Sery and Vina
Sery sometimes woke before her sister did. When that happened, she would turn her head slightly toward Vina and watch as Vina's breaths came in and out, in and out. Vina's hair was dark and smooth, just like her own. And Vina's eyes were almond-shaped, like her own. Even the way Vina's fingers curled in sleep was exactly like her own. But what went on in Vina's mind, what she was dreaming about, Sery had no way of knowing till Vina woke to tell her.
Sery and Vina were Mutant Hissi. Conjoined from the shoulder down, they had been a disappointment to their parents at birth and had been sent to the Neopian Pound. There, they soon learned to keep their distance from the other Neopets and hide in the darkest corners they could find: at the back of the classroom, in the closet in the dorm-room, behind the furthest bush in the playground. The adoption manager, visiting one day, was alarmed to learn that Sery and Vina had not been showing up regularly to meals. After hours of searching, the malnourished pair was found and brought to the manager, who made sure they ate their bowls of Hot Grazzle Grunion soup.
The Pink Uni wiped a tear from her eye as she watched the young twins eat. With effort, she managed to compose herself. "Sery and Vina," she said, "I'm so sorry to hear about how the other abandoned Neopets have been treating you. But I'm happy to tell you that you'll soon have a new home."
Sery looked up hopefully. "Is someone going to adopt us?"
"No, not exactly," the manager replied. "But I've talked to the Money Tree about your-- your situation... and we've managed to find a home for you at the edge of the Neopian Catacombs."
Sery and Vina looked at each other. The manager shuddered to see the two faces, so identical, revolve on one body. Then Vina turned sharply toward the manager.
"So, you're sending us away," Vina said. She held the manager in a stare. Sery looked down at the floor.
"It is a nice house," the manager went on. "Donated by a kind Elderlyboy Pteri. You'll have a lounge, a kitchen, a bedroom, and an outhouse. There is a piano in the lounge, and lots of books. Curtains as well, and a beautiful walled garden, so you'll have, you know-- privacy."
Vina's eyes flashed with anger at this statement, but Sery placed her hand on Vina's hand.
The manager was speaking more quickly now. "The Soup Faerie's friends at the Faerieland Employment Agency will make sure you have food deliveries. And if you ever-- need anything..." She put a business card in front of Sery, and then, after a slight hesitation, took another card and placed it in front of Vina.
"You're sending us away," Vina repeated. "So no one will ever have to see us again."
"No, it's not that, exactly..."
"Then what is it? Why do we need curtains and a-- a walled garden? At the edge of the freaking CATACOMBS?"
Vina had shot up so suddenly that Sery winced with pain. "Vina, don't be like this, please. We should be grateful. We'll have a new life."
The manager shut her eyes. She could not bear to see the two heads talking to each other on one body for another moment. "The Soup Faerie will be here in an hour," she said, with her eyes still closed. "You should clean up and get ready."
Vina bobbed immediately toward the door. Sery took a second to react, but followed. Together, the Mutant Hissi made a quiet slithering noise as they left the manager's office.
At the last moment, the Pink Uni called to them. "Sery and Vina...?"
Vina didn't look back, but Sery did. "Yes?"
"I'm sorry," the manager spoke through tears. "Take care of yourselves out there, okay?"
Vina's reply was cold. "Don't worry. We are only going to the edge of nowhere."
During their days in the Pound, Vina had always been the strong one, the first to shout at anyone who dared to bully them. If it weren't for Sery's peace-loving nature, the twins would probably have engaged in far more fights than they did.
But now, as they followed the Soup Faerie out of the only shelter they had ever known, and descended the steps into the Catacombs, Vina began to sob uncontrollably. Sery had to gently stroke Vina's hair, every step of the way.
To be fair, the house was indeed comfortable. Whoever the Pteri donor was, he was rich. Perhaps he had originally planned to retire here before acquiring some other property. The garden was full of sweet-smelling grass that, in the deepest places, came up to the sisters' necks. The lounge had a grand piano in it, mahogany-coloured, and the windows were lined with soft blue curtains.
"Here we are-- your new home," the Soup Faerie said. She fluttered around as was her habit, to make sure all the windows were clean. "I really hope you like it. Several volunteers from the Soup Kitchen worked to clean this place up for you. You can expect to pick up food every Tuesday and Friday morning. Garbage pickup will be on Mondays. And someone will come to check on you every now and then-- if not me, then someone from the Soup Kitchen, or the Neopian Hospital. There are lots of kind Neopians willing to help."
"Thank you," Sery said to the Soup Faerie. "We'll be all right here." She waved as the Faerie left.
Vina had stopped sobbing by this time, and was looking at the shelves of books. For all of her determination to rage at Neopia's rejection of her and her sister, she couldn't resist those books. The clean covers shone calmly in the afternoon light. She sailed toward the nearest bookcase, with Sery patiently following, and grabbed a book with a blue cover.
"Legendary Pteris," she read. "Maybe our mysterious donor is in here. I wonder if he'll bother to check on us from time to time."
Sery's hand wandered toward another book. "Look, Vina! This one is called Mutant Musings."
"Why would that be interesting to us?" Vina's eyes flashed again. "We're already Mutant. Did the donor think we need to celebrate our Mutant identity or something?"
"I don't know, I just-- it just looked interesting."
Vina tore the book out of her sister's hand. "Musings of a Mutant Acara," she read from the first page. "Uh-huh. Very helpful and interesting to us. Last I checked, Mutant Acaras have their own separate bodies."
"They're still sort of like us, though. I mean, they're ugly, and they don't... have friends..."
Vina turned toward her sister, fully worked up now. "We're not ugly! Where did you get the idea that we're ugly?"
"I only meant--"
"I wish we were separate Neopets!" Vina screamed. "I wish I didn't have to deal with you!"
