Today, Wendy Moira Angela Darling will walk a new kind of gallows.
That’s quite melodramatic, she thinks. But it’s not so untrue.
A broken woman in a broken mirror stares back at her. She wears a white dress that the rest of the filthy prison seems to mock. Her brown hair is tied back into one ribbon, the curls the only thing about her with any life to them. She realizes just how much she looks like her mother.
Clanging at the brig’s bars interrupts her, then a gravelly voice. “Wendy, Darling?”
Mr. Smee. His hands hold the iron gate mid-shake. It must be his attempt at a knock, Wendy thinks. As always, even the adults in Neverland have a childlike quality to them. Over and over again, she had told him that her name was Wendy Darling. Either he truly was innocent, or he was finding another way to subdue her. Much like England.
“Yes, Mr. Smee.” Her straightforward tone takes her aback. Mother. A half-attempt at masking sadness, the way grown ladies do, like bubbling sea foam that fades as soon as it forms.
“I remember the day you walked on th’ plank before, an’ how sad you looked—” Mr. Smee coughs. He sounds older. Weaker. More tired. Like me. “An’ that’s strange t’me, lassie, ‘cause you don’t seem so different now.”
“Is it so different?” She rises, dusting off her ivory gown from the straw and grime of the ship’s prison. She remembers now from her university lessons that history repeats itself. Years ago, she was captured here in a lace dress. And here she is once more, aboard the Jolly Roger, with nothing but contempt.
Her eyes remain downcast as the rusty door creaks, as she walks onto the deck, as she is greeted by the entire crew and a mocking sun. She feels the warmth of their words, singing some sort of shanty, and the heat from above. Despite the last years she’s spent as an aspiring author and an avid reader, she cannot keep track of their words. She spots a glint of red—Hook’s ostentatious coat—and resolutely takes her place at his side.
She recognizes Smee’s voice next. An elaborate speech, she presumes. Once again, the words become muddled. Her chest lifts up and down, racing like a baby bird’s. The men pay her no mind. Smee inquires something of Hook, and he affirms.
Think happy thoughts, Wendy.
“Do you, Wendy Moira Angela Darling…”
She swallows. She can hardly believe that she’s hearing her name for the last time, like this.
“… take James Hook to be your lawfully-wedded husband?”
She shuts her eyes. Her life flashes before her, scene by scene, as though it were a play.
I hope that John will read you this, or perhaps Michael will try as well—and if they are, I hope that they will be truthful—do be patient with them! I wish I could have taught you to read whilst I was in Neverland. But there were no stories other than the ones I could tell with my voice. I hope to read you a few someday.
As you can see, I’ve left the nursery. With the rest of the Lost Boys here, my parents thought that it made sense for me to leave home. To a girls’ boarding school. I’m trying to think of it as another adventure. I hope that it shall not be like the brig of the Jolly Roger. Or, pardon me, the Jolly Peter, now!
I’ve met so many lovely girls here so far. Some awful ones as well. I suppose they are just like boys. They are from all over—Morocco, Algeria and Egypt! I love the tales they share, and what they’ve seen. They speak all sorts of languages, beautiful ones. You would love what they would have to say.
But, as much fun as it was to tell stories, I think it is just as much fun to read them, as well. Stories are like pixie dust, they can take you places you never thought you could go. Is there a greater magic than that of words?
I should be returning home once a year. I shall have letters sent to the house, and my brothers can read them to you. So that you won’t become lost whilst trying to look for me. Or that you won’t forget about our own adventures.
Wendy Moira Angela Darling
Mrs. Darling welcomed her at the dinner table with beaming eyes the following summer. “How is school, Wendy? Tell us everything.”
“I like it, Mother,” Wendy said over their meal. “I’ve learned so much.”
“I wish I could go away to school,” one of the Lost Boys said.
She turned to look at him. “Oh, Tootles—” Her father had given her a look, and she cleared her throat. “Erm, I mean, Timothy, you mustn’t be sad. One day you will be grown enough to go to school, too. There are even different types of school. You can go to a school for law, or for medicine, or to be a clerk like our father.”
“Are there?” another one of the boys interrupts. “I would love to go to a school that talked about money. Then I could write cheques all day with my name, Niels Darling.”
Niels was Nibs’ new name, courtesy of Mr. Darling. Upon adoption, all of the lost boys had their names changed. No more “Slightly” and “Curly.” Even the Twins were differentiated, one by one.
“What else have you learned, Wendy?”
“Yes, what else, Wendy?”
“Oh… so much,” she added. “It is so much easier to write it out than tell it.” Not to mention that I won’t be interrupted as much!
Michael had smiled then, inspired by the idea. “Then maybe one day all of us can read it and remember, and tell it forever, long after we’re gone!”
“That’s called an autobiography, you know,” John chimed in. “When someone writes a book about themselves.”
“It’s called selfish, is what it’s called,” Mr. Darling chimed in. “Wendy, we thought that you were finished with stories when you’d gone to school.”
