Santi sat before the platter of veggie burgers I’d grilled up at Rachel’s.
“Why doesn’t she eat?” I asked Rachel.
“Yo paya, yo jisu. ‘No sing, no eat.’ She thinks she needs to play for her supper.”
“But you’ve explained that’s no longer the case?” I asked.
“Only a million times!” laughed Rachel. “When she’s hungry enough, when no one’s looking, she’ll sneak a bite.”
I thought I’d try to convince her she could eat without performing.
“You’re not a servant anymore, Santi,” I explained. She looked at me as if she comprehended.
“You’re free! Doxni! You’re safe! Sanghi!”
“Yo doxni, yo sanghi,” she said, very quietly. “Squeegee. Payazi?”
“All right! Sing!” I replied. “Then we’ll feast on veggie burgers!”
She sang very softly, with her mouth barely open, and I couldn’t tell if she sang in words or simply sounds and syllables, and slowly I felt a channel of energy, or maybe it was light–in particle and wave–flowing down from the sky, entering my body through the crown, and coursing through me.
“What is this?” I asked her. I had never felt music enter me so fully.
“Ontsi molsuravensiku,” she said. Made of love. No wonder her music was considered subversive.
After Santi finished eating, I was ready to head back to the cabin. I figured, if we walked quickly and didn’t get lost, we’d get back before dark.
But Rachel wouldn’t hear of it.
“You have to stay here tonight,” she said. “And for as long as it takes. You cannot leave with the child until you’ve bonded. It’s not safe otherwise. She needs that to be able to travel with you.”
I resisted. Frankly, I was afraid to bond with this strange, magical child. I had already started to fall in love with her, and I feared that if we truly bonded, I wouldn’t be able to separate with her when Ritu found her a permanent home.
But Rachel convinced me that this child needed connection, if she was going to go with me. She’d be lost otherwise, and I had the impression that Rachel did not mean this metaphorically.
I didn’t know what to say to her that first night. My Vingihoplo was so poor that I wasn’t able to express much, and she hadn’t yet learned any of our language. So, instead, I simply talked, without worrying whether she understood or not. I told her all about Sept, about the crash, about brave Situ who rescued the 144 pagotogo, about Sebastion, Octy, Mop, and the new baby. I told her about meeting Sept and falling in love and pledging ourselves to each other. I told her about how, now, his cause was my cause, and how I would do anything for him, his family, and Xirra.
She brightened when she heard Xirra’s name. “MoXirra!” she said, meaning that she loved her like a mother.
“MoSanti,” I said, for by then, I loved this child.
Rachel wanted us to stay another day, but I felt it imperative that we get home before the weekend. The Anti-Alien Coalition had posted on social media that they were planning protests that weekend, and I wanted us to be safe at home before they started.
The next morning, we left for the cabin. Rachel had packed us a lunch and snacks, and that turned out to be a good thing, for walking with a small child went much more slowly than walking alone.
We arrived after sunset.
Santi was so tired she fell asleep on the sofa while I fixed soup and sandwiches for supper.
She ate without singing this time, looking at me with a conspiratorial smile. I took this as a sign that she was beginning to trust me, that she identified me as something other than her mistress or owner.
“You can take off your disguise when you’re inside,” I told her.
She didn’t understand.
“The second skin?” I said. “Refijotu pi?”
I mimed pealing off my skin.
“Show your real self, if you want,” I said. “Yada baska.”
She looked at me a long time. Something about her eyes melted me. She looked like she had seen so much, horrors and joys and terrors and beauty and wonder. She looked like she had lost and gained and lost again.
“Sanghi,” I said. “MoSanti.”
“Wa!” she shouted. “Baska! Sanghi!”
Then she stepped out of her disguise-skin.
She was moon blue, like Sept, with ears like his.
“Falazi Mallory,” she said.
“I know you, too,” I said.
“We have a big trip tomorrow,” I told her. “You’ll wear your disguise, refijotu pi, when we travel, OK? But then once we get home, you don’t need it anymore.”
“Gotukoda mokiya?” she asked.
I remembered that gotukoda meant “home,” but I’d forgotten what mokiya meant.
She showed me. She closed her eyes, and I closed mine, and then she sang, and waves of happy love tickled me until I laughed, and when she sang, it felt just like home.
“Wa,” I said. “Gotukoda mokiya. Our home is happy.”
We were sleepy. I tucked her into bed, singing her a song my grandmother used to sing me, “Mares-eat-oats, and does-eat-oats, and little-lambs-eat-ivy, a kid’ll-eat-ivy, too, wouldn’t you?”
She sang back, first simply, “Marezeedotes, and dozeedotes, and liddlelamzeedivy, a kiddleetdivytoo, woodnyoo!”
Then, in a sleepy, happy voice, she began improvising on the tune and the lyrics, and by the time she fell asleep, still softly singing, “dunyoo,” she had invented something worthy of Bach.
I woke in the middle of the night. Her bed was empty.
My heart raced into my throat, and I ran outside. There at the edge of the forest, having remembered to slide back into her second skin, she stood before three colored lights.
I can’t tell you what they were. They weren’t insects. It wasn’t phosphorescence. It wasn’t some optical trick.
Maybe they were fairies.
All I know is that the magic in this world was drawn to this magical girl.