The girl belted across the schoolyard, pale and meager, dressed in a passed down gown yellowed with time and life on the roads. Too big, black and clumsy boots on her feet, limping from an ancestral ailment in her hip. She barely brushed the ground, took off in odd little skips without any visible effort, as if she just had learned to run but never really had been built for it. A cloud of dust rose behind the pack of children where they rushed like small, wild beasts over the dry dirt patch infront of the red school building and away towards the white fence that lined the road where wagons were hauled and trucks clattered, milkmen tagged along and chimney sweepers slouched under the sun and everywhere, flies.
They soon caught up with here. The first one grabbed hold of the dressing gown and threw her to the ground. The others gathered around, kicking gravel, screamed and and laughed. They lifted her to her feet and pushed here against the fence. Her arms like brittle branches or newly hatched wings. The skin in her face pale for her kind, transparent. Raven black hair, bushy and matted, never attended or combed, yet shiny, shimmering like oil, like no other girls. And the eyes. Deep brown, with a stair that made all the boys feel strange and that all the girl wanted to stab with a fork. It had happened to her kind before, everywhere and nowhere. Travellers found buried, violated and broken bodies, men and women. Children. No law protected them. Her grandmother could see through time. Her grandfather spoke a different language, had buried many of his own. Others too. The family was older than many countries, had survived many wars. Had always protected theirs. Her grandmother’s mother had had it, the shift. It could be inherited and skip generations, or just arise out of nothing, as if you had been selected. But it had always been around in her family. For her, it was passed on down. Same with seeing in time. Forward or backward. That was why she had tried to run faster than ever before.
“Here she is, the little tinker,” said the biggest boy holding her hard against the fence with his sooty hand over her throat, dirt under his nails, stinking of milk and wet animals. A cardigan with buttons, white collarless shirt and shorts with pleats, the girls in plaid dresses and white socks pulled to their knees. All dressed alike, all smelling of milk and wet cat. She didn’t understand much of what they were saying, just stared straight at them from far within, met their eyes, blue-green and glassy, still ravaged in the shadow of the Great War. The boys looked away. The girls became even more furious, wanting to tear her to pieces. The girls were behind it, but they always sent a big, stupid boy with rosy cheeks and straight fringe.
“She thought she could get away, little tinker filth!” Shouted another child, a girl with long yellow-bleached hair, clenched teeth.
The language was new. The country was new. The snow in the winter had been new as it crackled dry under her shoes in the morning. Most of them held to their own, lingered by the wagons and the small trucks and the tents and the camp. She had been allowed to start school. Then she had broken an arm and had to stay home.
“But now, now we’re going to kill her for what her brother did to August.”
She didn’t understand what they were saying, but she already saw what would happen as if it had already been, and it was time living in different places at the same time, and Grandma had told her that it was because time never really wanted to decide and always regretted itself and grieved what it did, like an ever wailing wraith. It played out in their eyes, as if the world outside was just slightly delayed. She saw what they would see, reflected in a glimpse, a glitch. She was not afraid of the children, for the children she could escape. She was afraid of the others, the ones who would come and look for her when it was done. Grandma’s mother had told her grandmother and grandmother hade told her mother and mother told her. Those who came had black streaks and lines all over their bodies and foggy eyes and divided you and took you away when the order of things that was had been broken. But they took only that what was inside you, your spirit, mother and grandmother had said. The body was burned, like a shell, a dead dog or an empty box.
The biggest boy threw her to the ground again. The others immediately started to kick, no longer on the gravel but on the girl, her back, her stomach, her arms folded over her head. She felt her thoughts as they fled, upwards, outwards, away. It was quick to witness for the children, in an instant, but happened slowly on the inside. She could feel how everything began to shrink, stomach and heart and head. How the feathers grew out of the skin, how the arms sucked together like felled tents, changed shapes. The eyes were drawn to the sides and where the nose was placed something hard, sharp and shiny emerged. She took her arms from her head. No one kicked and hit anymore. They had backed away from a body caught by a breeze, relieved from the dusty yard, from the schoolyard and the life. The dirty dress and worn-out boots fell to the ground, like sealed skin. The children all squinted towards the summer sky as the sun opened and streaked it with yellow and red. There, a small bird flapped. Black and oil-shimmering, brittle but fast. At first a bit wobbly, lost altitude, whirled back and forth, as if on its very first flight. Then it found balance, breath and body, cut through the air with pointed wings, turned sharply over the yard and children, disappeared over the school building and was gone. In the gravel, the dress and boots. At the school, a teacher called the children who stood stiff and staring. It was a swallow and the swallow continued on towards the forest and further, beyond. It would fly home to the family and tell them. They would come and take her now. Those with shapes and figures and lines over their bodies and dead eyes that saw what every being had done, did. Take her, divide her and put her deep down in the mountain. Burn the body. She would fly home to mom and grandma and tell them what had happened. But not yet. First she would fly. For the last time. Forever.