Posted by: jolantru | March 31, 2010

Fifth Branch: Choices.

Josh could not save the she-oak. “I just hope she weathers it,” he said quietly as we moved with the throng of refugees, similarly grim-faced and solemn … Oh blessed Ma-Tzu, mother of the sea, we are refugees now!

The lava flows hissed, inching next to us like a deceptively slow river. They smelled foul, popping and crackling as flows hardened and broke off into smaller rivulets. We avoided the lava, seeing it consume everything in its path with a relentless appetite.

Just as I had chosen to leave my village, I chose to leave the City.

It was an unsettling decision.

Josh had lost his restaurant, Auri her beloved School and myself… a home.

By noon, the City’s inhabitants had crested a small hill and we all gazed at the destruction, our hearts sinking. One day, perhaps, we would go back and start all over again. Anak Jamu fumed and burned, sending ash and rocks into the air. A dark pall hung over the City like a funeral shroud. The Bay of Atsuko was barely visible.

I prayed to Ma-Tzu and the sea that the coastal villages managed to escape in the nick of time. Mother. Grandmother. First Father. The daughters of the sea, the oyster-divers. The pearl-gatherers.

The oyster beds.

Home.

Leaving hurt.

~*~

We made camp at the bottom of the hill. Small fires lit the night, glowing timidly, as if they were fearful. The air was breathable, though tinged with the fumes from Anak Jamu. A child cried and was quickly hushed. No one dared to talk. Sadness walked amongst the clusters of hunched figures.

Josh boiled chickpeas and baked bread on a heated flat stone. We ate, huddled around our fire. Two children asked for food. We gave them generous portions which they grabbed and ran away, giggling. Josh shrugged and nursed the broth, adding dry fish flakes into the mixture. How he managed to fit all the ingredients in his bag was a miracle.

“We move Innerlands,” Auri declared suddenly. I looked up from my mug of hot fish broth, half-curious, half-frightened by the tone of certainty in her voice.

“We cannot run away from the earthquakes, Auri,” Josh interjected, his tone firm. “The Innerlands are notorious for their earthquakes.”

They glared furiously at each other. For a stomach-churning moment, I thought the Triad was on the brink of fracturing.

“We go,” Auri stood her ground. I saw her jawline stiffen, her head stubbornly tilted. She must have looked like that, when she stared down the jeering menfolk in her village. “There is a caravansari owner whom I know. He plies his trade across the Innerlands.”

“Auri,” I spoke then, my voice breaking the stony silence, and the two turned to face me, their expressions softening. “Are you sure the caravansari is safe?”

Auri could only nod silently. But much was left unsaid.

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