Again, Kisha woke to find the fire gone cold and no hot water to heat. But, as the caravan was not leaving on schedule, she took her time making breakfast. She even whispered to Gof and later, Maia, that they should lie in a little. Jasmine came from her tent, looking pale and worried. Kisha did not need to ask why. The young woman she had to ride again in the torture chamber sooner or later.
Kisha poured her some coffee and handed it to her sister-in-law. “Let’s see if Gof or your Mom can do something.” She said quietly.
Grandma Seilee snapped. “What are whispering about!”
Kisha’s head whirled around and she looked at Grandma Seilee, recalling the death of her twins, her remote and silent husband, and the son who left her for the sea. Suddenly, Grandma Seilee just looked old and bitter, Kisha felt sad.
“Grandma Seilee…” But Kisha could not think what to say. And then the first phrase that went in her head popped out of her mouth. “It’s okay, Grandma Seilee. Everything is going to be okay.”
The old woman looked at Kisha like she’d gone mad. Jasmine too, gaped at her sister-in-law.
Instead of yelling, the older woman grumbled, “What do you mean ‘it’s going to be okay’?” and went back to her moping.
Jasmine sipped her coffee and relaxed a little. Soon, Gof joined them for breakfast, but was called off before he was through, to help the other men lift the wagon.
Maia ate silently through breakfast, stealing nervous glances at Grandma Seilee. Kisha watched her mother-in-law and wondered what happened to Maia’s parents. Perhaps, she too wanted to be free of the dark cabin. And yet she rode in it every day without complaining. She even sent Jasmine out and about when she could, and yet there had been that comment the other night.
Gof returned and he brought Nefreti with him. A huge grin splitting her young face mirrored on his. “Look who I brought Jasmine! Turns out you might be needed with the babies, today.”
Nefreti piped up, “Little Matthew is teething again! He asks for you, personally.” This news clearly cheered up Jasmine and she giggled.
“How can he ask for me if he doesn’t talk?”
“No, I heard him say “Ja Ja” and he pointed over here!” they laughed. “Come on, let’s go!”
“I should finish up here, first.” Jasmine said.
“I can finish the rest, Jasmine. Go see to Matthew!” The girls ran off and Kisha went back to the familiar routine of packing up the camp. Her husband suddenly took her in his arms and kissed her on the forehead.
“You are amazing. Do you know that?” She grinned back at him and gave him a quick hug back before she went back to work.
Part of packing up, included storing items in the cabin of the carriage. There she found Grandma Seilee sitting in the dark in a foul mood.
“You and Gof are overly affectionate in public; it isn’t healthy.” she grumbled. “It’s nauseating.” Kisha ignored her. As she left the gloomy carriage she wondered if Grandma Seilee had ever been in love with Jiru.
Kisha trotted around the wagon and almost bumped right into Sonia, the chief’s wife. The lady bid the young runner a cheery good morning and asked where Grandma Seilee and Maia were.
“Oh, Maia is washing some clothes at the laundry station and Grandma Seilee is in the wagon. Right there.” Sonia thanked her with an odd look as she went back to packing. The chief’s wife was in the carriage just a moment before she left again, waving to Kisha as she went.
Maia returned empty handed but with a smile lighting up her sun-tanned face.
“Kisha! You are needed at the laundry wagon! The children ask for you! Pika has brought coffee and her sweet rolls to share. Come!”
“Should I get Jasmine?”
“I will get her, you run and help with the little ones.” She scurried over to the Galla’s camp to invite them to the laundry party.
Kisha ran ahead, holding her skirts up as she went. Underneath she still wore Grandpa Herbert’s old pants and felt a bit awkward. As she passed between two wagons, she saw a gathering of most the women of the clan and all the children around the laundry wagon.
This vehicle was usually run by an older couple, named Rincin. Instead of trading spices, they carried a rotary washing machine, a clothes wringer, and a towering structure encased in netting to dry multiple loads of laundry. In exchange for coins or spices, the Ricins washed and dried other peoples’ laundry; either nomads, city dwellers, or clan members. Only the most trusted and knowledgable men and women in the group were allowed to wash their own clothing; Maia and Grandma Kira were among the few.