“I don’t think anyone is ever finished with stories, Father.” Every single one of the boys, even John and Michael, were looking towards her. She must set an example for them, her mother always said. And so she would.
“Don’t you all remember Peter Pan?” she asked. “The boy who brought you here?”
“Oh, let’s not be reminded of him, Wendy,” Mrs. Darling said. “Let us pretend he was a story and nothing more. In fact, I’ve heard from your teachers that you speak too much of him. We might have to transfer you to another.”
“He was real!” Wendy interjected.
“We’ve not any proof, Wendy,” sighed John.
“Perhaps we shall find some,” murmured Michael.
“Do you really think that you can tell children stories for the rest of your life?” he questioned. “Besides, they hardly have any money to get you by. Unless you marry a wealthy man. Then you may write all you please, but that’s if your own children grant you the time.”
She sighed and finished the rest of her meal in silence. As is the case with boys, sooner rather than later, conversation started up again. All the better for her, she could finish early and tell her mother that she didn’t feel well. The travel back home made a great excuse for her to be exhausted.
In a separate room, she closed the door. Her heart raced, and she ensured to lock it. Hurriedly, she drew out a scarf from her bag—from one of her schoolmates—and began to pray.
The movements are fumbled, and she can hardly remember which part went where. But she tried her best, reciting the verses as if she would a rhyme from when she was younger.
It was certainly not something that she could share at dinner.
It was refreshing at first, to be away from so many rambunctious boys. The dismissals of her father. Boarding school was a welcome escape—or adventure, rather.
But as is the case with all adventures, the luster soon faded. Wendy realized that one of the most painful parts about being away from home was not hearing her mother’s lullabies. How Peter must have felt, desperately wanting a mother, and knowing that he was too far away from his.
It was the first night in her dormitory. She had felt so grown up, without having cried the entire night. But she woke in the middle of it, like a babe in fitful sleep, and found the tears pulling themselves from her eyes in a game of tug-of-war that she knew she would lose.
Wendy tossed and turned. Eventually, she decided that she would stuff her face into the pillow. It should muffle out the sobs, shouldn’t it?
Then she heard it: the recitation. It was soft and sweet. Immediately, she felt herself comforted, as though her mom were running her fingers through her hair in a gentle, steady stream. At first, she thought she was dreaming.
Her tired eyes peeled away from the pillow. There her roommate was, cloaked in a delicate garment from head to toe. Wendy thought she looked like a princess from a faraway land. And princess she was, until she knelt to the ground and pressed her face into it. Yet there was something still so dignified about it all. Wendy couldn’t put her finger on it. She could only watch, mesmerized by the act of devotion.
It was only when her roommate looked at her that Wendy realized she was still crying. She gulped and smiled as best she could to lighten the mood.
“Oh!” her roommate exclaimed. “I’m sorry! Did I frighten you?”
“Not at all!” Wendy wiped at her face eagerly. “It was so beautiful, really. Please—what were you saying?”
Wendy learned that the girl was reciting a number of things. The first was called “Al-Fātiḥa.” The second, Wendy had properly forgot, as one’s excitement often blocked one’s attention. But the third, she knew she would remember forever. It was called “Surah al-Kawthar,” and she and her roommate worked until sunrise to come up with a proper translation:
“Indeed, We have granted you abundant goodness. So pray and sacrifice to your Lord. Only the one who hates you is truly cut off from that goodness.”
I’ve not written to you for some time, but I’m not sure whom else to tell. So many won’t listen to me even if I tried.
I started the new year at a new school. Imagine, me—the strange one!
I’ve read that a lady named Evelyn Cobbold has converted to Islam. She calls herself Zainab now. It’s a beautiful name, from a beautiful religion. Don’t you think?
I do. As I’ve continued my studies, meeting the other girls, I’ve found so many other lovely things. How having faith and trust isn’t only for children. But as I learn more and more what being a child entails… I learn also what it means to be a lady. And I must do what is right.
This shall be my last letter to you, Peter. I will always be Wendy.
“Wendy Moira Angela Darling!”
Shivers ran down her neck. She thought of Juliet Capulet, one of the characters she had read about in her classes, who wondered what was in a name. For her, now, all she could respond back was Well, everything.
“What’s the meaning of this?!” her father asked. In one clutched hand was the ripped-open letter. No wonder Peter hadn’t responded. Her father must have intercepted the old ones, and never told her. Likely forbidden her brothers and the rest of the Lost Boys as well.
She swallows. “Please call me Wedad, Father.”
“Wee-dad? Wee-dad?” his voice booms. “What was wrong with Wendy?”
“I suppose whatever was wrong with Tootles, Nibs, Slightly, Curly, and The Twins.” Her head remains lowered, and her voice small, but the words carry a heavy weight.
“You’ve lived from home for far too long. All this money—all this money—and I thought you’d be getting educated!”
She frowns. “And I thought growing up was about being able to make your own decisions. Or is it only the decisions that other grown-ups approve of?”
“My position in the city… all of the other clerks in the bank…what will they think—don’t interrupt—of this? My daughter, an Ottoman!”
