Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Nayla S. has won second place in the 9-12 age group for the Summer 2021 Youth Writing Contest with her piece "Me & Yule"
Nayla S. is an amateur writer who enjoys spinning tales with enchantingly scenic settings, (hopefully) endearing characters, and lots and lots of magic. When she isn't writing, she enjoys detective and classic novels, chocolate, and working on her little sapling of a blog which you can find at www.witchywordcraft.com
The train screeched to a stop, and I woke up with a gasp. Sheila shrieked and Mom let her head loll back before stretching.
She lifted Sheila up and rested her on her hip. With the other arm, she shook Dad awake. “Good morning! Sab samaan leke aajao, and we’ll freshen up at the hotel, theek hai?”
“Um, sure. I’ll help gather up the luggage, and we’ll meet at the hotel.” I volunteered.
“That's ridiculous. No — absolutely not. All of you are kids — what if you get lost? Ask an aunt or uncle to help you — I think Ajay Mama can help.”
“He’s not your uncle, so why do you call him Mama?” I muttered. Besides, I was 16. Seriously, Mom. The trip had barely started, and my Mom was already getting on my nerves.
Not that she ever got off.
I shrugged, trying to hide my irritation so that it didn't escalate, and decided that I might as well leave everyone else to do the work. The crisp morning air felt fresh on my face, and I took a deep breath and blinked before returning to Earth.
Despite the scenic setting of Glencoe, Scotland, by the time everyone else has caught up to me and is murmuring and chuckling within themselves, there was a scowl on my face. As usual. And not without good reason, mind you.
My eyes were red and bleary after a week of nearly no sleep. My hair was frizzy, and my legs felt clumsy and stiff. I felt rotten.
Mom handed me a jacket (or rather shoved it into my hands), her eyes narrowing. “You don’t have to be quite so snobbish, you know. You could try, Malmuira — it’s not exactly pertinent that you act so very wretchedly just because you’re a teenager now,”
She turned away from me, attending to my sister with her flowery English.
Yule was awful. It was sweet and sticky, and everyone was always hugging everyone else. And “chatting” — asking each other the same questions over and over again. And my parents forced me to come every. Single. Year.
A cousin yelled out to me, mispronouncing my name while obviously struggling with a large, unwieldy trunk. I sighed and helped her lug it into one of the gazillion taxis we hired for the week-long trip.
She gave me a big, toothy grin after, as if we had just shared an adventure or something. “I wish we could use magic to get our work done faster — my Ma and Pa don’t even let me do basic Candle Magic yet,” she chirped. Ugh.
I gave her a curt nod and walked away. I was sick of people like her — people who expected me to share every detail of my magic and my life with them.
I was not even a hundred percent sure that I believe in magic.
I mean, Mom insisted that all I have to do is keep my eyes and mind open and I would see it. But that was all I had done my whole life, and it just doesn’t work.
Dad was a bit different. My dad’s Scottish and he thinks that magic is in you, not in the world. That it’s your job to take all the magic that’s in you and put it out into the world, to make it a better, brighter place.
That was the thing. They both think that magic is something to share, something communal, something that you give away at sleepovers like you would the name of your crush.
I just… don’t.
Everyone always blabs about how important it is to be unique, and how your magic (“Your magick, your spiritual practice,”) is uniquely yours. I just didn't understand why I would wanna give that away, or why I should.
I didn't want to be the same as the cousin who was so foreign to me that I didn’t even know her name. Whose face barely registered in my memory. I have no doubt that if I would've seen her fifteen minutes after that, I wouldn’t have been able to recognize her.
At the hotel, I (not so politely) declined Ajay Mama's suggestion to explore. Instead, I climbed onto the green futon in our room and start to flip through the channels on the TV. As expected, there was nothing good to watch. Still, it was a pastime, and it gave me something to do while I avoided looking at Mama.
Mom always used to say that as I got older, I got more and more impatient, but, then, in the hotel, for example, when I was doing something by myself and getting it done, how was that being impatient? Parents are impossible.
Speak of the dev-... Never mind.
Mama looked at my Dad, who was stepping into the room, a clear call for backup. "Convince her to come, won't you? She won't benefit by sitting in the room, cooped all day,"
"Don't I know that," Dad muttered, punctuating his lament with a half-helpless and half-frustrated shrug.
I ignored them.
Later that night, it snowed. Big, fluffy clumps got collected everywhere, and we woke up to a soothing, monochrome world.
