Chapter three: Callahaggy
I knock on the door to the cockpit “Alice?”
“Xuiyo” I correct her.
There’s a chuckle on the other side of the door. “Right, sorry Xuiyo.”
I open the door “Where do you want your breakfast?”
“In here if you please, we’ll land in the city of Callahaggy in about two hours.”
“Got it.” I turn around and make the quick trip back and forth to the kitchen fetching Elizabeth’s food and some chopsticks.
It’s odd, calling her “Alice” inside the ship as well, but the quicker it’s in my system the better.
Dana tells us to treat it like a nickname.
But it’s still something to get used to
For myself, I went with Xuiyo in the end.
Xui means protection and yo well…it’s a sign meaning steadfast.
I took it from Yobu’s name.
I hope I’ll get to live up to it.
I open the door to the cockpit and set the bowl down on the console. Beneath the ship are long stretches of half-beach half-slurry covered in red…flowers?
It’s hard to tell.
“Thank you Xuiyo.”
“No problem.” I try to find the words while Elizabeth takes a bite of her food and says “This is good.”
“Thanks.” I look at my feet for a moment while I think.
Her eyes are already drifting back to the task at hand.
“I have a question.”
“Oh!” her head whips back in my direction “I’m sorry, what is it?”
“I want to bring my gun when we go out.”
“Technically not a question but-”
“Alice…” I grumble.
“Do you think you’ll need it?”
I shrug, leaving it at that. I don’t know really, it just makes me feel…safer…I think?
“Right…” Elizabeth remarks at my silence. She then starts flipping through the pages of the book on her console until she lands on the right page.
“It says here that the laws in Charalia surrounding weapon and substance laws are different in each territory.” She flips ahead in the book.
My eyes flip from the reading pilot to the space beyond the ship.
She grunts “I’ll need to work out these rule codes and cross-reference them with the territories. I swear they make this stuff difficult on purpose.”
She sighs resignedly “I can figure it out after we land or you can ask Dana about it, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, thank you for checking.”
She smiles halfheartedly as she props the book back up and sets her attention back to flying.
Dana and Himowa- I mean Hamala are already sitting at the table by the time I walk in.
“Morning.” Himowa chirps cheerfully.
“Good morning Hamala.” I smile, sit down next to her and kiss her cheek.
“Bino today?” Dana asks.
“Well let’s dig in then.”
As I pick up my chopsticks and have a bite I wonder if I could just bring the gun without asking about it first. Pretend I didn’t think to ask about it.
Act the idiot tourist.
Yeah, that sounds like an excellent way to get in trouble, arrested and sent all the way back home.
“What is it Xuiyo?”
“Can I bring the gun?”
“Do you think you’ll need the gun?”
Why do people keep asking that? “No, but, I like having it.”
“Charalian gun laws are determined per territory. Where we’ll land in Callahaggy they are illegal. You won’t get into trouble if you just keep it in the ship but you can’t bring it with you on the street.”
A hand worms its way up my shoulder as Himowa smiles sweetly at me.
“Right…then what about Venusia?” what’s the use of these past years training if I can’t even use my gun?
“In Venusia you can carry one over there as long as you only pull it out when necessary.
“Well, what does that mean?”
“It means you probably wanna keep it in your pocket as much as possible.”
I huff “I see.”
I’m in my room, the ship is descending.
I pull my gun out of my pocket and look at it for a bit. “Guess I gotta leave you behind now.”
I don’t like leaving my gun here.
But there’s not much of a choice. At least we’re just going out shopping.
Putting the gun away in the drawer of the vanity table I spot Himowa’s swords standing sheathed against the wall. It makes me wonder if those are illegal as well but Himowa didn’t ask.
Not that I could handle them either way.
There’s a knock on the door.
“Xuiyo are you ready?”
I close the drawer.
Elizabeth is bouncing up and down by the door. “All right, so I assume the answer is no since we’ve been travelling by airship but, is anyone afraid of heights?”
