“But, Ada, he’s so cuddly and nice! I bet he likes sport!” She nuzzled my tummy ferociously.
“Now!” Adamantine Potter screamed. Her face was a mask of rosy indignation, and when she stamped her foot, it cracked a flagstone step.
Jasmine’s arms snapped back, and I swear she levitated to her feet. She looked down at me with huge brown eyes and blushed.
“It is lovely meeting you, and I hope to speak with you again soon,” she said, sheepishly, “but I’ve got to go now.”
The trio reassembled quickly, and Adamantine’s angry expression faded into something more like contentment. They spun on their heels and walked back into the building.
I looked over at Dakara-kun, sitting on the ground where he’d landed minutes before. He looked back at me, and shook his head.
“What just happened?” I asked him.
“You met the Pottah triplets.” I think he smirked before he said, “Jasmine seems to like you.”
“They’re… really strange.”
I was a little taken aback when Dakara-kun fell over on his back, laughing hysterically. A random girl had tried to hug my intestines out, and he was roaring with amusement… it just wasn’t right.
“What?” I yelled.
“Puures-kun, do you not understand where you are?”
“I’m at some kind of boarding school. What do you mean?” I was genuinely perplexed.
“Baka! You are at Mount Saint Ampoule School for Charming Young People!” He looked at me like I’d lost my mind while Jasmine hugged me.
“And that means… what?” I could feel my temper fraying, and the desire to watch something burn grow back there, behind my eyes.
“No student here is normal. Everyone is crazy. To call any of us ‘charming’ is a joke. It is sarcasm!”
“Dakara-kun, I don’t understand!” I wanted to wipe the awful smile from his face… or set fire to an inanimate object. The stress was getting to me, and I’d only just arrived.
“See?” The question exploded in the air, and it shocked me enough that I couldn’t help but look around to see where it came from. “He must be the last of our classmates!”
I saw two people standing at the giant doors on the opposite side of the quad from the impressive steps. A little boy in a tropical print skirt was pointing at me and bouncing up and down with excitement. Beside him was an older man with a huge head, scrawny body, and a sour expression. The older fellow shoved his hands in the lab coat that swung around his legs, and shot me a look.
“I knew something special was going to happen, Dr. Wifflebat! I just knew it!” The little brown-skinned boy was so pleased he wriggled in place. “I’m going to greet him! Excuse me!”
The boy shot across the stones like a little floral comet, and came to an abrupt stop about five feet from me. He bowed, made a complex gesture with his hands, and slapped himself on both cheeks.
“I greet you, final student! I am Prince Funny Brown Rock, in exile, from the island nation of Kono Nani! My ancestors, and my ancestor’s ancestors bless this meeting, and I am honored to express their wishes for your good health in our ancient tongue. Toppo wai appa appa pala pala chips ‘n’ fish!” He clapped his hands and bowed again, looking very satisfied with himself.
“Ah.” I sat and stared at him, completely unsure of how to respond to such a grand introduction. After a minute, I decided to act natural. “Hello. I’m Rockwell Barnaby Pooles, from Massachusetts. Nice to meet you.”
I held out my hand, thinking he’d reach out and shake it like a normal person. Instead, he squeaked, farted, and jumped backwards.
“What have I done, Rockwell Barnaby Pooles, that you hold out the Gift Hand with no gift in it?” He clasped his hands over his heart, eyes bugging out of his head.
“I wanted to shake your hand. It’s a custom.”
He didn’t look comforted by my explanation.
“Have I given an offense to your gods by giving you greetings from my ancestors and their ancestors?” He asked me.
The look on Funny Brown Rock’s face was sadness incarnate. Someone once showed me pictures of weeping clowns on the internet, and this kid looked just like a tan, sad clown without makeup.
“No! No! Not at all!” I waved my hands back and forth, as though I could dispel his sadness with aerobic exercise. “We just have different customs! I really appreciate your ancestors wishing me good health! Thank you!”
His face softened a little bit, and he nodded gravely.
“Thank you for your patience with me,” he said. “I have only been away from my island for three weeks, and there is much to learn about new people and cultures that are foreign to me.”
Funny Brown Rock bowed to me, slapped his cheeks repeatedly, and stood up. He held his arms to the sky, did a little dance, and exclaimed something in his native tongue.
“Oa nurple paduca mi mi tang!”
Sometimes the only things you can do are stare, or nod like you understand what is happening. I nodded.
He smiled at me, so my response must have been acceptable, and I felt relieved.
“I look forward to encountering you at dinner! May your day be free of lies,” he cried as he spun on his heel and ran back to the sour-faced man in a lab coat.
The odd pair went back into the building at the opposite end of the paved yard, and closed the gargantuan doors behind them.
I turned back to look at Dakara-kun. He was busy examining his fingernails as though nothing was strange about excitable boys from island nations. Of course, it could have been he simply didn’t care. I noticed something else: the old, one-eyed ninja was gone.
“Dakara-kun, where did the ninja go?”
“I don’t know, Pooles-kun.” He looked up from the smooth perfection of his manicure, and gave me a flat, bloodshot eye-filled stare. “Where do ninja go?”
“That’s why I asked you. I don’t know where ninja go.”
“Does anyone know where ninja go?” Dakara-kun asked me, and turned his face to the sky.
“I don’t know!” I yelled, feeling confused, stressed, and itching for flames.
“Ah,” he said, nodding at nothing in particular, “it is an existential question. Is it important we know where ninja go? Will knowing the answer give us peace, or more to worry about?”
I stared at him like he’d budded an extra arm.
Dakara Sake ignored me, pulled a flask from his pants pocket, and drank it dry. I smelled strong alcohol, and wondered how he got away with drinking at school. What kind of rules allowed for that?
“I think,” he said, “Juusan Sensei went back to his office.”
I nearly had a seizure.
“Why didn’t you say that in the first place?” I grabbed at the tube of matches in my pocket, hoping the familiar feeling would calm me down before I could strangle my classmate, or run off to find something combustible.
“I started to become sober. It is a bad thing for me, being sober.”
What kind of insane place did my parents pick for me?