Thursday, November 3, 2016

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learning to burn part 9

Please begin at the BEGINNING.

Os shifts into his humanoid form as Ofonode blinks his eyes and the alien is immediately packing the tent and lifting the pack. “Should we run, Ofonode?”

I… I'm not sure. I can't really remember the dream, actually. I just remember feeling scared and that we needed to leave here right away or it would come to pass.” Ofonode feels worried and even more fearful than he thinks he should because he can't remember any of the details.

So, let us run. Should we avoid any particular direction? Think carefully. Even if you cannot remember the dream, if you think about a direction, you will know if we should avoid it. I'm sure of it. Think quickly.”

Ofonode does and decides there is something about being close to the plateau that is dangerous. “We should head out there, Os. I just know… I don't know how, that we need to get into the light of day. And since the yellow sun rises over there, we need to move away from the rise of the plateau and into the land where the light from the rising will hit sooner. I don't really know which way to choose because I can't think straight right now. I keep thinking we should go there.” Ofonode points off to his left.

That seems like a good choice,” Os says as he starts walking quickly, carrying the pack. “The other way would put us in the shadow of the length of the plateau and straight out away from it would keep us in the shadow of it for half of the day.

You believe me?” Ofonode asks, slightly out of breath as he almost runs to keep up with Os.
Of course I do. I have no reason to disbelieve you. You have to understand, I've been a part of your village for years. I know you are a good boy.”

Really? Why didn't you ever show yourself? Or talk to anyone?”

Who said I didn't? I just haven't shared as many details with anyone else. Ughegbe is a good friend of mine. Never mind that he thinks he's gone a bit crazy as a result. He's a good man. I hope all of the boys in the village will grow to be half the man he is. To do so would be a tremendous accomplishment.”

So, you think really highly of Ughegbe, too, huh?”

Yes, of course. When we get to know others, to truly learn their hearts, we can't help but love them. Even those who seem the most unlovable are also divine. And, as a result, even they become truly lovable when we come to understand their inherent worth and get to know them from their own perspective.”

Ofonode keeps looking back toward their camping spot. Os feels waves of concern tinged by fear radiating from Ofonode, so he speeds his pace. He is lightly running while carrying the pack. Ofonode keeps up even though he begins huffing to do so. The two fall silent as they focus on their run.

While still in the fading darkness of the plateau's shadow, Os realizes that he's been hearing a scraping sound coming from the direction they are now running away from. He looks back for the first time and sees a giant slithering dragon. Knowing exactly what he sees, he slips the pack off his back, and within what would've been a few steps he shifts into his dragon form, still holding the pack he lifts off the ground and picks Ofonode up in his hind legs. Os puts all his energy into climbing into the sky straight up as fast as he can.

The breath rushes out of Ofonode as he feels himself lifted up. Staring at the ground he watches as the slithering dragon races forward slithering into the space they were just running. A split second later, the slithering monster rises from the ground as well.

Surely they are goners! The monsterous dragon snake climbs into the sky behind them, seeming to cover way too much distance with each flap of it's small wings.

You're a lot heavier than you look. You're a bit of a porker, Ofonode. How can one be so fat on so little food?”

His cheeks flare bright pink and flames spark around his head and spread downward, enveloping his body.

Focus your mind, boy. Use those flames against the foe, not your friend.” The words come directly into his mind and he feels shocked and chastened and able to focus quickly like never before.
Without really trying, Ofonode looks down and allows his anger to move out of his eyes toward the snake-dragon. A tight flare of fire moves almost as a beam away from him and the snake-dragon writhes in mid-air as a gash of a wound appears along the side Ofonode was focusing on.
Another couple of flares burst from Ofonode's eyes as he focuses his anger at being hunted on the beast below. It is not climbing as quickly and is better able to avoid the blasts. Ofonode watches with concern as it continues to chase them into the sky. He also worries that Os, burdened as he is, won't be able to fly much higher. He realizes hie new friend will be hurt if not killed by this thing.
Rage bursts out in fire all around Ofonode at the thought and with the intention of protection, the fire all around him moves faster than a thought and appears as a ball of flames just before it bursts into the snake-dragon, knocking it from it's path. Its wings burst into flames and the snake-dragon falls from the sky. It hits the planet with such force that a giant cloud of dust rises up to where Os descends to fly until he can fly no more.

Although he thinks he will fall long before he does, Os drops Ofonode gently to the ground. As he falls, himself, he shifts to his small lizard form and lands hard and then rolls a few times. Ofonode is next to him immediately.