Once the children saw Kisha they ran to greet her, shouting. “Play with us, Kisha!”
She accepted. She led the young crowd away from the laundry wagon so they wouldn’t soil the clothes with the dust they kicked up. Then they got down the serious business of discussing which games to play and in what order. This took a bit of time, and there was some arguing back and forth, until the Sonia, the Chief’s wife, stepped in and resolved the issue. Soon, Kisha chased or fled from her new young friends. Many of their antics made her giggle. They played for hours until her throat scratched with thirst and she called a break. The children too were ready for a long drink and many for a snack.
“Can we play more after the snack?” Asked a young boy.
The answer came from Sonia, “No, Kyle, it is reading time.” A collective sigh went through the kids.
“Reading time? I love reading time! I never get to read!” The boy looked at her like she was crazy.
“Kisha don’t you read when we’re traveling, I mean before the…” He didn’t know how to say it but the Galla’s little girl answered for him.
“No, she gets sick when she reads on the wagon. Isn’t that right Ms. Kisha?”
“Yes! Perhaps you would like to read to me? I love to hear stories as well as read them.”
She caught Sonia’s eye and grinned. Soon, the kids lined up to read her from their favorite book. Kisha guided them over to a spot shaded by the tall laundry wagon and sat them in a circle. They all took turns reading, and the day flew by. Before she knew it all the children were called to lunch. Kisha stood up and saw Maia and Jasmine beckoning her over.
“You must be starving, Kisha.” Said Maia, looking the most relaxed and happy Kisha had ever seen. Jasmine, too, seemed carefree. She chatted on about the Gallas and their adorable baby boy, as they spread out their fare. Kisha searched the families picnicking among the wagons for Gof or Grandma Seilee.
Maia saw her look and answered, “Gof is checking on Grandma Seilee. He is informing her that we are having lunch over here today.” There was something odd in Maia’s tone, something defiant and yet, scared. Kisha thought about it.
“Yes, I think that is a wonderful idea. It is such a beautiful day and we have such lovely neighbors, it would be a shame to not picnic near them. Don’t you think so, Jasmine?”
Her sister-in-law gave a tight grin and nodded.
Gof appeared among the crowd. Kisha could not read his face but he came alone.
He sat down next to his wife and looked at his mother. “She will not come, but I left her the plate you made for her. It is her decision and we should not let it hamper our enjoyment.” His mother nodded and let out a long sigh of relief. Jasmine too, smiled and helped herself to some warm bread.
“Gof, I played with little Matthew, Mom helped the Ricins with the laundry, and Kisha played with the children.”
He looked at her from beneath his long lashes. “Yes, I saw you running with the children. It is a good match; you both have lots of energy.”
“Kisha is good with children. She will be a good mother.” Maia said this and Kisha almost choked on her bread.
“Thank you, mother.” she whispered. When she regained her composure, she asked. “Maia, can I ask you what Kyle was like? What was it like when you were first married?”
“Oh, my.” She laughed a little. “Kyle was very much like Gof, not just in looks but in how they acted. A sweet and good-natured man; he was always good to me and Gof and Jasmine.” She looked at each of them as she said their name. “It took me a while to learn how to be a good wife. It was not that I was bad or dishonest, it just took a while to figure out what he wanted, what he needed…., you know.”
Kisha nodded but she wasn’t sure. She would definitely think about this the next time she ran.
“Was he your first choice, mother?” Jasmine asked. Maia’s brow’s knitted and she shook her head.
“No, I had my eye on a boy, well, a man, in another clan. Our caravans linked up one season and I got to know him and his family. He was so nice, but Seilee said he would not do.”
She looked a little sad, and Kisha stole a glance to Jasmine, they thought the same thing.
“Were you in love with him, Maia?” Kisha said quietly.
“Goodness no! I might have had a crush, but love, no. I fell in love with Kyle after we were married. It broke my heart when he died. I realized then I had lost the love of my life.” Her eyes moistened and Jasmine and Kisha went to hug her at the same time and bumped heads instead. All four ended up laughing and hugging.
