Chapter nineteen: The stars
“There you go, thank you for keeping my shop safe,” Yobu tells the courier as he hands over the bag.
The man counts out the silver sticks. Then, apparently satisfied he crosses something off on his list and bows “No problem, I’ll see you next month.” And with that Yobu turns to head back inside.
And I take my chance to emerge from my hiding place and quickly sneak behind his back and after the courier.
“Hey, you,” I call out once I’m out of the old man’s earshot.
The courier turns, a tired expression on his face “You got a problem kid?”
I reach into my sleeve “I need you to give something to your boss Failao.”
The courier squints his eyes at me “I don’t deliver death threats or love letters.” He warns.
Well, that’s one hell of a disclaimer “It’s money, you deliver money right?” I ask him pulling out a bag of sticks.
“Sure do.” He grabs the bag with grubby paws and counts out the contents, he checks his list, going back and forth from page to page looking for the meaning of this strange new donation. Then his eyes grow big “Hui Go?” he asks.
“How? Did you rob a bank or something?”
“Worse, I accepted help from my friends.”
His eyebrows knit together but he doesn’t comment further, instead, writing something down on his and putting the bag away “Well, I’m on my way again.”
I bow, turn and rush back inside before I’m missed.
The moment I come through the door I’m pulled aside by swift hands “And did they take it?” Himowa asks.
I look around for the old man.
“Don’t worry, yaye’s in the kitchen.”
“They took the money. Now, all that’s left is to wait until next month to see if Failao keeps her word.”
“I’m sure she will.” She assures me with a calm hand on my shoulder “The Kashuya are rats but they do keep their word, it’s like their one redeeming quality.”
“You know I could use someone to help chop all these cucumbers!” the old man shouts from the kitchen and we both freeze at the sound.
I scratch the back of my head. “Sounds like I got summoned.”
“All right, have fun.” She plants a kiss on my cheek and I head to the kitchen grinning like an idiot.
I count the days until the month is over.
On the one hand, I agree with Himowa, if the Kashuya didn’t keep their word the threats would probably become meaningless after a while.
Things should be fine, but with Hasiro’s tenacity, I can never be sure.
Would Failao keep her word if Hashiro tried to outbid me? Offer twice the money to keep the ploy going…
All this ruminating makes it hard to keep my brain quiet during meditations on Sunday.
It doesn’t help that Elizabeth had to ask me all about it beforehand.
My shots are thoughtless, they miss their mark more often than not.
To the endless delight and scorn of Migo and her buddies.
I try not to mind it and I get back in line.
“Are you okay?” Elizabeth asks after she pulled her shot and joins me in the back. A perfect bullseye as expected from her.
“Just a lot on my mind, don’t worry about it.”
“All right.” She smiles then goes silent as we patiently wait our turn.
As Elizabeth and I leave again it’s dark. We helped Mjo clean up a bit after practice sure, but it’s still only six in the evening.
Winter is truly on its way now, and the chill creeps along my sleeves.
“Hui look.” Elizabeth points up. The sky has turned into an inky pool of black dotted with sparkling stars.
“You never saw the night sky before?” I raise an eyebrow, she punches my shoulder playfully.
“Of course I have but there’s not a single cloud around this time, come on. I know a good place to stargaze.”
“Uhm? Okay.” I let myself be dragged towards the locked city again.
A short while later we’re lying on a blanket on a roof though I’m not quite sure who’s roof this even is. All I know is that she told me “Don’t worry it’s fine, I used to play on here all the time as a kid.”
“So that one is laosa and which is part of the suso constellation, it looks like a fish in a reed basket.”
“You mean that little clump over there?” I ask pointing at a couple of stars that aren’t nearly as bright
“In what way is that a basket?”
“I must admit it’s easier to see in the books when they add some extra lines.”
I huff “Cheaters.”
We laugh for a bit, then it falls silent for a bit.
“Can I ask something peculiar?”
I shrug “Sure.”
“How did you know you like Himowa, like know-know?”
I cross my arms, and take a moment to think “I’m not sure if I did? I just knew she felt different to me somehow and I took a chance on that.”
