Big Men (V)

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While we wait for the crowd to thread through intersecting roads, I see a man sitting on a rug threatening to eat a glass bulb. It is a curious sight and I stare more than I intend to. After a minute of this he actually does eat the glass and falls over dead, much to my shock! He is dragged away by his feet and another man appears, saying the old world has claimed another victim. The people around me laugh and clap. A few cheer. Some throw pieces of coin and bread which the man gathers in a sack. I am left dumbfounded until two new people arrive. One sits on the rug and starts playing on a wind instrument while the other dances around her, flapping his arms and clucking like a hen. More people cheer and I realize this is some kind of street show, a performance.

“Listen close, boy,” Silvio says, snapping my attention back to him. “There’s plenty of work to be had in Sanhles. Now, the biggest game in town is going to be the free companies and they make most of their money from the ruins. A big chunk of the ruins are submerged and the ones that aren’t have already been picked clean so if you want to get anything good you have to be with a free company. Low tide is great for scrap hunting. The ocean is always washing something up, though you don’t usually get much without a good shovel. Glass beads are the most common thing you’ll find; the waves batter ’em against the shore and polish them good. They don’t trade for much, even the colored ones, but they’re better than nothing. Sometimes you’ll see a basurero on their stilts skimming the shallows with their nets but there ain’t much to be found there either. Big pay is the deep ruins and only the free companies got the gear and skilled divers to get to those. Of course, diving and scrounging ain’t the only things free companies do, and the hefes are always looking for help and muscle to keep the day to day things running so you have a great shot making some pay with them.”

Silvio isn’t much of a talker, except when it comes to scrap, junk, and trash so I decide to listen as we walk. I didn’t realize until later that the reason he was telling me all this was that he was preparing me for when we went our separate ways. I hadn’t considered what I was going to do when I reached Sanhles. It seemed so far when I began my journey. Now that I was there I needed a plan but had none. I didn’t know how I was going to find Yujin.

It is approaching dusk and we end up at a place called the Burro. It is wedged between two other buildings, a kitchen on one side and an ale house on the other. In fact, it is wedge shaped. I am so tired I feel as if I will melt into a puddle of sweat and exhaustion. I am reminded of the story of Hernaldo the Running Man, who ran from the very north point of the world all the way down to the lower edges of the Meycan Empire to deliver a message to the emperor only to drop dead on arrival when his heart exploded. Silvio tells me it looks like a fine establishment and heads into the alley between the buildings.

“Where are you going?” I ask him.

“To sleep,” he says, and disappears with his two yamas.

I want to follow him, but the smell coming from the alley discourages me. Instead, I head into the Burro. It is not what I expect. There is a table in the front with a bell and a doorway covered by a cloth tarp, beyond which I can see dozens and dozens of hammocks. Most are occupied, some are not. I change my mind about this place, hoping to find a place that has nice hard cots, and head to leave when a girl pops her head up from behind the table.

“Staying the night?” she asks. I am immediately drawn to her eyes. They are the color of gold.

“What?” I say when I realize she is talking to me.

“Staying the night or?” she asks again.

“Yes I…” I pause.

“Are you okay, sir?” she asks.

“Yes. Yes! I just. I’ve never seen eyes like yours,” I reply.

“Is that a compliment or are you talking about the color?” she asks.

“Both I guess?” I say.

“You guess? My what a charmer you are,” she says. I pay her for one night’s stay. She gives me a blue colored potsherd and tells me that is my proof of payment and allows me use the water spout out back. I feel the potsherd with my fingertips. It feels familiar. It feels like home. I want to ask her if she gets any of her pots from Nuevo Chine, but she is already talking to the next customer.

That night I dream a particular dream. A memory. I am leaving home. The stars are out. I have my things all packed and over my shoulder. My older brother, Lopez, is trying to stop me from going. But in the crazy logic of dreams it is also a scene from the story of the Two Brothers. I am wearing my iron battle garb, three swords and a gun stuck to my hip and Lopez is wrapped in ceremonial war linens, a giant straw hat on his head and a massive sword the size of a horse on his back.

“Rio! What you are doing is madness!” he proclaims dramatically.

“No, brother! It is my destiny!” I proclaim back.

“The path you walk is fire and death. Your place is here with your familia!” he cries, drawing his sword.

“I promised Rodrigo! I will fulfill his dying wish!” I say, drawing two swords.

“You are insane! Mother has mourned enough of her children. Don’t throw away your life chasing a fantasy!”

“You’ve been listening to too many radio dramas. Don’t you know? I am clay. And clay never becomes anything worthwhile until it is shaped by practiced hands and cast into the flame!”

We clash. We cry. We embrace. I run. The moon swallows the earth. I jump to slice the sky in two, but my sword is gone and my armor is broken and I am small and alone and afraid.

 

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