugh at myself.

     “Well?” He offers still frowning from this morning’s shouting match. I forgot, we argued over cooking tea for my in-laws something about catching salmonella from handling raw chicken and I openly laugh at how ridiculous it all seems now. I playfully roll my eyes. And reach over to ruffle his untouched bed hair.

“Well what lovely, fancy a brew?” I can tell by the way he opens his mouth and decides to close it again, he is bemused at how easily give up on the fight. He snatches his cuppa and retreats to the lounge, still contemplating whether he is ready to give up or wants to string it out.

    My mood has lifted, I feel strangely happy. My mind is crystal clear and razor sharp, any previous worries are now trivial and totally unimportant; in fact I don’t seem to remember them at all. I am absolutely focused and fuelled with energy to the point I almost want to dig out my running gear and break into a sprint along the seafront like Forest Gump and just keep on running. This is not how anybody I know would describe me, at all.

     You see I am a born worrier, I worry about spending money, having an accident, being disliked, dying, contracting germs from other peoples toilets and  sharing lollipops and ice creams is a definite no-no. Practically everything concerns me, it always has. My crease frowns are permemantly etched into my forehead, way before their years. I drive myself nuts, if I weren’t so untidy I would be convinced I have OCD, but no, sadly just a scatty worry head.

     Today my in laws are coming for a sleepover and tea, I love them, my totally bonkers and eccentric in-laws. A lovely couple doesn’t really fit them, a bit odd maybe, a bit of the wall, yes, Normal, not by any means. Hillary, my slightly plump, herbal tea-drinking mother in law has torets and has to burp into her ample hand at least ten times a minute and has an impressive tick that can actually turn her neck almost 180 degrees, you have to see it to believe it. Ken, my six foot six twig of a father in law tends to remove his sock and enjoys scratching his right foot, even during mealtimes, sometimes wearing prink frilly pants, oh and did I mention they are both practising naturists?

I won’t allow this in my house I definitely won’t allow naked buttocks on my new dining room chairs, nor do I want to find my in laws pubes on my Egyptian cotton sheets. Apart from that they are utterly adorable and are free to roam around our private garden in the buff if they wish and they often do.

I need to create a totally marvellous dish for tonight as Hilary is a great cook and we are competitive in the kitchen arena, so I have to cook up a storm, grabbing my bag off the table, I shout to grouchy pants who is still sulking in front of the TV.

     “Off to get that chicken babes.” I chuckle as the door closes behind me.

      The supermarket is brimming with Saturday shoppers bumping and pushing, I find I glide through them with ease not in the least fazed by the tattooed woman who pushes past me and grabs the last trolley, her screaming snot-nosed child dragged behind her. I notice a lot of orange-tanned people and wonder what do they see when they look in the mirror, how could they not see they resemble pumpkin soup. A whole tribe of them are out in force today. With nails so long I notice one girl has to push the button on her phone with her nose, I laugh so loudly she turns to glare at through spider like lashes, as I hide behind the stack of water melons and pick up a lemon to sniff.

     I walk to the veg isle and notice something a bit out of the ordinary. I glance about me wondering if it’s a TV commercial or a publicity thing. It doesn’t seem so.

A tiny woman about three foot two inches to be precise with long purple hair that seems woven from wool rather than grown,  is standing on a pile of crates, reaching for a very unusual looking spouting green vegetable. It seems to be moving. I blink and blink again.

     “Why are they always at the top, what the blazes do these people think it’s funny, vertically challenged folk, shouldn’t be challenged?” She tuts and wags a spindly finger, standing on one tiptoe.

     No one is looking, I mean no one, you can’t help but see her, I scan the area but not a souls looks at her, in her velvet purple cloak. And pixie boots a face so wrinkled it would take an iron to sort it out. My mouth drops open.

     I approach her to ask if she needs help to which she turns so fast she loses her balance and crashes, crates, moving veg and all to the shiny floor. She manages to bag one before she looks at me, the others escape and scuttle off in different directions.

