Thursday, November 10, 2016

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learning to burn part 10

Please begin at the BEGINNING.

Ram stays busy preparing soups and plates of cornbread for a good long while as a steady stream of young women with trays walk by and remove bowls of soup. Most of them also take a plate of cornbread, but not all. When the stream slows, Ram seems to relax and Ofonode dares to whisper, “Who was the first girl with a tray? She only came by that one time.”

That is the daughter of the One.”

Oh. What does that mean?”

The One.”

I do not know who the One is… I'm very new here.”

The One is the city owner.”

The city has an owner?” It was such a fantastic idea to Ofonode. How could anyone own a city?

How do you think such magnificent walls were built? The One built them with those who lead the city and we consider the city's elite. They are not where they are because they are silken wimps.  They have led by example. That's why this city is so great! If you shake their hands, you feel the wear or hard work on them, even still.”

So, that first young woman is his daughter… She is lovely.”

Yes. And protected. Her father is a big burly man who protected his elder daughter, not nearly so pretty, from strangers only five years ago. He only just allowed her to marry the guy she'd loved for years because her father thought he was too soft. He was. It's only in the last two years that he started truly working. He has strong hands now.”

By strong, I guess you mean his hands are now hard with callouses.”

Yes, of course.” Ram looks at Ofonode carefully and then grabs his wrists.

Wha...”

You have strong hands. You have grown food and done hard work, especially with ropes. Why do you ask like having callouses is a bad thing? You have them.”

I guess it's just different in different places. My callouses were not prized where I grew up. Artists and musicians do not have hands like mine. They are the prize or… as you say, the elite, in my village. Though everyone's contribution is appreciated, my hands would not be seen as something to strive for. That's all. I mean no offense, Ram.”

No. You're right. Not everywhere is as good as here. I've met enough strangers come friends to know that.”

Have you ever met anyone who came from elsewhere and left after a visit?”

No. I work hard, so I do not meet many strangers. But all I have met who have come from elsewhere… they stay. This is a good city. It was built on hard work and no matter what work you do, toughened hands are a badge of honor here.”

I can understand why folks stay.”

But you will leave?”

Why do you ask?”

There's something in the way you said that. It sounds like you wish you could be like them, but must go.”

That's true. I think it would be nice to stay here. It would be nice to live in a place where my hands are seen as strong and prized. I left my village, though, hoping to find something… really, someone. And I've barely started to even try. I have to keep trying at least for a few months.”

The girls have stopped coming, we consolidate the soups into one pot. These will be served from first at dinner. You will make a new pot of each while I work on dishes and two more pans of cornbread. They loved the cornbread today! I'm glad you made another pan.”

What now?” Ofonode asks as soon as the soups are rearranged and dirty dishes brought to the sinks.

We find Estie and eat together.”

The two walked into the dining area. Most of the other kitchen workers were seated at a long table. Estie smiled as Ram approached. She stood and walked over to him. He reached his hand around her waist and gave her a sideways hug. His smile was enormous and he looked very proud that she came to him as she did.

She stopped him with a hand on his chest and put her hands on his shoulders as if to pull him down. His cheeks turned rosey as he bent toward her and she kissed him firmly on the mouth. Looking him in the face she said, “I love you, husband.” He smiled and nodded and then hid his face in her hair as he hugged her close.

Ofonode felt a wave of peaceful happiness radiate from the two. Ram pulled away from Estie, his face all pink now, smiling bashfully.

Estie pulled him with her hand around his big arm. Ofonode, not knowing what else to do, followed them. As he passed, the daughter of the One pulled his arm. He looked, anger flaring slightly, and found himself almost drowning in the clearest lightest blue eyes he'd ever seen in another person. He felt like he was looking at his own eyes, though the shape of hers was a bit different, the color was almost exactly the same.

She inhaled sharply and let go of his arm. He calmed immediately as he stared at her. Her lips turned in a smile and she sighed as she reached for his arm again, “Won't you sit with me? I have plenty to share.”

Yes. I… well… I'm hungry. I also have a friend in the kitchen I need to feed. May I save some to bring to my friend?”

Sure. There's more than enough. Estie is very generous with food. She wants us strong to work hard for her. Plenty of food and sleep enable us to work our best for her, she says.”

It's true. I'm grateful she's such a good employer.”

She's not even the best, though she would definitely disagree with that! My Daddy wouldn't have had me get a job here if he thought she was the best. She's definitely among the hardest, which is exactly why my Daddy wouldn't let me work anywhere else.”

I met her at the fountain this morning. I'm new.”

Of course you are. But you won't be forever. This city grows on everyone who comes here. It's almost impossible to leave. Only the farmers really even leave the walls.”

I'm a farmer, really. More than anything else.”

Is that right? Farmers are a treasure around here. Do you want to be a farmer here?”

Well, not right now. I won't be able to stay for good. I left my village for a purpose and I need to work harder in hopes of accomplishing my goal.”

