Posted: 03 October 2014
Word Count: 2515
Summary: Jessica is a dowdy, boring, over-the-hill teacher, or so she thinks...
This won't be much fun, thought Jessica as she opened the door, which had unlatched itself on her knock with a strange liquid click, but which required a further push to open. It was a strange door, looking as though it were made out of ancient oak instead of the cheap composite that framed the other dwellings in the narrow little street. As the door swung back she caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror on the right hand wall. She saw what she expected to see in her reflection. A sensible hat above a blue jacket, and an undistinguished school teacher's face. What else would I expect, she thought. I'm fifty, teaching general studies at a third rate comp in this undistinguished little town. I've never been in love and probably never will be. She was just about to tell herself what she always told herself on such occasions, which was that it didn't really matter, when her eye was caught by the framed name plate on an inner door.
How queer, she thought, and some coincidence too. But then everything was a bit queer about young Mala Luminitsa, whose parents she'd come to see. He'd appeared in the school at the beginning of term, the child of travelers apparently getting a bit of schooling here and a bit there, as far as the family's itinerant lifestyle would allow. Elfin faced, and with a high brow surmounted by dark brown curls, his lack of stature and strange name had made him an immediate target for the bullies. But the bullying, for some reason hadn't lasted long. Other children appeared wary of Mala Luminitsa, who seemed to have the knack of making himself invisible. Several times in class, about to call the role, and noticing that he wasn't there, Jessica had suddenly noticed him sitting at his desk as usual. Either he'd been under it or behind it or... Relief at not having to punish him had ended any more thought about it on her part. He seemed exceptionally bright and eager to learn, and Jessica was keen that he should stay on at school for longer than the single term which she'd been told was the planned length of his stay. She'd studied the language of the Romany, and was accordingly looked on as something of an authority when gypsies, or travelers as you had to say nowadays, brought their children to school. That was why she was here.
The usual form had been despatched to the Luminitsa adress, which appeared to have no number. That had made it difficult to find in the street, and there certainly had been nothing to indicate that the house bore the name JESSICA'S END. Nobody in the vicinity seemed to have heard of the family, although when she described Mala, it had struck a chord with a couple of boys she'd questioned.
“The Pikey kid? Yeah, Miss, he lives in the one at the end.” They'd raced off, hooting with laughter, before she could think of anything else to ask. So now she was here, in the coincidentally named house, and really unsure of whether she was really in the right place. She knocked on the inner door, then called out:
There was no reply and no unlatching of the door as had happened before. Jessica felt a sudden relief. She never felt at her best talking with parents, and if there really was nobody home she could just leave and be back in her small bedsit within an hour. She called again “Mrs. Luminitsa?” Then a voice sounded behind her, and she jumped, whirling to face whoever it was..
It was Mala, standing in the shadows like a diminutive elf, an engaging smile on his brown face. He repeated the greeting.
Devlesa avilan, thought Jessica, 'God has brought you here.' She thought rapidly.
He beamed at her and she stood bemused, forgetting to ask where on earth he'd popped up from.
“Can I help you, Miss Johnson?” His manners were exceptional, she thought. Travelers' children or not, the kids she dealt with at school were a pretty rough lot.
“Well,” replied Jessica, “It was really your mother-” She broke off again as she realised Mala wasn't there. Now his voice sounded from within the house.
“Do come on through, Miss Johnson. I'm just getting some tea ready. Would you like a cup?” Once more she wondered at his exceptional manners before replying.
“Er, yes. Yes of course.” Jessica pushed opened the inner door through which Mala must have passed and entered the back room of the house. It was a back room, but that was all. There wasn't a stick of furniture to be seen, only bare boards. There was a smell of disuse about the place. Hesitantly, and to give herself time to get over this latest surprise, she looked around carefully before realising that there was no door or window. A small sound behind her made her turn. Mala was there, grinning.
