A story of tragedy and romance within the intertwined lives of five people- cont.
The morning air was heavy with cold, brisk as the white sun drowned in thick clouds of deep blues; gales from beyond the glass panes of the window screamed against them, aching to find a crevice to escape through. The coach rode down the beaten pathway, kicking up dry mud from the horses’ hooves; the many trunks fastened to the back of the coach shook in their place as the path became dotted with rocks that grazed the four wheels. The driver sped up his horses; the verdigris rooftops of a coach station came into view through the sparse woods that lay beyond them, beckoning for them to suck up the last of their energy and hurry there for a meal. From inside the coach, one of the two passengers stirred at the sudden increase of speed. He shifted from his recumbent position against the cushioned seat, easing forward to sit upright and look out the foggy pane to his right. The trees grew farther and farther apart as they rode on, meaning they had left the woods. Rubbing his dark-rimmed eyes, the man looked to his companion, who sat with her shawl-covered head against her own window, gazing out the glass. She shivered slightly, ignoring the folded blanket between them. Smoothing his graying hair back to a ponytail, the man cleared his tired throat.
“We’re approaching the next station fairly soon…” he notified, “you should comb your hair, it must be tangled by now.” The young woman’s hair poured out from beneath her blue shawl in sleek, cascading locks of dull black; she flouted the man’s comment, crossing her arms even tighter. Her thin shoulders trembled, goose-fleshed underneath her heavy robes, but she would not reach for the blanket. The man, gathering his own gray robes to keep warm, sighed impatiently. “Take the blanket, Ahra, you’re shivering.” She kept her face turned away, reticent. The man dropped his forehead into his creased palm, frustrated and unwilling to begin an argument. “Is this about us moving villages?” He uttered.
“Of course it is!” Ahra yelled, whipping her face around for a moment to stare coldly at him. Her head returned to the pane, hitting it with a thud. Biting her hand, Ahra began to tap her fingers along the seat.
“I understand that you are upset, but…” The man began.
“I‘m more than upset!” She interrupted, not as taciturn as seemed before. “This happens every time… you always do this!” Her golden eyes began to squint together to match the embittered scowl on her lips. Crossing her legs restlessly, she glowered out the window pane.
“But,” he repeated, “You bring this upon yourself.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong, Aya!” Ahra argued, turning around once more. Aya sighed, his own mouth turning to a frown. Ahra’s eyes pleaded at him to believe her, but his cloudy, grey eyes showed naught but their usual blankness. “I did nothing wrong!” She reiterated. Her shawl fell from around her face, exposing her dull hair and pale face to the light; her scrawny neck was bandaged all around, and Ahra quickly pulled the shawl back over her head to cover it. Aya sat with his chin in hand, prodding his gaunt cheeks thoughtfully. It had been eleven years since they last were in the Ona clan territory, and since then they had constantly been on the move, from village to village, territory to territory; it never ended. Ahra’s emotive eyes stared ruthlessly on, repenting in some way. Aya heaved a sigh, tired and musing.
“I know you haven’t done anything wrong…” he told, “it is the people who do wrong.” She did not say anything back.
Ahra was very different now, as she always had been since her parents’ murder. For the past eleven years Aya committed himself to keeping watch over her; he was given legal guardianship over her a month after the murder. Many things had changed about her, and he doubted they would ever change back. No longer did she call him her uncle, either, but then again, he never was.