     “You can see me, holy shit, you can see me.” She shakes her head. Her accent is strange, like Irish, but not. She holds up a withered hand as if blocking a light and tilts her head away from me. I stand in amazement and want to touch her to see if she will disappear like the bird. I catch a glimpse of her violet eyes, they shine a laser of light to the floor as she turns her head and reaches into her woven bag for a pair of glasses that have a pearly sheen and places then on the bridge of her pig-like snout.

     “I suppose you are as shocked as me?” She steps closer and inspects my face; she places a cool hand on my bare arm.

“Mmmmm, Yes, you could say that, why can’t anyone else see you?” I don’t’ like the sensation, it’s cold and brings goose bumps to my skin. Two million and four all together.

     “You shouldn’t be able to either that damned bird, lord I’m in trouble now!”

     Before I can ask what that means she delves around in her woven bag and brings out a long thin purple stick, a bit like a twig of liquorish that’s been chewed at the edges with darker veins running through it.

“My name is Deryth and I need you not to see me, so I apologise for what I am about to do, I just hope I’m not too late.”

     Her voice seems too big for her childlike frame; she struggles to twist the twig in to a knot. She sucks at its frayed edges with lips that shrink into a small O. And she thrusts it under my chin as it glows and revealing veins that seem to pump life into it. It’s edges grow into to tendrils that reach up to my ears and eyes. I remember trying to brush it away, I feel myself slump to the floor and wake up in my bedroom at home head resting on plumped up white cotton-covered pillows and muffled voices rise from the kitchen.

     I can smell soup. I sense worry and not mine. Oh my god am I dying? Do I have a brain tumour, I remember the little lady and the running veg. But that’s about it until now. I hear the unmistakable thump of my mother in law as she comes up the stairs. The door bursts open and Hillary clad in a frilly apron and not much else is carrying a tray with a steaming-hot bowl of soup and what looks like an entire loaf of bread in one hand and a very full mug of lemon grass tea in the other.

“I do hope you are preggars dear, if not we’ve got serious problems. I used to faint with Mark.” She winks at me as if confirming she knows my secret even though I don’t have one.

She Perches on the end of creating a dip that makes me start to slip down toward her. I sit up feeling a bit dazed and push myself back up, my arms weak.

“Drink this, it does wonders.” She pushed it towards me.

Not the least bit hungry, I refuse the tea and soup. With no concern she is showing a heavily dimpled bum cheek, she leans to place the tray on the floor. I laugh as I shuffle up the bed again and rest my head on the headboard.

     “So, what happened poppet, dizzy spell, morning sickness, it’s all very normal?” I shake my head, it hurts. She tries to spoon feed me soup, I laugh again and push her hand away.

     “I knew it, off your food!”

     She jumps up and throws her hands in the air, her bingo wings flapping.

“I’m going to be a granny!” She squeals in an octave that makes me cover my ears, obviously delighted. She thumps back down the stairs. I have neither the energy, strength or will to shout after her, instead I sink into my pillows and try and remember what happened.

I hear smashing and presume that Mark was drinking tea, when he was miss informed of my none-existent pregnancy. I can’t help but smile. Kids are not on his wish list; at least I don’t think so. I can’t muster up the energy to go and correct her. The fact I can’t have children as last year’s tests proved is a well known fact, mark obviously didn’t tell his mum. Shit!

I hear Marks voice and my in-laws gasp as he delivers the news. More thumps bound up my narrow stairs and she stands in the doorway creating a big shadow across the wooden floor.

     “Oh pet, why didn’t you tell me?”

“You can always adopt you know, look at that Angelina Jolie woman, she has an entire brood from all over the place. It’s marvellous really.” She throws me a sympathetic look, flashing big blue eyes.

     “Always look on the bright side eh pet.” My adorable father in law pops his head around the door wearing much less than I am comfortable with.

