Gabriel and the Swallows (The Volatile Duology #1)

Gabriel and the Swallows (The Volatile Duology #1) by Esther Dalseno Read Free Book Online

Book: Gabriel and the Swallows (The Volatile Duology #1) by Esther Dalseno Read Free Book Online
Authors: Esther Dalseno
    “And what does the grocery have that we don’t have here?”
    Mamma eyed me with disapproval. “I’ll never understand all that longing for foreign tea. It’s just so bitter. No thank you, Gabriel, our own tea is quite good enough.”
    “Maybe I could bring back something for you tomorrow after school?”
    “There is nothing of interest to us there. Tobacco and turmeric are of no use in this house. And it’s best to stay away from those dreadful Khans.” She was beginning to grow agitated, and repeated herself. “ Dreadful Khans, dreadful Khans .”
    “Why do people say they are dreadful, Mamma?”
    A pause while she screwed her eyes tight, willing her head and shoulders to stillness. “Because they are different, Gabriel.”
    “Why are they different?”
    “They don’t go to church.”
    “Neither do we.”
    “They act strange and talk even stranger.” Mamma’s head jerked and she began to rub her nose with ferocity, as if it had become the center of her concentration. “ They talk even stranger. They act strange and talk even stranger, stranger .”
    “But so do we sometimes.”
    Mamma looked at me steadily. My heart began to pound as I realized what I’d said, and I was frightened. But this time, my mother sighed and stared at her feet. “Why don’t you show Lulu your room?” she asked, too brightly, and turned her back on me.
    I gently took the swallow-girl’s hand and led her to my room. I noticed the way she walked, hunch-backed and unsteady, like she was unused to her legs, as if the wings were far too heavy for her frame. I decided I should like to cut them off, and she could be my sister, and accompany me to school. But then I realized that would take away all her wonder, and she would be ordinary, like me.
    My room was small with a window looking out toward the vineyard. The walls were brick with tiny nooks where I stuffed schoolbooks and old socks and the occasional pinecone. There was a narrow bed and a chest of drawers that contained my meager wardrobe. A wicker basket in the corner held my short life’s collection of oddities: some dried carcasses of enormous elephant-beetles, a sucked-out stalk of sugar cane Papa bought me at a travelling fair, a bag of marbles, a top from Signora Silvana, a handmade wooden train. The creature made a strange sort of cry when she beheld the contents of the basket. She grabbed the train and began spinning its wheels, and promptly swallowed the elephant-beetles.
    I sat on the bed and watched her.
    “I met a real-life hero today,” I said softly. The girl looked up at me, cocking her head to one side, like a puppy that doesn’t yet comprehend commands. “He saved me. Maybe even saved my life. I believe he was sent by Zeus.”
    She disengaged her stare and resumed her exploration of my treasures.
    “His name is Orlando Khan and he lives in town. Did you know he has thirteen uncles? I could never imagine so many relations. I have only Mamma and Papa. I should have liked an uncle.”
    The girl would look up at me from time to time, her expression fathomless, as I continued my babbling:
    Orlando Khan is a mathematics expert, says Signorina Greco.
    Orlando Khan carved a peacock on the topside of his desk and he never got in trouble.
    Orlando Khan’s sister is supposed to be the most beautiful lady in Umbria but I have never seen her.
    Orlando Khan sometimes wears slippers with curved toes to school for no good reason.
    After I had exhausted myself with every good thing I had catalogued on the subject of my olive-skinned savior, I looked over at my companion. But she was fast asleep on the wooden floor, her fist curled tightly around the train. I was frustrated. She hadn’t understood a word I said.
    Later that week, I happened upon Orlando Khan as we arrived at the school’s gates. “Hello,” I stammered eagerly.
    “Ah, hello, Laurentis,” he replied softly. He strode through the gates with purpose and I trotted

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