The driver pulled at his reigns, cracking the driving whip to slow down his flaring steeds. Soon they came to a stop before a leaning building. It slanted lazily eastward, its bluish roof tiles scant and dirty, accentuating well with the unwashed wood walls. At the post sat a wizened and pinch-faced elder. His parched lips sucked dryly on a red-tipped cigar, eyes drawn close to critique the coach, waiting for the passengers so he could do the same. The driver leapt down from his seat on the top, kicking his shoes along the caked mud road whilst he walked to the post. Handing the old man the two passports, he left to free and turn out his horses to a shabby paddy left of the building. Reaching through the crammed shelves beside him to fish out a station stamp, the sun-darkened man idly plopped two green stamps on each passport. It was the world-wide system of travel; passports be stamped at stations along the way, marking where a person has been and giving royal guards an idea of where they are going, should they need to track them down. The royal guards used to be the guards of the God Palace, but became both guards and police over the years as clans separated into territories; each had their own armies of royal guards to fight in wars and regulate law enforcement. Taking the two passports, the old man passed them behind himself to slanted shelves, which in turn lead to a room of men who copied them for their archives. Though usually a process of no less than thirty minutes, both Ahra and Aya’s passports had multiple extensions on them of station stamps. The workers in the back room marveled at the eight pages per passport, now arguing over who was to copy them.
Aya unlatched the door to the coach, stepping out to the dusty road and sighing at the accumulating dark clouds that began to blot out the white sun. A few black strands of hair strayed from his plait, dancing before his eyes in delight of the wind. His ponytail flickered furiously with the next gale, settling along his straight shoulders when it passed. It was brisk out in the air, heralding that the rain would be icy and for the rest of their travel. Peering back behind his tense shoulder; Ahra sat unmoving in the coach. Her thick lashes made her lids heavy, and she looked as if she were falling asleep, her arms relaxing in their crossed pose. Yet, Aya knew better. She was not tired, but brooding.
“Come on out, the fresh air will do you good.” Aya encouraged, but to no avail. Now with reminded of her pointless ire, her arms became tight and her pretty lips sulked obstinately. With nothing left but the hope of a compromise, Aya reached into the many folds of his coarse robes, pulling out a neatly wrapped package no larger than his rough palm. Ahra’s eyes caught sight of it, lighting up hungrily at the green wraps. “You will get these back if you do.” Aya uttered, holding it up to the swaying wind. With a burst of energy she flew out from the coach, snatching the parcel right from Aya. She marched away from him, reluctant, as the negotiation was too good to be true. Ignoring the doubt, she hastily tore away at the paper wrapping, biting her lip nervously as she caught the first glimpse of her cigarettes. Aya sighed heavily, burrowing his hands into his coat pockets, watching her jam a cigarette between her teeth and search through her own coat for a match. The first inhale stopped her shivers, and with that Aya ambled hopelessly to the station post. There was no way he could get them from her now.
Reaching the passport station, Aya wrung a thick wad of paper from an inside pocket of his coat and dropped it onto the station counter. In the shadow of the small, boxy station, the worker who manned the post eased forward on his creaky bench, huffing a puff of cigar smoke into the air. The wrinkled, old senior snatched the thickly bound stack, paging through it with awe. The stack of papers was a complete record of Ahra and Aya’s travels, four fingers thick of stamped and marked papers. Every post they had ever come across was listed in this impressive stack.
“I see ye’ be comin’ from de’ Ara territory… quite a travel, now int’ it?” The pinched man croaked, thumbing to the last and newest pages. His voice was as calloused as his dirty hands, and he scrutinized Aya from his thin, stick-straight hair to the neat hem of his coat and robes. Leaning back in the creaky stool, he tossed the weathered document down a chute, which led to a cramped room of workers awaiting passports. They would copy the last few years of travel recorded in the passport, for their own archives, and then Ahra and Aya would be on their way. As soon as the records slid down the chute, shouts and hollers of frustrated and greasy workers sounded through the chute, arguing over the poor sap who would have to tackle such a task.
“Yes… quite a travel indeed. I believe your workers agree, as well.” Aya chatted politely, absently listening to the workers’ cussing; his eyes darted back at Ahra, who stared into the grey clouds as she smoked. The old man’s wormy lips curled to a wide smile, cackling at Aya’s remark and showing his yellow teeth. Tapping his fat cigar to them; he stroked his chin.
“Yer’ daughter o’er there? Ye’ got a handful, it looks to me.” He voiced.
“Not my daughter, she is my ward. She is much calmer than it seems, I assure you.” Aya frowned.
