Memory eleven: The power of friendship
Hui Go is…an odd person.
He’s moody and likes to keep to himself most of the time.
Slow to talk and even slower to trust.
But secretly, underneath that cold exterior and dark set of stiff eyebrows, there’s a guy who cares very deeply about the people dear to him.
It’s just that there are very few people who meet his strict criteria.
I’m not even entirely sure I fit inside his idea of ‘friend.’
But he has a problem, involving money and I want to help.
It’s fun, like a scheme. And it allows me to finally do something useful in this place.
Selling some trinket I don’t care much for anymore isn’t that big of a sacrifice of course.
But if it helps, that’d be nice.
I gave him a hairpin and the papers needed to sell it.
I thought that’d be enough.
Turns out I was wrong.
Because it turns out that when selling your stuff the seller must be present at the time.
It makes sense in hindsight, ‘keep the maid from stealing the spoons and selling them behind your back’ and all that.”
But it does pose a problem.
The date and time Hui has given me is set on one of the days Dana comes by to teach me how to fly the Royal Griffin.
And I can’t just… not go without explanation.
And I can’t reveal I have a secret friend that I met during my secret shooting lessons either.
Father would lock me up in my room and only allow me to leave on my wedding day if he found out about my secret excursions.
So it’s time to be a little sneaky.
I look in the vanity mirror at my accomplishment.
On the table, there’s ground-up white chalk for my face and some kohl for under my eyes.
I look like a ghost. Which was the plan- well the plan was looking sick but ghosts don’t look healthy on the best of days so this should work right?
I stumble my way downstairs to announce my ‘diseased status’ and then go upstairs ‘to rest’.
Giving me plenty of time to get to the auction house.
I cough a bit for extra effect. Then present myself at the breakfast table.
They all look at me.
Father raises an eyebrow “What’s this now?”
“I’m sick.” I cough again to drive the point home.
“No, you’re not, you just have flour on your face.”
On the opposite side of the table, Hato and Sato start giggling between themselves.
Maiwu shoots them a warning look, then goes back to eating, deciding that this is a father-daughter moment I imagine.
“It’s not flour.” That’s not a lie.
“Well whatever it is, go wash it off and come sit down, Dana will be here in two hours.”
Well, that didn’t work.
I try to hide my embarrassment with a huff and rush up the stairs again.
I consider escaping, abandoning Dana and asking forgiveness later.
I consider reapplying the improvised makeup and pretending to be sick again, this time to her.
But two hours later I’m in the cockpit again, no make-up, no plan.
Hoping to just…get out in time.
“Easy on the steering, you’re over correcting, it’s better to lean in slowly and ramp up as necessary than start strong and needing to take back.”
“Right, sorry I-” I need to make up an excuse.
Dana waits patiently for me to finish my sentence.
Which is frankly inconvenient because I have nothing.
“I need to go.” I blurt out looking at the clock on the dashboard.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m going to land.”
“Elizabeth I come all the way over to teach you and you want to walk out without an explanation?”
“Yes! I mean no, look. I…can’t explain.” I hiss at my own idiocy. Try my best to calm down.
Dana looks at the clock, then at me and crosses her arms “Well try because this isn’t how you’re supposed to treat other people.”
I grunt, I should have run out and apologised later I see. “All right but I’m landing first.”
I land the ship, then have to push myself to not just dart up from my chair and make a run for it.
The silence is tense. Troubling.
“I, I have to go out and help a friend.”
“You have a friend?”
“You could sound less surprised.”
“Right, didn’t mean to, sorry. How are you helping them?”
“He needs money…I’m selling one of my hairpins.”
“Are you sure-?”
“Yes, now please can I go? I need to be there when they sell it or the whole thing can’t commence”
“All right, just be careful okay?”
I nod, slide off the chair.
And run for it.
I rush to Sehe’s house counting on him being out.
I clamber up the roof-
“Elizabeth? Is that you?”
Okay, so that’s great!
“Sorry, Sehe I’ll explain later.”
“It’s dangerous, will you come-”
I jump for it, then tumble down the slope. Right, fuck.
“I’m fine! Please don’t tell my dad.”
I jump to my feet and rush down the road.
Everything is falling apart.
