‘You’re purple,’ said Tommy’s niece.
‘He’s from another universe. He came here to see how we live. Like a space explorer,’ said Tommy before I had a chance to explain.
‘But why is he purple?’
I put my cup of tea down on the sitting room table and beckoned her over. ‘Where I come from we change people so they’re cleverer and stronger – we call it enhancement. Sometimes it goes a bit wrong and that’s what happened to me.’
‘Does it hurt?’
‘No. Not anymore. Do you like it?’
‘It’s cool. Will you help me?’
She grabbed my sleeve and pulled me across the room to a child-sized green plastic table. ‘Help me make some invites,’ she said as she sat down on the matching chair.
I looked across at Tommy who nodded to let me know it was okay. I knelt down next to her. ‘What’s your name?’ I asked.
‘Lesia. What’s your name?’
‘It’s really hard to pronounce, so just call me Purple.’
She giggled nervously. ‘That’s wrong, calling someone by their colour.’
I shrugged. ‘It’s what everyone calls me.’ I rummaged through the cards, glue and glitter. ‘Did you say you’re making invites?’
‘Invites to what?’
‘A party. Silly.’
I smiled. I love the directness of the young humans in your universe. ‘But what’s the silly party for?’
She chuckled. ‘You’re funny. It’s not a silly party, it’s a Christmas party.’
‘It’ll be great; lots of games, presents and cake. Shall I show you what to do?’
She scrunched her face with concentration and cut out some trees and some stars, glued them on to card and then sprinkled them with silver glitter. ‘Do you have parties?’ she asked.
‘Of course, every universe I’ve ever visited has parties. It seems to be one of those things that happen wherever you are.’
‘I bet ours are the best, aren’t they?’
‘I haven’t been to many of yours, but I think the best ones are where I come from. Although you might find them a bit strange.’
‘Yes. Shall I tell you about one?’
She put the remaining half-made invites in a pile and turned to face me with her chin resting in her hands. She glanced at the adults on the other side of the room. ‘Go on,’ she whispered.
I shifted a little closer to give her the impression that I was sharing a secret. ‘Where I come from we don’t have Christmas but we do have a special party once a year – at the festival of enhancement. There are lots of other parties and they’re great fun, but this one is compulsory.’
‘Does everyone in your world go to the same party?’ she asked with wide-open eyes.
‘No. No. No. There’s a lot to choose from and you only have to volunteer for one.’
She nodded wisely without really understanding, in the way that I realise is typical of you humans.
I beckoned her to come even closer and whispered. ‘When we get to the end of the year there’s a list of all the new enhancements that have been developed. It tells you what they will do to you and which of the previous ones they can’t be mixed with.’
‘I don’t understand,’ she whispered.
‘In my universe everyone has things done to them to make them better. We take medicine and have bits of our bodies altered to make us super-beings.’
‘Oh,’ she said, nodding wisely again. ‘But what’s that got to do with these parties?’
‘Well, it’s at these parties that they experiment with real beings to see if the new things work.’
She frowned. ‘That’s sad.’
‘You shouldn’t be sad – it’s great fun. We arrive at our party and they take you into a special room to do what they have to do and then we all sit in a big hall waiting for the changes to take effect. One-by-one it starts to work and you can see people experimenting with their new power.’
‘Last year, just before I came here, I was given more empathy. That was amazing. As each change took effect on the others I could sense what it was like.’
‘Is everyone happy?’
‘Even when it goes wrong people are okay because we do it together and share the experience and there’s no shame if it doesn’t work. It only goes wrong on very rare occasions and someone has to be taken away. The festival organisers try their hardest to make sure it doesn’t react badly with something else they’ve done to you, like turning you purple.’ I winked.
‘My dad takes pills to cheer him up but that means he can’t drink beer. Is it like that?’
‘Exactly, and in my world if you’ve had your brain enhanced then you wouldn’t be invited to the parties where your body is improved; when you’re born your parents have to choose between your body and your brain.’
She looked at me for a while and then looked away. ‘Can we finish off these invites?’
I laughed. ‘Of course we can, silly.’
She smiled and handed me the glue and the glitter.