“Yah, ’ay bet she is.” The old man snorted.
Taking some money from his pocket, Aya paid the old man at post, covering both his and Ahra’s tax for the passport copies with a single gold coin. The old man marveled at the coin, for it was worth far more than the small tax.
“Thank ye’, sir.” He nodded his head in a small bow, placing the coin in a cup full of other shabby, metal coins. “What job do ye’ have?” He guffawed, nudging Aya in jest. Keeping watch on Ahra back at the coach, Aya answered absently.
“I do not have one.”
Ahra inhaled, feeling the ball of smoke swirl in her mouth, crippling her taste buds with its sour sting. Blowing it out in a thin, streaming line, she watched it arise and dissipate in the chilled air. Her hands began to tremble once more, but she did not notice. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Aya strolling back to her, his arms dug deep into his pockets. Chewing on the end of her cigarette, Ahra turned away.
“The man says it will be a while longer before our passports are copied.” He told, stopping to stand next to her. He loomed over her, at least a head taller than she. The pungent smoke from the cigarette floated around his face; he tried very hard not to grimace. Ahra stepped a few paces to the side, wary that he might take her cigarettes away, as he had done many times before. There was a familiar, tense silence between them as they both stared blankly on into the gloomy air, watching cigarette smoke sway and then vanish. After so long, Aya opened his mouth to speak. “This is the last station to the village of Las’ta.” He noted, crossing his arms tiredly. They were in the territory of the Usa clan, a large clan symbolized by a horned rabbit. Ahra knew nothing about where they were going. Only once in their two-month travel did Aya mention the village, having muttered something about it being near the coast of an ocean, and that it was halfway in the mountains. She dropped her burnt out cigarette stub to the caked road, swiping another from the crumpled, green paper. “It is near the ocean, and there are mountains to the east of the village.” Aya kept on. “Our house will be in the northern wing of Las’ta… I made sure to buy a house with no fish ponds in the back.”
“I don’t care if it has a pond or not!” Set aflame in her unpredictable rage, Ahra threw the remainder of the cigarettes and bits of paper in Aya’s face, storming away in a blind fury to the sparse acres of land beyond the beaten road. Aya, neither surprised nor stirred, bent to pick up the cigarettes as Ahra strode angrily out into the overgrown, tawny weed and grass to collapse behind a dead tree and cuss. Aya could faintly see her sitting cross-legged, tearing the grass around her and burying her face in her hands. Scolding himself for underestimating her reaction, Aya rubbed his mouth despairingly as he saw her black hair disappear behind the dead trunk.
The old man at the station’s post rang a bronze bell that hung above his head, waving the original passports at Aya, who detached his sight from Ahra’s dead tree. Aya came over and took them from the wrinkled man, dropping a few more gold coins on the counter absently as he hurried to turn back and fetch Ahra.
“Thank ye’, sir!” The old man waved; he turned back to the chute that lead to the workers, holding up the glistening coins and grinning toothily. The workers’ greasy jaws dropped in awe, sending hoots up into their workroom of excitement.
Aya stood at the edge of the trodden road, unwilling to swim through the sea of bristly grasses to get his ward. He could see her now, standing against the tree trunk, gazing at whatever was before her and chewing on her stub.
“Ahra!” Aya called hoarsely. He coughed a few times; thrusting the passports into the air to show that they could leave, he heaved a gasp of relief when she began to walk back to the coach. Knowing her, though, she would not be so cooperative as soon as she got within arms’ length of him. Never did she treat her anger as her own fault, but as the fault of those around her. She ceased the moment her flat shoes hit the parched mud, gazing distraughtly at the dusty road. The driver of the coach, back from his own break, finished fastening the two stallions to their harnesses, patting their haunches as they flexed their thundering legs, ready to go. Ahra clenched her fists tight, unmoving.
