It is then I see her.
Shu. Her lovely, oval face. Her dark brown hair, highlighted by the sun. Her profile, captured in a moment of beauty.
She is guiding the men carrying the full baskets of oysters and other shellfish. Beside her gleams a silver fish with its distinctive fins and tail. So she has learnt how to pilot one. That also means she has found her magic. I rejoice for her in secret, knowing that I will be a stranger to her.
I merge back into the crowds, saying my silent goodbyes. We are now so far apart.
Sa finds temporary accommodations beside a nondescript school building, all drab color and all. Sar really wants me to go to school and get that fire-magic of mine under control. It has not flared ever since. Is Sa so frightened of it?
“I have to look after Heart,” I say, half-excuse, half-truth.
“I will look after her,” Sa counters back. “She has stopped drinking your milk.” Truth. We have started giving her goat’s milk which she has taken to quite quickly. She is now sitting up and is able to balance herself with her hands and legs. She still curls up against me and suckles for comfort.
I still bristle and fight back. “There are not many schools for magic. Are you sure this is the right school?”
Sa nods. “It was the school I attended when I was a child. It should be perfect for you.”
“You seem confident,” I swallow my pride. I feel defeated. My skin flushes with my silent irritation.
A sea of unfamiliar faces ripples, turning to look at me. I stand stock still, frozen by fear. I hear words, whispers and my mind fills with flavors and colors – and I just want to turn around and run.
Instead, I bow and say words of greeting.
The teacher, an elderly man with white hair and bewildered eyes, gestures me to sit.
I can feel eyes on me and more whispers. That girl? Who’s she? What’s she doing here?
Girl. I feel as if I bite into gritty earth. Girl.
My nipples twitch, missing Heart’s touch on my skin. I am no longer a girl. Or am I still?
I pass the time in simmering resentment, pretending to listen to the droning voice of the old man. My fingers tingle with suppressed fire.
It is with tremendous relief – oh the fresh air! – that I slip out of the cluttered room. I have not learnt much. The old man keeps on talking about the earth and how it works.
I am not going to attend the next lesson.