“How does she feel different?”
“Well, it’s a mix of wanting to be with her constantly while beating myself up over every little weird thing I did or said to her.”
“Does Himowa know?”
“Of course she does, she tells me to lighten up and stop questioning her taste.”
“She’s really something.”
“She sure is.” I chuckle, then look back at Elizabeth “Why do you need to know?”
She sighs “I think I may have found myself in a similar situation? It’s just…Well, the target these feelings are directed at is not…stellar.”
“She’s a teacher and older than me by a lot.”
“Not completely sure but at least six years.”
I hiss “Yeah that’s a lot.”
Elizabeth covers her face with her hands “I don’t know what to do it’s just, she’s clever and witty and sweet and caring but she’ll probably think I’m a freak if I tell her and I just know my father would object and-”
“No offence but your father can take a hike for all I care. As for the teacher, maybe wait until she’s done teaching you before telling her? That way you’re no longer student and teacher.”
She grunts “That’s going to take forever. Can’t you just give me permission to make a fool of myself?”
“Do you want permission?”
She throws her arms to the sky “I don’t know!?”
“Look I’m not going to tell you what to do, just do what feels best.”
“Well, getting it off my chest helped at least. Thanks, Hui.” She puts her hand on mine and we watch the stars some more.
Until I find myself waking up with a shiver.
I look around me.
We’re still on the roof!?
Did we fall asleep?
I look beside me, apparently, Elizabeth wraps up like a lumpia in her sleep, she stole all of the blanket, tugged tightly around her.
Her face is calm, peaceful, and happy.
But we should really get off the roof.
“Hey, hey Elizabeth.” I shake her gently. “Get up you big doofus.”
She murmurs something I don’t understand, something Cygnian, bats her hand in the general direction of my face and then rolls over.
So obviously the next step is pulling the blanket away.
I wrap my knuckles around the fabric then pull hard, rolling her out and she jerks up, yelling something, then looking over and repeating herself in Jigani “What the meaning of…are we still outside?”
“Yup, time to go home.”
She pushes her hands in her hair, “Oh no, I’m in so much trouble.” She takes the blanket from my hands, folds it swiftly then lays it across her arm “Thank you for waking me.”
“I mean I wasn’t going to go home and leave you here.”
“Of course not, and also thank you for spending time with me, I enjoyed myself.”
“Sure thing, see you next week?”
She nods, then slides down the ladder we used to get up on here and disappears into the night with quick, panicked steps.
I follow her example, heading to my own bed.
I hope she’s gonna be okay.
But surely she’d tell me if not?
My eyes keep sliding back and forward to the door as Yobu is paying off the courier again.
If everything went well, he’s going to be very confused soon.
Himowa is busy wiping down tables, a content smile on her face.
I don’t understand how she can be so certain things went well.
I wish I had that kind of confidence.
The door opens and my attention is instantly grasped by the sound of sandals walking in.
“What did the two of you do?” Yobu asks suspiciously as he enters the shop again. In his hands, he holds his bag, still half full with chui.
Himowa raises her hands in innocence before pointing at me with a wink.
“I’ll only tell if you promise not to get mad.”
He crosses his arms and raises an eyebrow “Very well.”
“So the person who wanted to increase your pay was kind of my shitty brother and not the person in charge of the district so I bribed that one to bring your fee down to normal and tell my brother to suck it.”
Question marks pop up over his head as he stammers “How? Why?”
“But you’re in no danger?” He asks carefully.
I shrug “Not from this at least.”
“And the fees stay like this?”
“I mean they’ll up at the same rate as the rest of the street of course but-”
I don’t have the time to finish my sentence as walks up to me and hugs me letting out a shuddering “Thank you.” in the process.
“I mean I only solved a problem I caused so-”
“Shhh, none of that, you were not to blame.” He tells me squeezing comfortingly.
I open my mouth to retort but Himowa shakes her head at me. This is not the time to argue.
I close my eyes and enjoy the blissful feeling “It’s the least I could do for my family.”