“Come now, Ahra… we are leaving.” Aya tapped his fingers, glancing at the impatient driver, who held his up driving whip, aching to snap it and take off. She did not move. Taking hold off her shoulder gently, Aya leaned into her ear. “Please, Ahra… we must leave now.” He uttered. She kept her eyes steadfast at the dirt, and did not budge.
“I’m not moving.” She hissed. All of a sudden, Aya’s arms went beneath her knees and around her back, heaving her up from the ground with remarkable speed, carrying her across the road to the coach with no further patience. Her limbs flailed and hair thrashed, but Aya kept firm and unwavering as he bound her, unable to break free from his strong arms. “Let go of me!” Ahra shrieked, scratching at Aya’s face and shoulders. When that did not work, she tried to push herself away frantically, resorting to thrashing some more once they advanced to the coach. Aya stepped up into the coach, sliding carefully between the doorway to fit her through as well. With an irritated huff, he dropped her flat onto the seat, reaching behind himself to close and lock the coach door. Ahra scrambled to sit upright; breathing furiously through her nose and smoothing her hair back down from its riled tangles. Taking his seat, Aya knocked on the ceiling of the coach, and at once the driver’s whip cracked and they were on their way. Ahra glowered at him with her utmost intensity, pulling at her robes to their original, neat composition. Looking out the glass panes behind them at the distancing station, she saw her blue shawl fading out of sight, having fallen on the road, vanishing along with the sparse, dead trees and the slanted station. Aya calmly and quietly took out a handkerchief to wipe the blood from his scratched jaw, saying not a word as the white cloth was forever imbued deep red. Ahra turned her head away, thudding it back on the window pane like before. It would be a long ride to Las’ta.
Ahra’s foot tapped anxiously on the dark wood floors, echoing empty thuds beneath the floorboards of the room. She sat on the top of a red leather trunk, leaning over her knees to rest her weary head in her palms as she watched Aya carry their belongings inside. One by one, he set them in semicircles around the door and the wide windows that opened into a lazy street, dotted with tea shops and children. The coach had simply dropped them off at this house with their possessions, having left quickly to avoid the curious locals and their nosy chatter. Aya brought in the last black trunk that was set near their doors, plopping it atop a larger, mud-spattered one. He closed the front doors, aware that the villagers would soon gather near their new house to greet themselves if he had not. Ahra slumped in her place, studying their new home. They were in an empty, open room that had two revealing windows to show the streets, and the ceilings were high to allow for the windows to be tall and let in blurred light. It poured through the glass like searchlights, exposing the sea of dust in the air beyond the dark places between the beams. The wood floors were reddish and hard, matching the bare, rice-colored walls. Behind them in the large room, were two doorways and a staircase engulfed in spider webs that hung dead and unused. The doorway on the left became a hall, and the one to the right opened into a dining room, which in turn lead to a light-streamed kitchen. The dining room was also covered in the filmy webs. Ahra twisted her neck to gaze at the dreary rooms, looking back at Aya, who grinned, unwavering.
He dropped to his knees and began to open the luggage; the process of unpacking was the least looked forward to for both him and Ahra, for it always ended in an argument of some sort, and then by the both of them leaving the house to procrastinate the rest of the unpacking, and to find something to eat. Aya pulled out a few ratty dish towels from the trunk, tossing one to Ahra. She did not catch it. He began cleaning off the spider webs from the rain-worn windows, ignoring the flocks of old, chatty women as they gathered in the street to peer in at him. Shaking his head at his moody companion, Aya thought up a bit of encouragement.
“The sooner we clean off these gossamers, the sooner I will be able to put up the drapes.” He suggested, aware of her nervousness about the onlookers. Grabbing the cloth, she rushed to the other window, swiping up and down at the sill and sides, keeping her face turned low. Satisfied, Aya rummaged through another trunk to find some drapes.
“Why do they stare?” Ahra grumbled, smoothing the hair at her neck and retreating to the dark corner. Aya came over with a pair of sheer linen curtains, reaching above the windows to drape them over the bar above and pull them over the panes.
“They are just curious people… whether it is good for them or not.” He answered.
