My name is Bara.
I’m twelve, I’m starting 6th Grade at school, and like all kids I’m fed up with my parents. I wish I knew why grown-ups are so selfish and so sure that suits them is good for us. Sometimes I feel like I’m a chess piece. They push me around wherever they like, and even expect me to be over the moon about it. I can’t wait to grow up and have them off my back.
Here’s one example - I’m an only child. I’ve never liked being an only child. But when I tried to persuade Mum and Dad to give me a sister or brother, they made it sound like having just me was all for my own benefit! They said if there were more of us I wouldn’t be able to go to special French and gymnastics and piano lessons and we wouldn’t have holidays in Greece because we wouldn’t be able to afford it. And we’d be tripping over each other all the time because there is no extra room. It never entered their heads that I’d be happy to lose French or gymnastics or the piano if I only had a sister. Maybe we’d only be able to afford gymnastics, but at least we’d be going together. And I’d much rather spend the whole summer at my Gran’s cottage with a sister, roaming about the forest, than sit on the beach in Greece with my parents getting boiled like beetroot. I’d love to have a sister to trip over, in my room or anywhere else. The real truth is that it’s more convenient for THEM to have just one kid. I heard Mum chatting about it with Aunty Mirka, who’s got two boys. Mirka was telling Mum she ought to remember that though she only has one child to look after, that child (meaning me) will one day be condemned to having to look after two feeble old folk (meaning them). Mum stopped talking to Aunt Mirka for a while after that, but I think Mirka’s right. How am I supposed to have to look after the two of them one day if they find it so hard looking after just the one me now? It isn’t fair.
And another thing: they decided they had to move house. Until recently we lived in an apartment block in Prague. I couldn’t see anything wrong with it myself, but my parents got it into their heads that the apartment was too small, and there was lots of pollution in Prague. So they went and bought a house with a garden outside the city. It’s no problem for Mum, because she works as a translator and does most of her business by email, or for Dad, because he gets to work almost as fast by car as when he used to take the metro and tram. It’s me that pays the price. I can’t go to my old school from here so I’ve lost all my classmates from the whole last five years. I’ve lost Teresa, my best friend, who always had the desk next to me, and Nick who used to give me sweets in return for me letting him copy my maths homework, and Katka, and Dasha… Yeah, but at least I’m breathing fresh air, aren’t I? See what I mean about grown-up selfishness?!
I must say this house is really big and covered with creeper…The grown-ups think it’s ivy or Virginia creeper, but it’s just pretending to be an ordinary plant – it doesn’t just grow it really creeps, and when no one is looking it creeps all over the plaster and rustles. And my bedroom is as big as our old living room.
Okay, I’m actually willing to forgive my parents the move because of one thing, which would never have happened if we’d stayed in the old flat.
Two things, actually.
The cat Barcha came with the house. She is black with a white tummy, bib and paws and she behaves like a real aristocrat. She does what she chooses but, like Dad says, she does it with grace. Cats are all mysterious, but Barcha is doubly mysterious. Which is fantastic, and at last I have a pet other than just the tortoise Piddy – I got Piddy because Mum and Dad wouldn’t let me have anything furry in the apartment block, not even a mouse or a hamster let alone a rat. So Barcha is the first cool thing about this place.
The second cool thing is that I found a magic atlas in an old chest in the attic. At first sight it looks like an old school history atlas, but it must be incredibly old, because it’s bound in leather and the leather is already quite worn. On the front page it says….
AN ATLAS OF HISTORIE USEFULLY COMPILED BY…………
You can’t read the name of the person who compiled it, because that’s blotted out. The other pages are all maps, mostly maps of Europe though I’ve found maps of other continents there. The maps aren’t in different colours like in normal atlases but yellowish and drawn in faded brown ink. Where there’s a forest there are lots of tiny trees instead of just green colour. The cities aren’t marked with a circle but by little painted towns, mostly with walls and a gate, or just a castle or village. There are different-sized hillocks for mountains, and whales and all kinds of monsters swimming in the seas. And boats with sails. Sometimes there’s an empty space with the words “Hic sunt leones” written in it. I found out what the words mean – Here Are Lions. It used to be written on maps on places that hadn’t been explored yet so no one knew what was there. Places like that probably don’t exist anymore, which is sad.
Anyway, when I put my hand on a map, the atlas takes me back into the past.
I’m not kidding.
It’s already happened to me several times.
I’ve got proof too, because when I get something in the past it comes back with me to the attic in our house. I keep these souvenirs in a box under the bed. I already have a necklet from Charles IV and an engraved precious stone and sandals from Pompeii and other stuff.
I’ve been trying to find out how the atlas works. I’ve worked out a few things – for example the longer I leave my hand on the map, the longer I stay in the past. When I get to the past I always find I’m wearing the same sorts of clothes like the people who live there. But as soon as I get back to the attic I’m back in my own clothes. Oh, and in the past I can always speak the language they use there.
So far I haven’t found out how to choose where in the past to go. I hope I’ll find out how eventually, because there’s one thing I feel I ought to do. On my first trip to the past I met the Greek hero Achilles. He was having a terrible row with another warrior. When I got back to now I read all about it. Apparently, because of the quarrel he took offence and sulked and refused to go out to fight, so his friend Patroclus went out to the battle in his armour but because Patroclus wasn’t such a good fighter as Achilles, the enemy killed him. I decided I wanted to go back and warn Achilles that if he was going to be so pig-headed he would lose his best friend. But so far I haven’t managed to get back there again, although I’ve spent a lot more time in the past than in our new house.
I also suspect that the cat Barcha has something to do with the atlas. I just don’t know what…
Translated by Anna Bryson