On the second afternoon, after we finished with the pendula exercise, I came back quietly to my hosts’ house, before the challenge of the afternoon: the school. At the agreed time, I was picked up. I arrived at a huge amphitheater full to bursting. Behind me, an electronic board and a pen. I had asked how it worked before the start of class. I would be able to draw with colors.
The school director opened the meeting. She pointed to those who like to speak, who had put their hands up with a light pen, to let them ask their questions. Everybody could hear the conversation clearly.
I began to introduce myself. There were mutterings as I gave my name. Then I told them that on Earth I was not a boy, but a girl. And there was an “oh” of surprise. I could see the first hands go up.
– Do you have a lover on Earth?
Laughs and giggles in the room. A “come on, kids” from the Director. And me:
– Yes. Well, no. Er, it’s complicated.
– How many moons do you have?
The Director whispered to me, “He wants to know your age.”
– Oh. I don’t know. We don’t have the same moon.
Another “oh” of surprise.
– Can you draw us a horse?
– I can, but I am going to draw one as it is on Earth.
And I began to draw. There were whispers at my back while I was bustling about.
– Here it is.
Admiration, “oh”s in the room.
– And what do you look like?
And then it was another selfie. And a big silence. A hand came up.
– Mist… Miss, are you ill?
– No, of course not. Where I come from, the skin is not marked like yours. People can be pale like me, or darker than you.
“Oh”s of surprise in the room.
– Are you going to stay here?
– No, I have to go home in a few days, and give this body back.
– What do you eat on Earth?
– Food is very different from here. We don’t have the same animals, or the same fruits or vegetables. It would be too difficult to talk about tastes, but I can draw you a chicken–many people eat chickens–a tomato– it’s a vegetable I like very much–and my favourite fruit, a peach.
I started to draw a chicken pecking on the ground, a peach tree in bloom, with a big peach for illustrative purposes on the side, and a tomato all alone. At least, the tomato is less inspiring.
I could hear mutterings behind me. When I finished, I turned around and told them what was what.
– Did you go to the Great Waterfall?
– Er, no. I haven’t had much time to go around. But there are falls on Earth too. Do you want me to draw you one?
It was a frank “yes” spreading amongst the benches. I was about to start the biggest drawing I could on this board. I turned back and said to the children, It’ll take time, so I’d like to suggest something: how about you sing a song for me while I draw?
They began a song, a song without words, just ohs and ahs with groups of voices answering each other, mixing and parting. A joyful and moving melody. I felt a great sense of well-being and I drew frantically. My hand had never been that fast. The song stopped suddenly. And I stopped drawing.
I moved back, a little dazed, without understanding what I had in front of me.
The room was whispering. I felt bewildered.
– This… is not a fall, I finally said.
– Oh no, this is the gold ring rise, told me the Director.
– But I didn’t even see it… before today.
– The song was from the gold ring ceremony. The children sing this song just before each rise, she specified.
– It was a very beautiful song. Thank you children, I mumbled.
– Kids, we have to let our guest have some rest now.
Protest in the audience.
– And the fall. We didn’t have the fall.
– I’ll do a painting. For the school. I promise.
And those were the last words I spoke in public that day.
In the evening, at my hosts’ house, they were looking at me with questioning eyes.
– My drawing was inspired by the song. It was like I was bewitched. I felt such a fervour. It was like my arm was being guided.
– By the song?
– You’re definitely full of surprises, Beth from Earth, said my host.
– I really don’t understand what is happening to me.
Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain put her hand on my shoulder and said mischievously, Don’t you have a new hairdo to suggest? Not for me. For Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe.
– With such long hair, we can put it in a bun, I smiled.
– Oh, I don’t know what that is, but nobody is going to undo my plait.
– You’re a coward, said his wife.
– I am wise, he answered.
– It doesn’t matter. I have a painting to do anyway. See you later, I’ll go to my bedroom to draw.
– See you later, they answered in chorus.
This morning I am surprised to see the Major arrive at my hosts’ house.
– The program has changed, he announces. No indoor sport today. We go outdoors.
Outside, I can see two mounts ready to ride.
– Where are we going?
– To the Great Waterfall.