     “Ken, what have I said about nudity in the house, you will give poor old Peggy next door a heart attack?” In truth Peggy is a sixty eight year old fruitcake, who would love to see Ken in pink frilly pants. They would probably match the pink lippy she wears that bleeds in to the wrinkles around her mouth.

He lifts his frilly apron and flashes said pink pants and grins at me.

“It’s so liberating Char, you should try it!” I shake my head giving up.

They perch either side of me now.

“What is it love, are you stressed?” Ken pats my hand and Hillary burps into hers and does a series of right turn head clicks.

     How do I begin to tell my eccentric, frilly knicker-wearing in laws that I saw a magic bird that sang magic, a purple haired vertically- challenged bag of wrinkles with lasers for eyes. who possibly put a spell on me. Even to me now, it sounds nuts.

“Just a dizzy spell.” I reply, knowing it wasn’t. Marc comes in and shoes his parents away, insisting I need my rest and sits on the edge of the bed

“Char are you going to tell me what’s going on, you have been in a complete daze lately.” He smoothes my hair back off my face. You didn’t even snap at me when I left socks on the bathroom floor?” He scratches his head looking concerned, arching his eyebrows. I notice a single grey hair sticking out of his right eyebrow and I reach over and pull it out.

     “What the fuck.” He slaps a hand over his eyebrow rubs it and laughs.

    “I can’t say for sure, I just think that life is too short to worry and argue, I can’t be bothered, it’s a new me.” He doesn’t buy it; I can see it in his eyes.

“But Char, worry is what you do, you always worry.  You’re the biggest stress head I know, something isn’t right love.” He looked nervous, maybe he thinks’ I’m having an affair or I’m ill, maybe I am, who the fuck sees weird shit like that. Marc sits with me until I drift off. Watching over me like a sick child.

     The morning brings bright sunshine and I feel surprisingly awake, my senses are alert I can smell Peggy’s bacon as it sizzles and spits on the grill, and the tea bag stewing in her pot. Sun streams through the window and I’m in the best mood. I feel stress free and alive. Marc keeps glancing at me and scratching his head as I stretch and pull on my joggers. I kiss him, close the door behind me and head out for the seafront. I wonder what’s next.

Chapter two - The cheese grater

I decide to go into the garden and plant the tray of geraniums that Ken gave to me – even though I think them an older persons flower, I prefer sweet peas and miniature roses. I fancy a bit of digging to tidy up the veg patch. I love my garden. It’s my sanctuary, it’s where I think. I push the spade into the soil with my purple-wellied foot, at the far corner of my garden, where the sun stays for longest and pull out all of the stray weeds that have crept back after last week’s efforts. I push the spade with gusto and my foot goes through the soil and down a hole and my spade disappears, I hear a sucking sound behind me.

I turn to see the purple haired woman just as peculiar looking as I remember her, eyes stick out like marbles that swirl purple and white, this time she doesn’t try and cover them. Hands on her hips she pulls her mouth to one side. I can see she is searching for words.

“You are becoming a problem.” She points a finger at me and shakes her head about, she takes a step toward me.

“What did that damn bird do now, always full of mischief, never doing as he’s told?” She talks at me and not too me.

“What do you mean, he just sang to me?”

She looks at me with complete shock as if she wasn’t expecting me to talk.

     “Now I see, just sang you say, oh by the mother of Sangia, he sang, you do know this has caused uproar?” Again she talks at me. She paces my freshly cut lawn with a sized two feet, pixie boots turned up at the toe. She looks at the grass, talking under her breath and points to a spot.

     “Open.”

The ground falls away and she throws a rose the edge of the hole.

     “Steps.”

Each petal unfurls into golden step, they continue until they are deep and turn a corner and I can no longer see. I am in shock. I must be ill?

She comes behind me and starts to shove me towards the steps.

“I don’t think so; I’m not going down there.” I feel a bit panicky, purple short person, spells and singing birds. I have the urge to run and lock myself in the house. She must have read my thought.