Wendy has much more to say about that. But she remembers what her friends have taught her at school. Sabr is a virtue, yes, and one must always be kind to their parents. But sabr is so much easier said than done.
“John is scheduled to go to Eton in a few years. One of the most prestigious colleges in the country, with the finest countrymen!”
She wrinkles her nose. “Hook went to Eton, too—”
“Don’t interrupt!” he bursts. “Michael after him. They’ll be coming back from a tour of it, soon.”
“Let her be,” her mother says. “It’s just a phase.” That hurt Wendy even more.
“Nonsense, all nonsense. I am responsible. Tomorrow, we’ll be going to church.”
“Mother,” Michael chimed. “I don’t understand. How can one person be three people?”
Mrs. Darling shushed him immediately. Wendy watched her give the explanation, and still watched Michael’s expression as he struggled with it. Meanwhile, she burst with an inner joy. It’s true, then, the idea of a fiṭra. Every child has an inherent disposition to one God. Not to three.
But off to church she would go. But by my terms, she thought, trying one of her mother’s scarves around her head.
“Wendy, you needn’t wear that,” Mrs. Darling said.
“Mary wore it,” she retorted. This left her mother with an agape mouth. She left eventually, tending to the other children. It was here that her two biological brothers entered, curious.
“You look lovely,” John said.
“At least someone thinks so,” she responded.
“Is it…” he cleared his throat. “We-dad now?”
“Yes, it is. But I’m still Wendy, forever,” she clarified.
Always the more curious, he asked, “Does ‘John’ have an equivalent, in Arabic?”
“Of course it does! ‘Yahya.’”
“Ah. I’ll stick to John, then.”
“Oh, thank God,” she said. “Much better than ‘Red-Handed Jack.’”
A terse sigh from John. It was the name that Hook had offered to them when they were aboard the Jolly Roger. Michael immediately followed.
“And Michael, what about Michael?”
“Oh, not much different,” Wedad said with a smile. “Mee-kah-eel.”
“That’s very different…” said John.
Meanwhile, Michael jumped up and down. “It sounds like a king!”
“Finer than ‘Blackbeard Joe,’” Wedad murmured. Perhaps they didn’t remember. Michael, then, was called by his real name, and left Wedad with her brother.
“I’m sure it’s different for you, but…” he started. “I’m not happy with this either. I’m not a religious man…”
Wedad giggled. “You’re hardly a man at all, John!”
“The point being,” he said quietly, “I’d much rather read about different things. I’ve tried to study it, but there are so many goings-on, and backs-and-forths.” As he spoke, he drew out a book covered in brown leather. Wedad assumed it was a Bible.
“So have I, John. So why are you giving it to me?”
John shrugged. “Have a little faith and trust, Wedad.”
Stitched into the leather are the letters of his name. It’s as though it was just printed in. He’s hardly touched it, she thought.
Inside is another book, hidden beneath the binds of a different title: an Eton college directory.
The priest in front of her continued as she squirmed in her pew. Affirmation of a faith she no longer had faith in. Wedad looked across to her father—saying the prayers with a renewed vigor, and her mother, with a quiet sort of devotion. Her father knew the Latin, was even fervently whispering it to the others.
She opened the JOHN book to the pages of Eton College Alumni. Her finger innocently scans the page, pretending to cite the verse that the priest in front of her quoted. H is the letter that she looks for.
A quiet inhale from her nose for every James that appeared. But no Hook. She remembered then that Peter had said it wasn’t his real name. So she must start from the beginning.
She drew out a pencil from her pocket. James A. James B. James C. James D. James E. James F.
On and on she went. How was she supposed to know which one was the one?
James G. James H. James I. James J. James K.
Peter’s voice follows her: It should strike fear into one’s heart.
James L. James M. James N. James O.
With more than half of the alphabet gone, she wondered if James is even the right name to look for. Then it appeared like a spark: Jasparin Pan.
She couldn’t believe it, long after they had gone home, and then gone to bed. Peter was right. Knowing his true name would indeed change the world as she knew it.
Tell me it isn’t true, she thought as she settled beneath the covers. Wedad didn’t even know who she was talking to. Peter was never coming back. Not once had he visited, even to say hello. The boys had never mentioned him. Perhaps he, too, was revolted by her conversion? She swallowed.
Nana had departed, too, unable to comfort her ward in her sorrow. Her born-brothers confused, her parents disappointed, the Lost Boys in their own world outside of Neverland.
My Lord, what shall I do?
Sleep had been fitful. It was only until she heard a rapping at the window that she pulled back the covers. Only when there was the glow of a fairy did she have the courage to believe in hope again.
“Tinker Bell?!” It’s a struggle to keep her voice down. She raced to the curtains, drawing them back so that she could undo the bindings. “Peter, you mustn’t come inside, it’s not safe—”
“Indeed it isn’t, my beauty.”
The voice immediately sends terror down her spine. It is horribly polite, which makes it all the more dreadful, the kind of tone a politician has before giving a death sentence. Only one could seize her like that. And so he did.