At least Dana and Sehe are on my side…
But I don’t know what would happen if father found out.
“Please stay a secret.” I whisper to myself
By the time I make it to the auction house my lungs are on fire and Hui is nowhere to be seen.
He must have gone inside already.
If I’m too late all is for nothing.
If I’m too late…
I push through the door and find Hui standing by the wall with an ever-present scowl on his face.
“Good afternoon,” I tell him while resting myself against the wall. I don’t have much time to look winded unfortunately as I spot the auction house owner in the crowd approaching us.
I right myself. Try to even out my breathing.
“Miss Chattoway it is an honour to receive you in our humble hall.” The man tells me taking my hand and placing a kiss on the back of it.
It reminds me of Maurice.
Cygnian customs are weird.
“Thank you, sir,” I reply with a smile keeping my disgust to myself.
“Can I offer you some tea?”
“Unfortunately, I don’t have much time between engagements, I just came by to pocket the money,” I tell him. I have to get back before father finds out I bailed on flying lessons.
“Of course, of course, this way please.” The man gestures to a small office room.
“Wait here,” I tell Hui, he looks annoyed by it but this is just one of those times where making a scene isn’t going to help anyone.
Inside the narrative we made he’s just a servant.
Insisting he’d be there would make the whole thing look suspicious.
I hope he understands.
The office is clad in gold leaf print and chairs are upholstered in dark green leather.
“Normally this paperwork is handled before the sale but because your delivery boy handed over the piece, we’re taking care of it now.”
“Right…” I pick up the papers and start reading them. “It says here I owe you ten percent commission.”
“That’s right, standard fare.”
“But I was expecting the entire amount…”
“Well, maybe instead of sending an errand boy, you could bring by your next deal in person so we can discuss things beforehand.”
“Look I would like the whole amount, can you give me the eight hundred if I give you this?” I pull a small pearl button from my sash and show it to him.
“You’re asking me if that’s worth eighty chui.”
“I know it’s worth more than eighty chui I’m just asking you if we got a deal.”
He rolls his eyes, but it’s a good pearl. “Sure, just sign here and I’ll get you your 800 chui.
Ten minutes later I walk out with the money.
Hui follows me out and my step increases, trying to get as much distance between me and ‘the social upper crust’.
Then I let out a sigh and allow the fatigue to show. I try to explain why I was late.
Hui tells me it’s fine.
I give him the money.
“I really only need five hundred fifty if you don’t mind. I wouldn’t feel good taking all the money since it was your pin.”
“You intend to use the money to help out the restaurant right?”
“Then just give the owner what’s left and tell him it’s to expand his business.”
He’s hesitant but after some insisting he takes the money and we part ways.
I rush back home and clamber my way up the wall again with the help of a nearby tree and dogged determination.
It’s in times like these that Dana’s trousers would be useful…
I mean my trousers…if I had any trousers.
I’m not sure if father could live down trousers after I already pulled the shimou.
Maybe I could wear trousers under my shimou?
Or would that be extremely silly?
I touch down gently on Sehe’s house and then find, to my surprise, a ladder standing against the side of the house.
I look around for Sehe, did he do that?
I mean who else right?
I check the ladder, it looks secure, and sturdy, with no sabotaged rungs or slippery sides.
Guess it’s okay?
I climb down.
Maybe he’s inside?
I peer through the window.
I look around for him.
“Sehe. Uhm… hi.”
He’s standing by the flower bed, cutting flowers for the dinner table.
“Good afternoon Elizabeth, can I help you with something?”
“Uhm, well, thank you for the ladder.”
“The one next to your house…you put that there right?”
His mouth crinkles into a smile “I’m sure if I did it was just to get it out of the way and no other reason.”
I open my mouth to retort but then he winks at me and I get it.
Oh right, dad wouldn’t be happy if Sehe helped me climb the wall.
He get’s up. arranging the flowers in his hands “I think I like the ladder where it is now. So if you ever need it you know where to find it.”
I smile, and bow deeply to him “Thank you Sehe.” I want to hug him, but that would be most improper.
He bows his head at me with a smile “You’re welcome.”
I go back to the house feeling a burden lifted from my shoulders.
So Sehe is amazing and supportive.
I wonder about Dana.
I’ll probably figure it out during the next lesson.