Mom and some of my cousins decided that today is "the perfect day for several group affirmational spells that will help us all be our best selves on this beautiful morning", so they went off making their glorified vision boards at seven, way before I was awake. Eventually, I did manage to get out of bed (yay, me) but there wasn't much to do while everyone pretty much waited for Yule. A lot of the "children" wanted to explore, so a few of the younger aunts and uncles did that with them, "ooh-ing" and "aah-ing" at all the right moments.
Meanwhile, I sat around sulking and texting a few friends. All of my friends (who were all "Muggles", by the way) think my family is super cool.
Most of them are single children from perfectly normal(white) families. The few that were from other races or had more, um, unique family shapes did their 1,000% trying to fit in.
I didn't go out of my way to fit in, but I wasn't blind. I was different. A true, proven fact right there. And all because my family insisted that a thing that I didn't even believe in was a thing that I shouldn't want to get rid of.
The next day was Yule. Everyone was in a sort of state— walking around with this strange half-smile on their face and their hands hovering around as if they didn't control them.
Later, after breakfast, there was a nervous chatter going on — everyone kept saying that Yule was their favorite panel on the Wheel of Year. I have no doubt that if it were Samhain, all of them would be head over heels for the idiotic dumb dinners.
Despite my prejudices, both biased and unbiased, I managed to enjoy the day. There was lots of food — Indian, Scottish, and good old comfort food.
I also got to walk to the cottage and spend a few hours there, reading contentedly.
The cottage is where we would usually stay for Yule, but since all of my aunts, uncles, and neverending cousins wanted to come with us, we opted for the hotel. Dad insisted.
My Dad's an only child and was a slightly pampered one, but he was raised to be super upright and selfless. His dad tried to raise him to be more snobbish too, but it never stuck.
Both of my parents can talk for hours on end whenit comes to their mothers.
I only got to meet my Nana (or Nani, in Hindi), but both of my grandmothers sound amazing.
My Grandma (on my Dad's side) wasn't actually married to my Grandpa. I'm not supposed to know that, so I pretend I don't, and it works out fine.
A lot of things are like that, at least in my life. Sometimes it's just better to pretend to know nothing and move on. Just like I pretend not to know that none of the adults followed the "tradition" of doing one new spell each Yule.
It was something that Dad insisted we do, which is a rare situation in and of itself.
That year, I had decided to try Bibliomancy. As a thorough bookworm, it had always been something that I wanted to try. I could never do it before because, before that year, Dad insisted on it being a real, proper spell.
So, still at our storybook-esque cottage, I settled in with an anthology of Byomkesh Bakshi stories, a book that had spoken (figuratively) to me for a long time.
It was also the only episodic series I could stand. Besides, my mom loves it — she's a sucker for the classic Indian sleuth, so it was what I'd grown up reading.
I cracked open the destroyed spine of the humongous book and begin.
You were supposed to ask a non-yes-or-no question from a calm state of mind. I took a deep breath and whispered to the title page, "Is magic real?"
I guess that was yes or no, but it was pretty much the only question I had, so it was kinda the only option I have.
I flipped through the pages, not really looking, just stopping when it felt right. I stopped at page 81 in a story called "The Menagerie". I glanced at the pages, my eyes instinctively finding the right spot. It was a piece of dialogue from an employee of the murder victim —
"So what if I'm drowsy, sir?" The next two lines felt impertinent so I skipped to the last part of the same epiphany —
"I get all the news. I knew long ago something was going to happen."
Even before I could manage to frown, I closed my eyes, cleared my mind best I could, and forced myself into a short nap.
When I woke up exactly 32 minutes later, I felt more than a little weird. Like I was on the edge of something — an epiphan yof my own?
The meaning of the lines, what they mean in the context of me, of magic, felt obvious.
As obvious as the words, "So what if I don't spell everything out for you? I'm magick, with a 'k', and I'm very much real!"
There was still something obstinate inside me, something that just wanted to resist, something that I think would resist, no matter what, but I can't. It just felt true.
God, I sounded hokey, didn't I?
I glanced up at the clock — it's 3:54. I missed lunch. Oh well. I wasn't really hungry anyway. Mom, I knew, would be having a fit, but what I'd like to know is when she isn't.
I stretched my legs and got up. Time to reenter reality, Malmuira. I shook my long blonde hair out and rubbed my eyes.
Back at the house, Mom was miraculously calm.
Apparently, they had set up some sort of complicated candle ritual, and she had barely noticed I was gone.
Over the next few days, I kept seeing things in a brighter light, with sharper edges. It was like I had updated the prescription of my contact lenses.
