Camilla the Windmill and the Mixed-Up Grown-Ups
“Get up, Camilla!”
Camilla heard her mother’s voice through her sleep as though it were coming from a distance. She didn’t want to get up. Not right away at least. She had been having such a nice dream. Dad was still living with her and mom and not in stupid Norway.
In the dream he was lively and clever like he so often was in real life. They were taking a drive in summer. Camilla sat in the back seat with a popsicle but she barely had time to eat it because she had so much to say. Calm down, Milla Mill, her dad would say whenever her words started coming thick and fast like that, one thought at a time. Mom sat in the passenger seat and smiled at both of them.
Milla Mill was a nickname that dad had thought of one time when Camilla had talked herself hoarse about everything and nothing at all. Dad had said that her mouth could move like a windmill in a storm and therefore thought it was a great idea to call her Camilla the Windmill. To save time and avoid vocal strain, it had then been shortened to Milla Mill.
“Get up, Camilla! No later than half an hour ago! Get dressed and brush your hair … and teeth. Did you make lunch? Pack your gym clothes? Roll up your sleeves, Camilla! Your room is always so messy. It would take a bulldozer to get this heap of stuff in order, I swear. Camilla! Wake up! Now!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Camilla muttered while she lazily got up and found a path past books and other things to get to her clothes that lay on a chair next to her desk. This was all pretty normal. Mom’s speech was more or less the same every morning when Camilla had to go to school. On the weekends, however, mom preferred to lie in bed until noon. Totally unfair.
“Then breakfast, something lightning quick! And make lunch and pack your gym clothes!”
“I made lunch last night and I don’t have gym today,” Camilla said yawning.
“Hurry, hurry, hurry!” mom answered without hearing a word of what Camilla had said. Camilla got dressed and put some school books in her black and orange bag. Then she walked into the kitchen and got her lunch from the refrigerator.
“Banana or yogurt?” mom asked as Camilla put her lunch in the front compartment of her book bag.
“I stopped eating bananas when I was seven, remember … when I found the spider in the fruit bowl?”
“Stopped eating bananas?” mom asked with a puzzled look.
“Yes, four years ago even,” Camilla replied and sat at the kitchen table.
“Who in the world stops eating bananas because of one little spider?” mom said, mostly to herself, and shook her head. She got a yogurt from the refrigerator and put in down in front of Camilla along with a teaspoon.
“At the very least I did,” Camilla said, “besides, it wasn’t small … it was big, disgusting, furry AND had fangs. You must remember how much I hate spiders, I even get nightmares about them. I’m just lucky to have a fort with plenty of spider poison for when I get nightmares, that still smells like raspberries, because poison usually smells terrible. I don’t know about other people, but when I see big and disgusting spiders strolling along on a piece of fruit I definitely positively stop eating that fruit. Except maybe kiwi … I could never stop eating kiwi because I love it and it looks like a legless spider anyway but kiwis at least don’t have fangs.”
“Fangs? I see,” mom said and sighed. “Eat the yogurt and be on your way to school. And no dallying so you won’t be late.”
Spring had arrived and there were only two weeks left of school. Then summer vacation and sunny weather would be here. Camilla had a list on the wall of her room. A list of all the things she wanted to do when summer arrived. She had started the list shortly after Christmas.
Number 1. Go to Norway and visit dad
That was as far as she had gotten with the list because this trip to Norway was all she could think about. She would of course go swimming about a hundred and thirty times and maybe go camping two or three times but compared to the Norway trip everything else seemed pretty dull.
Camilla was rather annoyed when she closed the front door. She didn’t like all this commotion when she was being woken up. Why couldn’t her mom wake her a little earlier so they could start the day calmly? Maybe chat a little bit before they said goodbye? They had often done that when dad was still living with them. Now she got less than two seconds to gulp down yogurt and was then supposed to be out the door. No time for anything and everything done at the last possible moment.