“It's this way.” He led the way through a door to what was obviously the kitchen. A butler's sink stood in one corner, with a sideboard extending to the wall. There was a dresser against the other wall, but it appeared empty. Extraordinary family, thought Jessica, as she took in a small table and two chairs.
“Please sit down.” She did so and Mala took the chair opposite. They stared at one another across the empty table.
“Mala, it's really your Mum and Dad I came to see.” He appeared to consider this deeply before replying:
“That, er, won't be possible.”
For a moment Jessica thought she must have misheard, and she said “Pardon?”
Mala grinned with genuine amusement.
“I think you heard me correctly, Miss Johnson. It won't be possible.” Jessica stared , thinking hard. She remembered she was dealing with an eight year old, and curbed the beginnings of impatience.
“Why won't it be possible Mala?”
“Well, you couldn't meet them anyway.”
“You mean they're not in?”
He grinned .
“They're never in.”
Jessica considered this, while Mala watched her. At length she said:
“They must come home in the evening. I mean, who gets you your food?” Again she had the impression that the youngster seated opposite found this amusing. He must be playing a game. It was time she exercised a little authority
“Mala, I'm very busy right now and the form sent to your parents clearly said four pm.”She consulted her watch, which stood at five past. “If they're not going to be back for a while I could always make an appointment for another day.” The suggestion had no effect on her companion. He just sat there grinning. Her impatience grew. This kid was playing a game with her. That must be it.
“I'm sorry you're playing this game with me Mala. You're always so well behaved at school. It's really most disappointing.” Jessica rose to go, but Mala rose with her
“Please, Miss Johnson, don't go. You were invited here for a special reason. Now you think I'm trying to be funny and wasting your time, but I'm not. Honest.”Jessica stared, wondering what on earth to make of this enigmatic child, who looked and was around eight years old but spoke and reasoned like someone much older.
“Well, Mala,” she replied, and stopped, trying to organise her thoughts.
“I think the kettle just boiled. I'll fetch the tea, shall I, and explain things?” Jessica felt an explanation would be welcome.
“I think you might explain things, Mala.”She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, as she always did when events mystified her. When she opened them three seconds later Mala had gone.
Jessica shook her head, and looked at her watch. It said four fifteen. Had she really, she wondered, only been here for fifteen minutes. It felt like several hours. Whatever the outcome of this strange afternoon sh must soon make her goodbyes and leave. It would be dark by five.
The door moved as Mala returned, bearing a loaded tray. The sight of an antique silver tea set reassured Jessica. Mala placed it on the table, although it seemed a heavy thing for a child of eight to carry. He looked at her.
“Tea, Miss Johnson?”
“Thank you, Mala, that would be very nice.” He handled the large teapot effortlessly, asking her as he did about milk and sugar, and she accepted milk as he placed the cup before her and indicated the chocolate cake and sandwiches. Jessica had a weakness for chocolate cake, and the taste of it was a welcome reality in this strange situation. As she ate and drank, with Mala doing the same, she examined the teapot. It looked to be of solid silver, a very old and possibly valuable antique. The china appeared to be genuine Crown Derby. She compared it with her mugs at home, bought in the Pound Shop, and remembered reading that Gypsies, no travelers, collected Crown Derby.
“That's a lovely tea set, Mala. Everything matches so beautifully. Your Mum must be very proud of it.”
He looked up from his plate.
“It's not my Mum's, it's mine.” By now Jessica was accustomed his enigmatic conversation, and she just nodded and smiled. She'd play the game, finish her tea and then leave. Unless of course his parents showed up. She had a feeling they weren't going to. It wasn't a good thing for an eight year old to be left alone like this. It would be dark in under half an hour. She began, for the first time, to have misgivings. What sort of parents treated their son like this, and lived in a bare house?
Jessica finished the last of her cake.
“Well Mala, thank you very much. I'm sorry not to have met your parents, but I'm sure we can arrange another appointment.” She looked at her watch. It was still only twenty past four, but she felt she ought to be going. “Now I really must be going”.
