// SULANI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT //
It’s been a grueling week for the young mage. She is just returning from NEW YORK CITY, the long overseas flight numbing her legs and inciting in her a need for fresh air.
She steps off the plane and is immediately greeted by flashes of dark green – the rich plant life to which she’s easily become accustomed.
Every flight reminds her of the past, reminds her of where she’s been. Each one, like the other. Each airport yet another public space in which she must pretend that she’s no different than anyone else.
And yet, the older she gets, the more she must remind herself to never assume the verity of any given façade.
Her memory doesn’t grant her vision beyond about three years of age. For all she knew, she had been born in that orphanage. But she’s certain that must not be true.
She’d gotten along well enough with the other children, often preferring the company of the older and avoiding the incessant wailing that accompanied the rooms of the young.
The nuns treated her kindly in her classes. She feared and avoided anything that would earn her corporal punishment. She did her lessons, she laid in bed quietly even when she could not sleep.
But one day something strange had happened.
Sitting on a bench, about to enjoy a mid-day cup of tea, she’d blown upon it, hoping only to hasten the departure of the offensive heat. But, instead, a fractal pattern of ice spread across the surface, shining a yellowy-green that the young girl never forgot. The tea was topped with a crust of frost, quickly melting to the still-warm tea beneath.
She looked around, but no one was paying her any mind.
She never told anyone what she had seen.
Months passed, and she feared the ice coming again. She took her tea, but would let it sit until the nuns were just about to shoo the children from the tables.
Gathering her courage, one long day later, she tried again.
As she feared, again, the tea was coated with a fine layer of frozen water.
It was a hot summer when she received the first visitor. Dark-haired, with rich mahogany eyes, she was incredibly beautiful.
ARE YOU ADOPTING ME?
The woman laughed a little, but seemed to immediately regret her reaction.
NO, NOT I.
BUT I KNOW OF SOMEONE WHO MIGHT BE ABLE TO TAKE YOU ON.
Her voice was silvery and her enunciation refined. A woman of class and fine breeding.
She knelt down to look the young girl in the eye.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO TO AMERRKA?
WILL I HAVE A MOTHER AND FATHER WITH GOLDEN HAIR?
She spoke quietly, wanting to keep the conversation as private as was possible in the crowd.
YOU WILL NOT HAVE A MOTHER OR A FATHER. IT IS ANOTHER ORPHANAGE.
BUT IT IS A HOME FOR GIFTED AND TALENTED YOUNG GIRLS AND YOU WILL WANT FOR NOTHING.
BUT FIRST, I WANT YOU TO PROVE TO ME THAT YOU ARE WORTHY.
THE NUNS HAVE TAUGHT ME SOME ENGLISH. AND I CAN DO MY TIMES TABLES…
The woman slaps her across the face. Stinging, the girl feels tiny. She brings her hand to her cheek, feeling the heat.
Another child looks over toward the sound but quickly looks away, embarrassed to pry.
YOU WILL NOT LIE TO ME.
SHOW ME YOUR…
(thinking) She couldn’t possibly mean… the secret?
A dread fills her.
(thinking) There is no home in Amerrka. There is no home…
The fear wells up, consuming her, leaving her face thick with impending tears.
There is an anger in the whispered voice of the beautiful woman.
DON’T WORK YOUR MAGIC WHEN YOU ARE AFRAID. YOU WILL HURT YOURSELF AND OTHERS.
I WILL SEND FOR THE WOMAN. YOU WILL NOT FAIL HER.
Time seems to crawl by, days become months, meaningless months scrawled upon chalkboards over and over again.
But the words ring in her head each and every day.
‘Do not work your magic when you are afraid.’ she had said. ‘Magic’, she had repeated to herself in the stranger’s voice. How had she known?
It was a cold winter’s day when the woman she would soon call HEADMISTRESS would call on her for the last visit she would ever receive at the orphanage.
There had been no warning. One day; one cold day, a nun had come to fetch her from classes.
‘You have a visitor.’
They’d led her down strange hallways she’d not seen since her first visit. She repeated in her memory the word she’d heard uttered by the beautiful woman.
She was not even sure she’d heard the word since…
Alone in a windowless chamber is a gaunt woman with a pinched face. Her hair is brown, showing an intense brightness even underneath the dim incandescent lighting. She is thin, her skin seeming to adhere in some places directly to bone. Wrinkles speckle across her eyes and about her mouth.
She is wearing a deep black dress, as the young girl would come to find was the crone’s usual uniform.
IS THIS THE GIRL?
SHE’S HOW OLD?
This is the first time the young girl has heard anyone natively speak English who wasn’t hidden behind a television’s glare. It has a terseness, like issued commands.
I’D LIKE TO SPEAK TO HER.
TZU takes notice of the wooden paneling, dim, but shiny, as if freshly polished.
RING WHEN YOU ARE DONE.
The door shuts and they are alone.
MYRTLE allows TZU a moment to look around and become accustomed to the space.
TZU is looking up at the lightbulb when MYRTLE decides to speak.
DO YOU MIND IF I SPEAK ENGLISH?
TZU looks at the woman, pausing for a moment, but is unable to muster a reply before she continues talking.
IT’S BEEN SOME NUMBER OF YEARS SINCE I WAS IN GORYEO, AND I WAS NEVER TERRIBLY WELL-VERSED IN THE TONGUE.
I DO. A LITTLE.
I AM A HEADMISTRESS AT A SCHOOL IN NORTH AMERRKA. IN NEW YORK CITY.
MY ASSOCIATE, WHOM YOU HAVE MET, TELLS ME YOU HAVE A VERY SPECIAL GIFT.
TZU stammers, searching her mind for the scant number of English phrases she’s memorized.
MYRTLE raises her hand to silence her.
IT’S OF NO MATTER.
I WANT TO SHOW YOU SOMETHING.
MYRTLE brings her hands together, as if carefully holding a sphere.
(thinking) Tea! I should have asked for tea!
But the young girl’s panic disappears, replaced by a dryness in on her tongue. In front of her, between the old woman’s opposing hands, grows a globe of water. Drops liquify in the air and attract to its surface, the reflection just implying a cyan hue.
The lightbulb flickers.
MYRTLE’s eyes narrow in concentration, staring at her conjuration. She, too, swallows to combat drymouth.
WHAT WILL YOU DO?
With little hesitation, TZU steps forward and blows upon the water. The surface solidifies, mottled and uneven, its motion now stilled.
MYRTLE pushes her hands against the invisible force exerted by the sphere. As if pushing against an air current, she succeeds, if slowly, in bringing her hands against the ice. She continues to push, and the ice begins to melt, forming an imprint of her hand. Some of the water drips upon the floor but the rest of it begins to rise as vapor, dissipating into the air.
In a moment, the globe is gone. She waves her hands over the floor, the drops disappearing as if in the presence of a great heat.
Nothing is said. MYRTLE rings the buzzer upon the wall. When the nun returns, she tries on the mother tongue.
I WILL TAKE HER.