She lived with her mother on the fifth floor in a dark green apartment building. It was a fine building, as far as apartment buildings go, but she was especially fond of the dark green color. The buildings around it were all much lighter in color and became practically invisible in winter. Then Camilla was glad she lived in the green building and not the pale yellow one or the one that was gray like gravel. They all looked like they were succumbing to winter while Camilla’s dark green building was lively and perky year round.
Camilla had to squeeze into the elevator which was packed with people going to work. Really stressed people who looked at their watch fifteen times while the elevator crawled down and checked their pockets just as many times to see if their phone or wallet was in the right place. Some guy with messy hair and eyes full of gunk jumped out of the elevator on the third floor when he suddenly realized that he had forgotten his car keys.
Camilla tried wishing people a good morning but quickly gave up since nobody paid any attention to her. She could barely hear herself think in the elevator for all the blabbering about gas prices, the weather up north and something to the left that was green. She looked left, right, up and down, but there was nothing green to be seen anywhere. Nonsense, she thought to herself.
“You should be the ones going to school and not me,” she muttered, “since you don’t know the colors, I mean.”
When the elevator doors opened on the bottom floor it was like a herd of dinosaurs had just been let out to pasture. Camilla barely managed to keep herself upright and was left standing in the middle of the elevator fuming mad as she readjusted her book bag which was all crooked after the stampede.
The weather was so great, however, that it was impossible for her to stay mad on the way. All of nature was coming alive and Camilla couldn’t help but let some optimism into her head, through the olive green wool cap and blond hair that was emerging long and thick out from under winter. Camilla really wanted to cut it all off, but mom wanted her to grow it out. Totally unfair when moms start growing their daughters’ hair out. It’s amazing that they’re not happy just growing out their own.
By the time she was getting close to Jacob’s Corner she had regained her composure and had started talking to herself like she often did if there was no one around who could carry a decent conversation. Today’s subject was what kind of world it would be if kiwi fruits had fangs. Jacob’s Corner was what she called the place where she met Jacob every day on the way to school. By a grey electrical enclosure where you could sit and dangle your legs while you waited.
Camilla had not been dangling her legs long when she heard Jacob’s familiar wheezing approach. He was often terribly short of breath, a condition that got much worse when he was in a hurry. He had asthma and had to carry a plastic tube he called a puffer at all times. This was a white tube with a dark brown grip that Jacob used when he had particular difficulty breathing. Then he would turn the the brown grip so that the tube emitted a few clicks and then he breathed deeply through the mouthpiece.
“Hi Milla,” he said as soon as he turned the corner, carrying his dark red book bag that Milla always thought looked nineteen sizes too big for him. Jacob was tall and rather gangly. When he was in a hurry to get somewhere with his bulging book bag he looked like an earthworm lugging an apple around. He pulled his coat sleeve up past his watch and grimaced when he saw what time it was.
“Hi Jacob … tell me, what would you do if you were running from a fanged kiwi … “
“We have to hurry,” Jacob wheezed, interrupting Milla, and brushed his copper-colored hair from his eyes, “the bell is in 10 minutes.”
Milla jumped off the electrical enclosure and placed herself in front of Jacob with crossed arms and a frown on her face. Jacob was going so fast that he walked straight into her and his glasses were almost flung from his nose.
“Whoa, what’s that supposed to mean?” he asked baffled and pushed his glasses back into place.
“Let me make it totally clear, Jacob, that I have had enough nonsense like that this morning,” Milla answered and moved her hands to her hips like her mom did when she wanted to really emphasize what she was saying.
“What kind of nonsense … exactly?” Jacob stammered and pulled his inhaler from a coat pocket. He had long since learned that when Camilla was in this kind of mood, it was best to be careful. It was no coincidence that she was sometimes called Milla Mill. If you did not give her time to speak when she needed to, you could expect a tidal wave of words later, and not all of them nice.
“This kind of nonsense!” Milla shouted and gestured with her hands. “Hurry up and do this, Camilla, and hurry up and do that, hurry out of bed, Camilla, hurry up and eat, Camilla, be on your way and hurry, Camilla. If I hurry any more today, I’m going to hurry up ahead of myself and will have to spend the rest of the day looking for myself since I can’t be Milla if Milla is missing somewhere, Jacob … or is that what you think?”