Thank you for making me angry. Are you able to speak directly into my mind, too?”

Shaking his head, he feels more tired than he has in decades, “We must continue.”

I'll carry you, Os.” Ofonode loads the pack onto his back and then gently picks up the small lizard. “Wow, you're really heavy!”

I'm dense.”

That's a nice way of putting it.” The boy giggles to himself. Os smiles, too, but isn't sure if the boy knows it or not. They continue in silence. “I'm really thirsty, Os. We need to find water really soon. I'm not sure how long I can keep going.”

Os looks around. He sees nothing helpful. “Put me on your head, Ofonode.” The boy does as directed. While there, Os shifts only his eyes and is able to see much farther. “If we continue straight ahead, we will reach walls by lunch time. We might find our way inside before the end of the day.”
You think walls mean water, I guess.”

Walls this size mean lots of people. And lots of people mean they have a way to drink, so yes. Just keep going.”

It takes a bit longer than Osaretin guessed, but they do reach the walls a bit after they eat the rest of the food Kokofeko packed. It takes the rest of the day for Ofonode to walk along the wall to find the gate that leads inside the city. As they approach, a couple guards walk up to them, “Whatcha want here, stranger?”

Ofonode looks as Os then speaks, “I'm hoping to find some water. And maybe food and a place to sleep.”

Why are you coming to the city at all I'm askin'?”

I'm looking for a village. But I don't know where it is. So, I don't really know where to go. I guess I'm hoping to talk to people and maybe get some more information. A city is a good place to talk to people, right?”

Yes. We definitely have many talking people here. Not many that we don't know, though. So make sure yer aware, we don't take no flack from strangers. You got that, Jack?”
 
Yes sir. My name is Ofonode. What's yours?”

I'm Sarin and this is Dart. We're brothers. Can ye tell?”

Looking more carefully at the two, Ofonode can definitely see a family resemblance. “Yes. Yes, I Think so. You have the same color eyes and very similar noses. Oh, and the way you smile is exactly the same!”

They nod their heads and their movements look very similar, too. “Yes, quite right.” Dart says, “That's what everyone says. He's a smart one, eh?” He says turning to Sarin. The two nod slightly and then move toward the gate.

We're going to let you in. Normally we don't like lizards to enter our city, but it looks like that one be a pet, eh?”

He's my friend. Yes.”

Then he be okay. We'll let it pass this time. Make sure he don't do no harm and you'll both be fine.”
Thank you, Dart and Sarin. I appreciate it. Would you suggest where I might start… I need a drink like crazy.”

Ye look like ye might. Follow this street until ye come to the center of the city. There be a fountain there. It is fed by an aquaduct from the spring on the other side of the city, so it is fresh and clean. Make sure ye use the side opposite the one you see first to clean yourself before ye try to drink. That fountain serves the whole city. Ye'll make folks angry if ye go getting it all dirty first thing in the city!”
Thank you! I will be sure to follow your instructions! Maybe I'll see you two later.”

Probably not. There be a great many people in the city. But ye never can tell, I suppose.” The two wave as Ofonode walks away.

As he passes through the gate, Ofonode feels overwhelmed by the commotion and noise. How did he not hear it from outside the wall? He looks back and realizes the wall is so thick it would easily contain all the noise.

He makes his way past what look like dwellings, but in a wholly different form from those in the village. These dwellings are even stranger than Ughegbe's dwelling. These are very tall and cast a shadow onto the street he's walking on so that it's pretty dark. He walks as quickly as he can while trying to stay out of the way of the many people crowding the street.

The dwelling places on the right seem, somehow nicer than those on the left. They are taller and seem bigger. Plants adorn step up to more ornate doors that are very colorful, especially compared to similar doors on his left.

As he passes a crossroad, he feels a shift in the air. The houses here are obviously much bigger. He realizes, upon closer inspection, that these are not just dwellings, but places people go to buy and sell. These dwelling places are also very tall and even more decorated with plants and colors. He smells and then sees the fountain. The air around it feels cooler and he almost forgets to walk around it to get to whatever it is the brothers were talking about where he can clean himself before drinking.

When he sees it, he feels some trepidation. It's a very small square structure made of wood. Wood. Surely it could've been made of something else!

He walks toward the structure and feels his heart speed up. A man stands at the door. “Make sure you stay to the right. The ladies don't like to find males in their side.”

Ofonode nods his head.