They got back to eating their lunch and Maia continued on about her days with Kyle.
“The best time, though was after Gof was born. Mia, Kyle’s younger sister, and her husband traveled with our caravan for a few years to help me. We spent many days in their cheerful little wagon, playing, talking, reading books (when Gof would let us).” She nudged her son. The time did sound blissful, full of happy and warm memories.
Jasmine and Gof asked questions as well as Kisha and the day wore on. Other families had packed up their picnics and children had gone to explore or younger ones to nap, but the Corvan’s sat in the shade remembering the times when they were young and their father was alive. It wasn’t until late afternoon when some men pulled Gof away to help lift another section of the wagon, that they cleared away their picnic.
Jasmine took the remains of the lunch and containers, while Kisha and Maia carried the clean, dry linen back to their wagon. As they approached, their spirits descended like a road down a mountain pass. Each step brought them closer to rock bottom, until they entered the camp site and found Grandma Seilee glaring at them over a plate of uneaten food.
With one bony talon she swept the food into the dirt. “This is how you treat me? Maia you should know better! You are no better than the brat…”
Maia interrupted. “Seilee, we asked you to join us,…”
“I eat here! I always eat here! You know that! And it is your duty, as my daughter, to stay here with me. You are a failure as a daughter!” The old woman screamed.
“No!” Kisha injected, “She is a good daughter and you know that. Stop being so mean.”
But the old woman did not hear her. Now she started scolding Maia, using much of the same terms and complaints that she usually used on Kisha. Kisha looked at Jasmine for help but saw only tears falling from the young woman’s eyes. Her eyes moved to Maia and saw a shell of the woman who had been telling stories just an hour before. No, we will not live like this. she thought.
Without a word and in the middle of Grandma Seilee’s tirade, Kisha grabbed first Maia’s and then Jasmine’s hands and marched them out of the camp, leaving the bitter old woman railing after them. Jasmine and Maia turned their heads to look back while Kisha moved on. She took them past wagons, and through campfires.
Maia stuttered, “No, Kisha, we cannot go to Chief Morcorno’s; it is not wise.”
“We are not going there.” She turned and found the goats by a wagon. She saw only Canta, sitting on a stool, sewing. “Canta, is Grandma Kira or Grandpa Herbert around? We need to consult with them.” Maia tried to pull away, but Kisha held her hand tight and looked her in the eye. She relented.
The wagon opened up and Grandpa Herbert stepped down and then helped his wife down the fold-out steps.
“Yes, Kisha?” Grandma Kira asked, as her eyes took in all three women holding hands.
“Perhaps we should talk inside.” She gestured to the wagon. They stepped in and found the curtains were made of light and filmy material that let in daylight. Cheery, colorful cushions covered the benches and the interior had been painted a pale pink with delicate flowers and birds on the sills.
“Grandma Kira, we need your guidance.” The old woman nodded and lit two small candles in glass containers set in the woodwork. “Grandma Seilee is being truly difficult.”
Maia interrupted, “Kisha, we should not be here. Seilee is always difficult.” She stretched a weak smile on her face for Grandma Kira.
“Yes, Maia, but just because something has been that way for a long time, does not make it right.” Her eyes pinned Maia back into the bench.
“Tell me what has happened.” Kisha spoke of the lunch away from camp. Maia and Jasmine added parts. Grandma Kira nodded and asked questions here and there. When they finished, she took in a deep breath and then said,
“Sometimes, it is good to state aloud the expectations of our positions. I believe now is such a time. I will start by saying what my role is as one of the elder women of the clan. I am here to provide guidance; not just by advice but by example. Many times, I need to forgo my own comfort so that younger families, individuals, can receive the help they need. In turn, I earn the respect of most, if not all, the clan members. It also gives me freedom to ride with my husband when I choose, stay with my children and grandchildren when I wish, and have a say on rulings.” She looked to Maia, and asked, “Maia, what is your role?”