“No, probably not … I think,” Jacob answered and then took a deep breath through his inhaler.
“You don’t even need to think about it at all, Jacob, that’s simply the way it is,” Milla said and calmed down a little. “Now let’s just walk nice and slow and talk about something pleasant. It isn’t healthy to hurry so much … people just become mixed up by hurrying this way and that all the time.”
They started walking side by side and Jacob tried to keep them at a decent pace without Milla noticing.
“What do you mean people become mixed up if they hurry too much?” Jacob asked looking a little embarrassed and darted his eyes at Milla.
“Just what I said,” Milla answered as she unzipped her dark brown coat and put her cap in a pocket. She was still wearing her winter coat that reached down to her knees although it had become way too warm to wear something so heavy. She was going to ask her mom when she came home that evening to get some lighter outerwear from storage in the basement.
“Yeah, but mixed up how?” Jacob continued and it was obvious that he had something on his mind.
Milla shrugged her shoulders. “Mixed up like people hurrying so much to get somewhere they forget their head somewhere else. Just like I said … mixed up.”
“Eww, Milla, that’s gross! You mean that people maybe go to work in the morning and leave their heads on the kitchen table?”
“You take everything so literally, Jacob,” Milla answered and shook her head. “I didn’t mean that exactly. It’s more like people are in danger of getting ahead of themselves. So that they do things without focusing on what they’re doing. Leave their heads on the kitchen table,” she repeated after him and rolled her eyes. “Sometimes you’re not all there, Jacob.”
“Yeah, I get to hear that sometimes,” Jacob answered short of breath and scratched his head.
“Why are you thinking so much about this?” Milla asked a short while later.
“Oh, I don’t know but I just thought that mom and dad were behaving a little strangely last night.” Jacob kicked a pebble and they watched it bounce down the sidewalk and into the street.
“Strange how?” Milla asked curiously. She had always been interested in strange things and if Jacob’s parents – a.k.a., The Most Normal People in the World, Inc. – were behaving oddly, then something really strange was afoot, alright.
“They’re just small things that maybe don’t matter much,” Jacob answered. “But for example last night, dad was watching the news on TV and reading the paper and also talking to people he works with on the phone about stocks …. same as usual. I was sitting quietly next to him while I waited for mom to call us for dinner. I was drawing a picture of a really awesome alien attack with explosions and lasers all over the place and the aliens had almost won but then a double-headed star walrus with wings came and …”
“On with the story, Jacob,” said Milla, who had little interest in alien attacks.
“Okay then. All of a sudden dad stopped talking to the person on the phone, without saying goodbye even, put down the newspaper and turned off the TV. Then he just asked me out of the blue if I wasn’t running late for the knitting club and whether we shouldn’t take the bus together so that the seals wouldn’t be furious.”
“Wow, I’ve never heard anything like that … and what did you say?” Milla asked excitedly.
“Well, nothing really,” Jacob answered. “He went back to normal pretty much right after that. It was like he just spaced out for a second because then he turned the news back on, continued reading the paper and called his coworker like nothing had happened.”
“Amazing,” Milla said smiling.
“Well, I don’t see anything amazing about it. Especially because mom came into the living room a little while later and told us that the Peking Duck was ready,” Jacob said sullenly and threw up his hands in disbelief.
“And what’s so strange about that?” Milla asked.
“We had meatballs for dinner last night. I don’t even know what Peking Duck is, but I’m sure it doesn’t look like meatballs with potatoes and gravy.”
“Amazing,” Milla repeated and smiled even wider. “And what did you do?”
“Well, nothing really,” Jacob answered for the second time and gave his friend the stink eye since she seemed to be enjoying his misfortune immensely.
“What about your dad, what did he do?”
“He just stood up and ate that Peking Duck like it was completely normal, like that was just the new name for meatballs with potatoes and gravy.”
“Peking Duck,” Milla giggled, “amazing.”
They heard the bell ring and Jacob got Milla to jog the rest of the way even though that was last thing she wanted to do wearing that thick coat.