He stays to the right and enters a bath with even smaller rooms he figures must be there for people to evacuate. Just as he realizes it, he knows he must visit one of the tiny spaces first. Looking around the cramped space, he feels completely unprepared for life away from his village. What is he supposed to do with himself? Os was sleeping. Ofonode wakes him speaking his full name.

Yes. Did you find water?”

I did. We have to clean ourselves first. And I realized I must… you know… empty myself first. I'm in this room, but I don't know how to use it.”

Oh! It's been ages since I've been in one of these. You just sit right there. When you're finished the stuff you let go will just twirl away. It's almost magical.”

Giggling nervously, Ofonode sits where Os directed. When he stands a few minutes later, the stuff twirls away, just like Os said it would. Still, Ofonode feels slightly shocked and more than a little disturbed. “Where does it go?” he says almost reverently.

It goes to where they will dispose of it. It's an ingenious system used when many people share a small space. There are probably rooms like this in the larger houses and shared rooms between smaller houses.”

Oh. Now we must clean so we can get water to drink.”

Yes. I'm very thirsty now, Ofonode.”

Carrying the lizard, he moves to the edge of the pool and sets his friend down gently. He then removes the pack and sets it against the wall. The wall shakes. “You should move the pack away from the wall. These are not very sturdy structures.”

The two enter the pool. Os starts giggling, “You were supposed to remove your clothes, Ofonode. Well, at least they'll be a little cleaner now.”

Ofonode smiles bashfully, “How was I supposed to know. I've never been to such a place.”

True. Let's finish. I need to drink water, not live in it.”

The two finish up and go directly to the fountain.

A young woman sitting on the edge, is using a long-handled bucket to scoop water out of the fountain. Ofonode looks around the edge of the fountain and sees a few more of the same sort of bucket. He walks over to one of them, holding Os with one arm, he pulls up a bucket. Feeling a little confused about what to do next, he sets the buck on the edge. The young woman walks over,
I was watching and since I've never seen you here, I figured I'd let you know that the cups anyone can use are in a shelf under the edge. They are kept very clean by the city crew. I hope you like it here. We don't have many visitors. Or, not many that actually leave. It's a wonderful city!” She begins to walk away as Ofonode pulls two cups from under the edge.


Thank you. May I ask you a few questions, miss?”
 
She stops walking away and turns toward him, “Sure. I can spare a couple minutes. Only a couple, though.”

How can I work for food? I don't have any left and my friend and I are hungry. We've had an interesting journey.”

I guess it's really provident that I saw you here. You can work for my faterio. It's one of the best in the city. And if you need a place to sleep, you can work for food and a room. I'm not sure if the lizard should stay with you in the room...”

That sounds great. He won't be a bother. I will make anything right if something goes amiss.”

Okay. Well, let's get going. I told you I could only spare a couple minutes. Even with your help, I might be a bit behind on preparing for the lunch rush.”

Will we be able to eat right away? Oh, and what's your name?”

You can eat while you work as long as you keep your fingers out of your mouth. My name is Estie.” She speeds ahead and Ofonode rushes to keep up.

They walk around and slightly behind the group of dwellings to the right of the fountain. She walks into a door that leads into the dwelling closest to the edge of the grouping. After taking a few steps into the dwelling, Ofonode is overwhelmed by the wonderful odors that fill his nose and mouth. A few others bustle about as they work to prepared foods.

Please wash your hands again. Make sure to use soap and then find me for your first work.”

Ofonode does as she's said. He finds her talking to another young lady, “...and please make sure to bake the pies until just barely golden brown. The men that choose my faterio do so because my pies are the best in the city. They could get some for less elsewhere. And if you bake them too dark they won't trust my work and will go elsewhere. Will you find a place to work easily? One that provides for all you need and gives you some spending money for the farm? I doubt it. Take care.” The young woman is nodding her head. She looks like she wants to please Estie.

What would you like me to do now, Estie?” Ofonode asks as soon as the she turns away from giving instructions to the other young woman.

Yes. Oh! I don't know what to call you. What is your name, anyway?”

Ofonode.”

That's interesting. Well, I don't normally call my people their given names anyway. What will I call you?” Estie looks Ofonode over and stops while looking at the lizard. “I'm going to call you Tin. Just make sure you answer when I call, even though it's new to you.”

Yes, ma'am. What would you like me to do now?”

Follow Ram. He'll teach you how to prepare my soups and corn bread. Tomorrow you'll work with Shell to learn the meat pies and the day after that… will you be here that long, Tin?”

Ofonode looks down at Os who nods his head and says, “I expect so.”

