“SANDS AND STARLIGHT” is, simply put, a wonderful tale. I was completely bewitched by the cover at first. And how could I not be? How could anyone not be? It promised magic and wonders and adventure and compelled me to check out the book as soon as it came out. And it did not disappoint. It is full of sorcery, engaging characters, delicious words, magical narrative, rich settings, enchanting images and, of course, exciting adventures. I was mesmerized by the descriptions that sparkled and bewitched like precious stones and the visuals they instantly created in my mind. From the very beginning I was particularly struck by the description of the camels – Fasee, Talee and Hanee – for every move of these creatures was described with so much attention and what I thought was true affection. I must say that I did not expect the revelation that waited upon me along the way. I enjoyed following the adventures and tribulations of various characters as we were introduced to them, each one interesting and unusual in their own way. It is truly a wonderful set of characters. But my favourite character was, without doubt, Baradir – a powerful sorcerer who became the victim of his own notoriety and arcane arts. In fact, I liked him so much that I would love to read more about him and his enchanted palace. I’m afraid that like so many before me I fell under its spell. Highly recommend!
Tuesday, 26 March 2019
Monday, 18 March 2019
A WALK HOME
It was great to be finally outside on such a fine day. Eugenia grinned as she filled her lungs with early summer air, still fresh with a hint of chill in the aftermath of a heavy afternoon shower.
“I love books but that school library is a dust-infested emporium of unmitigated boredom!” she proclaimed with a sniff, reminiscent of her recent sneezing fit.
“Emporium? Unmitigated boredom?” Her best friend snickered next to her. “It’s so funny when you use such fancy words.”
Eugenia frowned. “I don’t see what’s so funny about it at all, Lucinda.”
Lucinda, who hated her name and preferred to be called Lucy, shrugged her shoulders but didn’t reply.
Eugenia turned away.
They were walking in stiff silence through the local park along a well-shaded path paved with cracked multicoloured stone. Beech, oak, maple and chestnut trees grew thickly on both sides of the path and occasional drops of rain, nestled in the leaves as though in the palm of a hand, fell down upon their heads like grapes whenever a gust of wind tickled the branches above.
The final day of their two-week summer practice, during which they were assigned to sort through ancient volumes plastered with dust and grime no one ever cared about stashed at the very back of the school library was over at last and they were making their unhurried way home.
The last day of school meant that they would no longer see as much of each other as they used to during the school term. If at all. Eugenia, at least, took their imminent separation close to heart. Lucy was her best and only friend and it cut her to the quick to be at odds with her now that they were about to part for two long months.
“It’s lovely here, isn’t it?” she said by way of breaking the silence, putting on a cheerful smile.
“I suppose,” replied Lucy absent-mindedly, staring at the winding path ahead of them with obvious intent; she was craning her neck right and left as though looking for someone; with her brown bushy hair bouncing about her and her snub nose up in the air she reminded a perky spaniel on the prowl.
Eugenia sighed and looked about herself with an enraptured eye of a true romantic who could not walk past a tree without noting how pretty it was. Of course, she should have known better than to engage Lucy in an enthusiastic chatter about nature and how beautiful it was. Lately she’d discovered that Lucy was no longer interested in nature and its miracles – apart from its one particular aspect: boys. Lucy was crazy about boys and could think or talk of little else.
Eugenia knew that it was only natural for a girl of thirteen to have her head filled with boys and all that stuff, but she wondered with something like bitterness – almost savageness – why oh why there couldn’t be left at least a tiny corner for something else too. There were so many things to enjoy, to think about, to talk over with your best friend apart from boys, after all!
She didn’t think about boys all the time, did she? In fact, if she was completely honest with herself, she didn’t think about them at all. Boys, in their turn, paid her in kind and rarely gave her the time of the day. Eugenia was perfectly fine with that. The boys around here weren’t really worth thinking about, anyway, and being singled out by one of them would be just awful. Eugenia was quite sure of that. It was a real pity that Lucy didn’t feel the same way anymore.
There was an opening between the low-hanging branches of an old and awfully gnarled mulberry tree and a hunchbacked willow that looked very much like a crone in tattered robes; a set of crumbling stone steps led to the lower alley of the park, completely hidden from view by an otherwise unbreakable wall of trees. It was favoured by dog owners in the morning and by couples in the evening, but it was fair game in the afternoon. It was also, once upon a time, their favourite spot and the two friends would often linger there on their way from school.
“Do you want to take the lower alley?” offered Eugenia hopefully.