Lárus the biology teacher seemed absent minded where he sat at his desk as the kids filed in with their usual ruckus and bursts of laughter. Lárus was tall and powerfully built and could furrow his brow so that entire battalions fell silent. Still, he was good-hearted and the kids liked him.
“Well then, everybody please calm down and take your … soap.” Lárus looked over the group, tapped himself lightly on the forehead with his ruler and could not quite figure out why he had misspoken. “I mean …. take your seat.”
Camilla and Jacob sat in their usual spot – as far away from Anton and Katla as possible. If eleven-year-olds could have archenemies, Anton and Katla were exactly that to Milla and Jacob. That was the way it had been ever since they had all been in daycare together. None of them seemed to remember anymore how it had started but it had become something of a habit, like brushing your teeth before going to bed and not forgetting to turn off the bathtub faucet for three hours unless you want to see your mom have a fit.
It had in fact been Jacob who started the fight but it was completely by accident. One day, he had sneaked a bag of strawberry gum with him to the daycare and shared it with everybody when they were playing outside and nobody was looking. That is to say, everybody except Anton and Katla but that was just because they had fallen asleep during quiet time and weren’t outside. Katla found out the next day that Jacob had given everybody gum except her and Anton, so she pulled Jacob’s hat off, filled it with sand and threw it over the playground fence.
Milla told the daycare teachers what had happened and Katla had to stay inside by herself the next time they went outside to play which led to Anton pinching Milla in the nose and calling her a tattletale which led to Jacob stomping the sandcastle Anton had spent an hour building which led to Katla running into the coatroom and hiding Jacob’s shoes by putting them in the toilet in the girls’ bathroom which led to Milla calling Katla a big meanie and na-na na-na boo-booing her for not being allowed outside to play which led to Katla also putting Milla’s shoes in the toilet and flushing so that it clogged and the floor flooded and Katla had to stay indoors for the rest of the week and help out in the kitchen. So it went, the pranks continued, tit for tat, as the years went on, until they had become archenemies without any of the them remembering the reason why.
Lárus hit his desk a few times with the ruler and the class fell silent since everybody knew that next there would be a furrowed brow. “Take your textbooks out, kids, and open them to the chapter on cellphones.” He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead with his knuckles. It was like something had come loose in his head. “I mean cells. Turn to the chapter on cells!”
The kids looked around puzzled while they fished out their biology textbooks from their bags. It wasn’t like Lárus to be absent minded. He was usually very organized and had his calendar laid out two years in advance.
“There’s something funny about Lárus today,” Camilla whispered to Jacob. “Something other than his nose, I mean.” Lárus had a crooked nose from a skiing accident but that is another story.
Lárus stepped up to the board and drew a large circle. The he turned to face the kids and spoke again. “All right. The parts of the cell phone are called cytoplasm, rainy weather and Mary Markinson.” He hesitated for a moment like he was contemplating what he was saying but then continued as if nothing had happened. “In Japan, cellphones are considered a great delicacy. Especially sautéed, and the pan in those cases is called a Ja-pan but you still have to wear pants.”
It was like Lárus didn’t hear the nonsense that he was spouting. The kids tried to ignore it but some of them couldn’t contain their giggles. Milla and Katla were among those who couldn’t and Lárus threw them such a stern look that their chairs creaked when they caught it.
“Play attention, girls! This will be a question mark at the Olympic Games!”
When the bell finally rang and it was time for recess Milla and Katla were about to burst out laughing. It was terribly hard keeping all those giggles bottled up.
“What was that?” Jacob asked, “Our biology teacher seems to have become more mixed up than mom and dad.”
“Maybe he has lost his mind,” Milla answered and shrugged her shoulders.
They were sitting on a big rock, munching on liquorice hard candies and letting the sun warm their freckled faces while they watched some older kids who were playing football on the field.