Okay, after Shell you'll work with Cam and the day after that me. Make sure you learn well because you'll work on your own after you work with me.”

Yes, ma'am.”

Please call me Estie. My Mom was ma'am. She's gone. Call me Estie.”

Yes, ma… I mean, Estie.”

She walks away shaking her head.

Looking down at Os, “Who do you think Ram is?” Oseratin looks pointedly over at the tall, broad young man working over a stove with numerous pots and fires under each. Ofonode walks over, “Are you Ram?”

Yes.”

Estie told me to work with you today. She wants me to learn soups and corn bread.”

Yes. Stay close. I won't tell you anything, so watch.”

Ofonode does exactly that.

After Ram fills one pot, he stops. “Now, you make the same soup in that pot.”

Ofonode starts doing what he remembers. Ram watches carefully and stops him just before he adds one item, “I put the lumpkin in before rampart. Make sure you follow my order exactly. It's a very specific process. It will not taste the same if we add ingredients in a different order. Trust me, you do not want it to taste different.”

Nodding his head, Ofonode adds the rampart before dumping in the lumpkin he'd already prepared. “I'm sorry. I completely forgot the rampart.”

Don't forget. Remember everything.”

Yes, sir.”

Ram looks over at Ofonode sharply. He simply nods his head and returns to work. The same process repeats with three more soups. After they are finished and simmering slowly, Ram makes a large pan of corn bread. Ofonode watches carefully and is ready when Ram tells him to make another when the one he was making is ready to go in the oven. Ofonode has made the additional three soups and now the corn bread perfectly. Ram just nods and directs him with a gesture to bring the pan to the oven.

While the corn bread bakes, the two guys clean in the area in which they prepared food and then move to the large sinks to the side of the huge kitchen. After a few dishes, Ofonode follows Ram back to the corner they were working in. Ram checks the corn bread and pulls them out. They look perfect. He's been so busy neither he nor Os have had anything to eat. Os is sleeping in a corner under a counter.

Ofonode's stomach complains loudly. Ram looks at him sharply again.

She told you to eat while cooking, didn't she?”

Yes. I just didn't want to miss anything and get it wrong. And my friend needs to eat, too.”

Ram cuts a huge chunk of corn bread and spoons out one large and one small bowl of the lumpkin soup and sets them on a bench just outside of the corner they've been working in. “I'll finish the dishes. You two eat. We need to make more cornbread now. Do that when you're finished eating. Come get me if I'm not here. I'll put it in the oven. You'll eat again later when we all eat together.”

Thank you, Ram!” Ofonode doesn't wait for a reaction, he scoops Os up and carefully rushes to the bench.

Os wakes only when Ofonode shakes him and says his full name. “Please forgive me, my friend. I haven't been any help at all. I am more tired than I realized.”

Nothing to forgive. Now eat with me.”

The two gobble up their food almost too quickly. As soon as Ofonode is done, he jumps up and begins on the corn bread. Os climbs down and lays himself on the ground under the bench and immediately falls back to sleep.

When the corn bread is ready for the oven, Ofonode gathers the dishes he and Os ate from and brings them over to the sinks, “Ram, the corn bread is ready.”

He looks up a bit startled, “Have you baked it?”

No! You said you wanted to put it in the oven.”

Good. You wash. I'll take care of that.”

Yes, sir.”

As before, Ram's head jerks as he looks over at Ofonode and again he nods his head. Ofonode wonders for a moment why Ram reacts that way every time he answers him using 'sir', but focuses on the dishes without thinking about it for long.

Ram returns looking relaxed, “Good job, Ofonode. You are a hard worker. Estie will be pleased.”
Thank you.”

Ram takes up a dish, dries it, and puts it away. “We will finish these after the group lunch. Would you rather make soup or do dishes?”

Make soups, honestly. But I'll do whatever you tell me to do, Ram.”

Yes. I believe you. Make soups. It will help you remember.”

Thank you!” The two work in silence, finishing as many dishes as possible until Estie rings a bell.
Ram rushes over to the soups, pulls the corn bread out, cuts the cool pan and puts the hot one near a window. He rushes around gathering bowls and gets six full, two of each of the three types of soup as well as a few plates with hunks of cornbread on them.

A lovely young woman, younger than all the others Ofonode had seen working in the kitchen walks by with a tray and takes two different soups and a plate of cornbread away. Ofonode starts to ask Ram who she is, but he glares at him. Another young woman walks by and picks up another two soups and a plate of cornbread.
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