“There is no running away, you see us, we are in this together, like it or not, now come along she wants to see you.”

“Hold on a minute, who wants to see me? And what do you mean in this together?”  I screw my eyes up confused and bore my eyes into hers for an explanation.

“WELL?”

“Mmm, madam, eh, OK, Sangia, The Queen, she knows a human has been woken to us. And she is curious, all the others, after my spells have forgotten all about it, your mind is as stubborn as a Deon, a mule to you.”

“What will she do to me?” The woman shakes her head again and her eyes wobble.”

“Talk, of course, what else?” I assess the situation, the birds are chirping, the sun is out, my grass smells fresh and earthy, marc is in the kitchen making tea, my neighbour two doors down is watering his hanging baskets, everything seems normal. Apart from a huge hole with golden steps leading to god knows where and Mrs. Bossy Purple Mcfrizzie. Who is insistent I get inside said hole.

“How can I be sure I’ll be safe?”

“You have my word; I will bring you back safe and sound.” She tried an unconvincing smile, and offers her small wizened hand.

“Look up at marc, who waves and blows me a kiss, oblivious to my situation.

“OK, let’s do it.” I push away her hand.

“After you.” I stand and watch her dew-sodden pixie boots step onto the shiny gold step and continue down. I step tentatively; covering my eyes from the glare, waiting to either wake up or be attacked, my heart is beating so fast I think she can hear it. She can. The sky above me disappears with an almighty clunk.

     “Stop being such a stressy little thing, no one is going to hurt you. Your ancestors are royalty for god sake!” My ears prick up. The stairs continue for quite a while and start to veer to the right. I see the last step and beyond it a wall of water shimmering and rippling, behind it dashes of silver and burst of colour move about. We stand on it, side by side and she turns to the golden stairway.

“Disappear!” Stairs and the wall of water disappear and a huge silver bullet whistles past my ear making me lose balance and fall to the ground.

I look up to walls of silver, punctured with holes, out of which giant bullets fly in and out. It looks as if we are in a giant cheese grater. My mouth is open and head spinning. Small purple clad people are going about their business. These small people are armed with shopping bags, children in tow rushing to catch a bullet. I feel like a giant. A big board with electric blue letter flashes with destinations and times.

“Get up, oh lordy lord.” She shoots an inpatient look at me.

I ask again,

“Where is this?” Staring up, I see a floating upside-down umbrella full of small children giggling and pointing at me.

“This, my dear, is The Floob Station. It has 244 destinations across the world and there are nine hundred floobs currently in action, speed up to 450 miles per hour, all run by Gantino.”

I look above me and a floob is hovering at a platform its doors opening, the entire back drops open, as if it’s on a single hinge. A clear perpex gangway bridges the gap for the waiting passenger. They trundle onboard, carrying all sorts of weird looking creatures. I am intrigued and slightly scared.

A man comes toward me 2ft nine inches, his orange moustache ends trailing the floor. His eyes sunken and grey, his skin stretched tight over jutting bone. He smiles an alarmingly wide smile and opens his arms.

“There you are, look at you, a superb specimen.” He stands on tip toes and touches my hair.

“Oh it’s soft.” He giggles behind a freckled hand.

“Please forgive me dear, where are my manners? Gantino.” He bows and offers me a hand. He peers up, waiting for me to do what, I’m not sure?

The woman nudges me.

“Take his hand!”

I do I take his reptiliously cold hand, and hold it loosely, again not enjoying the sensation.

“You are so warm!” He lets go of my hand and brushes his down the thigh of his purple cords, as if wiping away germs.

“Come along dear, we are going to have to brush you up a little if we are going to get you ready for Sianga. We have two days travel and a whole lot of tweaking.” He looks at me from head to toe as if he is scanning me, in fact I think he is.

“We are going to need lots of material.” He says to the woman.