“Won’t we have to let somebody know?” Jacob asked and took off his glasses to polish them. “We’ll never pass the biology final if Lárus continues with this nonsense about sautéed violins and Mary Markinson.” He raised his glasses toward the sun to better see the smudges but didn’t notice that Anton and Katla were standing and grinning right behind him. A grinning Katla was never a good sign. Especially not if accompanied by a matching, grinning Anton. Before Jacob knew it, Katla had yanked the glasses out of his hands. She trained gymnastics and was both limber like a cat and lightning fast. It was hopeless trying to beat her in games involving any sort of movement, and it only took her a fraction of a second to get away after grabbing Jacob’s glasses.
“Give him his glasses back right now,” ordered Milla and climbed up on the rock to make herself as intimidating as possible. Eleven-year-old girls with cute freckles can’t really be all that intimidating, but Milla did her best.
“No way,” Katla answered, grinning from ear to ear while Anton laughed like he had never before seen anything so funny. Katla played with one of her dark curls like she often did when she thought something was really exciting.
“He can barely see anything without his glasses, Katla. Give them back!”
Anton whispered something to Katla who nodded smiling and then patted Anton on the back for having had such a great idea.
“We’ll make you a deal,” she said slyly.
“The glasses for that tasty-looking bag of candy and the whole thing will be over.”
“No, give them back!” Milla hissed.
“Yeah, give my glasses back or else …” Jacob said and tried to act tough. Unfortunately, a teddy bear would probably have done a better job of acting tough than Jacob.
“Or what, twerp?” Katla asked and elbowed Anton who seemed to be choking with laughter.
“Or … I’ll … Milla?”
“Just give him the glasses right this instant!” Milla ordered again and stomped her foot down. “We won’t let you treat us like this. Just because Anton is the strongest kid in class doesn’t give you the right to be nasty, Katla. Give the glasses back and no more nonsense!”
“Fine then,” Katla answered, still with the sly grin on her lips, “if he wants them back he can go fetch them!” Then she threw the glasses as hard as she possibly could. They flew in a long, high arc before landing in the middle of the football field. Jacob gasped and hurried to get his inhaler from his coat pocket.
“You’re a horrible person, Katla,” Milla hissed and squinted her eyes before running onto the field. Katla kept grinning and Anton laughed like he had just won a year’s supply of chocolate in the lottery.
Milla darted between the older kids and held up her palm flat like a police officer directing traffic when it looked like somebody too focused on the game was about to run her over.
“Off the field, Windmill!” someone shouted when Milla got in the way of a great scoring opportunity.
“In a moment!” Milla shouted back. She ran back and forth on the field until she spotted Jacob’s glasses and smiled with relief when she saw that they were unbroken. Milla bent over to pick them up but just then she was rammed down by Selma, an especially tall thirteen-year-old girl who took sports just as seriously as life itself. When Selma ran after the ball in an exciting game, it was best to stay out of the way. She could slide tackle most of the boys in the upper grades when she was in her element, so a little Windmill held her up about as much as a mosquito.
Milla fell forward and one of her knees landed in the worst possible place, right on top of Jacob’s glasses. She heard the crack of something breaking. Darn it she thought and picked up the glasses, which were now in two pieces. She gloomily walked off the field and handed the remains to Jacob. Katla and Anton had disappeared, having learned a long time ago that you did not stay too long at the scene of the crime.
“Sorry, Jacob, this was kind of my fault.”
“Don’t worry,” Jacob answered and smiled weakly. “I’m sure they can be glued back together, and this wasn’t your fault at all, it was that beast Bratla who did this.” Jacob made sure not to use the nickname until he was sure Katla couldn’t hear him.
“Come on,” Milla said with a determined look and grabbed Jacob by the arm. “We’ll take this all the way to the principal!”
Principal Helga was busy with some paperwork when Milla and Jacob stepped into her office. She didn’t look up from her work but gestured to them to have a seat in front of her desk. She was slim with a sharp nose and sandy hair that hit just below her ears. Milla had sometime heard her mom call Principal Helga’s hairstyle a Cleopatra haircut. Milla had learned something about ancient Egypt in history class, but they mainly talked about pyramids and not hairstyles.