Everything seemed a bit nonsensical, a bit self-contradictory but also curious. New. Foreign. Dangerous, even.
I kept gasping quietly, amazed at the most simple things. The gentlest touch of a finely crafted leather armchair would make me shudder. The yearly blooming of the Snowdrops, (my favorite flowers) signaling the start of spring, left me awestruck.
Everything felt richer, and more full. More vibrant, somehow.
Nothing felt straightforward anymore, but still so, so much less complicated than I could ever remember it being.
I read a lot more now, but, often, I couldn't help but just sit idly, thinking nothing, doing nothing except seeing.
And I started to notice more. I liked the way I looked almost Scandinavian (well, I thought I did — I'd never met a Scandinavian person.) I still wasn't the biggest fan of my family, but they started to look more like individual people instead of just amass of humanity.
And I missed home, but not in the way I used to. It was more nostalgic now. I reminisced about the busy streets, the sky-high skyscrapers. Elmira, New York. My home.
When I visited the cottage, it was rare that I would do anything except marvel at the attention to detail that my mother had. From our little collection of snowballs that was displayed over the fireplace to the sheer number of first editions that we had on our bookshelf.
It was perfect. Everything.
And don't get me wrong, I was still annoyed at her many, many more times than was healthy. I just didn't use blocker spells anymore.
I wrote her several letters, then burned them. It felt good. Like I was physically doing something. Like I wasn't stuck in an eternal hamster wheel.
And it wasn't just my sight, or even just my sense of touch — all my senses seemed exaggerated. My lungs felt as if they held more air, more fresh, scented air.
The sounds of the birds chirping sounded much more pronounced, like a band playing just for me.
And it went even deeper than that — I could feel myself, inhabit my body with a kind of consciousness that was lost to me before.
All in all, that Bibliomancy session changed me. No, it transformed me. I was unrecognizable, even to myself.
And I was happy. More than happy. I was glad.
The next day, the general mood was glum and rather morose. Everyone seemed to have just realized that there were just two days left in the trip. No one wanted to leave. Myself included.
Worse, the adults were starting to rediscover their phones, replying to week-old texts and emails from work.
Still, wish as we may, real life still existed. We started to stress about schoolwork — and the impending but imminent catastrophe of returning to school.
So, to ease everyone back into stress and pressure and work and deadlines, an aunt with cropped hair, a nose ring, and a name I couldn't be bothered to remember organized an oracle card reading. I thought it was a good idea, as did everyone else.
And that's why, that evening ("Everything's better half-dark!"), we all huddled around a circular mahogany table in a meadow near the cottage.
The table couldn't have been very large, but it had a certain grandeur that you couldn't quite put your finger on.
Perhaps it was the ornately carved legs, or the way the candlelight gave it a mystical feel. In the smack middle of the table, there was a large deck of large oracle cards.
At the sight of them, there was a strange tingling in my stomach, and my palms felt damper than they had a moment ago.
I can't remember the name of the deck, not even today, when I own a large collection of large decks of large oracle cards. Nonetheless, I have a hunch — could it have been "Wisdom of the Oracle"?
I'm afraid I'll never be sure. But back to the story.
The aunt, who was going to be the interpreter, asked who would like to go first. Since there were so many of us, each person would only get one card pulled.
A boy with a Fortnite t-shirt volunteered.
We didn't hear his question, not even the aunt did, but we all heard the card he pulled and what she interpreted it as.
I ended up going seventh.
When it was my turn I closed my eyes and held the cards tight. I thought my question vigorously, letting it infiltrate every corner of my mind, until I felt like my ears were ringing with it —
"Will I do the right thing by following what I think is magic? Will it be good for me?"
I hold the deck a minute longer than necessary, then hand it over to my aunt.
She shuffles the cards with a special flair, then fans them out in her hands, upside down, and asks me to pick one.
I purse my lips and pick one smack in the middle.
After a couple minutes of suspense, she grins. "Goodness, Malmuira. That must have been some question!"
She gives me the card I picked and I read it out, imitating those who had gone before me. "Loyal Heart. Essential meanings: fidelity; loyalty; devotion."
There's a sort of glow inside me, something warm, something that's overflowing inside me. And I have never looked back since.
Or it would have been.
But that’s when the aunt enveloped me into a hug that smelled like nutmeg and family. “Congrats, Malmuira,”
“What for?” I asked when I was released. “You don’t remember?”
I shook my head.
“You complete your year and a day study today! You’re a real witch now.”