“Yes, I best call Diora and see if she can get us in, Its Wednesday, she might be full, if she is I’ll take her back up to Hora and go the Dinka’s shop, she knows more about humans.

I’m getting annoyed that they are speaking about me like I’m not here.

“I am here you know!”

“Dear girl, it’s very obvious you are here. Look about you, can you not see the effect you are having?”

As I look in front of me a woman with blue dreadlocks walks into a wall and her child points at me then also walks into the wall.

A man in a pinstriped suit is holding his paper upside and trips over what I think is some kind of dog and falls flat on his face.

“You see, you are causing quite a stir!” He picks his moustache ends up and ties them together.

“Now Dina, let’s get her out of sight. Before the whole place erupts.”

“For goodness sake Gantino, get your hair trimmed it can’t be healthy dragging on the floor like that!” She whistles and flicks her fingers about as if counting. In front of us a small floob hovers. This one opens at the side as a silver square shield rises and we hop on to a plush purple-velvet interior, almost regal looking.

“Look who’s talking. the jumper of hair you have hasn’t seen a needle in a good few year!” He huffs and marches off, all bony and pompous.

She grabs a frayed edge of purple wool and inspects it. She pulls a long piece of silver out of her bag and clicks on the end like a pen. A circle of light appears and a hazy picture of a woman holding a needle in her mouth and a measuring tape with her hands.

“What is it Dina, I’ve got three suits to sew today and I’m behind.” I can see the resemblance immediately.

“So you can’t fit in a makeover?”

“Not a chance?” She starts to fizzle out and crackle.

“Damn, Hora it is then.”

She points upwards.

“Hora!” and I blink and I’m in my garden, the neighbour is watering his plants and marc is washing his mug in the sink and the spade is stuck in the ground and nothing has changed. Not a thing, not even time!

I look about me for Dina. She isn’t there. Marc comes into the garned  pushing his hands through his eternbally scruffy bed-har and yawns.

“Fancy a walk, char, I could do with some fresh air?” He shakes off the yawn, Puts his hands on my shoulders and starts to massage them. He kisse my neck.

“No, maybe later, I want to get these plants in before you mum and dad et here, it’s been three weeks and they look floppy.”

“Dead, I’d say, unless you are good at plant resuscitation char ,you’re fucked!”

I look at them and trace my finger around a wilting petal. Marc heads off up the path and grabs his coat off the peg.

“See you later then, need anything from the shop?”

“Yes, gravy granules.” The door slams shut, for such slight bloke he is heavy handed. 

I look at the tray of flowers and to my amazement they are perky and vibrant and nodding in the sun and seem to have grown to almost full size, blazing golden orange. I need to lie down.

Did I dream it all? I wonder as I climb my squeaky staircase avoiding the creaky steps, three, five eight and ten. It’s a stair-dance my dad taught me when I was little.

“It will help you sneak out to see that boyfriend of yours!” He winked at me once upon a time. I miss him.

I wrap myself up in dressing gown and pj’s and jump into the safety of my bed. I shut out the morning sun, closing blind and curtains and pick up a book. I leaf through the pages, wanting to sink in to somewhere another time and place. I tie my mass of blonde in a bun, out of the way and I relax.

I read about the man in Russia who is looking for a relic that was lost by his father, I watch as he goes from shop to shop, braving sub-zero temperatures in a deep Russian winter. I doze off shivering.

     “Come now charlotte, no time for that.”

 I feel the book Tugged from my fingers. I rub my eyes and she’s back, standing at the edge of my bed. Puple hair paited fresh clothes, still purple.

“Get up, she’s waiting for you.”

She tickles my foot with a scratch of her long fingernail and I recoil my leg up into the warmth.

“We have two days, to prepare you and present you to Sangia, you have to take this more seriously and stop moping about.”

She throws my clothes at me.

“Chop, chop.”

I pull on my jeans and t shirt all the time looking at her, she must be real.

“Dina, what is this all about, I’m freaking out here?”

