Our Awaking Beauty, Princess Talia, goes out for the evening with her fellow students at college. She becomes upset when the conversation turns to time. She tells them how she feels so lost because she has 'slipped through time'. The others find it hard to understand and think that she's stranger than ever. But then Basil has the weirdest experience that perhaps lets him know how she must feel.
Story by Bertie.
Read by Elizabeth.
Proofread by Jana Elizabeth.
Illustrated by Chiara Civati.
“Hello, my name’s Mario, and I’ll be your waiter tonight.”
Sally ordered a Margarita pizza, Basil a Florentina, and Doug an Americana. Princess Talia studied the menu closely.
“And I’d like ... pheasant,” she said.
The waiter looked puzzled. Talia thought again: “Oh, I can see you don’t have that do you?... er... Dover Sole ... what, no fish?... well I’ll have steak and chips for goodness sake! Oh Sally, what sort of restaurant is this?”
“It’s a pizza restaurant,” said Sally. “You have to have pizza.”
“And what else to they have?”
Basil was trying not to smirk. Sally was getting embarrassed. The waiter was hopping from one foot to the other with impatience. After a painfully long period of thought, Princess Talia finally ordered spaghetti bolognese, which was actually on the menu. When the food arrived, she played with her spaghetti on her folk while the others greedily attacked their plates.
It was the final day of their first term at university. In fact, it was really the last day of their first ten weeks as adults, living independent lives, away from their parents' nests.
“Isn’t it odd?” said Sally. “I feel like we have all known each other for ages and ages.”
“Time is stretchy,” said Basil. “Sometimes the months fly by, and sometimes a few days are so packed with experience that they last for an eon.”
The waiter lit a candle on the table, and Sally noticed that Talia’s eyes, which were usually quite glacial in their pale blueness and inscrutability, had a depth that she had not noticed before. The princess was clearly paying plenty of attention to Basil and his words of wisdom. She said:
“Yes, you are so right Basil. A thousand years can slip by just like that.” And she snapped her fingers as she said so. Basil raised one eyebrow, which usually meant he was going to say something a touch ironic, but on this occasion nothing seemed to quite occur to him. He sawed away at his pizza.
The somewhat scholarly Doug filled the gap in the conversation with “Labuntur Anni, and all that,” which in case you don’t know, is Latin for 'the years slip by'. They were Classics students you see. And he mentioned that some of the old boys and girls, who had been at the college way back in the 1980s, were arriving for a gaudy that weekend. (A gaudy is a reunion of former students at the college).
“It’s hard to believe, but that will be us in twenty years time,” said Sally. “We’ll be fat and wrinkly, married with kids, and dead conventional and boring, but I bet we’ll just feel the same inside. And we’ll be back here, trying to recapture our past.”
“It’s always a mistake to go back,” said Basil. “You can only go forward in time.”
It was hard to see why anyone should get upset about anything, but Talia suddenly grew quite agitated. Her emotions came over her so suddenly, that the others didn’t see this coming.
“You don’t understand, do you? Nobody can know what I’ve experienced. I’ve fallen through time. You can’t imagine what that feels like. You will all be going back to your parents and your cosy childhood bedrooms this Christmas, but I can’t. But I can’t go back in time. I’m stuck here in the 21st century and I'm so alone and out of place, and you all think I’m weird!"
This outburst seemed to be directed mostly at Basil. He looked totally puzzled. “Did I say something wrong?” he asked. Talia started to get up, as if to leave.
“No, no you didn’t say anything wrong,” she said, slightly more calmly now. Sally had stood up too, and was putting her hand on her shoulder to comfort her.
“It’s just that you don’t, you can’t, nobody can understand. I'm sorry I got so upset. I don’t know what came over me. Oh dear. I’m so terribly embarrassed. I’ve made an awful fool of myself.”
Sally tried to reassure her that we all get upset sometimes, but it was no good. Talia sat silently for the rest of the meal and didn’t eat a single strand of spaghetti. When the bill came she paid it all. They thanked her for her generosity and Basil said:
“Well, shall we all go back to my room for a drink?” But the princess excused herself and went off for a late night walk on her own.
On Sunday morning, when Basil was cleaning his teeth, he thought he must be having a hallucination. The face looking back at him from the mirror was about forty years old. “Did I have a rough night?” said Basil to himself. “I don’t remember. It was just herbal tea before bed I think.”
As he pulled the belt around his waist, he noticed that his tummy was soft and flabby. “This is just peculiar,” he thought.
Out on the quad, he was relieved to see that the college had not changed. It never did. Same old sandy coloured stones. Same old ivy. As he walked toward the dining hall, a middle aged man was coming towards him. He just assumed that he was one of the old boys, back for the reunion, but the man called out: “Basil you old devil, you haven’t changed a bit.” Basil scratched his head. “But you don’t recognise me do you?” said the man, a little forlorn. “It’s Doug. Remember me?”
“Why yes, of course,” said Basil. “It's just that I’m not feeling quite well this morning.”
The dining hall was full of men and women in their forties, and some of them were eerily familiar. Basil began to feel really really strange, and quite agitated. He looked at his hand as he held his spoonful of cornflakes. It was wrinkly and hairy. Somebody tapped him on the shoulder. He turned round and found a smiling face waiting to be kissed on either cheek.
“Oh Basil,” said the woman with a trace of a Liverpool accent. “It’s so lovely to see you. And where’s your gorgeous wife? I bet she doesn’t look a day older.”
“Er, she couldn’t make it,” said Basil, not knowing what else to say.
“Oh such a shame,” said the Sally-like woman. “We were all just dying to catch up with her.”
“Excuse me, I’m afraid I don’t feel well,” said Basil, and he got up and hurried back to his room. He slammed the door behind him and wiped the sweat off his brow. Inside his pocket, his phone was ringing. He felt relieved. Perhaps it would be a call from the real world, a voice telling him that this was all some terrible prank and the joke was on him. He fished an unfamiliar and wafer thin device from his pocket. Patterns were gently cascading over the edge-to-edge screen. It was like holding a video picture in his hand. The screen blinked and a woman’s face first appeared in two dimensions, and then morphed into 3D. She was extremely beautiful and he recognised her right away.
“Hello darling,” she said, “have you met any of the old gang yet?”
He threw the videophone onto the bed and staggered into the bathroom, where he most probably fainted. In any case, he came round some time later and heaved himself to the basin to splash his face with water. For a while he did not dare look up into the mirror. When at last he did, he saw his familiar, somewhat aristocratic, and youthful reflection. The nightmare was over. Basil was back in his own time.