That afternoon Shahrazad, still at work at her table, surrounded by thread, beads and dyes, heard a smash from her pantry. She got up to investigate and when she reached her kitchen, caught a figure disappearing through the window. Glancing into the pantry, she saw the dish of chicken from the night before overturned on the floor. Without thinking, she climbed through the window herself and looked around...
There! A small figure was sprinting away down some stairs. She ran after him, and saw him collide with a man just ahead, dodging under his arm and running on. He turned a corner and, right on his heels, she reached out and grabbed his arm. It was so thin her fingers could meet around it. She turned him round and he looked up at her.
This was no ordinary child. She had never seen anyone with skin so light and his eyes... they were the colour of the sky on a clear bright day.
For a few seconds they stared at each other. Then he tried to wriggle out of her grasp. She held tight and he started gabbling defiantly in strange words that she didn’t understand. She stared at him in amazement.
“Where did you come from?”
He looked at her blankly.
“Of course, you don’t understand me, do you?”
His skin was grubby, his clothes ragged, and he was scarily thin and gaunt. He had a chicken leg clutched in his other hand.
“You can have the chicken,” she said more softly, even though she knew he wouldn’t understand. “Come on, come inside and have a drink.”
She took his hand and started to lead him back. He resisted at first, then his arm slackened and he followed her back to her flat. She sat him down at her table, cleared away her things and set some bread and water before him.
He looked at her. She smiled reassuringly. He gulped down the water, then devoured the chicken and the bread, while Shahrazad sat opposite him and waited for him to finish, not taking her eyes off him.
“Hold on, I’ll get you some more water,” she said when he had finished, taking the cup and plate and going into the kitchen. When she came back, he was gone. She rushed to the door and saw him walking away.
“Come back!” she said. “Where will you go?” She caught up with him, and held out the water. He took it, and she steered him back inside. She didn’t like the idea of him out in the city by himself.
She sat down opposite the table from him again and he drank the water.
“Shah-ra-zad,” she said slowly, pointing to herself. He stared at her, his face unfathomable.
“Shahrazad,” she repeated, pointing to her chest again, and then she gestured across the table to him. “What’s your name?”
For a second she thought he didn’t understand. Then, raising his own hand to point to himself, he said “Tommy.”
“Tommy...” she said in wonderment. It sounded strange on her lips.
“Where do you come from? And how on earth did you get here?” she said quietly, more to herself than to him. She sat looking at him thoughtfully.
Tommy said something else in his own language, and pointed to something behind her. She turned round. He was looking at the cabinet where she kept her work things. Everything she’d been working on before he’d turned up was dumped on top. She looked back at him. He was still pointing. Saying something else, he got up and went over to the cabinet and pulled out the sheaf of paper on which Shahrazad had sketched out designs.
“Of course!” she said. She found a clean sheet of paper and rummaged around in a drawer for a pencil, then she set them down on the table. They both sat down again. Tommy took the pencil and paper, scribbled something resembling a plate of food and a cup, and drew a happy face. Then he smiled at her, a big cheeky grin.
Taken aback, Shahrazad stared at the paper. “You’re welcome!” she said, and drew a second smiley face next to the first.
Then she had a sudden thought. She pushed the paper back towards Tommy, and handed him the pencil. Then she pointed to him, saying “Tommy,” and gestured around her with a questioning look on her face.
Tommy seemed to understand at once. He turned the paper over and started to draw. She could see, upside down, two mountains.
Shahrazad gasped. “You’re from over the mountains! But how –“
But the drawing wasn’t finished yet. He turned the paper round, and there, between the mountains, was a drawing of a man, just a cloak with a head at the top and feet sticking out of the bottom.
There was only one person who had ever ventured beyond the mountains...
“You followed the king!”