Himowa and I look at each other “No…no, I don’t think so.”
“Good! Then I’m excited to present the city of Callahaggy.”
We step out and the wind immediately slaps me in the face as it dawns on me why Elizabeth had to ask about the fear of heights.
We’re standing on the roof of a tall building overlooking the city.
Behind us, other ships are parked boxed into white chalk lines.
The rooftops are covered in ceramic tiles, most of them are an earthy reddish tint but there are outliers in white, grey and black, especially in the buildings that are taller than our parking spot.
The tiles and bricks that make up the buildings beyond are moulded into arches, waves and odd angles, shingled over one another or stuck vertically against the wall.
I notice some of the walls have bulbous growths on them and every so often a white statue will jut out of a corner or over a door frame like a white bone that has broken free from its flesh.
The longer I look, the more it feels like I’m looking at a living thing, an organism, rather than a city.
Next to me, Himowa sighs in awe.
“You like it?” I ask.
That does make me smile.
I wrap my arms around her shoulders and hug her tightly. “I’m glad.”
We stand there for a moment.
Until Elizabeth sidles up to us and tells us “So the stores kind of close in three hours so…”
“Yes! Right, let’s go.”
There’s a staircase on the side of the building that leads straight down to ground level.
An acidic, dusty smell creeps up my nose as we descend. I can’t place it but it makes me want to breathe shallowly just in case.
At the same time harsh voices and loud laughing stabs at my ears. The language is rapid, rough and unbearably loud.
There are so many people here.
And they all dress weirdly and look strange and I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into.
“I think it’s this way,” Elizabeth tells me after inspecting the road signs.
They all look like gibberish to me so I let myself get dragged along.
As we get closer to the city centre I find large posters with odd blocky letters advertising who-knows-what and I notice Elizabeth’s eyes light up as she tries to decipher them.
“Oh, that’s interesting.” She claims.
“What is?” Himowa asks.
“I believe it says here that two motorcar racers died in quick succession. Jimmy Hope died tragically in the middle of a race and then his opponent Nicholas Cain got hit by a car a couple of days later. Whoever hit him fled the scene and the culprit is still a mystery.”
“Motorcar racers?” Himowa asks a bit confused, she’s not alone in that.
“Charalia’s favourite pastime.” She takes a moment to think “It’s like the yundo back home, but imagine them running three times faster and whoever manages to make it over the finish line wins.”
“Sounds like your Charalian studies are going well,” Dana says encouragingly.
Elizabeth pushes a lock of hair behind her ear “Thank you, but most of the context came from the pictures.”
We’re wasting time “So driving at breakneck speed is dangerous. What does that have to do with shopping?” I ask more rudely than I intended it.
“Admittedly not much but it makes me wonder if the two events are related somehow. They were on opposing teams after all.”
“Perhaps this is neither the place nor the time to ask.” Dana points out gesturing at the people surrounding us. All over people are wearing rosettes on their coats and jackets. Some blue and white, some green and yellow and some a combination of the two.
But the apparent thing is that they like to keep to their own sort.
“Come on, we don’t wanna get in any trouble.” I huff then start walking again. I don’t know where I’m going or if the others would even follow me but this place makes me feel…unbalanced. It’s wavy rooftops that overhang to one side and make me feel like they could crush me any second.
Oppressive. That’s the word.
This whole city feels oppressive. Squeezed into slim sidewalks and surrounded by those looming structures.
I just want to get our stuff, get out again and not think too much about it.
“Right.” I hear Elizabeth behind me dragging the others along. “Shall we go this way then? We can start with the clothes.”
The shop is the size of a palace, maybe even bigger and erupting from each floor are scantly clothed ladies and growling lions in pale rock.
The inside of the building isn’t much better than the exterior, but at least being in here gives me the feeling I’m doing something useful.