Helga was wearing a light green turtleneck sweater and glasses that went out of fashion a long time ago. Maybe they weren’t ancient Egyptian like her hairstyle, but they were still from before Helga herself became a teenager. Milla always thought they must have been designed for a giant bee and not a thin lady in her forties.
Apparently, she hadn’t always been so antiquated. Milla hardly believed her mom when she told her that Principal Helga had once been in a punk band, with purple hair and a nose ring. She and some of her girlfriends were in the band and they had called themselves the Chainsaws. Or the Sawchains. Milla couldn’t remember exactly. Even more fascinating was the fact that they even became a little famous in Germany and opened a few concerts for someone called Nina Hagen. Now they just met once a month with acoustic guitars and bongo drums to write mellow songs about stars and rain while drinking cleansing tea.
A little while passed in silence except for the ticking of the clock on the wall. Then the school bell rang and Helga was badly startled. The ballpoint pen she was holding jumped out of her hand, fell to the floor and rolled under the desk.
“Darn it,” she muttered to herself and crawled under the desk. “Where did you go, you bowl, I mean, you screw … I mean peanut butter!”
Milla and Jacob looked at each other and immediately realized something was not right. Principal Helga slowly made her way from under the desk and sat back in her chair. She still hadn’t even looked at Milla and Jacob but just continued to root around in her piles of papers. It was almost like she had already forgotten about the guests sitting in front of her.
Camilla cleared her throat quietly and carefully but Principal Helga was still completely startled again. She flailed her arms and her ballpoint pen jumped out of her hand again, only this time it flew out of the open window behind her.
“Whoops,” Milla said and smiled awkwardly.
“Where did you come from?” Helga asked sharply when she had regained her senses. “Aren’t you supposed to be in Argentina?”
“Argentina?” Jacob answered bewildered, “why should we be in Argentina? No one talked to us about a field trip to Argentina and I think my mom wouldn’t like it much if I went halfway around the globe without letting her know.”
“In class, I meant,” Helga said and tapped herself on the forehead like Lárus the biology teacher had done. “In class, I wanted to say. Not Argentina.”
“Yes, that is correct,” Milla answered, “but we need to talk to you because we ran into some trouble. Double trouble, to be exact.”
“Oh, and what is this trouble wobble?” Helga said and pointed to the piles of paper on her desk, “but you’ll have to be quick, because as you see I’m busy like a bat with these hedgehogs.”
“This nonsense is more serious than I thought,” Milla whispered to Jacob, “it’s almost like it’s contagious.”
“Well?” Helga said impatiently.
“So, to begin with we need to talk about Jacob’s glasses.”
“Yup,” Helga answered absent-mindedly and continued to flip through her “hedgehogs”.
“The thing is that Katla, who is in our class, took Jacob’s glasses and threw them onto the football field and … well, to make a long story short, they broke in two and we think the school should do something about it.”
Thirty seconds passed and Principal Helga said nothing but just continued to stare at her papers and started to hum some Christmas song. In the middle of May.
“Hello? Jacob’s glasses? Any ideas?” Milla finally said and waved her hand in front of Helga’s face when the silence had become ridiculously long.
“Yes? Can I help you kids with anything?” Helga asked smiling, tilting her head to the side.
Milla shook her head and sighed. “No, no, we just came by to say hello and have a nice day and stuff.”
“How friendly of you!” Helga replied and smiled her biggest smile. “I also hope that you have a great day and good luck with those, whatever they are called …”
“Final exams?” Milla suggested.
“Exactly!” Principal Helga shouted. “Good luck with the signal clams!”
“Thank you so much,” Jacob answered. “We wanted to mention Lárus the biology teacher in relation to that …”
Milla elbowed Jacob and interrupted him. “Yes, thank you and good luck with your … hedgehogs.”
Principal Helga thanked them and smiled goodbye.
“Come on, Jacob,” Milla said quietly. “There’s no point in staying here. Maybe this is all some giant conspiracy and then we can’t let her know that we know, you know.”
“No,” Jacob answered, “actually I don’t know what you mean.”
“Doesn’t matter, just come on,” Milla said and dragged Jacob out of the office.