Lucy stopped and considered the stairs, puckering her bright-red lips (Eugenia was startled to notice thick layer of lipstick she had on and wondered when she had found the time to apply it after leaving the library) in an uncanny imitation of a duck. Eugenia could tell that Lucy was reluctant to take the lower alley and she couldn’t think why. Did she want to get rid of her? Was she meeting someone at the end of the main alley?
“Like in good old times,” she cajoled her friend with a smile, instead of voicing her puzzlement. “Do you remember? We used to have so much fun there.”
“Oh, very well. Let’s go. What if…?”
“Nevermind. Come on!”
Eugenia sighed. At first being laughed at. Then being rebuffed. That wasn’t how she’d pictured their last half an hour together to be. But it wasn’t worth fighting over. So she shrugged it off like so many times before and carefully followed Lucy down the stairs. The latter had already taken them at a vigorous trot, wearing unnecessarily high heels, in Eugenia’s opinion, and quite mindless of the fact that some of the stones crackled and shifted precariously beneath her feet.
“Don’t be such a wuss, Genie. The staircase, as old as it is, won’t fall through if you add a bit more force to your step,” cried Lucy, looking back at her with a critical eye. “Besides, it was your idea to take the lower alley, remember?”
“I remember,” mumbled Eugenia, looking down and checking the stability of the next stone slab with the tip of her moccasin-clad foot; “but I never expressed a predilection for falling down and breaking my neck, did I?”
Lucy snorted with laughter. “Honestly, where do you get these words? Expressed a predilection for. Ha!”
Eugenia didn’t reply; she pursed her lips and concentrated on the task at hand. By the time she had finally reached the foot of the stairs, Lucy was once again craning her neck and looking up and down a narrow lane that cut its uneven way through the overgrown meadow like a brown snake.
“Hey, Genie, did you see which way Troy went? I definitely saw him entering the park but I didn’t see him on the main alley… I thought maybe he went this way…”
Eugenia sighed. Of course, Lucy would want to talk about boys now. Well, Eugenia thought, I can do that. It was only fair. Lucy did agree to take the lower alley with her even though she didn’t want to. They started walking.
“Is he still going out with Tricia?” asked Eugenia as though the matter was of some interest to her. Well, she always thought that “Troy and Tricia” sounded kind of nice together…
“Tricia? Please! That was like ages ago! Honestly, Genie, where have your eyes been? He has gone through half the girls in our year since then!”
“Well, he’s not very constant, is he?” said Eugenia with a frown.
Lucy looked at Eugenia as though she was mad.
“No one cares about that as long as they’re his special interest of the day. He’s really super hot and dreamy, you know. You do know that, right?”
“I guess he’s just not my type. I could never understand the appeal.”
Lucy gave her such a withering look, Eugenia felt that she deserved to be publicly flogged for her words.
“Do you even have a type?” asked her friend with a scathing curl of her upper lip as she shook her head in disbelief.
“So who’s his special interest now?” asked Eugenia, grabbing onto the previous subject as she went red with humiliation.
“Gabrielle!” said Lucy with a groan. “I don’t know what he sees in her! She’s a total cow.”
“Well, I’m sure it won’t last longer than usual and you’ll get your chance next term.”
“Oh, I intend to! I know that he’s interested. I caught him looking at me more than once with that special look of his, you know. So it’s only a matter of time…”
“I bet you’ll care then whether he’s constant or not. You wouldn’t want to lose his interest too soon, would you?”
“Genie, you’re so old-fashioned,” said Lucy in exasperation.
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are! I swear it’s like you were born in the 1800s.”
“So what? Maybe I was. Once.”
“You’d want that, wouldn’t you?” said Lucy with a knowing look.
“I think I would like that, yes.”
“I bet you’re thinking about one of those boring Jane Austen books you love so much.”
“They’re not boring! Just because you don’t like them – ”
“Not boring? Yeah, right. Nothing ever happens there. No fun stuff. Nada.”
“Well, if you read them,” said Eugenia stung, “you would know that plenty of stuff is going on there. Maybe not the kind of stuff that you have in mind – ”
“Exactly! Oh, look – ”
They reached a spacious clearing surrounded by haggard firs with a large dark-grey rock that looked like an obelisk in the middle. This was the scene of their childhood games. These firs and this rock bore witness to their countless transformations in the past. Eugenia smiled, thinking back to their playtime.
“Do you remember how we used to play fairies here?” she asked excitedly, her cheeks flushing. “We walked around the rock waving our hands in the air in a ritual dance that we came up with, coaxing the spirits of the wood to come out and bless us with their gifts.”
