by Stephen Dedman
I had just turned nine when Aisha walked into my classroom, stopping the conversation and stealing my heart in the same instant.
I think we all stared, and then, as Aisha looked back defiantly, we dropped our gazes back to our books as though we were suddenly interested in Stigrosc prime number theories. Pat, our teacher for the day, smiled a little thinly. “Class, this is Aisha, from al-Gohara.”
A few of us looked up and muttered greetings, as Pat guided our new classmate to a seat near the doorway. A message from Morgan flowed across my book.
I glanced at Aisha’s golden-pale profile out of the corner of my eye.
It was hard not to, despite Aisha’s loose and very opaque sky-grey robe, but that would have been even more impolite than passing notes in class—and class was meant to teach us social skills: we would have learned math much faster at home.
Morgan stared at er book for a moment, obviously gossiping to someone else. I stole a quick glance at Aisha’s face, which was beautiful. Especially those eyes, rounder and darker and larger than any I’d seen outside of books. I love you, I thought, and was startled to see I’d written it on my book. I erased it hurriedly, relieved that I wasn’t still passing my notes to Morgan, and went back to my math. A few of the kids were starting to talk again, but none of them spoke to—or about—Aisha.
E couldn’t answer that, and there was almost nothing about al-Gohara in my book or my ramplant, and I couldn’t access the library during class without Pat noticing. All I could remember was that al-Goharans, being Muslims, liked to travel to Earth once in their lives, and their world was only one solstice jump from daVinci, with the worlds being in conjunction every six point something years (math isn’t my forte, and I don’t think anyone human
Aisha suddenly looked up, jacked out of er book, and then walked over to Pat’s desk and whispered something. Pat looked startled for a moment, and then nodded. “Of course; I’m sorry, I didn’t think of it. Will you be coming back today?”
Aisha smiled, whispered something else, and then walked out of the room. I remembered reading that Muslims had to pray so many times a day—though whether that was an Earth day, an al-Goharan day, or a daVincian day, I had no idea. Maybe I could ask Aisha.
Aisha was standing in the shade under the trees at the edge of the basketball court, leaning against one of the old cedars with a book in er lap, but it was obvious from the way er eyes tracked that e was watching the game, or the players, or maybe their clothes: smoke and mirrors were back in fashion again, and modesty wasn’t. I found myself watching Morgan’s legs, as usual—e liked to wear the briefest, tightest shorts possible, to show them off—but I kept wondering what Aisha’s must look like.
I’d accessed the library as soon as class was over, and discovered that the gravity on al-Gohara was .82, the climate generally warmer but less humid, and the day nearly thirty standard hours; the ship, the
The only reply to that one was a quick glance, and an expression I couldn’t read through er shades. The solstice isn’t for nearly a year, I thought; you’re going to have to talk to someone sometime…
I saw Teri weave past Shane and slam-dunk the ball amid scattered applause, and Aisha muttered something; the words were unrecognizable, probably Arabic, but the tone said, clearly, “Not bad.”
“Do you want to practice your Amerish?” I suggested.
Another glance, and then, quietly, “Don’t you have any friends?”
“Sure,” I replied, shghtly nettled. “I’m just lousy at basketball, is all. If I were as big—I mean,
“The gravity isn’t a problem,” e replied, and muttered something that sounded like “initially.” “It’s less than Earth’s, and we’ve been training for that. It’s—”
“Nothing. You just do things so differently here. I wanted to come to your school—it’s been so boring on the ship, with no one else my own age—and I had to pester my father to let me, but it’s…”
“Don’t girls go to school on daVinci?”
“I suppose I should have learnt more about the place before I came here. I’m sorry I didn’t, but there wasn’t very much about it in our library: we don’t travel much, except the men, and that’s usually only on Hajj… Do your girls decide not to come after they turn twenty-five, or is there some sort of law against it?”
I stared, calling up words from my ram and trying to understand what Aisha was saying, and hoping that I didn’t look as stupid as I felt, if that were possible. “Or have they just sent me to a boy’s school by mistake? I haven’t even found a girls’, uh, bathroom—”
A painful silence followed. “We don’t have segregated schools,” I began, “or segregated toilets, or segregated
“I don’t know. Can you?”
I tried to smile. “Do you know what ‘monosex’ means?”
It must have been Aisha’s turn to stare at me. “What? No. What?”
“You mean, like the Chuh’hom?”
“Yes. Monosex is the opposite; it means to be male or female, but not both…”
“But…” Aisha edged away from me slightly. “You mean
I nodded. “We all are.”
“You mean, everyone in the school?”
“Everyone on the
Aisha slid slowly down the tree to sit with er arms wrapped around er legs, murmuring something in Arabic. I waited. “I’ve never met a hermaphrodite before,” e said, weakly.
“I’ve never met a—girl,” I replied, after a moment’s thought.
A suspicious stare. “How come you know what the word means?”
I shrugged. “Old films and novels. Besides, we call our sports teams girls and boys—no one wants to wear uniforms, so the ones with the shirts are girls. I don’t know why; it’s probably something that used to mean something once, like giving out gold and silver medals, or talking about ‘going the whole nine yards’ ”—I glanced at the outline of Aisha’s breasts, and suddenly guessed the origin of the custom. The feeling of knowing, discovering,
The game ended, and kids started drifting back into the classroom. I stood there silently, not wanting to leave Aisha.
When everyone else had disappeared, Aisha looked up, er golden face even more pale than usual. “This is too—” e looked around. “Do you think the toilets would be empty now?”
“Huh? I mean, yeah, sure.”
“Great.” I offered my hand, to help er up, but e ignored it and struggled to er feet without my help. We walked to the doorway, and Aisha stopped, until I offered to go inside and make sure there was no one else there.
“Can you tell the teacher that I’ll be back tomorrow, initially?” Aisha said, when e emerged.
“Sure,” I said. “Will you be?”
Aisha hesitated, and then shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ll have to ask my father.”
I nodded. It had never occurred ...