That means that Neina is not a lonely figure anymore. We see her talk about her feelings and more importantly she has people around her who care about her. Our Neina surely deserved that after being through so much! We’ll discuss all that in detail in due course, for now let’s dive right in to chapters 26-30.
Chapter 26 gave me the distinguished honour of being passed the baton. After following Neina’s journey for more than a month, it was an absolute delight to be able to add to the story of the character lovingly developed by so many authors through the weeks.
The chapter opens with Neina in an incoherent state; she can hear snippets of conversation
“It’s exhaustion... pushing herself too hard ...”
“The past few days have been tough...”
“Post-trauma stress disorder ...”
As she regains consciousness, she realizes that she’s in a hospital room hooked to a heart monitor and intravenous drip. She finds that Frankie, her boss and Charlotte, her best friend are in the room with her and are relieved to see her wake up. She’s informed by the doctor, Dr. Craig Davis, that she was brought to the hospital after she had collapsed in her office.
He asks Frankie and Charlotte to leave the room so that he can have a talk with Neina.
Neina’s mind is flooded with memories of all that she had gone through in the past days. How she lost her mother and then threw herself into her work relentlessly. How Frankie had asked her to work along with a fresher named Isla because he thought that her mental state was “fragile”. Neina realizes how she had had visions of a parallel, supernatural world where she encountered strange beings as well as had distorted recollections of her childhood. Neina decides to tell everything to Dr. Davis...
“I need to tell someone about what’s going on before I get sucked too deep into it and I can no longer make out what’s real and what is not. I’ve been having visions... of an alternate world, green skinned monsters, supernatural, unworldly beings, my childhood home...my... my mother... It all appears so real...”
She is worried that something is really amiss with her mind, but Dr. Davis reassures her that such manifestations are normal when an individual goes through debilitating mental trauma as Neina has had. He assures her that the fact that she can distinguish between reality and illusion is a promising sign; adding that he’d be detailing out therapy sessions for her to process her feelings and decide in due course if she needs medication.
After the doctor leaves, Frankie and Charlotte come back in and Frankie, very unceremoniously, tells Neina to take days off and let Isla take care of her projects. Neina snaps and tells him that she won’t give up all her hard work. She mentions a prestigious project called the Prophecy Tower which was set to bring her global accolade...
Chapter 27 has been written by Maia Christensen, Year 9, of Jebel Ali School. In this chapter we get a background history about Neina’s mother. Her name was Abelina Nyala, an African American, and she had been a victim of police brutality which eventually led to her death. This incident had sparked a revolution called “Black Lives Matter” around the world. Broken as she was by the fate that her mother succumbed to, Neina realized that her mother had been instrumental in sparking the much-needed conversation and protests against the discrimination that millions like her had to go through for no fault of theirs.
There is also something interesting that I noted in this chapter. Though for a fleeting moment but we see Neina harbouring a feeling of resentment towards Charlotte...
“Neina felt a flare of hatred towards Charlotte. She wasn’t black. She didn't have to face the same daily struggles as people of colour.”
The moment passes quickly and Neina is relieved to have a friend like Charlotte who is like an island of calm amidst all the chaos in her life.
This could be a foreshadowing tool used by the author. We, as readers, witness a moment where Neina feels hatred towards Charlotte who has been the most loyal friend to her just on account of the fact that she is white. So could Neina’s inordinate mix of hatred, envy, insecurity, disgust and rage against Isla stem from the fact that she is white and represents everything that Neina sees as the propagator of all the struggles she has had to face in her life? Could that be the reason she has those visions about Isla? This aspect has been touched upon in the previous chapters as well, particularly Chapter 23 where Neina tells Isla:
“You are the illusion I failed to recognize. You are the reason my family were never at peace. It is you that represents the harsh reality of society. You’ve always made me feel that I was not good enough and not worthy of feeling beautiful...”
Future authors, please take note.
Some other developments in this chapter are: Neina tells Charlotte about the illusionary “Mors World”; Frankie tells Neina that she can come back to work but she should work in collaboration with Isla and we see a new character introduced, Archie, the owner of the firm where Neina works.
Chapter 28 has been penned by Amal Jabir, Year 9, of Amity Private School Sharjah. The chapter opens with Archie reassuring Neina that she will continue to work on projects which she has dedicated herself to, including the Prophecy Tower. A sense of relief sweeps over Neina and she is happy that someone understands her worth.
