[SNEAK PEEK] MAGICIENNE

MAGICIENNE By Ning Cai and Don Bosco

We wait. Mostly in silence. Then a woman comes in. She explains that the person who’s supposed to see us is caught up somewhere else and will be very late.
“You can buy a sandwich at the shop in the other building,” she says. “Be back here in twenty minutes. Do not wander around on your own.”
“May we leave our bags here, miss?” one of the girls asks.
“Yes,” the woman says.
The other six girls act like they’ve done this before. They pull out their purses and tuck their bags under their seats. They walk out quickly. Except me. I just sit there. The duty teacher at St Agnes hadn’t packed any lunch for me. I have a few coins and three dollars, but that’s all the money that I have on me. I don’t know if it’s enough to buy anything in this place. It’s my first time out like this, on my own. I wonder if the shop in the other building sells donuts, especially sugar donuts, but I decide that it’s better if I just sit here and wait.
The woman is still here and she looks at me. I’m thinking she might ask me if I’m hungry, but she doesn’t say anything like that. I try to look like I’m okay. Like I’m not a baby that needs attending to. She continues not saying anything and then she leaves. I don’t mind. It’s like I’m invisible. I’m used to this.
I swing my legs. I hum to myself. When I’m nervous it’s the same words, maybe different melody. You know it. Number One on the right, Number Two on the left. I don’t remember their faces so much anymore but the words have carved themselves in tiny scribbled lines round and round the inside of my brain.
The girls come back with their food. Brown paper bags with translucent spots because the food inside is hot or greasy or both.
They eat quickly. Carefully. They don’t talk.
I notice that the girl on my left has turned to face me.
She has short hair, black and shiny, perfectly brushed and every strand in place. Her eyebrows are two careful arches above her eyes. Her nose is straight and sharp. Her gaze is intense and even piercing. Her skin is so pale I can see a web of red capillaries on each of her cheeks. She has just finished half her sandwich, and it looks like she’s about to start on the other half. But she’s holding it out.
“Here,” she says carefully. In a a low voice. “You can have this.”
I’m embarrassed. My face feels like I’m blushing. The other girls act like they don’t hear. They don’t even look over.
“I’m okay,” I say.
The girl has a strange look on her face. A little grimace. At first I think that she’s sneering at me. But she’s polite, considerate, and I figure that maybe she just has an unconventional way of smiling. Might be the braces on her teeth. Except she doesn’t have braces and I can see that her teeth are unnaturally white. Also, I realise that she doesn’t look me in the eye for long. I notice her gaze darting here and there and once every few seconds she will glance back at me. It feels weird, a little unsettling, but so does everything else about this place.
“Don’t be silly,” she says. “It’s a long wait. You must be starving. Just eat this. What’s the matter with you? Are you sick?”
To tell the truth, I feel a knot in my chest. It sounds crazy but I don’t know how to respond. I’m confused. Why is she offering me her food? I’m a stranger. We don’t even know each other’s names. Is this sandwich a gift, like a Christmas present? Like Uncle John giving me that hand me down magic set? Or would she expect me to pay her for the sandwich afterwards? Would I owe her? How much would it be, and how would I get the money? Just thinking about all this, I forget to breathe. And then my head hurts. I wish someone would come in and call my name so I can get on with the interview and then get sent back to St Agnes.
But the girl doesn’t give up.

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