Maia said, “I am a daughter and a mother, but I am a widow. My role is to ensure my mother’s comfort and well-being is secured. I also work with my son’s wife to make sure his wagon, meals, and clothes are seen to. And finally, I am a mother of a daughter, I need to make sure she is prepared for life as she needs to be to succeed.” She looked at her daughter as she said this; Jasmine blushed and looked at her hands.
“Kisha, what is your role?” Asked the old woman.
“I am here for Gof, as Maia said, about the wagon, food, and all that. I am also here for my sister-in-law and my mother-in-law.” She hesitated, “And my grandmother-in-law.”
“Jasmine?” Grandma Kira’s sharp gaze caught the girl like a rabbit in a snare.
“Me? I don’t have a role… I’m just a daughter and granddaughter.” She whispered.
“That is a role. Wouldn’t you say, Jasmine, that you are expected to help around the camp at times?” Pressed Grandma Kira. The four of them began discussing this. Maia and Kisha helped Jasmine define her role. Then they went back and discussed each person. They learned some new things about each other. Maia longed to sleep in and felt guilty when she did and that Jasmine hated packing but didn’t mind the dishes. But the most interesting, to Kisha, was when Maia and Jasmine voiced their mutual hatred of the wagon.
The three of them had a good gripe-fest over the dingy black boxes, dull bedding, stale air, and so on. It would have gone on, if Grandma Kira hadn’t silenced them with one question.
“What is Grandma Seilee’s role in the clan?”
The three women were stumped. Jasmine finally offered, “She keeps the water hot for people at night and chats with the night watchmen.”
Grandma Kira nodded.
The seconds passed and still no one spoke.
Maia cleared her throat. “She is the matriarch of the family. Her role is to be supported and cared for by those below her.”
“You mean, ‘around her’ I think, Maia.” Commented Grandma Kira. The women nodded. The old woman trained her gaze on Kisha. “Your father’s mother travels with your parents, does she not, Kisha?”
Kisha nodded, but inside, she could not think of two more opposite people than her Grandma Anna and Grandma Seilee.
“What was your grandmother’s role, would you say?” Maia asked, genuinely curious.
Kisha had to think for a bit and then recalled a conversation they had just before her wedding. “Grandma Anna once told me her role was to see to my father so that he had time to work and to see to my mother so that she had energy to raise us.”
“What did she do? Did she cook?” Asked Jasmine.
“Yes, sometimes. She cooked someone was sick, or she just felt like it.” She thought and added, “Oh, and on holidays. She always made her special dishes on holidays.”
“Yes! I remember the cake she made at your wedding; delicious!” Raved Maia. This changed the discussion until the end to dishes, recipes, and finally other celebrations. Night had fallen outside and a small knock on the door got their attention.
“Grandma Kira, dinner is ready.” Sienna, her other daughter whispered.
Kisha, Maia, and Jasmine looked astounded. “Oh, we have to get dinner ready!” sputtered Maia.
Kira asked them to wait in her wagon a little bit longer. Slowly she made her way down the steps and over to the cook fire. Kisha could see through the door that the sons, daughters, grandchildren and even a great grand child had gathered around for dinner. They watched as old woman spoke with two at the campfire, then she turned and headed back to their side.
“My dear granddaughter has made more than enough for all of us. She is sending one of the young ones now to invite Grandma Seilee and Gof to our table tonight.”
“We are so many! Are you sure?” Pressed Maia. Kira nodded.
“Makia saw I was in here speaking with the three of you and she guessed you would need supper. She is a smart one!” Her old face beamed with pride as she made her way over to the cook stove.
Gof came alone to Herbert and Kira’s camp fire. A young man came a few minutes later looking concerned. He spoke to a woman and she directed him to Grandma Kira, who sat next to her husband Herbert and near Kisha and Gof, Maia and Jasmine. He hesitated, but then she prompted him.
“It is okay, dear. Tell, us what Grandma Seilee said.”
“She refuses to come to our campfire She says she will stay and die in the dark.” He threw up his hands.
“You did what I asked. Thank you, now go get your supper.” He nodded and made a beeline for the spicy stew.