“Please don't go just yet, Miss Johnson. I haven't explained like I said I would.” She regarded him, once more bemused. She decided to humour him, hoping the game wouldn't become too tedious. She had to admit she was a little intrigued.
“Alright then, Mala, explain to me.”
Mala smiled before replying in Romani.
“El crallis ha nicobado la liri de los cales.”
The king has taken away the law of the gypsies, thought Jessica, translating the mix of Romani and Spanish as she wondered at the portentous phrase and the fact that it came from a little boy.
Mala, what are you trying to say? That the traveling community are outcast? Well, sometimes that is true. They're different from others, and people are always suspicious of differences about other people.” She sought for a suitable phrase in his language. “I chatski tsinuda de tehara, vai de haino, khal tut.”
The true nettle stings from the beginning.
“Jessica, come with me”.
The use of her first name took her so aback that it was a moment before she could wonder exactly what he meant. She said:
“You must call me Miss. Johnson.”
“You must still come with me , Miss Johnson.”
“Where to,” asked Jessica, remembering her intention to humour him.
“Wouldn't you like to be young again?” She felt instantly flustered. This was getting way beyond the simplistic exchange she had envisaged.
“Mala, look. It's getting late and -”
“Let me show you my mirror.”
“Mirror?” What mirror?”
“It'll show you what you really look like , not what you think you look like.” She concealed a sigh.
“And what do you think I think I look like?”
He considered the question.
“Middle aged. Old. Boring and over the hill. But you don't look like that atall.”
Jessica felt one word explode across her mind.
She stood up. She was leaving now and tomorrow she'd have a word with her supervisor and then his parents. He wasn't exactly unbalanced, but there were limits.
“Mala, I'm not going to put up with you being cheeky” As she said the words she was thinking. He's right. He described absolutely how I see myself. How can he possibly know that at his age? She continued.
“Mala. You're only eight years old. When you get a little older you'll, er, understand more. Now I really must be going.” Again he surprised her.
“I'm sorry, Miss Johnson. I'll show you to the door. But you can still see my mirror. It's on the way.”
Good luck with your mirror, was her thought as she followed him out of the room and back the way they'd come. He turned left and she followed obediently vaguely thinking that the front door she remembered lay to the right. But to the right was only a blank wall. He was waiting for her up ahead where the corrridor made a right angled bend.
“Look”, said Mala Luminitsa, indicating something around the corner and still out of her sight. She rounded the corner and looked.
Mala's magic mirror, was her initial thought, as she took in the full length mirror. In the gathering evening gloom she couldn't see anything reflected in it until he fingered a light switch, and overhead an underpowered bulb flickered on. Jessica gasped. In the mirror was a lady, she knew but couldn't recognise. The reflection smiled back at her and it had to be genuine for there was Mala standing beside her. Jessica stared, eventually finding her voice.
“Mala, what's going on. That's m-me, but it's not me. I'm, well, older than that.”
His hand reached out for hers. “It is you, Miss Johnson. It's how you could be instead of how you think you are. Come in with me. I 'll show you where I came from.” She strove to understand his meaning, still mesmerised by the new Jessica Johnson on show. She was actually tall, and despite being fifty, she could see that her legs were still trim, and that the bone structure of her face gave her a certain look of style and even beauty. Why hadn't she ever noticed it before?”
“You see?” Mala was beside her, gazing up at her. “I have no parents on the other side. That's why I came to your school to find well, someone who would be my mum. I've been looking for years. Then I found you. You speak our language, and you came to visit me. Come with me. It's super over there, and if you don't like it I can always bring you back.”
“Come with you? Where?” Jessica's voice was barely a whisper.
He tugged at her hand. “Here.” He indicated the mirror. She looked down at his eight year old face, and smiled. After all, it was only a game.
“Alright. Show me.”
Together, with the boy leading and her hand clutched firmly, they walked up to the full length mirror. And through it. And beyond.
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