Oh. You'll leave, then?”

Yes.” Ofonode feels sad to tell the most beautiful young lady he's ever seen that he has to leave when he's only just seen her and she's pulled him to sit and eat with her.

Oh well. You could return after you try whatever you need to try. And if you like it here well enough, maybe you won't leave after-all.”

I… there are innumerable possibilities for the future.” Ofonode felt shocked as he heard his Auntie's oft spoken words pass his lips.
 
That's true! Innumerable possibilities! And isn't it wonderful?”

Ofonode just nodded his head in response.
 
The two eat in silence for a few minutes. Ofonode wants to talk to the beauty next to him, but doesn't have a clue what to say. Finally, he thinks of something and blurts out, “I don't know your name. Will you tell me?”

My Daddy calls me one thing, but Estie calls me Contessa. So everyone else calls me that now. I kinda like it. And I know she doesn't mean anything cruel, so you can call me Contessa, too.”

I will, if you like. What name does your father call you?”

Pollyanna. Sometimes Polly or Anna for short. But mostly Pollyanna. He says the name brings good memories, so he likes to hear the whole thing as often as he can. He might be sad since he hasn't seen me in a few weeks. But he wants me to work into strong hands. So, I'm working as hard as I'm able.”

That's a really pretty name. I've never heard anything like it.”

Yeah. It's really old. My Mom really liked it too. She died a long time ago, though, so mostly I only know anything about her at all because my Daddy has told me.”

I'm sorry your Mom died. My parents died when I was really young, so I kinda understand. I don't really even remember them now.”

Oh! Wow. I'm sorry!”

Yeah. It's okay. I mean… I kinda like who I am and losing them is part of me. So, I guess it's okay.”
That's wonderful! I never thought of it that way. Honestly, I've never really thought about whether I like myself or not!”

It's wonderful to realize your inherent worth, no matter what you've done or not done and then realize your worth liking. I encourage you to think about it and realize that for yourself. There's no feeling like it in the whole world! I'm pretty sure thinking about it is the only way to really understand.”

I'm sure you're right. I guess I should do that.”

Ram is walking toward Ofonode when he looks up from his food. “Go ahead and take the whole plate. I'm finished. Thank you for eating with me. Oh! I don't know what to call YOU!”

Estie said Tin.”

But your real name….”

I'll tell you later.”

You better.” Pollyanna says as Ofonode rushes to catch up with Ram.

I didn't know you were Estie's husband,” Ofonode says as the two reach the cooking corner. Ofonode passes it to bring the plate to Os who is stretching in his sleep. He puts the pate down without waking the lizard.

It doesn't make a difference to the job.”

That's true, I guess.”

You take really good care of that lizard.”

Yes. He's a very good friend.”

I've never heard of anyone having a lizard for a friend.”

Well, not everything is as it seems.”

Boy, is that true! I've never seen Contessa take to anyone as quickly as she did to you. You must be more than you seem. She's a very picky little lady.”

Ofonode feels himself blush hottly. “Do you know her real name, Ram?”

Most of the people in the kitchen don't know each others' real names. I'd have to think hard to remember mine.”

Is Estie your wife's real name?”

Yes.”

That's weird.”

Why would she give herself a nickname? She gives us nicknames to make it easier to remember us. She can remember her own name.”

Yes, of course. No offense intended.”

Okay. I'm going to get the dishes banged out. You do the soups and cornbread. Do you remember how?”

Yes, sir.”

Ram just nods and walks away.

Once the soups are simmering away and the cornbread is in the oven, Ofonode gathers the now empty plate near Os and brings it to the sinks.

Dry those and then get the cornbread out.”

Ofonode does and finds the cornbread is perfectly baked. He wonders how Ram could time it so perfectly when he didn't really know for sure when it went in the oven.

Pollyanna stops by three times to pick up soups. She smiles at Ofonode each time and winks at him once. Ram sees it and looks at Ofonode in awe and surprise.

When dinner is finished, Ram and Ofonode clean their workspace. Ofonode gathers Os and carries him to the dish area, putting him gently under another counter. Ram and Ofonode wash all of the dishes. As soon as it's all finished, they go to the cold room.

Estie is waiting at the door, sitting on a stool looking very tired and a little ill. Ram moves to her side and lifts her into his arms. “No, no. I'm okay. You need to eat. I'll eat some more with you and be just fine.”

Are you sure?”

Yes. Put me down you wonderful man. I want you to eat and keep up your strength. A new day in the morning and all that.”

He doesn't say anything, but puts her down. Estie goes in and comes out with four meat pies, three large and one small as well as two bowls full of fruit. “These are for you and your friend, Tin.” She hands Ofonode one large and one small meat pie and a bowl. Ram takes the other food and the two walk to the dining room.

Thank you! Ofonode calls after them.”

She smiles over her shoulder. Ram has his arm around her and she's leaning on him.
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