Chapter nine: The lonely girl
Three days after getting the card I’m standing in front of a white stone building with gabled roofs located on the edge of the slums. I passed it before in my hunt for an affordable living space but with the cracked roof tiles and walls overgrown with plants, I never would have guessed the place was still in use.
Yobu does his paperwork on Sundays meaning I get the day off.
These leftover days are normally spent sleeping or walking around town, shopping for food and maybe a new pair of robes once in a while. But today I have a mission.
And I hope they’re open on Sundays.
I walk to the door and find a sign on it saying “Please knock.”
So I do.
And I wait.
There’s a soft “coming.” From the other end of the door followed by the sound of footsteps.
The door opens and a man in his twenties opens the door, looks down at me and asks “Yes?”
I hand him the card. “Xjaa sent me.”
He takes the card and reads the cryptic message “I see.” He then opens the door for me further. “The class already started, but if you want to can come to have a look, see if you like the place, for free of course.”
I nod and follow him in.
The place looks barren, the floors and walls are concrete with the occasional poster stuck to them in a vain attempt to hide the cracks.
“I’m Mjo, but if you choose to stay you can call me teacher.” The man talks surprisingly casual for a master teacher, but then I also doubt he’s ten years older than me.
“Nice to meet you, Hui. You have any prior experience shooting?”
“That’s okay. We’ll teach you from the start then.” He opens the door to a long room, inside is a handful of children varying from early to late teens. They’re sitting on the floor talking loudly about nothing, then the teacher clears his throat and the place falls silent in a flash. “Sorry about that, Hui here want to come and take a look at how we do things around here.”
I bow, the others get up and bow as well.
“All right, who was next? Migo I believe it was your turn.”
A kid with wild red hair nods takes her gun from a holster on her belt and within seconds the others have formed a line behind her.
The teacher pushes me gently in the back, urging me to cue up as well.
So I do.
The red-haired kid, Migo it was, takes aim and shoots at a target on the other side of the room. A large wooden block, several beams deep, with rings painted on the front. The bang bounces off the narrow walls but the bullet flies straight hitting the third ring from the middle.
The students go wild over it.
“Pfft, I can do better.” One of the older boys huffs.
“Yeah right, then show me.” The feisty girl retorts.
The boy shrugs “Not my turn yet.”
The next boy shoots in the outer ring. The kids start teasing and prodding, but since all of them are laughing I guess it’s okay?
Next up is a foreign-looking girl, her hair is the colour of pale gold, her skin the colour of paper.
She doesn’t speak as she raises her weapon, an expensive one from the looks of it, richly engraved with flowers and birds.
She then shoots just one ring short of a bullseye.
My jaw drops to the floor in surprise.
Things stay quiet. No enthusiasm, no heckling, just deadly silence. She puts her gun away again and stands back in line.
“Good job Elizabeth.” The teacher says encouragingly in an attempt to fill the silence.
She nods respectfully, but her eyes look apathetic.
The next kid shoots and comments fill the room.
It’s only when the blond girl tries to shoot the place becomes cold.
Granted she looks like a golden gazelle surrounded by sewer rats.
Is that why they don’t like her?
The kid in front of me walks off before I can figure it out leaving me in direct sight of the target.
Seven pairs of eyes are burning in my back.
I take the gun out of my bag. Hold it up at the target, make sure to pull the safety off.
And pull the trigger.
“Uhm, did you load it?” One of the kids asks and my face crumples up like a paper bag.
“He didn’t load it. That’s so dumb.”
“He’s new, let him off Teko.”
“Yeah, but everyone knows you got to load a gun right.”
The teacher claps his hands “That’s enough. Hui told me beforehand he had no experience. It was my fault to think he had already loaded his weapon. I’m sorry Hui.”
I shrug, still, a bit lost on how to feel.
“It’s almost time anyway so I want you to go clean your weapons while I teach Hui the basics of care.”
There’s a collective sigh from the group. But they all sit down on the floor and start picking their guns apart.
All right Hui, First off I’m going to teach you how to take your weapon apart, then how to clean it, then how to load it, and then we’ll give it another shot okay?
As he leads me through all the steps I can’t help but notice the foreign girl tossing glances in my direction.
I pretend not to notice.
But I can’t help but wonder what she wants.
As the kids leave half an hour later Mjo takes me aside. “Well? Can I expect you here next week?”
“I only have twenty-five chui-”
“Yes I know, don’t worry about that, just pay a half-chui each week and after that, we’ll figure something out.”
“Thank you.” I bow to the teacher in gratitude.
“Don’t worry about it, we start at nine in the morning. Be sure to clean your weapon beforehand.”
I tell him all right and wish him a good day before walking out with a smile on my face.
The next day I’m in the back checking stock when a familiar whine reaches my ear.
I sigh. Put the notebook into my pocket and drag myself back to the door.
Himowa is tapping her foot impatiently.
“I should already be on.” She wearing her blue dress again, hair full of flowers.
I sigh at the task ahead of me but this isn’t the time to be dramatic “I’ll dump the apron and notebook and head to the floor, you get on that stage.”
The restaurant is busier than ever. Himowa dances every week now, pulling customers in like flies while Yobu charms them with good food.
I meanwhile haven’t messed up badly enough to scare them off.
We’re a really good team, though we’re a bit short-handed at the moment.
Yobu’s saving up to hire another waiter but until then I’m stuck pitching in.
I open the door to the kitchen and get engulfed in a cloud of steam and smoke.
“Perfect timing bring these plates to table five will you?”
“Got it.” I put my apron on the hook and stick the notebook in the drawer. Then grab the plates and head into the restaurant.
There’s a nice buzz going on, people talking and laughing, having a good time.
Himowa is flying over the stage like a deadly butterfly. The swords flow like water in her hands. She makes the blades look light as feathers.
If only I could just be a guest and watch without worry.
Maybe later, when we got an extra pair of hands, but for now these plates need to get served.
And judging from the number of guests I won’t have much time to spare.
“Did you see this time?” Himowa asks after we’re done cleaning up for the day. Yobu has just locked the door and we’re putting the chairs back in order.
“I saw some of it…but what I saw looks really nice.”
Himowa grunts a sigh, frustratingly shoves a chair under the table and strides to the back.
“Himowa!?” I shout after her not sure if I should follow or leave her alone…Seriously, why are girls so complicated!
One moment they start crying out of nowhere the next they walk away when you compliment them.
“Where did Himowa go?” Yobu asks entering the restaurant with the emptied-out bins
I groan “To the back. Don’t ask me why.”
“Oh, I see.” The old man smiles thoughtfully.
I roll my eyes and put another chair in its place.
Until suddenly the girl appears on the stage holding two swords in her hands.
One of them pointed straight at me.
“Hui! You better pay attention this time!”
I can see Yobu stifle a laugh and I can’t help but grin as I pull out a chair and sit down.
She smiles that perfect customer smile at me.
And starts to dance.