فصل 10

مجموعه: چهارگانه بخشنده / کتاب: گرد آوری آبی / فصل 10

فصل 10

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  • زمان مطالعه 10 دقیقه
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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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10

It was difficult to get through the crowd. Kira followed Thomas, who was taller than she, as he pushed to make a path through the shouting, raucous men. She recognized some: the butcher was there, cursing as he argued with another man, and she could see her mother’s brother too, in a group comparing the weights of their weapons with loud bragging comments.

Kira had not been much in the world of men. They led very separate lives from those of women. She had never envied them. Now, as she found herself jostled by their thick, sweat-smelling bodies, as she heard their muttered angry comments and their shouts, she found herself both frightened and annoyed. But she realized that this was hunt behavior, a time for flaunting and boasting, a time for testing each other. No wonder Matt, with his childish swagger, wanted to be part of it.

A light-haired man with blood smeared on his arm turned from a shoving match and grabbed at her as she hurried by. “Here’s a trophy!” she heard him call out. But his companions were preoccupied with their argument. Using her walking stick as a prod, she pushed the man away and wrenched her wrist free from his grasp.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Thomas whispered when she caught up with him. They had almost reached the side of the square where they had last spotted Matt. “It’s always only men. And at hunt time they act brutish.”

Kira knew that. She could tell from the smell, the coarse quarreling, and the noise that it was not a place for girls or women, and she kept her head lowered and her eyes on the ground, hoping not to be noticed and grabbed again.

“There’s Branch!” She pointed at the little dog, who recognized her and wagged his crooked stub of a tail. “Matt will be nearby!”

With Thomas beside her, she pushed her way through and found him, still prancing with his spear. Its sharp point was dangerously close to the other tykes.

“Matt!” she called in a scolding voice.

He saw her, waved, and grinned. “I’m Mattie now!” he called.

Exasperated, Kira grabbed the spear shaft just above his hand. “You won’t be two syllables for a long time, Matt,” she said. “Thomas, take this.” She removed the spear from Matt’s grasp and handed it carefully to the Carver.

“Yes, I be!” Matt said, laughing and proud. “Looky here! I’ve got me a manly pelt!”

The little boy raised both arms above his head to show her his joke. Kira looked. His underarms were thick with some kind of growth. “What is that?” she asked him. Then she wrinkled her nose. “It smells terrible!” She touched it, pulled some away, and began to laugh. “Matt, that’s swamp grass. It’s awful stuff. What do you mean, plastering yourself with it?” She could see that he’d smeared it on his chest as well.

Thomas handed the spear to a man who grabbed it eagerly. He looked down at Matt, who was wiggling under Kira’s hands on his shoulders. “You look like a beast-boy! What do you say, Kira? I think it’s time we showed Matt the bathroom! Shall we clean him up and wash his second syllable away?”

At the word wash Matt wiggled harder, trying to get free. But Thomas and Kira both held him and finally he allowed Thomas to pick him up and carry him on his shoulders, towering over the crowd.

Now that the dangerous fascination of the spear was gone, Matt’s group of young admirers dispersed. Kira could hear Matt calling from his perch above the noisy, shoving men, “Looky here at the beast-boy!” No one looked, or cared. She found Branch underfoot and picked him up to keep him safe from so many trampling feet. Carrying the dog tucked under her free arm, Kira leaned on her stick and followed Thomas; they edged their way around the crowd and back into the quiet of the building’s corridors.

Kira listened, laughing, to the wails and whimpers as Thomas mercilessly scrubbed both Matt and Branch in his bathroom tub. “Not me hairs too!” Matt howled in protest as Thomas poured water over his tangled mop of hair. “You’re drownding me!”

Finally, with Matt pink-faced and subdued, his washed hair toweled into a halo and his clean body wrapped in a blanket, they shared their meal. Branch shook himself briskly as if he had just played in the stream, then settled himself on the floor and nibbled at scraps they handed to him.