Once she’s alone in the room, she has a “visit” from Isla who tells her:
“So, heard your little conversation. I don’t care about this project or any other. All I care about is finishing YOU...”
Her reverie is broken by Charlotte coming in the room. Charlotte tells her that there’s no one else in the room except them and that Neina should rest. As Neina closes her eyes, she’s once again transported to the “Mors World” where she gets a glimpse of her mother. She’s woken up by Charlotte who tells her to get up and get ready for office.
Now this is a glaring plot continuity loophole. We know that Neina is in hospital and hasn’t been discharged as yet and it sounds quite improbable that a patient admitted in a hospital would go straight to the office. The discrepancy continues with Neina waiting for a cab all alone before getting to work! There’s no trace of Charlotte. It doesn’t add up.
Moving on, Neina reaches the office where she’s warmly welcomed by everyone except Isla who tells her that getting in and out of rooms without notice is one of her “powers”. She also tells Neina...
“I’m good at taking care of my business. I mean taking care of people like you. Don’t worry because I won’t hesitate to take care of you, the same way I did with your mom.”
Now that we know for sure the fate that Neina’s mother met, dying at the hand of a police officer. We cannot help but wonder how Isla could “take care” of Neina’s mother. Another chink in plot continuity or a fragment of Neina’s imagination? We’ll have to wait to find out.
The chapter end with a package being delivered for Neina.
Chapter 29 has been written by Mnahil Fahad, Year 13, of Scholars International Academy Sharjah. This chapter takes a break from the current narrative and we see Neina having another flashback from her childhood days.
When Neina opens the package she finds an argyle scarf and “endless black crept in from the edges of her vision and, once more, stole her from this reality.”
She’s now transported back to the farmhouse where she spent her childhood. Particularly, we get to meet Janus, the scarecrow. We see him feeling incredibly bored watching over the farmhouse like “a god looking at flimsy humans while sitting at his throne”. He didn’t seem interested in any of the humans because he thought they were beneath him. Then one day he saw 6 years old Neina who would come and sit in his shadow. As days went by, she started having blithe, carefree “conversations” with the scarecrow. She did the talking while he stood inanimate.
Neina stopped visiting him for a while after her mother fell into the pond. The chapter ends with Janus getting a visit from Envy who tells him:
“Hello Janus, It’s about time you and I have a little chat about that family you guard so lovingly.”
Bliss D’Souza of Nibras International School, Dubai takes over for Chapter 30. We return to the current time in the story as Neina comes out of her daydream. She fondly thinks of Janus.
“The warmth of the scarf gave some solace to her cold icy soul as she reminisced the good times in her life. The happy days when she lived without a single care in the world.”
Neina wonders who has sent the scarf to her. And then, suddenly, she’s reminded of her brother Ryder who seems to have vanished and hasn’t been picking up her calls in the recent days. She calls up Charlotte and enquires if Ryder had visited her when she was in the hospital. Charlotte simply answers “Yes” without going into further details because she “did not want to burden her friend with extra worries by being garrulous describing his visit.”
We get to know that Neina has been worried that “her brave but vulnerable brother might be in some sort of trouble.”
The chapter ends on a note of mystery with Neina telling Charlotte:
“I worry for Ryder, I worry for Janus. The time has come for me to rise above the chaos surrounding me and take matters in my own hands”.
This chapter has a sense of fluidity about it and ends the week on a perfect note: No big words or grandiose imagery used yet effective and engaging.
As a reader, I am happy that the story is more tangible now and Neina is not trapped or “quarantined” in a strange, morbid, illusionary world any more. And when she does get transported back to that world, she acknowledges the fact that it’s all in her head.
Moreover, she has people around her that she can turn to and talk to. She’s not the scared girl running from one distorted reality to another. There’s a sense of resolve and clarity we see dawning upon her. For the first time, we see Neina standing up for herself and taking control of her life. The plot has a palpable sense of mystery which makes us wish that the next chapter comes out already!
We know that we need to wait till Sunday for that one! Till then, I leave you with a quote by John Milton-
“The mind is its own place and in itself, can make Heaven of Hell and Hell of Heaven."