After they swabbed the spider webs from the room of the first floor, Aya and Ahra began to empty out their bags and trunks, first starting with the silverwares and other such utensils, which Aya placed in the many cabinets and drawers of the kitchen. Of the bone china fineries and silvern spoons that Ahra unearthed from the packed chests, she and Aya had never used them before, and she wondered why they had them. Only at times like these was she allowed to touch them freely. The other cups and things they owned were shabby and common, like handcrafted, lacquered bowls and red clay plates usually seen in bazaars or family-owned restaurants. Their other silverware was wooden, like most other peoples’. The next load unpacked was the bundle of towels and bathing materials they owned, and there were not many. Aya set the small, green case full of towels and wash cloths at the base of the stairwell, telling Ahra to take it up later on. Soon enough, the only trunks left sitting around the room were either Ahra’s, or Aya’s personal things. They did not own much, for they did not need much. Ahra’s trunks were black, the metal clasps on them a grey metal; she only had three. One bulky chest was for her clothing, another for more clothing and shoes; the last for her miscellaneous belongings. Going to sit on the biggest one, she slouched over her crossed arms, worn out by both the travel and the unpacking. Scowling tiredly, she counted Aya’s trunks, as she did each time they went through this ordeal: seven. She knew that two were packed full of clothing, and two of books, but the other three remained mysterious and frustrating to her imagination, which had no clue whatsoever as to what lay within.
Aya, pulling at his long sleeves to keep them over his wrists, bent to lift the closest of his chests, carrying it down the hallway to the right, into a room that had been determined as his. A week before their arrival at the village, Aya had coaches move their furniture to the house. The beds, tables and other furnishings lay ready for them in every room, having waited faithfully. Coming back for the next trunk, Aya again left to his bedroom. Ahra could hear the clicks of his locks, and the sound of brushing clothes that Aya emptied out; she sat idly on her case of clothing, staring at a trunk of his, which lay before her stretched legs. Perhaps it was only his books, she thought, but then again, perhaps it was not. Pulling it close by its red handle, she felt the yellow clasps that held it shut, frowning once her digits passed over a lock of some sort. There were three wheels, each with a number on it. Turning each wheel to a random number, Ahra hit the clasp that would open it. It did nothing. She craned her neck to peek down the hallway; Aya was still busy with pulling out his clothing. Returning to the lock, Ahra could not think of anything he would use as a combination. The numbers could have been so vast, and she knew nothing of his way of thinking. Bleakly switching the golden wheels to the date of her birthday, the seventh month of the year on the seventh day, born into the seventh generation of her family; Ahra sighed as she stared at the three etched numbers. If this case were full of her uncle’s secrets, she would never see them.
“What do you suppose you are doing with my possessions?”
Ahra jumped up from her hunched position, shoving the trunk aside reflexively. Aya hovered above her, one hand on his chin, the other tucked beneath his bent elbow. Speechless and caught in the act, Ahra sat with her mouth agape in a paralyzed shock. Her cheeks began to flush red, and she stood, stomping to the stairwell.
“I just wanted to know what was inside it!” She confessed. Aya rubbed his mouth anxiously, knowing this would become the argument to end the unpacking. His dark-rimmed eyes stared jadedly, straining to keep open from lack of sleep or ease.
“It is not civil to rummage through another’s private possessions.” He wheezed.
“I wasn’t rummaging! I didn’t even open it!” Ahra defended, her arms squeezing tight around her ribcage.
“It is not a matter of whether or not you opened it, but that you do not regard the privacy I have asked you give to me.” Aya scolded. This was a familiar topic of arguments between them, as it arose every time they moved, or whenever Ahra snuck into his bedroom.
“You shouldn’t need privacy! I’ve been dragged around the world by you since I was six, and you still can’t trust me with anything about your life!” Ahra disagreed.
