There was a girl sitting on the balcony opposite ours. She was wearing a purple dress and purple glasses, with purple hair to match. In her lap sat a purple cat.
This person was far more interesting than the homework I was supposed to be doing, so I walked out onto our balcony. See, I’d never seen a purple cat before. And I really really like cats so I thought I’d seen them all. But here was a purple one right in front of me. I had to investigate.
I slid open the sliding door and walked up to the railing. She hadn’t noticed me yet, still scratching the cat behind its ears, her eyes closed. I could now see that the cat’s eyes were the same purple as its fur. I’m sure if I were closer, I would be able to hear it purring.
“GAH!” I clearly caught her by surprise because she stood up so suddenly that the cat leapt out of her arms and over the railing.
“Oh no!” This wasn’t what I wanted at all.
She reached out her arms to the cat as if that would help. The strange thing is that it did. The cat stopped mid-fall and hovered in place for a moment, before floating back up to her. As soon as it was close enough, it hopped on to the railing, back to the floor and into the apartment.
“I… wuh…?” was all I could manage. The girl looked up at me with a surprised expression on her face.
“You, uh… weren’t supposed to see that.” She looked more embarrassed than angry. Her cheeks were flushing as she rubbed the book of her neck and averted her eyes.
I tried to piece together what had just happened, and the first thing that came to my mouth was, “Your cat... can fly!?”
She laughed in a short burst. “No, silly, cats can’t fly.”
“But he… flew!”
“No, she floated back up to me, through no will of her own.”
Again, I tried to piece it together. “So... you did it?”
“Yeah.” She averted her eyes again. She was definitely embarrassed about this. Or at least, she was used to being private. “I may or may not be a witch.”
Of course. The matching dark clothing, the strange animal friend, the inexplicable magical powers. All she was missing was a point hat and a broom. “Woah.”
“What are you?” This seemed a strange question to ask, as I was clearly not a witch myself.
“Oh, I’m nobody.”
“Nobody’s nobody.” She gave me a warm smile. I noticed now that she was looking directly at me that her eyes were a bright yellow in contrast to all the purple that surround them. She was very pretty. “What’s your name?”
She restrained a laugh, which stung me a little. “Really? Nemo?” I was used to being mocked for my name but usually not from people I liked.
“I know it’s weird.”
“No, it’s just… don’t worry about it.” She had an amused expression on her face that told me I was missing some joke. “Your mom like talking fish?”
“Maybe, I don’t know.” I had no idea what she was talking about.
“Well, at least she didn’t call you Marlin, I guess.”
“I guess.” Marlin sounded like an ugly name to me. Like an old man. Or some weird version of Martin. “What’s your name?”
“Zia?” I had never heard this name before, but the sound of it was very appealing to me. Zia. I repeated it in my head.
“I suppose that name wouldn’t be common to you.”
“Because I’m not a witch?”
“Because you’re not Greek.”
“You’re Greek?” That would explain her olive complexion. I was as white as a sheet in comparison.
“I can tell.” Something about her quick-witted responses made me remember that she was at least a few years older than me. Probably around 14 or 15. I couldn’t tell just from looking though. She had an air of wisdom that obscured any physical clues there might have been.
“And you’re a witch?”
“What’s that like?”
She looked like she didn’t know how to answer that, like she’d never thought about it before. “Um, it is how it is, I guess? I’ve never not been a witch.”
“You were born as a witch? I thought that you had to train or something.”
“Oh, I’m still in training all right. But I was born into power, so I’ve always been in training. I do lessons with my master every day, and when I’m 18 I’ll move away to see how I function in the wider world. I won’t be finished my training till I’m 21.”
“Wow.” I had always wanted for there to be some other part of this world that I didn’t know about yet, something more exciting than what I had to deal with every day. Then I realised, “That’s like school.”
She nodded, “It is, it’s witch school.”
“Not even a little bit like Hogwarts.” She shook her head with another short laugh. Despite its briefness, it never felt rude. She seemed polite.
The cat wandered back out to the balcony and started rubbing up against Zia’s leg. She looked down and picked her up, scratching her once again behind the ears.
“Is your cat magic too?” I asked after a moment. “I know she can’t fly, but she’s purple. I like cats a lot and I know a lot of different types and I’ve never seen a purple one before. That isn’t normal, is it?”
“Well, witches are known to have familiars, and Sappho here is mine.” She was staring into the cat’s eyes. It seemed confused.
“Sappho?” Another name I was unfamiliar with.
“Your cat’s a poet?”
“No, Sappho was a Greek poet. My cat’s a Greek asshole.” She said it with love, but I still had to laugh.
“So you like poetry?” Why else would she name her cat after a poet, aside from the Greek connection?
“Do you write any?”
She gave a non-committal shrug, “Sometimes.”
“Show me one.”
