Chapter fourteen: The break
I wonder if I should tell Yobu about the deal I struck but I doubt he’d appreciate me talking to the Kashuya, especially if it’s to save his business.
His pride would never be able to live it down.
No, I intend to fix this is secret, then act all surprised when it works.
If it works.
Five hundred fifty chui is almost a year’s worth of rent. I may have some money saved up but that’s a hundred chui at best and that took me years to scramble together.
I could save a lot by moving out of the badao but where would I even go in the meantime? And even if I do that still only saves me sixty chui a month meaning I’d spend months homeless, and by the time I got the money the shop can be ruined already.
I feel like a worm gazing up at a mountain, wondering what it’s like at the top.
“You okay Hui?” Yobu asks as he passes me with a box full of greens.
“Yeah, sorry. You need help carrying that.”
“I may be old but not that old.” He huffs “Just finish up your daydream and come help me cut these up in a bit.”
“Do you ever cook at home Hui?” Yobu asks as I’m attacking a carrot with my knife.
“Not even on Sunday?”
I shrug apologetically.
“You should try it, eating is nurture for the body, cooking is nurture for the soul.”
“And as an added bonus it makes you more appealing in the marriage market.”
“Uhm what?” where is this coming from all of a sudden?
“Think about it, a woman has enough on her plate already with the house and the family, the least the man can do is cook for her.”
“A modern woman won’t just settle for the man with the highest pay, they want to be swept off their feet. Romanced so to speak, and what better way to do that than a homemade meal. Love goes through the stomach after all.”
I drop the knife with a clang and turn on my heel “I think I left something in storage.” I lie and then rush out of there running straight into Himowa because of course I would.
“Hui, are you okay your face is red?”
“Your yaye is giving me dating advice and it’s really awkward.”
“Oh.” And just like that, her ears burn up like little cherries on the sides of her face “Yeah… he does that sometimes.” She lets out a forced chuckle, pulls two locks in front of her ears and says “I have to get back to the customers, good luck with yaye.”
“Thanks.” I try to rub the redness from my face without much success, grab a bottle of fish sauce that I’m pretty sure we still have plenty of but returning empty-handed would be worse than ‘admitting’ I didn’t pay attention looking through the cupboard.
And steel myself to face the cringe.
Sunday comes as a relief that week. I’m pretty sure another ‘helpful tip about women’ would have made my face explode.
It doesn’t help that now the concept of a ‘marriage market’ is firmly lodged in my head and I can’t seem to get rid of it.
So it’s nice to take a breath and shoot some rounds and let off some steam.
I arrive at the white building with my hands in my pockets.
I’m early like always.
The others aren’t happy to see me.
They’re waiting for me, outside, away from the teacher’s protection.
If looks could kill, the scowl Migo is giving me would leave me dead in an instant
“You got guts I’ll give you that.” She tells me with a sneer.
I try to ignore her and walk past her but she pushes me back.
“You know with the prissy girl it was bad, but at least she was raised to be a monster.”
The others sneer in agreement.
I just roll my eyes. “I have nothing to say to you.”
“How about you explain to me why you rather spend your time with that traitor instead of your actual friends?”
“Look, you’re the one who decided I can’t be friends with both you and Elizabeth.”
“Because she’s a Chattoway! How do you not understand that!?”
“The same way you can’t understand there’s more to a person than just a last name. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think we spent enough time on this nonsense.” I push her aside, put my hands in my pockets and keep on walking.
“You’re gonna regret this. She’s gonna do something evil and you’re gonna regret this and guess what you’re not coming back to our group you hear! You’re dead to us!”
They give me the silent treatment.
Walking in without greeting.
No more commenting on my shots.
No longer part of the jokes.
But it’s okay.
Because it makes me realize what they’ve been doing to Elizabeth.
Make me see what I was allowing without realising it.
But now I’m here for her.
I comment on her shots, she comments on mine.
We’re a good team.
Help each other out.
Like friends are supposed to do.
“You’re unable to meditate?” She asks me astonished as the others pack up for the day again.
There’s a soft snicker from one of the boys, we don’t acknowledge it.
“Look my brain just doesn’t shut up okay, I don’t know how other people do it.”
“Perhaps you simply need someone to guide you through it?” she then signals me to sit down again.
I shrug but comply all the same.
She sits down across me on the floor in a lotus position. “All right, close your eyes and just focus on your breathing, in and out like waves on a beach.”
“You’ve been to the beach?” I ask in disbelief.
She sounds apologetic “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to boast.”
“It’s okay. What’s it like? Tell me and I’ll picture it in my head.”
I can hear her chuckle, it makes me smile “Very well, The place is covered with pale green sand that seems to glow in the half-dark. The shoreline is dotted with these opaque green jagged rocks that are the size of small mountains. The water is dark and shiny like oil but when you try really hard you can see through it and spot the creatures that live there. It rolls up and down the beach on long waves rustling like leaves as they crash down on the shores. The sky is grey but the rays of the sun peak through the blanket of clouds in glittering rays.
The image forms in my head and it makes me feel like I can almost hear the waves “That sounds amazing.”
“It truly was.”
We then sit in silence for a bit and strangely enough I don’t feel on edge for a change. I don’t feel vulnerable because Elizabeth is here and she wields a gun much better than I.
When I open my eyes my mind feels blank but refreshed. Like my mind has been wiped clean and ready for duty again as the shapes and colours of Elizabeth’s face come into focus.
Her eyes are closed. She looks peaceful.
I wonder what she’s thinking about.
When she opens her eyes she smiles, gets up and extends her hand to me “We should probably get out of the teacher’s way before he has to instruct the next class.”
As we walk out I’m wondering what to do next. But before I have time to decide Elizabeth turns to me and asks.
“What do you do for the rest of the week? Those days when you’re not shooting rounds.”
“I work in a restaurant.”
“You do?” She sounds surprised, I wonder what she expected me to do.
“Does that mean you’re skilled at cooking?”
I shrug “Not really, I mostly clean, but my boss is starting to teach me some cooking skills.”
“While it lasts.” I sound bitter, as I push my hands into my pockets.
“what do you mean?”
“It’s a long story.”
“I don’t know about you but I got time.”
“Better sit down then.”
I tell her about the restaurant and how the Kashuya is trying to kill it dead. About that shimmer of hope in Failao’s proposal yet having no idea how to achieve it.
All the while she listens silently but attentively. Her face is blank, it’s a bit frustrating since I have no idea what she’s thinking.
“And that’s about it I guess.”
“You carry a lot of burdens.” She says after a short pause.
I chuckle dryly “That’s one way you could say it.
She thinks for a while in silence before her face lights up. She grabs my hand “I believe I can help.” She announces dragging me upright again. “Let’s go to my place.”