Monday, 31 December 2018

Chapter 22: A Request




The new one from the city goes to the garden now.  I’ve seen her there.  She may be the one.  To atone, she must have opportunity to take another course.  I will ensure she does.  I’ll make clear she is free to leave.  But if she chooses to stay, she has submitted to God’s will.  The new one will help me become clean.  How blessed, I am.  I had thought it would be hard to find an appropriate match, then one appears.  The providence of her coming only confirms He approves of the sacrifice.  God is good.
#
“Elle?”

“Mmm-hmm?”

“I’ve been thinking.  I can only present a summary of what I’ve seen, in Nydia.  And if your home is all you and the council want me to see, I understand.  You can say no.  I also think it’s beyond fair that in return for your hospitality, I make efforts to help you out around here – it’s clear to me that the children don’t only demand your energy when they’re here, you’re working for them around the clock.”  Neith waved over the clothing she was folding while Elle constructed a new chair – which was impressive, to say the least.  Amos was emptying a pile of walnut shells in and out of a pot at her feet.

“What do you want, Neith?”

“To go see more – at the school,” she declared.  This came out in a loud breath, as though she had been holding onto the desire for months, when really, it had only occurred to her yesterday.  “That is, after I’ve attended to matters here, first.”  Neith’s time at the garden had only served to tantalise her.  She reasoned: she needed more information; how many children would her choices affect?  How many people wanted her here?  Why?  Did Nydia need Feichangbei, as Prescott had suggested?  Would she find enough prospective partners in Feichangbei for more than 70 still-chaperoned 2K’s to find some future with?   Would they only want a few?

Elle waved a hand of dismissal, “I got by doing all this before you came, and I’ll get by if you slip away for a while.  A while here and there, okay? I’ll miss the help, and the conversation!  But my approval isn’t all you’ve got to consider.  You need to find out if others are okay with you spending time around the school.  You’ll have to ask the teacher, for a start, he can put feelers out with the parents.”

It had occurred to Neith that someone might object to her being there, but she’d hoped they wouldn’t.  Things had been easy with Elle.  She understood the community was private – it was obvious what they had to protect – but they’d already admitted her, and she’d been here a while.  Neith knew from her few ventures beyond Ruthie’s first-day perimeter that not everyone was of Elle’s disposition, but time with Nola and Ulysses had given her courage.  All of the children she had met or passed seemed either intrigued or indifferent to her presence. “Of course.  You’re right.  So, the teacher – Mr Flynn, right?”

“Haven’t you done your homework?!  Yes, the teacher’s name is Miles Flynn.”

“Miles.”  Neith liked the name.  “Thank you, Elle.  And don’t think you’ll be rid of me so easily.”
“That is the last thing I want.”  Elle smiled. 
#
 “This is it?”

“Yeah.  Mr Flynn’s.”

“Okay then.” 

Neith and Ruthie stood at the threshold of a large bungalow at the north end of Nydia.  Wind-chimes hung from the eaves and nearby trees and shells and stones lined the edge of the veranda and railings in rows.  The chimes reminded Neith of those she’d seen when she arrived in Nydia, at the southern end of the village.

Neith stepped onto the decking, up to the front door, and rapped one long, three short, one long, two short – the knock she always did when a rare door-knocking opportunity presented itself.  She then wondered if Nydia knockers followed the same rhythm.  Did they knock differently?  She then shook her hair out and refocused, the door was about to open!

Except it didn’t.

“Knock again!”  Ruthie urged, from behind her.

She repeated the rhythm.

She couldn’t hear anything but the wind-chimes, and a ways off voices in other homes.

“Leave a note then.”

Neith frowned looking back at her guide.  She had never left a note at anyone’s home.  Your chip spoke for you – you approached someone’s front door, the security panel lit up, announced your arrival inside.  You were either admitted or your visit was automatically logged in residents’ absence – whichever was appropriate.  Paper notes?  Her writing?  She paled.  Was she meant to carry a notepad, for when such occasions presented themselves?

