To the bath-house
The next morning Arni and I went to the kitchen for breakfast, but Riei was still fast asleep. “I hope Aunt Erne came back!” Arni said, “Aunt Vauri can’t cook for nuts!” I’d never heard that before but it was clear that it meant she couldn’t cook at all. But Erne was there, and there was nice porridge, this time with dried berries in it.
“Riei still asleep?” she asked. And Arni said “My sister is laaazy!” But Riei appeared quite soon, and big Arni too.
Erne gave us more bath-house tokens! “You’ll want your hair done,” she said to me, and yes, it was like a bunch of straw after all the sailing. My hair is a mess at the best of times, it needs a lot of oil to even stay in place.
Vauri didn’t want to go home, and from what I’d heard about her husband the sailor I understood that! “Don’t, then,” big Arni said, “go to Lenay or Valdis and work in the hospital, you have enough skill in real nursing, not just in getting rid of unwanted children!”
“What’s an unwanted child?” little Arni asked, and Erne hugged her and said “We don’t have any here. You are a wanted child.”
We had to go to the bath-house by boat, and there was a large market near the bath-house where things were cheaper than in the market on our island so Arni gave Riei a purse of money and asked her to buy food, “it’s girls’ night, we need a lot!”
“That means we’re not supposed to be around,” Riei said to me, “Mother’s friends are coming, and the big girls want the little girls to be gone so they can talk about abortion and make-up and the best way to do a blow-job.”
“Eww!” said little Arni. “We’ll go and eat at the neighbours’.” She was coming along to the bath-house after all, because it was the Day of Naigha and there was no school.
“There’s somewhere else you want to go first,” Riei said, “you need your hair done anyway, it doesn’t matter if you get some of it cut off.” Then she took me to the temple of Naigha where Arni’s school was. The priestess there said “Are you so eager to learn, Arni, that you’re here today? And Riei, you finished school more than a year ago! But I don’t know your friend.”
“She’s from the south,” Riei said, and I said who I was and that I wanted to pray, so the priestess took me inside, Riei and Arni trailing behind. “Do you know what to do or shall I guide you?” the priestess asked, and I didn’t know if it would be different than at home so I asked her to help. I prayed for Father, and Arzu, and after the priestess had asked if I still had a mother and I said I’d never known her, also for my mother, and then she shooed me out because there was someone else waiting to pray.
“The priestess is half Khas and half Ishey,” Riei said, “that’s why her skin is so black! She’s very learned, she speaks six languages!” I could only boast of three languages, not counting literary Iss-Peranian which I could read but not speak. I definitely couldn’t speak Khas or Ishey!
I felt a lot lighter when I came out of the temple, as if I’d been carrying the dead people with me all that time! I could even enjoy the boat ride, because I’d been practising shutting out the hubbub of people’s minds that gave me a headache.
“Is the temple of Mizran near the bath-house?” I asked.
“Not very, but we’re passing it.” Riei went with me into the temple, after all she worked there one day a week so she knew where to go, and Arni waited on the steps. I took out ten shillings, that should be enough to buy some materials. “Now I need a coppersmith,” I said, and there wasn’t any nearby but Riei knew one nearer our house.
The bath-house was almost like one back home! First the undressing room with lock-boxes for our things, then the washing room, then a room where our hair got washed and trimmed (and mine also plaited close to my head, so for the first time in almost two seasons it behaved), and finally the basins with nice warm water. Then I could put my clean clothes on! The ones I’d washed the moment I was in Riei’s house, very worn and a bit too small, but mine! And clean!
The market we went to was really large, with more stalls that sold other things that food than food stalls. As we were buying eggs and vegetables a young woman with a baby on her hip spoke to us, “hey, it’s Riei and Arni! And I don’t know you, but it looks like you’re their friend.” She gave the baby to Arni to hold and wiped her hands on her skirt. “I’m Maile.” I’d heard that name! Wasn’t she the woman who had helped big Arni’s brother’s wife? She finished paying for her vegetables — a lot! — and treated us to a fruit drink and a meat skewer at a stall in a corner.
It was goat meat with interesting spices. “Hm, fennel and ginger, what else?” I said. “Lemon zest, no, it’s different.”
“Lime, I think,” Maile said, and Riei said that when they’d lived in the big house they’d had the same thing often, but with beef. “You don’t need to brag, Riei,” Maile said in a voice as if she’d said it many times before. “We know what happened to your family, and I’m sure Leva knows too.”
“I prefer goat anyway,” I said, and that was true.
Maile was very interested in my clockwork tinkering, she was a smith herself. When I said I was going to the trade school but this was what I did to keep my hands busy, she knew exactly what I meant, she’d become a smith the same way, and half a carpenter and builder too. “You might want to visit our island,” she said, and to Riei, “I know it’s your mother’s girls’ night, Ashti is going, so I can easily ask you to dinner. One moment.” She wrote a quick note, and had the girl who had rowed her to the market take our shopping home with the note! Some time later she came back with a note from big Arni, “be home in time for school”.
“That means we can stay the night,” Riei said, “if we leave as soon as it’s light tomorrow morning.”
“That can be done,” Maile said.
When Maile went to pay for our food I asked Riei “that’s the Maile your mother warned me about, isn’t she? Is it really all right?”
“As long as she doesn’t steal you from us, it is. You’re ours!”