That is my hope at least until the day after I walk into the dining chamber and she’s just…there, sitting at the table.
It’s the sound of her voice that I hear first, giving me a start and opportunity to look around the corner stealthily.
My first instinct is to try and think up an excuse as to why I cannot attend dinner right at this moment.
But if pretending to be sick doesn’t work then-?
“Ah Elizabeth, sit down,” Father tells me.
Well, I got spotted, if I don’t have anything now…
I sigh and sit down.
“Hello Dana, what brings you here?”
“Regular check-up of the ships downstairs.”
“Oh, really, you expect to use them soon dad?” That jab was about fifty percent joke.
He huffs “It’s just a check-up, I don’t want them rusted or failing in an emergency.”
“Since it was pushing dinner time your father graciously invited me to dine with you.”
“You do good work.” He admits with a shrug.
I’m…not sure about that? I mean not the good work part. Dana does excellent work, but this feels, suspicious in a way.
Does he know about yesterday?
Did Dana tell him?
Is this going to be an interrogation, two against one?
I look at Maiwu keeping herself out of things as usual. What does she know?
The servants walk behind me, putting things on my plate and drizzling them in sauce, but all I can really pay attention to is the sound of my mind racing as I try to make up an excuse.
Dana knew I had to leave and help Hui but I didn’t tell her I climbed the wall to do it.
So that could be an angle?
While I’m panicking at this it seems like the rest of the table doesn’t notice my distress.
Everyone just keeps eating.
“So how are the flying lessons?” father suddenly shoots out over the table and my heart skips a beat.
I open my mouth to talk but no sound wants to make its way out.
“Elizabeth grasps the information well, she can recite the function of every button with ease.”
“Sounds like her all right.”
“But she’s a very cautious flier, she’s afraid to land anywhere but the runway at home and she doesn’t dare to fly at night.”
“Really? And here I thought Elizabeth dared anything she fancied.”
Was that a jab at me?
Seriously? Very mature father.
“She’s certainly a brave young woman. I’m sure she’ll be able to get over her nervousness with time-”
The door opens, it’s Shayu “my apologies ladies and gentleman, there’s a messenger at the door for Elizabeth, he claims it’s urgent.”
“Elizabeth? What’s the meaning of this?” father asks flabbergasted.
I jump up from my chair “I’ll be right back.”
The messenger patiently waits at the door for me.
“Hui Go is waiting at the gate for you.”
“He didn’t specify, only that it was urgent.”
“Blast.” I walk out the door only to get stopped by Shayu.
“You’re not going out without a coat I hope, it’s chilly out.”
“Right, thank you.”
I run, pulling the coat over one shoulder and then fighting with the other sleeve as all manner of disturbing thoughts fly through my head.
What if the kashuya didn’t accept the money?
What if they got angry?
What if he’s hurt!?
I find him sitting on the sidewalk just beyond the gate.
“I’m taking you out to dinner.”
Wait, what? That’s the emergency…
Is this a trap?
What if the kashuya told him to…wait he looks fine though. I take a breath “I see, okay, uhm, I’ll have to ask permission from my father of course, and maybe get a chaperone.”
“There’s no time can’t you just send the messenger back?”
“I could…he won’t like it but I could.”
“Great, then it’s settled.”
I go back to the messenger and give him some chui to tell father ‘something came up, I’ll be home soon’ I hope that’s comforting enough for him not to send his entire team looking for me, but vague enough that I can still think up a story as to what happened later.
The moment the messenger rushes off Hui grabs my hands and tells me “let’s go.”
He starts running pulling me along and all I can tell him is “you know, I didn’t know having a friend could get me in trouble this quickly.”
“Honestly neither did I.”
The restaurant is…quaint?
It’s small but cosy, it’s just a shame there’s no one around to enjoy it.
Hui’s voice fills the space as he hollers “hello! I’m back!”
An old man emerges from the back, tears still left on his wrinkly face “Hui. I-”
“Yobu, this is Elizabeth Chattoway, Elizabeth, this is Yobu, the owner of the restaurant.”
Judging from the tension in the air I have the feeling I got dragged into something I can’t quite wrap my head around. I guess…I should just play along?
“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” I bow to the old man wondering if they had a falling out or something beforehand.