The shop is covered wall to wall in bottle green tiles. On the floor, there’s a sprawling mosaic of swirling golden lines and flowers set against black and the windows are shaped like upside-down mushrooms.
It’s also bigger than shiwaso or even Hashiro’s old opium den.
I wonder who’s in charge of this place for I don’t see a cash register anywhere.
And I notice Elizabeth wondering the same thing. “How does this work?” she asks tentatively.
“There are different departments,” Dana explains pointing at some signs hanging from the ceilings. “Each department has their own staff and till. Can you read the signs?”
Elizabeth bites her lips “There’s one saying ‘bags’ another that says ‘crinolines’ and further down a sign saying ‘trousers’. Elizabeth’s eyes sparkle at the word. I wonder why.
“Good, I’m going to get going on refuelling the ship then.”
“Oh, right of course.”
A ding above the door announces Dana’s departure.
And then it’s just the three of us.
“Well then, no use standing about, let’s get some clothes.” Elizabeth walks straight to the section that says ‘trousers’.
Himowa and I just kinda go after her unsure what else to do.
I’ve never seen this many clothes put together, I think even my siblings didn’t have enough money to own this many.
So how does a shop manage it? I wonder.
Elizabeth pulls piece after piece off the rack going. “Look at the pockets on this one.” And “Oh this one has nice buttons.” Her voice is full of enthusiasm and joy.
Himowa smiles politely at her and goes through the rack as well. “What about this one?” she asks holding up a dark blue specimen.
“Yes!” Elizabeth exclaims “Oh that one looks glorious”
Seems like they’re okay for now.
I make my way over to the rack one over looking for anything I can wear.
“I think this one might be good for you Xuiyo,” Elizabeth tells me. She holds out a pair of trousers in black heavy fabric and a sharp fold down each leg.
I look at it “I guess?” I pick it over from her. Well, at least I don’t think anyone who might be looking for me expects me to wear one of these I’m sure.
It looks needlessly complicated to me, why does each leg need its own tube?
I’ll also need something for the top half too though.
“Where can I find the rest?” I ask.
“Hmmm.” Elizabeth scans the room “That sign says men’s shirts.”
I look through the offerings, then get intercepted by a lady with tightly coiled hair and big eyelashes. She talks to me but I have no idea what she wants.
“Am I doing something wrong?” I ask.
The woman smiles the moment I open my mouth. Then holds up a finger signalling me to wait and walks off again.
Should I…should I stay here? Am I in trouble? Should I just drop the clothes and leave?
As I contemplate the one over the other the sound of heels catches up on me and the woman returns, this time she brought reinforcements in the shape of a brown lady wearing the same tight uniform as her coworker.
“Hello my name is Maowe how can I help you?” she asks in Jigani and my jaw drops in surprise “Oh, uhm… I need clothes?”
“Of course, what’s the occasion?”
Running for my life and evading suspicion but I’m not about to tell her that. “I only have this right now.” I show off my admittedly still working but battered shimou.
She laughs, it doesn’t sound genuine but it does sound like she’s genuinely trying to be liked by me. “Well let’s have a look at what you picked out already and match it with things we have in our collection, shall we?”
She pulls the pants from my hands, looks at them and says “These are meant for women, but we have a similar style in our men’s department, please follow me.”
As we walk the lady pulls clothes from the racks, seemingly willy-nilly.
Then halts in front of a small booth “Now these trousers match the ones you had before as closely as possible, matching those we get to these three shirts and a pair of braces of course.
“They hold your trousers up, see?” she hooks one end of the leather band on the band of my trousers and then says “Now you can try it on and we’ll see what you like and dislike from there.”
She opens the door and leads me into a small room decorated with the same green tiles covering every surface. There are golden hooks in the shape of curved triangles and a massive mirror in a sweeping frame that covers the entire door.
I look at myself, my old self.
Even with pants, I should be the same person right?
I’d still be me.
But will it feel that way?
I turn around and start changing.