Sery was terrified to feel the blood pumping through her and Vina's body. "Vina! Please stop. Vina, please!"
She continued pleading until Vina grew tired from screaming and lay down to rest.
During the first few weeks of their exile, the sisters barely spoke to each other. They ate in silence, wandered the garden in silence, and went to the outhouse in silence. Most of the time, they read from the Pteri's voluminous book collection. Vina tried tirelessly to find out things about the world that had rejected them but that still cared enough to keep them alive. She devoured biographies of normal Neopets, books of maps, adventure stories, photo collections, tales of journeys she could never go on. Sery, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with the outside world. She immersed herself in the tales of Neopets that she thought were "like them": Mutants, Ghosts, Zombies and outcasts of various kinds.
The two heads pored, many an evening, over the pages of separate books.
One day, Vina said, "I want to go back."
Sery looked up from Quiguki Mermaid Tales. "Back where?" she asked.
"Back to Neopia," Vina replied. "I want to go into the Food Shop and just sit down and grab a burger. Go to Movie Central and watch a movie. Go on a tour to Kiko Lake..."
"But what about me?"
Vina turned to look at her. "Don't you want to go back?"
Sery took a moment to summon enough courage to respond. "No, I don't," she said. "Nobody bothers us here. Why should we go back and put up with the comments and the stares again? The bullying? It's so much more peaceful here."
"But what's the point of living here? We're all alone."
"You have me."
"I just really want to be normal."
"Normal is overrated," said Sery. "The Quiguki in this story, she didn't want to be a mermaid. She wanted to go on land and be like a normal Neopet, and she wasn't happy in the end."
"That's just a story. It doesn't mean anything. You haven't seen the maps..."
"Look, Vina. We're in this together. You can't be so selfish. If we leave this place, it'll be like the Pound all over again, and you remember what that was like."
Vina was quiet.
Sery motioned toward the stove. "Let's make a pot of tea, how about that? We can play on the piano too while we're waiting for the water to boil. Vina, we really are lucky to have this place. We're safe here."
The house filled with tinkling that, to Vina, sounded sad, and to Sery, sounded peaceful.
In the night, Vina wondered what her life would be like if Sery had never existed. If Vina had the body entirely to herself and could just go out on the streets in broad daylight, like a normal Neopet. The shoppers on the streets wouldn't give her a second glance. The newsboy on the corner would happily sell her a newspaper, instead of running away.
In fact, if Sery had never existed, Vina would never have been sent to the Pound in the first place. Vina would have had parents.
Vina fell asleep thinking about growing up in a normal house, just like in the books she'd read. And then, in her dream, she actually was in such a house. She dreamed that there was a rug piled with presents, and a banner saying "Happy birthday!" There were smiling Neopets seated at a long table with cake on it. Everyone was singing and clapping, and Vina, instead of having to coordinate with Sery, was able to clap with her own two hands.
Then she felt the need to go to the bathroom. When she looked in the mirror, she saw Sery's head drooping next to her own head. The whole atmosphere became dark. A choking feeling overwhelmed Vina. When she reached up to touch her own neck, only one of the two hands responded...
Vina woke up crying in fear.
Sery woke, too, shocked by the sudden convulsions. "What's wrong? Vina. What's wrong?"
"I had a bad dream. I dreamed you were dead. I dreamed you were dead, Sery."
Sery stroked Vina's hair soothingly until they both fell asleep.
"Vina," Sery said at breakfast. "I'm sorry about yesterday."
"I shouldn't have said you were selfish. All you wanted was to see the world. It's a completely understandable feeling."
"It's okay, Sery." Vina ate in silence for a while. "You're right. The world is not a safe place for us. We should be grateful just to be alive."
The same silence that had been between them for several weeks descended again. But then Sery seized Vina's hand. "Look, Vina, we don't necessarily have to go out if we want to connect with other Neopets. I've been thinking. We can write stories, submit them to the publishers of the stories we like. We can send Neomails to the authors of the books we admire. Vina, we don't have to be alone with just each other."
Vina's face brightened. "Let's write something together later."
It took many years of effort, but slowly, over time, Sery and Vina built up a Neomail network of friends. The Mutant Hissi began to look forward to the deliveries every Tuesday and Friday, instead of feeling nervous whenever anyone approached the house. Friendly gifts, messages and pictures became common. One time, Sery and Vina each drew a portrait of each other and challenged a friend to tell them apart. The friend, a bedridden Mutant Acara, could tell right away which Hissi was which, from the expressions on the pictures. She sent back a picture of her own face, twisted into a joking expression, and they all had a good laugh.
Mundane experiences in the house became stories to share with their friends. Like the time Sery found a lost Slorg in the garden. Or the time the chimney got blocked, and the sisters had to figure out a way to climb up there and remove the blockage. Life wasn't always easy, but Sery and Vina were growing, and they were growing together.
Vina woke to find her sister looking at her. "Dang," Vina said, laughing. "How long have you been awake?"
"Not long," Sery replied. "What were you dreaming about?"
"Oh, it was a stupid dream." Vina rubbed her forehead. "I dreamt we were both combing our hair and using separate mirrors for some reason, and I was staring into my mirror wondering why the hair wouldn't straighten no matter how much I pulled it, and then I woke up and it was you, looking at me."
With practised ease, the pair slid out of bed and entered the kitchen. Vina's hand reached naturally toward the coffee-maker, while Sery's hand opened the cupboard and took out the cookies.
As they made breakfast, Sery seemed more thoughtful than usual. "Vina?" she said.
"You're beautiful, you know that?"
Vina chuckled. "What's gotten into you lately?" But she put down the coffee-mug she was holding, and placed her hand on Sery's. "You're beautiful too, you know."
The two heads smiled at each other in the morning light.