Simi sits straight. All are silent and waiting. Only the door fidgets as Tonderai circles back towards them. He steps into the firelight and she sees his eyes reaching first one person, and then the next. He stops in front of Marybelle, and her big eyes glue anxiously on to his.
“Girl knows she has to be veeery careful,” he says as though speaking to Marybelle alone. “Uncle will do what he has to with his tools, but she must arrange it so the others do not see. Slowly, slowly is the way, for every day Snake lies under the big, high Table, and waits and watches. But each new morning Girl and Uncle grow their cunning, and their plan.”
Tonderai turns to the fire. Now Simi cannot see his face, and if he were to speak she would not hear him, for the door ups its fidget to a battering. As the wind gusts it smashes away any chance of story, and forces Tonderai back to his seat.
Simi tries to block out the wind. She stares at the fire, her mind full of Snake and Girl and Grandpa. Grandpa, old, greedy and feasting. She imagines his feasts, his food, and feels her own hunger for a hot meal.
A takeaway. Pizza perhaps. Plenty of mozarella. Something on Netflix. Anything. Strictly. Yes Strictly.
Finally, at last, she does not know after how long, the door quietens and Tonderai gets to his feet. He throws the last of the wood into the fire basket and turns to face them. He clears his throat.
“Girl’s plan is this. Now, instead of reading, reading, she will become the one who writes the stories. A Storyteller. One who looks in on the world, and out at the world. Then she will fly her stories through the windows on the pages of old notebooks. On pages that are not quite finished. Pages that she will fill, and then fold into paper aeroplanes to fly out to find readers.”
Tonderai raises his hand, and launches an aeroplane up into the air above Simi’s head. She watches the small plane lift away, her mind travelling each swoop as it sees the little craft arrow towards the outside.
“Girl is fortunate,” Tonderai continues, his eyes still fixed on the distance, “because these days Grandpa likes to open the windows, to allow the people outside his House of Stone to see him in full view. To hear him when he says that he is a most excellent ruler. To see that when he says these things, the Favourites at his Table nod their heads so hard that they almost off. That they shout so loud that the whole world must wonder at his brilliance. This is good. This makes Grandpa proud. So that is why he asks for the windows to be kept wide so that all may see him at his Table.”
Tonderai pulls his shoulders back, pushes his chest forward, and thrusts his chin up into the darkness. Then he turns slowly from side to side as though admiring himself in a mirror.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023