Kisha and Gof woke the same time that morning and sensed it was late. She quickly did her morning toilette and donned her running clothes, including the trousers Grandma Kira had sent over. The top pair fit her the best. She draped a skirt over them and tucked in her skirt. She felt a bit bulky and awkward wearing a skirt over pants, but it wasn’t too bad. She left the tent and found Grandma Seilee sitting in front of a cold fire with no pot in sight.
“Good Morning Grandma Seilee, is everything all right?” She asked. The older woman, wrapped in extra scarves and blankets turned her head away. Kisha ran and built a fire, as she did so, her husband emerged and surveyed the situation. He too, asked Grandma Seilee after her health.
To this she answered with a long, tirade listing her many grievances with the family, especially her daughter-in-law. He stood for a moment listening to her complain and then interrupted, “Grandma, I must see to my animals before the day’s journey. You will have to continue this conversation later. However, I take it you are in fine health this morning?”
To this he received only a glare. By this time, Kisha had just put the water on the fire. She spoke to her husband. “Take a little more time; it will take a while to get the fire and the water going this morning.” He nodded, glanced again at his grandmother, and left.
Breakfast was indeed a short affair. Kisha nibbled on hers as she put together the lunches and repacked the pots. The hot water pot was too hot to pack and she tied it to the back of the carriage where it wouldn’t burn anything or anyone. Maia and Jasmine spent the time washing clothes and stringing them from lines inside and outside the carriage. Jasmine helped where she could, darting questioning glances at Kisha. When she found a moment, the girl whispered.
“I don’t want to go back in the carriage!”
“Gof is taking care of it.” Jasmine nodded and did not look confident of her brother’s success. But he came through.
Again, Grandma Seilee would not lift a finger to help pack, and entered the blackened wagon long before the call came out. When Gof returned from the water wagon he walked along with Canta.
“Jasmine, please join us! My mother is with us today and she swears she can beat you at chess!” To this the girl smiled, ran to her brother and gave him hug, and then skipped off to Grandma Kira’s carriage.
Kisha beamed at her husband and he took her in his arms and kissed her on the cheek. She blushed and pushed him away.
“Gof, we are in public!” She whispered. He grinned and winked at her. The call went out and Kisha tied the front of her skirt.
Again, a night’s rest and two solid meals filled her legs with life and she wanted to sprint ahead of the train. However, she held herself back and ran along side the horses. On the first hill, she skipped ahead a bit and Gof called to her. “You are here? Still up with me?” She laughed.
“Gof, I ran alongside your wagon all yesterday morning! I only went back to the goats around lunchtime!” She said between breaths, for they were moving quite fast.
“Run here, where I can see you!” He smiled and she nodded.
As she ran, Kisha found there was so much she wanted to say to her husband, but she dare not. She was glad he found a place for her with Grandma Kira, but what would they do tomorrow or the next day? Grandma Seilee did not forgive or forget and her behavior this morning made Kisha worry. When she completed the Doe’s Place, her real punishment would start.
Kisha’s pace stayed steady, a symphony of breathing, her feet hitting the dirt road, the creaking wagon and the horses’ hooves trotting along. It formed a rhythm that cleared her mind and let her think. Now that she felt free, she never wanted to return to the camped quarters of Grandma Seilee’s wagon. Then she thought of Canta beckoning Jasmine into her wagon with games, books, and talk. Her heart longed for such a life. She thought a perfect life, would allow her to run outside as well as read books and play games.
Today, Kisha had no problem keeping up with her husband’s wagon and as lunch time neared, she called to her husband. “Gof! I think I should eat back with Grandpa Herbert; he will be lonely, if I do not.”
“Grandpa?” Her husband cocked an eyebrow.
“He says I am his granddaughter!” She smiled.
“Then you should keep your dear old Grandpa company. I will look for you at dinner.” She nodded and raced back along the caravan.
Again, the other clan members waved and shouted as she passed. She waved too, until she saw the herd of goats and the three camels taking up the rear.
“Grandpa Herbert! Are you ready for lunch?” She called.
“Ahhh, Little Kisha! I thought you would stay with your husband today. Such an honor to have you here with me!” He cackled.