She shook her head vehemently. Perhaps I’d touched a nerve. “Oh no. No way. That’s personal.”
“Too witchy for a muggle?”
“Too emo for a happy kid.” Despite her dark clothing, she certainly didn’t give me emo vibes. She seemed like a somewhat shy but overall nice person. Her assessment of me as a happy kid surprised me more though.
“What makes you say that?”
“What, that you’re happy?”
She looked me up and down and shrugged again, “I dunno, you give off that energy.”
“You can see my energy? Like my aura or something?” I don’t remember where I heard the word aura, but it seemed like the right thing to say here.
“No, I can see your smile.” She said this with a smile of her own. I felt like she could see right through me. “Though I can also see your aura.” she added.
“What’s it like?”
“Very yellow.” No hesitation, she knew right away.
“Is that good?”
“It’s you. You strike me as very yellow.”
“Okay.” I had no idea what that meant, but I assumed it was good from the way she said it. She would have been more apprehensive about talking to me if I had a bad aura. “So what other powers do you have?”
“I mean, do you want a list?”
“If you have one.” I didn’t even think that was an option.
“I don’t. It would take all day to list all the things that witchcraft entails.”
“So just tell me a few then. Apart from levitation.”
“Well, um…” She thought for a moment. I wondered how often she had talked to non-magical people. She seemed very unused to this line of questioning. “I can make light. Like I can use a wand like a flashlight.”
“Lumos!” I yelled, almost instinctively, which made her jump, and the cat twitch.
“Can you get off the Harry Potter train for five minutes?” she said, stroking the cat’s back to calm her down.
“That would be the Hogwarts Express, thank you very much.” I mimed pushing up a pair of imaginary glasses.
My correction made her burst out laughing, not as short and clipped as before. It was nice to see her more open. “You’re something else, kid.”
After a pause, I asked “What else?”
“Uh, I can fix like simple machines? Like a phone cable, or a-”
“Watch?” It immediately popped into my head because it had been bugging me for a while.
She thought about it and nodded to herself, “Yeah, I suppose I could fix a watch.”
“Can you fix mine?”
“You have a broken watch?”
“Yeah.” I held up my wrist to show her. It hadn’t moved in months. “I still wear it ‘cause my mom bought it for me but she doesn’t know it stopped working and I don’t wanna tell her..”
Zia squinted over at me, trying to see it clearer. “It probably just ran out of battery.”
She put Sappho down and leaned on the railing in front of her, “Throw it over, I’ll take a look.”
“Really?” I had definitely brought it up with the hope that she’d fix it for me but I didn’t think she actually would. And with so little persuading too.
“Sure, why not?” Another shrug, clearly a favourite gesture of hers.
I hastily undid the worn leather strap and got it into my hand “This is great!” I tossed it as far as I could and Zia stopped it in mid-air and let it float into her hands.
She turned it over and looked at it. She seemed to be looking through it, probably reaching out with some sort of magic sense of hers to see the mechanisms inside. “Yeah, I think it’s the battery. Hold on a sec.”
She held it aloft in one hand, closed her eyes and point at it with her other hand. The watch started to glow, then there was a pop, and then it stopped glowing. She opened her eyes and looked down at it, turning the dial on the side to bring it to the correct time, which she seemed to just know innately. Then she tossed it back over the gap, not needing magic for it to reach me.
I caught it and looked at the face. It was turning again. “Wow!” I could barely contain my excitement. This was handy magic.
“There, now it works again.” She beamed with pride.
“Thank you so much!” I fitted the strap around my wrist again. Now I wouldn’t have to angle my arm away from my mom whenever she looked.
“No problem. Simple machines.” My guess was that she’d never fixed a watch before and was trying to play it off cool. I didn’t mind. I was, however, quite jealous.
“Man, I wish I was a witch.”
“You could train some powers, it doesn’t have to be something you’re-” She cut herself off abruptly and stood upright, like a dog who’s just seen a squirrel in the underbrush.
“What is it?”
“I think my mom’s home.” She must have sensed her coming.
“Uh oh. That’s bad?”
“Yeah, I shouldn’t be out talking to you. My mother is the master I mentioned earlier.”
“My mother is my master too, kinda. I’m supposed to be doing my homework right now.” And if the time on my newly fixed watch was correct, my mom would be home soon.
“I’m supposed to be practising spells.”
“Well you just did two.”
“True enough.” She smiled at me, and there almost seemed to be some sadness in her eyes. Maybe she wanted to talk to me some more. “I’ll talk to you some other time, Nemo. Maybe show you a thing or two, magic-wise.”
“I hope so!”
She stepped back into her apartment, and turned before she slid the door closed to wave at me, “Bye-bye!”
“Seeya, Zia!” I waved back as she closed the door and disappeared from sight. Then I walked back over to my open textbook on the table and sat there, thinking about witches and cats and mechanical magic. I was still daydreaming when mom came home.