“You are an oddity, a uniquely troublesome and stubborn human, who is not supposed to be able to see us, let alone talk to us.”

“By us you mean who exactly?”

“Sangians, of course!” She looks at me as if I’m stupid.

“We live in a parallel world to yours, we co-exist, and we are among you every day. We pass, when you shudder, do you think that’s an accident?” “No, it means you have walked through us, we avoid it where possible. When your blood runs cold, we have crossed paths and when you have a nose bleed we are too many in a close proximity.

“You, my dear, are the only human in history who is resilient to our spells. You are an ancestor, but not the only human to have our blood. So you are a puzzle and our Queen intends to find out why.”

“But I don’t understand how come we can’t see you?”

“Ah, well you do but not always as we really are, there is a shield that protects us. Moles, all of those critters you see and there complex tunnel systems. They are how we get here from below. Floobs take us far and wide but it’s easier to rise above to Hora through the earth. And when we arrive the shield offers us as moles, as you can see, we are not moles. There is no such thing as a mole.

“Where we are going today will explain a lot. Now come on, we are going to be late, Diora is a timekeeper, she won’t tolerate tardiness.” I am bemused and still finding it all a bit confusing. I pull on my stripy jumper and odd socks and pumps and go to walk out of the door.

A hand grabs my wrist.

“Not that way.”

She picks up my book and places it on the floor.

“Mrs Maddles Cake shop!”

The pages separate each creating a step covered in words that seem to move about. We jump on and walk step after step of written word until we are outside the tea shop in the village.

I look at Dina puzzled.

“Hibiscus?”

“Mrs’ Maddles to us dear.”

 

The bell rings as she pushes the door open. A few people look at us, including a burly woman, with a selection on cakes in front of her and cream around her lips.  A woman rushed form behind the counter. A human woman who i know as Mrs Jones with a thatch of red hair curled tight to her head. Big owl-like eyes in hazel brown shine and a long green dress swishes at her ankles.

“I thought you said I was the only one?”

“Ah, watch this, she flicks her fingers again, as if counting form one to ten.

As the woman approaches, she shrinks and becomes a shorter more carton-like version with long shiny red nails, crimson painted lips and an ample bosom, dressed head to toe in purple.

“Diora. This is charlotte!”

“What did you do, I question looking the woman up and down. I know her, she is married to Mr. Jones our old English teacher.

“The shield dear, I broke it, Diora is one of us, the shield offers her as human, she as our contact for this area.

“What about Mr Jones?” I say even more confused.

“He is Densi, one of us too.” I give up trying to make any sense of it all, still wondering if I have an inoperable brain tumour.

“Ok, so what now?” I ask looking at my small companions who seem to be eyeing me up, taking my measurements with their scanning eyes.

“OK, you see the mirror?” she nods to the far corner

“Yes?”

“Stand in front of it.”

I do as I’m told, the mirror is oval and huge and gold-gilded, it ripples like the surface of a lake. Again I see flashes from the other side, movement and murmurs.

“Now what?” I say, clenching my fists, ready for anything.

“walk.” Dina gives me a little shove so my face penetrates the ripples and I peek a room, as big as a warehouse, full of  Sangians. One more push and I’m in. It’s chilly and a hive of activity, sewing, measuring singing, row upon row of material every shade of purple hang from ceiling to floor. They turn to look at me and it falls silent and I hear pins drop, hundreds of them!

“It’s OK don’t be alarmed, she’s is with me and you are safe! Please go about your business.”

She summons two people a man and his wife, both impeccably dressed in tailored suits. Neither looks me in the eye.

“Depa, Della, please have the measuring room ready and remember to adjust the height. She is going to be presented to the Queen, and needs to be presentable, a change of four outfits are required. There is no time to spare!” I hear gasps reverberate around the cavernous space.

They scuttle forward, beckoning me to follow, the woman eyeing me sheepishly the man huffing with folded arms obviously put out by my presence.