And then he dashes away at full gallop. After a few minutes he slows down. I catch up and now we are riding side by side.
– It is at the end of this lane.
At the end of the lane.
– Here we are. This is it.
The falls are in front of us. It is a cascading waterfall. We are overlooking a huge pond that stretches out as far as the eye can see on one side. There is a footbridge over the void.
– Come, he says to me.
We are both sitting at the end of the footbridge. No protection. I am shivering a bit. My heart is tightening. This place is so… Earthlike. I feel homesick.
– Do you know how to swim? he asks me.
– Shall we jump?
– We are sitting on a diving board. Let’s jump.
Then, he pushes out his arms, falls into the void, turns down, and enters the water arms- and head-first. He disappears for a few moments and resurfaces. I hear him shouting “Come on!”
– You’re totally insane! I answer getting up and leaning over the void to see him.
– Sit down, and try to see mentally what I did. It’s just a dive. You can do it, I am sure. You know how to swim!
– Yes, but that’s not the point.
– And what is the point?
– If we are both down there, how do we go back home? Our horses are here.
– Look behind you.
– What the…? They’re away.
– I’ve called them away.
– The psychic bond. They’re on the way to pick us up. Jump. I’m tired of screaming!
I sit down on the edge and I refresh my memory of the Major’s fall. Then, I hear him shouting:
And I throw myself into the void, doing exactly the same figure as he had before.
– I knew it. I knew you’d succeed. A level 10 pendula just can’t fail on such a simple exercise.
– I don’t know what’s holding me back from slapping you!
– I am your Major!
– I’m not one of your soldiers.
– As long as you’re in this body, you’re under my responsibility.
– Oh. I thought I was under the responsibility of Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe.
– Not when you’re with me. We’ll have to swim now. We have to reach the end of the pond in this direction. What are you doing?
– I’m swimming.
– People swim like that on Earth?
– Yes. It’s called a crawl.
– And you stay above the surface?
– Er, yes. In any case, I do.
– But it’s much more beautiful underwater.
– Underwater, I can’t see that much and I can’t stay a long time without breathing.
– In this body, you’re one of us. You’ve got exactly the same abilities, even more, according to what I’ve seen in the Pendula Room. So you’re going to listen to me carefully. We can stay underwater for a long time before coming up to the surface for a breath, and then dive again. When our eyes come into contact with water, a protective membrane covers them and we maintain very good sight. You have to fill up your lungs before diving, and above all, you have to concentrate on slowing down your heartbeats. Swim in a fluid motion and quietly. Is this completely clear?
– Fill up the lungs, slow down the heart beats, swim in a fluid motion and quietly.
– You got it. Let’s try… Don’t panic. Come back to me with your crawl. You have to relax.
– I wish you were me!
– Just concentrate. Try to picture yourself underwater. That’s it. Slow down your heart beats. Take a breath and let yourself glide softly down. Don’t forget to keep your eyes opened.
I glide down under the surface.
I see the Major passing in front of me. I look at his movements and I follow him. Swimming, while going up to breathe only from time to time, is fantastic.
The Major didn’t lie; I discover under the surface of this pond an incredibly beautiful world, inhabited with weird, colored fish. During our underwater travel he shows me a sort of luminescent silver sphere. He goes to scratch it with his fingers, and the light intensifies. He asks me to do it too with another one swimming near my hand. I love it.
He tells me later that it was a moonfish. There are some with a red light but they are rarer. Kids love moonfish and don’t miss an opportunity to tickle them when they swim.
As we arrive near the end of the pond, the bottom is closer and covered with sorts of blue and green algae.
We finally reach the bank. When I get out of the water, I am surprised to feel my overalls dry after just a few steps.
– State of the art military clothes, he says to me proudly.
I don’t have a chance to complain about my wet clothes, as I’d intended to.
– We still have to walk for a while before we reach a clearing where the horses will pick us up.
We walk silently.
– Here we are.
The horses can be seen far off. They are arriving at a quiet pace. We go to meet them and get into the saddle.
I break the silence.
– Thank you.
– What for ?
– You have taught me how to swim like a Dalygarian.
The Major smiles and dashes away at full gallop.