Lucy looked at her with her eyebrows raised. For once Eugenia didn’t care. She remembered the eerie feeling she used to get whenever it was foggy, with mist hanging low above the place; it was as though the spirit had actually heard them and came out through the biggest crack in the rock… That was also the time when they attended crocheting classes – before Lucy decided that it was uncool to crochet. Eugenia was about to remind her of that when she caught a glint of reminiscence in Lucy’s eyes.
“I remember how we used to play princesses,” she said with relish the next moment. “Do you remember? We pretended that this rock was the tower and that we couldn’t leave it because we were cursed by a warlock and the boys had to come and rescue us. I think Troy was supposed to save me. Or was it Blake? I don’t remember. But it must have been one of them. No, wait, I remember! Troy was supposed to save me, but Blake was just so madly in love with me at the time, you know, so they both came to my rescue and then dueled on sticks to decide who was worthy of my hand...”
Lucy giggled, waving her hand in the air before an imaginary crowd of her admirers.
“Oh! Do you remember that time we played witches?” asked Eugenia. Pretending to be a witch had always been her favourite game. “I remember how we collected leaves, twigs, berries and flowers all over the place, gave them different magical properties and pretended to make potions that could cure anything. We even had our own collection of potion recipes, remember? We put them in jars that we brought from home and used thick branches for shelves… it was over there, wasn’t it, under that tree… our lair…”
They would hang the jars on strings wrapping them around the branches and then watch them from the distance: in this way they looked as though they hung in the air by magic.
Lucy nodded with a huge smile.
“I remember when Mark drank one of our potions,” she said and made quotation marks in the air, “on a dare. Gregg told him that he would give him his Gameboy if he did – and then he had that horrible stomachache. I think he had to be taken to the hospital it got so bad in the end. So the next day he and the other boys raided our Potions Shop,” she made the quotation marks in the air again, “in revenge…”
Eugenia frowned; she was surprised that Lucy could recall that part with such a happy sigh. Did she forget that their dream game turned into a real nightmare because of that? It was awful to come to the place they named Potions Shop only to be bombarded by glass jars from all sides. And even more so to be chased after with yells of “Get the witch!” and “Make her pay!”
It might have started out as a game of revenge, but it wasn’t funny when she was tackled to the ground by two boys at least, amid broken glass that dug painfully into her arms and legs, and was force fed the remnants of their once carefully concocted potions now mixed with dirt and dust.
After that episode Eugenia refused to play witches anymore. But she kept their potion recipe collection as a bittersweet memento. They were making book covers in their art class at the time and she bound it and made drawings and labeled the plants and spent hours poring over its pages like an idiot. But she never told Lucy.
Eugenia felt suddenly tired. The walk down the memory lane didn’t go as planned and she felt a sudden urge to be as far away from Lucy as possible.
At that very moment Lucy’s pose changed to that of a hundred per cent alertness. Eugenia could almost see her ears perk up underneath her hair as she put a finger to her mouth in a shushing gesture. Eugenia raised her eyebrows but didn’t speak. Someone was walking along the main alley, kicking the pebbles out of the way.
“Oooh, I think it’s Troy,” mouthed Lucy, her cheeks heating up and her eyes glowing. “He must have dropped Gabrielle off and is going home. Alone!” Lucy was almost rabid with excitement.
Eugenia knew that Troy lived in Lucy’s yard and it was probably an opportunity she would not miss even at the expense of cutting their last walk home short. Eugenia sighed, waiting for the ball to drop. She wanted to hope that their friendship meant more to Lucy than that. But –
“Listen, Genie, you won’t mind if I…” began Lucy with a sheepish smile; “I just want to say good-bye… you know…” She puckered her lips, batted her eyelashes and tilted her hips in grotesque imitation of seduction. “It’s just that I’m leaving for grandma’s tomorrow and then I’ll be busy helping my sister with the wedding and then I’ll be at the summer camp for three weeks and… well… you know.”
Eugenia shrugged her shoulders. “Fine. Go.”
Lucy squealed and squeezed Eugenia in a bone-crushing hug.
“I’ll miss you, Genie.”
“I’ll miss you too,” mumbled Eugenia. I bet more than you’ll ever miss me, she thought bitterly to herself. “Luce, will you at least answer my texts? And not a month or two later…”
Lucy laughed, let go off Eugenia and ran off, high heels and all.
Eugenia watched her go with tears in her eyes. Then, when her best friend was out of sight, she took a deep breath and made her lonely way home.