“There, in the little house…”  Ruthie was standing close by, her hands busy weaving flax strips into some creation. She signalled with her head towards the door.  Neith looked around the door’s frame, searching for the means to leave a message.  Little house?  Then she saw a light-relief carving of a house mounted next to the door.  It was about the size of her two hands alongside each other and had its own miniature door with a knob handle.  Through the windows of the wee house she saw what looked like paper.  She pulled on the little door handle and the door swung upon to reveal a notepad and pencil inside.  Neith giggled a little at the discovery.  She plucked out the pencil and did her best to record her words recognisably onto the vertical pad.  The frame of the housing made it so her hand couldn’t rest on the paper, and the house-box being fixed in place meant she was also writing vertically. 
#
Mr Flynn.  I would like to speak with you about visiting the school. Please.  Neith.
#
She looked over her message; it filled the small page.  It wasn’t her best work – although her writing had been improving with Elle’s help.  It was at least legible.  She carefully propped the pencil back inside its house, and closed the door. 

“You could’ve torn the page off.  You know, to make it easier to write.”

Neith nudged her weaving companion in pretend angst.  “You tell me this now.”

“It was more fun this way.”  They were so alike.  Neith loved her.  So wasn’t that enough to risk?  Wasn’t knowing Elle and her kids enough basis to make a decision upon?  Any chance Prescott’s Phase 2 could be unpleasant for them was too great a risk, wasn’t it? 

The pair laughed making their return walk to the house.  Ruthie took an unusual route, as though in answer to Neith’s want – instead of heading back past their garden plot, they passed other plots, and then the unusually-shaped circular building she remembered from months earlier.  Laser Eyes was there, and seemed intent on sending a chill across the air. 

When they were a safe distance past him, Neith asked, “Who was that?”

“Who?”

“The guy by the round building.”

“The Yurt Room?”

“Okay, the guy by the Yurt Room.” 

“Um…I didn’t notice anyone – I was, after all, telling an incredibly funny story.”

“You’re right, and I enjoyed every minute of hearing about the time Davey confused a pepper paste with guacamole…”  Ruthie beamed to hear Neith had been so attentive.  It wasn’t hard, Ruthie’s stories were good.  “But while I was listening to tales of Davey, I noticed this guy who looked…unhappy, maybe?  I just wondered who it was.”  Neith realised now, they had passed a handful of people during their walk, and her singling out this one did sound odd.  He had meant his gaze to unsettle her, she was sure of it.  He’d meant it multiple times. 

“What did he look like?”

“Never mind.”  Neith wasn’t sure how to describe anything but his stare and mousey hair. 

Reaching Elle’s, the two removed their boots, knocked debris off their soles, and placed them by the door.  Nola and Koro emerged from inside.  Neith felt aglow to see them again.  “Koro, Nola,” Neith said, smiling wide and nodding to them both as she had seen Koro do, on his leaving.
“Ah, the girl who saw youth in me!  My wife used to say people who saw things for better than they were wore rose-tinted glasses.  Perhaps you’re one of those – you say you see good things, but others don’t see them as you do.”  Neith bristled; she wished that were always true.  “I’m sorry we missed you, Rose-tints.” Koro added.

Neith stifled her discomfort to respond. “We had an errand.  Maybe next time?”

Koro gave her a squeeze on the shoulder and kissed her on the cheek.  She was quite taken aback by his familiarity, though she’d seen him weekly since their first meeting.  Nola gave a small wave with her free hand before they set off, holding hands, in the same direction Neith and Ruthie had just come from.

Koro and Nola’s weekly visits had Neith thinking.  Was Elle’s cabin out of bounds?  Surely someone in Nydia must be curious.  Or were they afraid?  What would make them stay away in broad daylight?  Something came to mind; it reminded her of quarantine; of living on the fringe in the City, “in case.” 

Neith was now sure of her first real idea of a way to protect Elle and her family, to protect all of Nydia. 

She could report an outbreak.  It was simple.  There was no fear like plague fear. 

But she wanted to see more of Nydia first.  She was so close.

And there was that nagging remote possibility that MinSci could make dreams like Grace’s come true.  There was risk in trusting MinSci, but there was risk in making a choice for everyone back home – even if most of them wouldn’t even know she’d ever made it for them.

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