“I have not dragged you about the continents, I have cared for you. When you are hungry, I feed you. When you are cold, I clothe you. When you must be relocated, I arrange for it to be done. As far as you may be concerned, my life is taking care of yours until someone else desires to.” Aya rebuked firmly, reminding Ahra of all he had ever done for her. What he meant by the last sentence of his scold, was that until she married and was cared for by a husband, he existed only to keep her safe. Ahra thought over his words, angered that she would lose this fight.
“And then, you could finally be free of me, isn’t that right?” She mumbled, diverting her eyes to the floor. Aya’s arms dropped to his sides, his face in utter shock. Ahra met eyes with him arrogantly, but she soon became upset by the look of dismay that Aya’s gaze burned with.
“Never…” he began, taken aback, “doubt that I love you as my own daughter.” Ahra whipped around, marching up the stairs with her hot cheeks furiously ablaze, speechless. The dark hall that followed the stairway lead to a bathroom and a bedroom for her; she slammed the door hard against its frame to make sure Aya would hear.
Her new bedroom was fairly empty; even though her bed and chair were placed in the room, it looked foreign and not as if it was hers. The room also looked out to the street, as the room beneath her, its two windows as wide and exposing as the others. There was another window to her right, above her bed, that peered into a cluster of deep green trees that lay between the house and a pathway to give them a bit of courteous seclusion. Ahra wandered about her bedroom, feeling the sills of each window, eventually falling back onto her wooden chair to lean against the window panes and stare at the gathered locals. They chattered enthusiastically and tried to look as if they were not there to whisper about their new residents, sitting at the tea shops or haggling inattentively with vendors as they snuck glances at the house. Most of them were old women, perhaps gossipy and idle, with not much else to do. Aya had noted that it was a very close-knit village, and that the two of them might cause excitement and curiosity within the people. Observing the way the people were dressed, Ahra wondered if their clothing was made of thicker material. They seemed to be wearing no more clothing than she, but they were not shivering. The last place she and Aya had lived was hot and dry, not cold and damp.
The creaking groan of footsteps coming up the staircase made Ahra’s ears prick; she spun around when Aya pushed her door open slightly, only enough to nudge his head through. He looked remorseful for the argument, and he held a thick coat for Ahra to wear over her green robes.
“What would you like to eat for dinner?” He asked.
The walk through the village streets was agonizingly awkward, and lasted longer than Ahra ever expected it to be. The main streets of the village were packed with locals, who carried baskets atop their heads with groceries, or pulled their lagging steeds up and down the streets to home, or simply stood in the roads to blather on with their company. Though everyone went about their business, all eyes were on them. People stared, conning over them with their squinting eyes, smiling only to seem welcoming as Aya and Ahra maneuvered about the streets to find an eatery where they could sit away from other people. Children on the streets ran around them, giggling and shy, thrilled by the new faces. As soon as Ahra and Aya passed a group of people, they turned to one another and began to whisper feverishly, some grinning, some shaking their heads. Aya, holding his head high and with a friendly smile, strode on as if he had lived there for years, comfortable even in such surroundings. On the other hand, Ahra was far from ease. Every look she was given cast her farther into anxiety, for the first impression was usually the worst. The locals raised their brows at her bandaged neck, and pursed their lips at her frail shoulders. She kept her face turned towards her shoulder, so no one would catch a good glimpse of her features. Suddenly, Aya came to a stop, having found a restaurant that looked legitimate. He took Ahra by the shoulder, leading her in, and away from the engrossed public. The restaurant owner, seeing the many inquisitive faces contorting their necks to peep through the doorway of the eatery, pulled the gauzy drapes over the threshold to give his customers their peace.
The restaurant was cast in orange light from lamps that hung on the low ceiling, and each table was different from the next, like they had been collected from various places and placed proudly in the eatery; the chairs were the same way. The floor and the walls were dark wood, making the place seem smaller than it was, even though there weren’t many people at the tables.
Ahra leaned over the edge of the table, upset by the nosy locals as always. Aya sighed when she buried her face deeper into her arms. The restaurant owner, a stout man with a white apron tied lazily around his grey robes, waddled to the table Aya and Ahra sat at, placing his ruddy hands on his sides.