Maia stood up, but Grandma Kira waved back down. “No, Maia, eat first. She will not die in the dark. She can light a lamp, make a fire, or even make a meal.” Kisha’s mother-in-law hesitated a moment and then sat back down. She stayed but did not speak again through the meal; instead she looked deep in thought.
Gof, Kisha and Jasmine did talk to Grandma Kira and Grandpa Herbert and their children, grandchildren, and even chatted with the very young great grandchildren. There seemed too many relatives to count, and all seemed to be talking at once. But it was not arguing, although there were disagreements, definitely. However, everyone seemed good-natured and lively. Such a contrast from their usual silent meals around the small campfire. Gof dove right into one debate on pricing spice in certain cities and held his ground. Kisha watched his eyes sparkle with amusement at someone’s comment and she realized how much they had been missing.
The dinner passed too quickly, and soon, Maia suggested it was time to head back to their camp. The women gave her a bowl of stew and bread for Seilee and all four thanked the entire group repeatedly before they disappeared into the dark night.
As they stepped into the shadows two men appeared next to them; Chief Morcorno and his eldest son.
“Greetings Gof and Maia, Kisha, Jasmine. So good to see you visiting your neighbors. It has been too long, hasn’t it, Maia?”
She nodded in the dark, seemed to realized he couldn’t see and added. “Yes, it has been too long. They are such a lovely family, too.” Her voice sounded thin and strained.
“Yes, they are. Please, let Brunic and I walk you to your campfire. Ahhh, but it is not afire. Grandma Seilee, is that you? Why did you not build a fire to warm yourself this evening?”
She sneered. “I have been abandoned by my family. Left here in the dark to die.”
Chief Marconi looked around as if searching for something. “Die? Die of what? A harpy? A sand serpent? No, Grandma Seilee. Your family did not abandon you, you were invited to a gathering and chose not to come.” He put his hands behind his back and moved out of the way, while Gof and Maia built a fire in the pit. “No, and yet, your neighbors even sent food back with your family for you. Here.” he took the plate from Kisha and handed it to Grandma Seilee. “I am sure it is good. All women in this clan are good cooks.”
“I don’t want it.” She turned her face away.
“So, you are not eating, you are not building fires, you are not packing, you are not boiling water. Hmmm, pray tell, Grandma Seilee, what it is you do do?”
The old woman’s head whipped around and she looked like a harpy, eyes burning, skin drawn tight over the bones and huge teeth showing. Kisha and Jasmine stepped back and held on to each other.
“I do not have to do anything. I am the oldest woman in this family and have earned the right to be obeyed. What you should be asking is what do they do?” She pointed a long boney finger at Kisha and Jasmine. “Lazy, ingrates.” She began a long list of first Kisha’s, then Jasmine’s, and finally Maia’s short comings.
Chief Morcorno stood listening to the entire list. Kisha did not think any man would be this patient, most would walk away. But their leader seemed to note and nod with certain comments. Kisha worried that another punishment would be underway, not just for her but for Jasmine and Maia. She was sure neither of them would do well in the Doe’s Place. Her fists clenched and she longed to speak out. Her eyes sought Gof and he gave a warning look to her. To her surprise, Gof did not seem upset. She studied his face, with the old woman’s baseless insults providing the background, and then it dawned on her. Gof was waiting. But for what?
They didn’t find out that night. Finally, Grandma Seilee ran low on her lists and ended it with a quip about “But that’s family issues and need not concern the chief.”
He looked at her and around at Gof, Maia, Jasmine, and Kisha. “Is it? Yes, I think this is a case of family matters.” And with that he bid everyone farewell.
For a moment, the four stood stunned in the dark, and then Gof said. “Go to bed mother, Jasmine. Tomorrow, we will be traveling, although probably not first thing.” And then he kissed his mother on the brow and his sister on the cheek. Both smiled weakly and said goodnight. Then, Gof took Kisha by the hand and led her to their tent.
“But, Grandma Seilee…” Kisha whispered.
“She can take care of herself.” He said and when she looked at him, she saw the hint of a smile on his face. And with that he opened the tent flap.
The Story Continues with The Runner: The Seventh Day