It is a strange figure that greets me, turbaned and wrapped with a voluminous shawl. I can see the eyes, bright green eyes, Innerlander eyes, Pa’s eyes, appraising me and Heart. I stand taller, lifting my chin. Behind the figure is a ma-drawn carriage, covered with brown animal hides and canvas. The beast is thin and fidgety.
“You are strange to this part of the land,” the figure says, the voice husky, low like a man’s. No greeting, no warm gesture.
“So am I,” I responds back, trying to feel brave. I hold onto Heart and faith in the knife blade hanging in my make-shift belt. My pot bangs against my leg. I feel silly, angry and frightened.
The figure eyes Heart suspiciously, before nodding. “Come, you need shelter and some warm food. It will get colder later in the evening.”
I refuse to move. The figure’s kind words fail to register. The Innerlands is doing something to me. I am not sure if I like it. I am withdrawing more into myself. I don’t trust that readily anymore.
“Well, come on,” the figure sounds impatient, the green eyes glinting like sun-touched sea stones. I find myself touching Mother’s glass shard, now tucked inside my pocket.
“Can I trust you?” I challenge back. “Do you have food for my baby?”
“I have herbs that can help you give more milk,” the figure says before making its way to the carriage.
I bristle instantly. How does it know? She? He? I pull whatever cover I have over my body, aware of its scruinity.
The wind chooses the moment to bite into my bones. I shiver and Heart complains, squirming into my breast, a sign that she is getting hungry. I inhale deeply and walk to the carriage.
“I am Sa,” the figure points to a flat chest. “Yours?”
“Kindness,” I nod, “and Heart.” I taste the name. Sa. Metallic, taste of blood. Like the word ‘quai’.
The ma – thin, mangy and nervous – begins making its way across the plain. Bells jingle. The wood creaks. My back is sore. My buttocks feel uncomfortable. I think I have lost weight. I can feel the hard wood seat through my pants.
Sa doesn’t speak until we reach a small river. By that time, Heart is famished. I put her to my breast and she begins suckling earnestly. My nipple tingles. Later it would become sore. Sa hands me a cup of water to replendish myself. I drink thirstily too, suddenly craving for the tea infusions back home.
“Drink more,” Sa says, pouring more water. It is cold and sweet. Spring water?
A while later, Sa disappears behind the carriage, presumably to retrieve more water from the river. The carriage does not really look stocked. Another traveler like me. A wanderer. There are boxes and piles of garments. Metal plates and pots. Buckets of water, covered with wooden lids. Wood carvings, small door panels intricately designed. A rags-and-bones man? I become wary. A man. I remember the caravan and its rude men.
With Heart content and sleepy at my breast, I peek around the carriage, in time to see Sa remove the turban and shawl, slip off the shift-like tunic beneath the layers of clothing. A slim body, like mine, emerges. And breasts, small but still womanly breasts, after the band of cloth falls away. Smooth fair skin, the color of milk. Dark and light. Sa is…
Sa is a woman.
Tea infusion of your choice
1. Place leaf leaves in bottom of glass
2. Fill with water and ice.
3. Serve immediately