“Don’t you mind the villagers, they’ve got nothing better to do right now, but in a few days they’ll get on with their boring lives.” He chortled, used to such disturbances in the community. “What can I get you two to eat? This one’s on the house.” Aya shook his head.
“There is no need for such hospitality, however kind it is.” He uttered graciously.
“I insist! It’s the least I can do to try and ease your troubles.” The owner persisted. Finally consenting, Aya thanked the man. “I tell you what… I’ll bring you two a dish of the village favorite, I know you’ll like it. Then, when people ask you if you like Las’ta so far, you can talk about it. People here love to talk about food. Just look at me!” The plump man laughed heartily. A few other customers who overheard the conversation laughed along, raising their glasses in agreement. Within a few minutes, two red plates were dropped before them by a frazzled woman with an apron tied around her robes like the owner; she smiled pleasantly at the two of them.
“Welcome to the village, you two… my husband, Fadil, says you can come back anytime you need for a free meal.” She told, smoothing down her messy, distraught hair. “Enjoy the dish, it’s called a flowerbed, not that anyone knows why!” She giggled, accompanied by a few others as well with the laughter as she walked to other tables. Ahra stared at the dish of brown rice and unusual purple berries, jabbing at it with her fork to reveal a nest of meat and fruit beneath the rice. Looking to Aya for approval, she shoved a forkful in her mouth when he nodded. It was definitely unlike anything she had ever tasted before. Chewing hesitantly; Ahra noticed a group of young men that had come through the curtained doorway, and they were about to sit down at a table when Fadil’s wife confronted them with a kitchen knife. Lively gestures were exchanged, tossed arms and pointing fingers, and before Ahra knew it, they left in a fury, spitting at the floor. Turning around to see what Ahra’s eyes stared heartlessly on at, Aya eased back around to comment. Ahra looked away from the commotion, jabbing at a piece of fruit.
“News does seem to spread quite fast here, it seems.” Aya sighed.
The following days were laden with heavy showers that drove the villagers into their homes, keeping wandering old gossipers to their own businesses and blessing Ahra with the peace she had ached for. Streets that were once dry and dusty became muddy and chancy for fish charts and persons who needed to run about for food or work; the cold rain dripped like shards of glass from the slanted rooftops into the loamy roads, sending ripples through flooded pathways and lapping at stubby grasses that struggled to reach for the sun, rapt in its dissipating rays from the sides of the streets. The air was stale from the moldy smell of fallen rain, sending shivers up villagers’ spines when they risked going out in the temporary canals to bring home food for the day. The village people laid down thick, straw-woven mats that sucked up the waters slightly, giving them sturdy places to step. The sides of the streets were covered by these long mats that latched together at the ends, creating walkways for those who did not want to trudge through the muddy routes. Even though it proved disastrous for those outside, they knew that the water would eventually waste away into the ducts that were hidden beneath the soil, and pour beneath the village into the ocean where water belonged. From their rain-stained windows, Ahra studied the village carefully, fascinated by locals’ nonchalant attitudes at the flooding. They went on with their lives as if the water had always been there, and soon the passageways were dotted with shallow boats that rode atop the overflows, carrying one or two people each and packed with barrels of goods that would grace the bazaars that day. They pushed along the dark waters with long sticks, stopping by others and waving hello. Touching the glass panes, Ahra peered closer through her bedroom window at the sight of people bartering from the narrow boats. Going over to the closet at the back of her bedroom, she rummaged about the folded garments that were crammed into the shelves, pulling out three robes for the chilly day. One of the robes, a white one, was considered the ‘undergarment’ of the three, and the other two, one green and another black, were the only ones intended to be seen. Then, Ahra found an appropriate sash, which would fasten the three together. It was embroidered with simple, red flowers on its black silk. The robes were hardly apposite for the dreary weather, but Ahra had no other clothing any less fine.
