With bated breath we sit around the table as Yobu counts the money, to the left is a stack of thin silver sticks, the value of each depending on its thickness and helpfully stamped on the front. These are our expenses, the food and drink and rent for the place. Using this stack would simply be swapping one debt for another, but it would still be preferable to inviting the Kashuya’s wrath.
Then on the right, there’s another stack, a stack of what’s left, our profit. 
Yobu reverently counts out the chui mumbling under his breath “six hundred twelve, six hundred seventeen.”
Himowa looks tense. We didn’t discuss last night and I’m not sure if I should bring it up. 
Why do I find it so hard to know what she thinks?
Why do I care so much to know?
Trying to understand her is like trying to read a book in a foreign language and going off the pictures alone.
Yet I keep on trying for some reason.  
“We did it!” she exclaims and my thoughts are pulled back into the here and now where Yobu’s face is streaked with tears of relief.
“The restaurant is saved.” Yobu sighs and there are hugs and celebrations, tea and cakes before we get ready for another day of work.
Himowa cheers with me and hugs me acting like nothing happened yesterday.
I decide not to ask about it, trusting that if I need to know, someone will tell me.
I also decide not to be there when the Kashuya comes to collect the money.
For their safety more than mine.
Three days later the atmosphere is thick with anticipation. There’s a bitter aftertaste to the whole affair. Everyone pitched in and worked so hard to earn that money, and now we’re just gonna give it away to my mortal enemies.
I try my best not to think about it.
“They’ll be here in ten minutes,” Yobu says as he puts away his watch, his hands are trembling, he tries to hide it by stuffing his hands in his sleeves.
“Well, then I’m going on break now,” I state resolutely while grabbing my bag.
“Just a second,” Yobu says hurrying towards me.
“What?”
He extracts a small red envelope from his sleeve and hands it to me “I can’t exactly compensate you for all the extra hours you made, but I can at least give you this as a token of my appreciation.”
“Thank you.” I take the envelop and open it. 
There’s twenty extra chui in there, I bow to him, smile at Himowa, and then walk out into the city.
I spend ten minutes walking in circles, thinking. 
Then I make up my mind.
And head down into the centre of Choumuri.
Looking for a gun.
Just because we fought off the Kashuya this month doesn’t mean next month will be any better. I need something to defend myself, something to defend what I hold dear. 
I considered swords and knives which are a good deal cheaper.
But I just don’t have the time for a long, slow learning curve.
If I’m lucky I won’t even have to fire it, just point with it and look scary.
And I know just the place to get one.
I’ve passed this place many times on my off days, staring at the weapons, weighing my options. But I never dared go in. 
The store has a sign over the door reading Xochu.
Inside it smells of incense and gunpowder and I’m pretty sure most of these guns are far outside my budget. The guns are kept in glass cases overseen by the woman at the counter. An older, severe-looking woman with a long dark dress and a complicated looking hat. 
She looks at me through squinted eyes as I walk past the glass cases. 
“Can I help you?” Her voice sounds bitter and tight.
I was hoping she’d let me browse for a little more but instead I curse inside and walk to the counter.
“I need a gun.”
“What for?”
“Defense.”
Her squinted eyes open just a fraction “You’re in trouble kid?”
I shrug “I only have fifty chui but it doesn’t have to be anything pretty, just functional.”
“Did you ever fire a gun kid?”
I shrug noncommittally.
She shakes her head at me, then sighs “Come with me kid.” She waves me to follow into the back room.
I’m dumbstruck as the woman shuffles off to the back door.
I cautiously look behind me before following.
To my surprise, the back room wasn’t a backroom at all. Instead, the late spring air slams me in the face with the smell of flowers and hot brooding air. We walk into a narrow garden overgrown with pale wisteria curling around wooden gates. The ground is covered in snow white pebbles that crack underneath our feet as she leads me to a little black fence, keeping us from walking further.
I notice the target on the far end of the garden.
She then pulls a sleek looking silver gun from her long dark dress and hands it to me.
“Shoot the bullseye.” She says.
I’m perplexed, but nevertheless, I take the gun.
It’s heavier than I expected.
I hold it up to the target. Trying to look past the barrel and aim.
My finger hovers over the trigger.
Then when I think it’s just right.
I pull.
Nothing happens.
“You need to release the safety first kid.”
“Right!” I then look at the machine in confusion. It all seems so easy in the stories but up close there are more levers than expected.
“This one.” She says pointing at a tab in the back, I click it with my thumb and suddenly the thing feels twice as heavy.
This time a bullet will come out for real.
My hands are unsure. 
But I have to make the shot.
There’s so much tension in the air it makes it hard to breathe.
What’s this lady’s deal anyway?
Okay so shoot the target, get the gun, get the hell back to the restaurant before I’m late.
I pull the trigger and the gun slams back into my arms, a shock of energy rushing through me. My ears are ringing from the bang. 
Then I look at the target. Where did my bullet go?
The target is still clean.
The woman mumbles something in a language I don’t understand. Then holds her hand out to me.
I give her the gun back.
“You’ll need lessons.” She turns around again and shuffles back to the door.
“Okay?”
I follow her back inside where she rummages through a drawer. She picks out a small, plain-looking gun and a pale green card with a purple flower on it.
“The gun is twenty-five chui, but you’ll need lessons too. I will sell you the gun. But only if you promise to go to the address on the card and tell them Xjaa sent you, they’ll give you a discount.”
“Wow, okay, yes, thank you.”
She nods sternly picks up the card and writes a message on it in strange symbols that I don’t know how to read. A foreigner?
Then we make the sale. Half my savings for the gun and the other half for lessons. Twenty-five chui seems far too low for a gun. I wonder if she reduced the price for me.
But I doubt she’d tell me if I asked.
When I leave the place it feels like a new chapter in my life opened up. Like there’s real change coming. Having the gun feels dangerous, almost scary, but even more so, it feels powerful. 
A way to really make a difference.
Back at the restaurant, I don’t tell anyone about the gun in my bag.
I’ve been away for longer than usual but I can say I wasn’t sure the Kashuya was gone yet.
Himowa looks fine this time around, she even smiles upon my return. 
I smile back, feeling better than I have in a long time.
The rest of the day goes by as if nothing changed but my mind wanders back to the gun in my bag. To the card in my pocket. 
Things are gonna be different from now on.
Things are gonna be better.
It’s time to stop running.
Time to fight.
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