She ran to his camel’s side and kept pace. “You are my grandfather now, and so I shall share my lunch with you!”
Then, Kisha took off her skirt and stood in just the man’s trousers.
“Kisha! My pants fit after all!” She nodded and blushed. “Hand your skirt up to me. I’ll tuck it in behind the saddle.” She did and began running. It felt free and easy. Now she truly felt like a gazelle.
They traveled together for a while before they found a spot on the side of the road large enough to accommodate the herd of goats, the sheep, and the three camels. Grandpa and Kisha perched on a flat rock and spread out their meal. As before, they shared the tastiest bits. While they ate, the old man reminisced about when he and Kira first married. It was during one of the droughts and the desert never ended those years; even some of the oases had dried up. She listened to the incredible hardships they endured together.
“And when the rains finally came on the grasslands, they came with a vengeance. The water in our home town rose up to our waists before it drained back down. So much was lost during that time, and even more afterwards.” His face paled, lines etched is eyes where none had been before.
“Why afterwards? With the water gone, weren’t you safe?”
The old man shook his head. “No, many became sick. Fevers, vomiting; it was terrible. And Kira and I, we had a young daughter, only a baby.” His eyes glistened. “Named Lena after my wife’s aunt. She died.” Kisha held his hand for a time.
They ate in silence for a while. Watching the herd graze, the small rodents scurry about the rocks and a brave lizard or two sunning themselves.
“It must have been a very difficult time for you and your wife.” Kisha said.
“Yes, but we fared better than others.” He sipped some water. “Seilee and Jiru had it harder. They lost their two children to the sickness after the flood: two little boys, twins, in fact. Jiru did not speak again, even after his son Hestes came into the world.”
“How about when Maia came?” Kisha never knew her grandmother-in-law had had twins.
“Maia? Oh, Jiru passed away years before Maia came.” He peered into Kisha’s eyes. “Didn’t Seilee and Maia tell you? Maia is adopted.” She shook her head. “Oh, then you probably have not heard about Hestes. Well, I guess that’s expected. Folks don’t want to talk about the painful years, and I suppose losing Hestes was probably as painful as losing the twins for poor Seilee.”
“No, I haven’t heard anything about this. I thought Seilee just had one daughter, Maia, and that Maia married Kyle and they had Gof.”
The old man shook his head. “No, after the twins died of the sickness, Jiru never talked again. Not to anyone. He still traded spices and traveled the road with us, but when he wasn’t doing something with his hands, he would just stare into the fire or off into space. It was a lonely time for Seilee. Women tried to help, but I’m afraid Seilee’s temper drove them away after a time.” He sipped some water, and Kisha waited.
“Well, everyone was surprised when a few years later, Seilee looked pregnant. Most women in our clan, as is probably with yours, announce they are pregnant as soon as they can. Seilee did not. She waited until her belly showed clearly under her skirts. We all took it as a good sign. Everyone thought this would help both of them; give them a new child, to focus on. But even after Hestes was born, Jiru would not talk.”
He packed up the remains of his lunch. “Well, folks started to talk, as they will. The child grew and had pale eyes and lighter skin than Jiru or Seilee. Jiru continued to just stare off in to space; he barely acknowledged the boy and this hurt Hestes more as he grew. A son needs a father and Jiru was no father. In many ways, I think he was worse than those that hit or yell at their young. Jiru was nothing. Seilee grew bitter from the rumors, I think, all though at the time it seemed she had always been sour.”
Grandpa Herbert shrugged. “Anyway, when the lad was about fifteen or so, he left with men hiring for the ships. We never heard or saw him again.” He stood up. “Kisha, I will tell you the rest while you run. It is getting late and we have quite a climb ahead, if I recall correctly.”
Kisha’s legs were ready for action. The long sit on the rock had made them stiff. She and her pregnant nanny goats led the procession, with the three camels bring up the rear. The road wound between rocks and cliffs up a pass and she did not think she would hear how Seilee came to adopt Maia. While she ran, she thought of her grandmother and who she used to be and who she was now. She wondered what kind of mother Seilee had been to Maia and how old Maia was when she was adopted.
These thoughts swirled in her head and distracted her from the trail, so that when they turned a corner on the road, they just about ran into the last wagon in the caravan. There were at least a few more hours of travel left, but folks sat at the doors of their wagons and men paced back and forth between the head carriage and the back.