Tiptoeing out into the shady hallway beyond the door, Ahra pushed her way through the bathroom door, closing it behind her with a nudge of the foot. The robes, in her arms, were dropped carelessly onto the varnished wood floor, along with Ahra’s maroon night robe. Her bony feet curled at the cold floorboards; she steeped over to the bath, which was built into the floor, such as a pool was built in the ground. It was a perfect square, covering half the bathroom floor. Ahra reached for the knob to the left of the bath walls, turning it to release frothy, steaming water into the bath. Sitting over the edge, her feet slowly licked at by the rising water, she began to unravel the bandages that covered her neck and wrapped around her chest, stopping above her navel. The white bandages fell into the swirling bathwater as she went on; her pale skin glowed white at the glimpse of daylight from the small windows. Yanking the last coil from her neck, Ahra began to loosen the bandages around her upper left arm. Her eyes watched carefully at the sight of them being unwrapped, and once the last wrap was dropped into the searing waters, Ahra slid into the bath, leaning her head against the edge. She felt blindly for the knob, turning the running water off. Sighing the hot steam out from her breath, Ahra caressed her neck, rubbing the red irritations that the bandages created by rubbing against her skin without heed. Her fingertips felt over a long scar along her throat, then drifted down to her collarbone to feel a similar one. They were both as pallid as the skin that surrounded them, but raised and warped into grotesque lines upon her body. Ahra frowned at them, solemn as she sunk deeper into the bathwater. The steam arose sweat on her hands and face, making her dizzy. Dropping her hand to her chest, the familiar bulge of another warped scar hit her thumb. Searching for the other two; Ahra brushed her hand over her heart, sickened when they passed her fingertips. Finally, she touched the skin beneath her bicep, feeling the very last disfigurement with grief. She did not look at them, for it was far too difficult to stare at them. The last time she had was many years ago and never again did she want to. They still ached with pain, as if her brother’s dagger were still in them after eleven years.
Shaking the blankness from her mind, Ahra reached behind her, grabbing at a bar of soap to wash away both her grief and dirt.
After the bath, Ahra dressed in her robes. First the white one, then the black one, and at last the green. Her fingers fumbled casually with the ties at the end of the sash, turning them to the side of her waist once they were fastened. Slicking her damp hair back in a single tail, it stopped at the small of her back, clinging fastidiously to the robes. Ahra’s cheeks were hot and red from the steamy bath, and the cool air that pored in from the hallway felt refreshing as she stepped out to trek down the stairwell. Aya, who sat in the dining room with a book before him on the low table, raised his eyebrows, peeking through the doorway to see Ahra going to the front door in a hurry.
“Why ever are you going outside in such weather?” He inquired suspiciously. Ahra glanced over her shoulder at him, scowling.
“I want to see the village.” She told. Aya’s straight mouth split into a frown.
“You aren’t being serious.” He scoffed. “You have never left the house so voluntarily… and certainly not so bluntly.” Ahra took her twilled, grey coat down from the hook beside the door, shrugging it on. “You are being serious.” Aya marveled, closing his book to watch the spectacle and pushing back his long hair from his face.
“I just want to see the streets.” Ahra muttered, raring to go; she pulled her plain shoes over her feet, which were wrapped thickly with bandages so her feet and ankles wouldn’t get muddy or wet.
“Will you bring a sachet with you?” Aya interrogated; Ahra took a small drawstring bag from her pocket, jingling the coins inside of it in his direction. “Alright, then… I suppose that I will see you in a bit.” Aya nodded, opening his book to the page his thumb was tucked into.
“You aren’t coming with me?” Ahra’s jaw dropped.
“I believe the absence of arguments since last night mean that I do not need to accompany you.” Aya told, now intent on reading his book. His hand waved at her, beckoning for her to simply go. Surprised, Ahra cocked her head, but did not oppose. Pushing the front door open, she began on her way.
This can be continued in another document in my portfolio, titled "The End, chapter one, cont". Thanks for reading!