Hui seems prickly, well, pricklier than normal and the restaurant owner seems apologetic about something.
He also looks very surprised to see me “The pleasure is all mine miss Chattoway.”
“Yobu doesn’t believe the story of how I got the money.”
“What, by selling the hairpin?”
Oh! So that’s what this is about!
Blasted Hui, you could have told me beforehand.
“Oh! I’m so sorry of course that must sound strange coming from nowhere!” I exclaim with a bow “Hui wanted to keep it a secret in case the sale didn’t go well.”
“I see I…” He turns to Hui asking “How?”
“Long story. Can it wait?”
“Of course.” The restaurant owner sighs a sigh of relief. Then pulls his face into a customer-worthy smile and says “Please come in, are you hungry?”
“Well, Hui did promise to take me out to dinner,” I confess.
“Of course, of course.” I get led to a table with Hui and a girl with beautiful long black hair hands us our menus “Thank…oh” Before zipping back into the back.
We order a little bit of everything and it’s amazing! I had no idea Jaobai food could be this varied! Cygnian food seems quite bland in comparison.
“This sauce is amazing, oh wait my mouth is on fire, my mouth is on fire!” I quickly grab the water from the table and take a big gulp to cool my stricken tongue.
Then Hui suddenly gets up and says “I’ll be right back.”
I sign him ‘ok.’ Then watch him rush to the back.
Once again recovered I put the water down and try to remember which bowl contained the devilishly spicy sauce.
I’m pretty sure it was red…but so are five other sauces.
I start lining up the five and taste each with a…I think they’re some sort of breadstick? Trying to line them up in order of spiciness.
“Is everything satisfactory?” The restaurant owner, his name was Yobu I believe, asks.
“Yes, the food is amazing thank you.”
“May I be so bold as to ask a question?” Yobu asks cautiously.
“Do you want to ask what I’m doing?” I ask awkwardly.
The man pulls up an eyebrow “What are you doing?”
“Just…checking which sauces are the spiciest.”
A smile appears on his face “Well I can help with that. You see this one has faifa in it so that one is very spicy, then…I’d say this one is spiciest but this one comes very close.” The man starts putting bowls in order and it feels like I’m being a bother until my eyes go from his hands to his face and I see him smiling, eyes sparkling with delight. “There, I think that’s the correct order.”
“Thank you so much.”
“However in all honestly that wasn’t the question I wanted to ask.”
“Oh, right.” Of course not.
“Is there a romance blooming between you and Hui?”
“What? No, no, nooo. He’s a good guy but… not my type.”
“Oh no need, I’m sure it’s for the best.”
“So how did you and Hui even crossed paths.”
“Oh…uhm, Hui and I share a hobby…” I tell him cautiously.
“Who are you protecting?”
“Myself, I guess. Although I’d like to protect others if I can. It’s just that everyone I know who might need it already wields a gun better than I do.” I scratch the back of my head sheepishly.
“Well…you don’t always need a weapon to protect someone.” Yobu smiles, and I smile back at him. “I guess that’s true.”
Then the back door opens up and Hui strides back his hands tense on the sides of his body and his lips trying to suppress the goofiest grin.
“Hey Hui, are you okay?”
He looks a bit bewildered by that question “Yes, very much so. Something really nice happened just now.”
“Really?” I ask intrigued “Do tell.”
“Okay so Himowa is my coworker and I’ve known her for years now. She’s great, smiles a lot, very kind but also sometimes a bit bossy and sharp. Anyway, she was being so cold today because she thought you were my girlfriend-”
I can’t help but chuckle at that idea
He looks surprised in turn
“She thought you and I were a couple?”
“That’s very unlikely.”
“Am I that far beneath your standard?” He asks with mock offence.
“No, but you are entirely the wrong gender, I like women exclusively.”
“Surprised I guess?”
I smile to myself more than anything “This day turned out quite the surprise for everyone, didn’t it?”
“Indeed it has.”
“Speaking off did you know these are sweet and zesty at the same time!? How did they even do that.”
“I can tell you, I made the sauce.”
“Yeah, it’s easy…”
As he explains his cooking to me and walks me know I learn a new thing.
I’m pretty sure Hui and I are friends now.