Maia closed the diary with a slam, fastened the clasp and looked at Kepler. He was engrossed in the Pleiades. Only sixteen, one year younger than she was and already a famous astronomer in his world. His body was skinny, similar to Altair’s, Kepler’s silent broody moods and his aloofness reminded her of him.
Altair. He would know what to do. Maia had met him in Paris on one of the orphanage outings with her guardian Mrs Gripe, outside Altair’s grandmother’s house. She had been fifteen, he was sixteen years old. She had been sitting in the shade on the banks of the River Seine watching some old painters doing watercolors of the Notre Dame. She was hypnotized by the rhythm of their brushes when she felt a touch as light as air catch her blonde curls and move them as if they were wings in flight. She watched the thin dark haired boy walk on by in silence. He wore black boots, black jeans and a torn T-shirt with an odd looking symbol on it. He too was looking at the painters and appeared not to notice her. Then he began to mimic something she was doing quite unconsciously. Drawing circular shapes in the air, like scribbling on an invisible jotter pad. Her heart beat a little faster. Then he slowly turned, casually, as if to give the river a once over. When their eyes met she jumped. It was like a jolt of electricity had leapt through her body. Maia averted her eyes, trying vainly to find something on the ground that would be of more importance. But it was no use. Then she gasped and couldn’t breathe. She’d forgotten how to take a breath. He was walking over to her. He was asking her something, it was all so vague and dreamy, whether she liked art and that he was a local musician.
Music. Maia found her voice. At first it croaked like a disused dried up foghorn. She turned bright red. He was asking her about her favorite music. He hummed a tune she knew well, ‘Aux Champs Elysee’ by a French singer Joe Dassin. To her extreme embarrassment she found herself singing along. Altair was looking at her with curiosity. He asked whether she was interested in bands. Resonance, the global energy supplier, ran a worldwide competition for teenagers, to measure the band with the greatest output and would she be interested in entering with him, as a duo. Maia just nodded, awestruck. Why would a boy like him be interested in her? After an hour or more of chatting, he told her that his father worked in Resonance and so he had a few connections. He also mentioned that he would probably be going to the prestigious music institute in Oxford, Bridgeford next year. That they offered scholarships. Why didn’t she apply? Maia’s ears pricked up. A music institute? She’d never even thought about such a thing. She’d presumed she would be stuck at Mrs Gripe’s orphanage until a benefactor took pity on her. Maia was surprised at herself. She hardly ever went out of her way to talk to strangers and she avoided any opportunity to bring up her odd family background. A grandfather and father who had disappeared in ‘mysterious circumstances’. A mother who had abandoned her.
Altair was polite and intelligent. He had moved closer without making her feel uncomfortable. He hadn’t poked his nose into any taboo areas of her life. Like Maia he seemed to crave company but didn’t know how to go about getting it. He asked her to sing again. She remembered an old song of her mother’s, a lullaby that she was sure her mother must have sung to her when she was just a baby. A song about peace. The painters around them stopped when Maia sang. Altair’s eyes glowed. It was like an angel of music had descended out of the clouds onto the banks of the Seine. Would she go with him to visit his grandmother’s? He asked her quietly, shyly, without looking her straight in the eyes. She liked the feeling growing in her body, a warmth and security she hadn’t felt for a long time. Mrs Gripe and the orphange tour group had long gone and Maia knew she wouldn’t be missed for an hour or two more. She was prone to wandering off alone. Luckily, Altair’s grandmother’s house was just a few blocks away from the orphanage.
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