Matt sniffed warily at his own hand and grimaced. “That soapie’s horrid awful,” he said. “But I like the food,” he added and filled his plate again.

After dinner Kira brushed his hair while he complained loudly. Then she held a mirror for him. Mirrors had been new to her too when she came here to live, and they gave an image different from the stream reflection that had been all she had known of herself. Matt examined his own image with interest, wrinkling his nose and raising his eyebrows. He showed his teeth, growled at the mirror, and startled Branch, who was sleeping under the table. “I be so fierce,” Matt announced smugly. “You would’ve drownded me but I fought so fierce.”

Finally they redressed him in his raggedy clothing. He looked down at himself. Then he reached suddenly for the leather thong around Kira’s neck.

“Gimme,” he said.

She pulled back, annoyed. “Don’t, Matt,” she told him and pulled her necklace loose from his hand. “Don’t grab. If you want something, you should ask.”

“Gimme is an ask,” he pointed out, puzzled.

“No, it isn’t. You should learn some manners. Anyway,” Kira added, “you can’t have it. I told you it was special.”

“A gift,” Matt said.

“Yes. A gift from my father to my mother.”

“So she’d like him best.”

Kira laughed. “Maybe so. But she already liked him best.”

“I want a gift. I never be having one.”

Laughing, Thomas and Kira gave him the smooth bar of soap, which he tucked solemnly into his pocket. Then they turned him loose. By now the men and the spears were gone. They watched from the window as the small figure followed by his dog crossed the deserted plaza and disappeared into the night.

Alone with Thomas, Kira tried to explain the warning that had come to her from the cloth. “It creates a feeling in my hand,” she explained hesitantly. “Look.” She took it from her pocket and held it toward the light. But it was still now. She could feel a kind of comfort and silence from it, nothing like the tension that had stirred it earlier. But she felt disappointed that it now seemed no more than a scrap of cloth; she wanted Thomas to understand.

She sighed. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It seems lifeless, I know. But there are times —”

Thomas nodded. “Perhaps the feeling is for you alone,” he said. “Here, I’ll show you my bit of wood.” He went to a shelf above the table where he kept his tools and took down a piece of light-colored pine small enough to fit into the palm of his hand. Kira could see that it was intricately decorated with carved designs that interwove around it in complicated curves.

“You carved this when you were just a tyke?” she asked him in surprise. She had never seen anything so extraordinary. The boxes and ornaments that were on his worktable, beautiful in their own way, were much simpler than this small piece.

Thomas shook his head. “I began to,” he explained. “I was learning to use the tools. I began to try them on this small chunk of wood that had been discarded. And it —”

He hesitated. He stared at the piece of wood as if it mystified him still.

“It carved itself?” Kira asked.

“It did. It seemed to, at least.”

“It was the same for me with the cloth.”

“It’s why I understand the way the cloth speaks to you. The wood speaks in the same way. I can feel it in my hand. Sometimes it —”

“Warns you?” Kira asked, remembering how the cloth had seemed to tense and tremble when she saw Matt holding the spear.

Thomas nodded. “And calms me,” he added. “When I came here so young, sometimes I was very lonely and frightened. But the feel of the wood was calming.”

“Yes, the cloth is soothing at times too. I was fearful here at first, the same as you, when everything was so new. But when I held the scrap, I felt reassured.” She thought for a moment, trying to picture what this life in the Edifice must have been like for Thomas, brought here very young.

“I think it’s easier for me because I’m not alone, as you were,” she told him. “Jamison comes every day to look at my work. And I have you just down the corridor.”

The two friends sat silently for a moment. Then Kira replaced the cloth in her pocket and rose from her chair. “I must go to my room,” she said. “There’s so much to do.

“Thank you for helping me with Matt,” she added. “He’s a naughty tyke, isn’t he?”

Thomas, returning his carved piece to the shelf, agreed with a grin. “Horrid naughty,” he said and they laughed together with affection for their little friend.

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