Posted by: jolantru | February 28, 2010

Fourth Branch: Change.

In the dream, I saw Grandmother, her face creased with age lines. She used to call them ‘laugh lines’. Indeed, she was warm, sharing her stories and anecdotes with laughter.

In the dream, Grandmother was wearing the traditional garb: floral kerchief scarf and plain blue blouse. Only young women wore brightly-colored blouses. She was standing at the edge of the pearl oyster pools, a basket beside her. Harvest, I knew. I had seen it done since I was a child. I had watched her deftly open the pearl oysters with her knife, a gift from her own mother, and tease out the gleaming silver-white orbs with gentle fingers. Not a person who believed in wasting precious resources, she often used the oyster flesh for soups and fritters. I spent countless afternoons watching her and the other elder women prepare the fritters, chatting about their menfolk and errant children. The hot oil would fizzle and the fritters would bob up and down, browning slowly along the curved edges.

She stooped painfully. Arthritis. I winced, even in the dream. Her hand dipped into the water and scooped up a craggly-edged oyster shell. She heaved it, gauging it and smiled to herself. Suddenly, I saw her, my Grandmother, as a young woman, brimming with youthful energy.

Grandmother breathed a rainbow-toned circle into life.

I must have cried out and shouted. She did not seem to hear me. It was after all a dream.

My Grandmother, my dear Ah-Ma, making a circle, out of nothing. Was she… ?

I was shouting when I started myself awake. It was near dawn. My chest pounded.

Sleep eluded me.

~*~

The tremors had increased in frequency, causing the City Council to issue a placating message: DO NOT BE ALARMED. THE SITUATION IS BEING MONITORED.

Already some folk were talking about moving Innerlands. Word was out that Anak Jamu, one of the smaller volcanoes, nearest to the City, was showing disturbing signs of imminent eruption. The last time Anak Jamu erupted was two hundred sun-circles ago and it was purportedly a minor one.

We went on, as usual, teaching the children and teenagers at the School. Auri had recovered sufficiently from her dark mood and was moving about, encouraging people, reassuring frazzled nerves.

“The coastal villages are already evacuating,” Josh told me quietly. He knew how concerned I was when it came to the coastal people.

“Where are they going to go?” I blurted out and stifled the other words about to tumble forth from my mouth with effort. “The sea is our home, our livelihood!” You do not understand!

“Innerlands?” Josh tried to sound light-hearted. I turned away, somehow hurt by the gesture. “Mirra.” He called my name again and again.

“You do not understand,” I muttered softly, shaking my head. “The sea is our home.”

Later in the day, I glanced up at the skies, gladdened somewhat to see the silver fishes flying about, their engines humming in the air. They were powered by men’s magic and piloted by men. At least, some of the coastal villages had staying put and sending their produce to the City.

There was a hint of dark smoke, lacing the upper layers of the sky. An odd smell wove through the streets, reminiscent somewhat of rotten eggs. “Anak Jamu,” an old woman whispered to me, covering her nose with her woolen shawl. “Anak Jamu is rousing!” Lambs Quarters was thriving with trade, people bustling about to buy their vegetables and herbs. Yet conversations were peppered with anxiety and worried words. People hurried home, not wanting to linger any longer at the shops.

Josh made me oyster stew as a way of saying sorry. The jittery mood pervading the City seemed to have seeped into our lives.

We all made love that night and fell asleep, sated and beloved, the bedsheets redolent with our mingled scents.

~*~

The sound of a hundred rolling oil barrels, accompanied by an unholy roar straight from the depths of the earth, sent everyone running out of their buildings. I stumbled out of bed, flinging a night robe around my naked body. The floor was ice. But there was no time to complain or to don shoes. I could hear the Earth magic users screaming. They were the ones most affected.

We joined a surging crowd of men, women and children, Auri assisting a pale Benyi weakened by the earth movements. What greeted us outside the School was something out of the Eighteen Hells. The night sky was tinged with an orange glow, pulsating with spikes of fiery reds. I felt something soft falling. Greyish powder. It was not snow.

Ash.

Anak Jamu.

“The slopes are streaked with lava rivers,” Josh reported briskly, having made a brave dash up to the Observatory. “They are heading towards the City. We have to run.”

The world around me spun, like an out-of-control top. The City had been the center of stability for me and no doubt, countless others living in it. Was I dreaming? Was I trapped in a nightmare?

Shouts and screams now, people grabbing whatever they could get their hands on. Frightened whinnies from the stables housing the ma. Women held their children close to their bosoms, their eyes wide in fear. Gani the glass-blower tried to rally everyone, bellowing in his deep voice.

A strong tremor shook the buildings and concrete tumbled from the roofs, hitting the ground in powdery shards. Anak Jamu seemed to be doing her best to chase us out of the City.

Auri packed our clothing and essentials into bags. I stuffed an oyster shell and a handful of she-oak seedpods into my pouch for sentimental reasons. We looked at our apartment for a moment, holding hands, drawn together in silence, in pain. Auri stood the longest, staring at the School she had built for a decade or more. She closed her eyes, her hands clenched into fists. When she opened her eyes, they were clear, without tears.

“Let’s go.”

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Responses

  1. This, on the heels of three powerful earthquakes in our world, is extremely moving (no pun intended). You have, I think, captured the emotions and practicalities of those caught in such circumstances.

    Happy birthday to a wonderfully talented writer and may you have many more filled with joy.

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by jolantru: Fourth Branch: Change (O P&M) is up: https://jolantru.wordpress.com/2010/02/28/fourth-branch-change/ #weblit #webfiction…


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