Kisha jogged up to the wagon and looked questioningly at the mother within, named Nanna.
“All I know, Kisha, is that someone’s axel broke on a rock back there. Seemed pretty smooth traveling to me, but that’s what they say.” Kisha nodded. This would be quite a delay.
One of chief’s sons came down and called people to listen. He was shorter than his father, but had the same light green eyes and a rapidly receding hairline.
“Folks, the Galla’s have broken a rear axle; it looks like it had been damaged before and a small rock was the last straw. We’re going to have to unload everything on their wagon, dismantle the entire thing, and then replace the part. We have what we need for parts, but what we need from you is patience. Some of the men are scouting out camping sites nearby but it doesn’t look promising. Looks like we might be camping here on the road tonight.”
“Sonia invites the children come up to the head wagon to play: there is a flat, grassy spot away from cliffs. She also asks if some of you young women can come help keep an eye on them.”
The man went on to talk about where wagons could park and what they should avoid. Kisha did not really listen. She was already making her way up to the front of the caravan. She arrived at the head wagon before even the children and saw Sonia, the chief’s wife, looking a trifle flustered and surrounded by ten or twelve kids.
“Sonia! May I play a game with the children?” Kisha called. She had thought of this ever since she had joined the clan. The older woman looked gratefully at the young woman and nodded.
“Yes! Kisha, what an excellent idea.”
“Children, do you know how to play Dragon Tag?” One or two kids nodded their heads but most shook them. “You need a scarf or a hanky. Everyone get one.” This is an item a nomadic child has on their person most of their life. It is a washcloth, a hanky, a scarf, a hat, and many other uses. She showed them how to tuck the scarf into their belt or pants and then to run around and try to steal their neighbor’s hanky from their waist. After that they taught her a game and then she taught them another. The last game they taught her was Dead Bug Tag and she had just been tagged by a small girl and lay on her back on the ground doing her best to look like an upturned beetle, when Gof’s smiling face looked down on her. Her heart skipped a beat.
“Are you having fun, my wife?” He laughed. And then she heard a whole chorus of laughter and looked up to see many of the children’s parents standing and watching. Kisha’s face burned red but she did not get up. A small boy appeared at her side.
“I shall rescue you, Kisha!” And he pushed her over (this was part of the game) and she sprang up. More laughter, but she could see the crowd was enjoying this game too. Kisha went back to playing with the children for a bit longer, before she found Jasmine, Maia, and Gof on the side.
Jasmine and Maia wore matching grins that warmed Kisha. They hugged and Kisha asked about their days. Gof, stole an arm around his wife’s waist. She listened to Gof and Jasmine’s stories. Apparently, the wagon with the broken axle collapsed suddenly and practically sent the next two wagons behind off a cliff. One of those was Gof’s.
“I knew I was traveling too close. Too eager to get up the mountain, I guess.”
As they talked they watched the children run about. Some of the children darted up and asked Kisha to keep playing. She explained she needed a little rest. The family next to her heard this remark and the woman said, “Nikki, Kisha is the runner, she ran all the way from where we camped last night to here.”
At this the small child’s eyes grew big and she skipped off to tell the others this big news.
Kisha blushed, for it was a sentence she was serving, her eyes glanced at Maia, who looked embarrassed. Then she looked up at Gof, only pride showed in his face and his arm embraced her tighter.
Jasmine’s eyes twinkled. “You are fast, Kisha! I bet you’re even faster in your trousers.”
Kisha looked down and covered her face. “Oh my, I forgot! I forgot I was wearing Grandpa’s pants.” She was mortified.
Maia saw her discomfort and said, “Kisha, it is fine. Even I wore pants for a time.”
“A woman wearing pants was unheard of in my old clan.” Kisha marveled.
“Well, every one is different. For one, even Sonia wears pants from time to time. She drives the wagon when Chief Morcorno travels ahead.” she explained.
Eventually, the sun did set, and Jasmine, Maia, and Kisha set up camp and made dinner. They did not see or hear Grandma Seilee. As they worked, Maia asked about Grandma Kira’s wagon, games, and activities. Gof came back from talking with some neighbors just before the bread was ready to eat.
