The Present Day
‘Are you awake?’ Mia’s Nan called up the stairs. Mia didn’t answer. She was looking out of her bedroom window. She was watching a magpie. It was perched on the large wooden gates at the end of the back garden preening it’s long, black tail feathers. The gates were bigger than Mia and bigger than her Nan who had to stand on tip toe to slide the top bolt to open them. There were three sets of bolts. ‘These gates are great for making sure the dog doesn’t get out,’ Mia’s Nan had said when they moved there. Mia thought they were great for making sure ‘something’ didn’t get in.
Mia’s Nan came into Mia’s bedroom with her school boots. She walked to the window and looked out.
‘One’s for sorrow,’ she said. Mia gave her a quizzical look. ‘The magpie. There’s an old rhyme about them, it goes, one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told.’
‘Why’s one for sorrow?’ asked Mia.
‘I always think it’s because you usually see two or more together. If you only see one it means he’s lost his friends. He’s all by himself in the world. There’s a lot of magpies around here. Maybe that’s why our cottage is called Magpie Cottage.’ Mia’s Nan made a pretend stern face. ‘Now, get dressed or you’ll be late for school.’
Mia looked out beyond the back gates into the field behind the cottage. A thin mist hung above the long grass. Inside she felt a heavy ache and wished her mum was there. She shook off the sensation. Her mum would be back by the summer holidays she told herself. Until then she’d just have to get on with it.
Mia brushed her long hair. Today it was a soft, warm brown, but sometimes it seemed red, sometimes gold depending on the light. She pulled it into a tight sideways pony tail, then checked it in the mirror and smiled at the result.
As she pulled on her boots she remembered something from last night. She’d woken up, her room was in complete darkness and then she heard the sound of someone crying. It seemed a long way away. Outside somewhere. Then she drifted off to sleep again. Over breakfast she told her Nan about the crying but her Nan said she was dreaming.
‘It could have been anything Mia, the wind, cats meowing. Me snoring! Now wash your hands and go and get your bike, I’ll be out in a minute.’ Mia thought that if her Nan had heard the crying she would have believed her.
She left her Nan in the bathroom and went to the larder and quickly stuffed a packet of crisps into her bag before making her way up the garden to take her bike out of the shed. Mia and her Nan cycled to school along a bumpy, cobbled path and across the playing field. Her Nan left her at the school gate and carried on to the shops. The school bus was pulling in bringing children from the outlying villages and Mia stopped to wait for Safi.
She didn’t remember how their friendship began. Safi had come from Iraq with his family a few years ago. His dad had been an interpreter for the British army during a war that had happened before both Mia and Safi were born. Safi was a quick thinker, he was the only boy in year 6 that instantly knew the answer to any random multiplication the teacher threw at him. He had curly, jet-black hair and big, bright eyes and even though he was always eating he was the smallest boy in his class. Mia was the total opposite. She hated maths. Her favourite things were drawing, dancing and making up stories. She was one of the tallest girls in school with pale blue eyes and freckles across her nose…but in spite of their differences she and Safi were best friends.
The biggest thing they had in common was a TV program called Warriors of Albion. They loved it. They made up games around the characters and joined the Warriors of Albion fan club. They had posters, books, stationary and anything they could get their hands on that had a Warriors of Albion theme.
The other thing that made them feel connected was that Mia’s mum was in the army and had been in Iraq during the difficult times of the war and had known Safi’s mum and dad. Whatever it was, they hit it off straight away back in year 4 when Safi first came to Evercombe primary.
‘Hey, you look like the dog’s eaten your breakfast,’ Safi rolled his eyes at Mia’s words.
‘I haven’t got a dog!’ he said ‘…and if I did I would have given him my breakfast.’ Mia laughed.
‘Eggs again?’ she said, stopping and opening her back pack. ‘There you go.’ she handed him the packet of crisps she’d sneaked into her bag.
‘You’ve saved my life!’ he announced dramatically, tearing into the foil and stuffing several crisps into his mouth at once. Mia put her bike in the bike shed. ‘Did you watch Warriors of Albion last night?’ Safi asked excitedly.
‘Of course. I just want them to rescue the Thistle Magician, he’s been a prisoner of the Witch of Sardeeni for five weeks. Five weeks!’
‘Well I think when King Constantine comes back from the North Kingdom he’ll be rescued.’ He opened the top of the crisp packet, tipped back his head and poured the last little crispy bits into his mouth. The bell rang to line up. ‘See y’later and thanks for the crisps.’ Mia smiled and joined her queue.