There is only one magic: the ritual of possession.
Did my mother teach me this? Did it spring from insecurity and need? I just knew, though only four years old. I started small, with my neighbour’s cow.
The beast blinked at me as I stumbled round it through dew-spangled grass. Once round, twice, three times anticlockwise and the cow was mine. It followed me home. The farmer said nothing. The cow had suddenly always been ours.
But I wanted more. On my twenty-first birthday, I finished walking the coast of Scotland anticlockwise for the third time. I reached Aberdeen in the drizzle, feet blistered, with a grin I couldn’t hide. The soul of Scotland surged through me; the weight of mountains, rain, lochs, the people, architecture, and art. Mine. First I raised taxes on the rich. Then I claimed independence. It went down better than I had expected.
Planning my route around the Earth took time. Raising the money for the trip was easy, owning Scotland, but I would have to traverse each kilometre, with my desire firmly rooted, in one unbroken line. The exact route didn’t matter, I decided, but should roam equally above the equator as below. I bought the newest sat-phone, downloaded maps and translation apps, and began in Dover, England, taking the ferry to France, concentrating on every beat of the propellers.
I saw him first in a hostel in New Zealand, an intense, blue-eyed man with a backpack, handsome in a dirty, determined way. He stared at me with such unnerving interest I relinquished my bunk that night and journeyed on; Ecuador, Cuba…
But I saw him again three weeks later, my second time round the world, in an overpriced restaurant in Sidney harbour. Same grimy backpack, same curious stare. He pushed to his feet but I barged out and lost myself in the crowd. He made me nervous. My ritual demanded focus.
And there he was again in Iceland, trekking solo past me along a ridge of snow. On seeing him, I didn’t quite stop obsessing how the Earth would be mine, but it was close. His eyes widened. His mouth opened. I panicked and shoved him, hard. He tumbled down the snowfield, disappearing over a crest with a thin wail. Who was he? Was he following me? Twice in Australasia could be coincidence, but Iceland? Or maybe he really was that unlucky. I travelled onward; Ireland, France…
I avoided Australia the third time round, but he caught me in Papua New Guinea. Luckily I had an umbrella and stabbed him in the leg before running away.
I didn’t need a weapon in Houston. We were on separate sides of a pane of glass in George Bush Intercontinental, our walkways sliding in opposite directions.
“I see you,” he mouthed as he sailed past.
I hid in the toilets until departure.
On the train from London to Dover, I gritted my teeth and watched the countryside whip past the windows. Stepping from the train would complete the ritual. I took a deep breath. The loop was closing. I would own the Earth and then… Well, I would start with a deep, hot bath.
He waited on the platform. Gone were the stubble and the dirty backpack. He wore Bulgari sunglasses and a grey bespoke suit. As I stepped from the train, terror clenched my throat. The Earth was there. I could feel it, a frozen wave waiting to fall upon me, but as my feet touched dusty concrete I knew it wasn’t mine. Yet.
“Aft’noon,” he said.
“What have you done?” I hissed. “Who are you?”
He smiled and leaned in. “The rightful owner.” His accent–Australian? New Zealand maybe.
“It’s mine!” I knew it could be. I could feel it. “I circled it anticlockwise. Three times.”
“Ah,” he said. “And so did I.” He reached into a pocket, forcing harried passengers to swerve around us as he unfolded a large map.
It took me long seconds to see it, an instant to understand. “A South-up map. You went backwards.”
“That,” he said, “is a question of perspective.” He took off his sunglasses and his stare hit me like a blow.
There on platform number nine in Dover Station we fought, glare to glare, reality to reality, strength of will against strength of desire and… he really did have intense eyes. So blue.
In a blink the Earth was gone. I saw it fill him.
Exhaustion crested over me. I had lost, but I forced my back straight as I walked away. I would get home somehow. I would lock the door. I would–
My heart lurched. My feet slowed. “What?”
“What would you do with it?”
“What?” I said again, turning back.
“If it was yours.”
I didn’t want this conversation. He had won. “I would have…” I had nothing to say. “It would have been mine. I would have been…” Safe, I thought. I would have been safe.
“Yes.” He nodded. “Nothing can get you from outside, if there is no outside.” He tried a smile that only half worked. “Not world peace, then?”
“I would have got there,” I said.
“Yes.” Seconds passed. “Here,” he said. “Take my hand.”
“I want to show you something.” He shrugged and tried another almost successful smile.
His palm was damp in mine, but his grip was steady. “Let’s walk,” he said but didn’t move. Instead he turned slowly, walking me around him. Once. Twice.
“What are you doing?” I pulled my hand away.
“Dunno.” He swallowed. “Am I going around you, or you going around me?”
Something in my chest broke. “A question of perspective,” I said and couldn’t help smiling. I took his hand again and we orbited each other on the now empty platform. Once.
Three times, and the ritual was complete.