“Gof, have you seen Grandma Seilee? Dinner is just about ready. We have not seen her since we arrived.” Asked Kisha. Maia, seemed unusually quiet.
“No, she is not in the wagon?” The two young women shook their heads. “I’ll go find her.”
The bread sat cooling on a wood block and Kisha tried not to nibble on the bits. Her stomach roared like desert dragon. She drank water instead. Minutes passed. Jasmine told Kisha and Maia more of her time with Grandma Kira. They all liked the old woman a lot, and she did beat Jasmine at chess.
“She explained every move. Even with that, I lost. She really is fun.”
Finally, when the bread was stone cold, Gof returned with Grandma Seilee. Kisha stood up to serve the dinner and hesitated a moment. Both were scowling, but her husband’s countenance stopped her in her tracks. He looked angry, like she had never seen him.
Dinner was a tense affair. No one spoke. Grandma Seilee glared at Kisha when she served them. She could not imagine what had happened, where the old woman had been, and why Gof was so angry.
Her husband ate the dinner and as he did, his face slowly relaxed. Kisha gathered up the dishes and Jasmine stood up, but Gof waved her away.
“Jasmine and Maia, could you see if the Gallas need help with their little ones tonight.” He asked his sister and mother. They nodded and walked over to their neighbors.
Next, he turned to his grandmother and said, “Mother, Grandma Seilee, I would like to be alone with my wife for a while. Will you clean up the dinner dishes and get everything ready for tomorrow?”
Kisha could not believe what he asked. Neither could the old woman. She stood up, stammered, and said. “No, definitely not. You have enough time with that useless woman at night and you even had this afternoon. When others were working, she was…”
He didn’t wait for the rest. “So, you refuse to help?” There was silence. Grandma Seilee’s eyes traveled from Kisha’s head down to her toes and back. Kisha was aware again of her unconventional dress that day, she felt the blood rush to her head. Grandma Seilee turned and marched off into the darkness.
Gof turned to his wife and she said, “Gof, I’ll clean up. You can talk to me while I do it.” He shook his head. “I will help you tonight.”
Her eyes widened. “You?”
“Yes, I used to help my mother when I was younger.” He smiled and picked up a towel. “See!”
Together they gathered the dishes, stored the uneaten food for the next day, and readied the camp for morning. While they did this, Gof talked. He told Kisha his ideas for their future and they debated the pros and cons of settling in a township or continuing as spice traders. Both options were available to them, as the clan made friends and alliances everywhere they went. Kisha found that she and Gof shared a love of this life and a desire to live in one place as well. Before they knew it, the chores were done and they stood amid the tidy camp site, looking around.
“Should we go get Jasmine and Maia?” He nodded and took her hand. Together they walked to the Gallas’ camp where they found his sister helping the young mother tidy up from dinner. The two were chatting merrily and Nina Galla greeted them warmly when she saw them.
“Thank you for sending your sister and mother over. Maia got little Ramos to sleep while we worked out here.” Gof nodded.
“She is good with children.” He said.
“So are you, Kisha.” She said with a giggle. “Our little Sophie couldn’t stop talking about you. Would you like some tea? I just made a pot.”
They accepted and ended up spending more time with the Gallas than they originally intended. It turned out that Nina was just a year older than Kisha, although her husband was much older than Gof. All of them talked late into the night about the clan and the antics of the young Gallas. Finally, they said their goodnights and wandered back to their camp.
Grandma Seilee had stoked the fire and sat brooding. Maia said goodnight to the old woman and only received a growl for an answer. Then she wished Kisha, Gof and Jasmine a good night and kissed each lightly on the cheek, before opening the flap of her tent.
Kisha went into her tent and saw the clean binding there from Maia’s efforts that morning and smiled. She undressed and carefully dusted and folded her trousers for the next day. Next, she picked up the towel and began wiping the worst of the dirt, since they had no water. Gof hit his head with his hand and ran out of the tent. He came back five minutes later with a basin of hot soapy water.
“Where did you get the hot water? We tossed ours.” She asked as he began washing her limbs. A crooked smile lit up his face.
“The Gallas still had some.”
The Story Continues with The Runner: The Sixth Day