Archive for February, 2008


February 1, 2008

“You must be hungry,” said Med. “We have some stew almost ready. In fact we were just about to sit down to dinner. Would you join us?”

“You are very kind,” said Teres, “You have already been too kind to us. We are imposing a terrible burden on you, in fact we may yet impose even more. I do not want to disturb your family meal as well.”

“It is nothing so private as a family meal,” said Med. “The evening meal is prepared for everyone who works here, and lives in the compound. We eat in a dining hall – people can take the portions they wish and eat with their friends, or alone – as soon as the food is ready, or later. My husband and I occasionally eat in our quarters, but we enjoy the fellowship of the dining hall. The meal we offer you is no great feast, and I cannot say that i am welcoming you into the bosom of our family by offering it – in fact it is rather plain. But, the food is not unhealthy. and there is plenty. Come. Leave your cares with your things for a while and come with us to the dining hall. Let me show you where it is, at least You can return to it later if you feel like being alone. Come.”

Teres stood up. She looked at her sons each in turn, first at Bil, and then at Cal, and it was understood unspoken between them, she strongly – that is *strongly* suggested they go. And they both of them acquiesced in their glances back to her, and looked at each other briefly as well, to commiserate, and to confirm that the other was also obeying. They stood up too.

Ferr retreated backwards into the hall, and waited there for them all to exit the room so that he could bring up the rear. Med turned and stepped into the hall, turning back the way they had come down the long corridor.

But instead of going all the way all to the end and turning south, they turned north at a doorway in the north side of the hall about midway down its length. They went north down a short, small hallway and came to a large room, with a medium-height ceiling, four long tables, and a fifth, round table at the other end of the room. Seating benches were set on either side of the long rectangular tables; there were stools around the circular one.

A counter ran down two-thirds of the left wall. On it were glass plates, metal utensils, and a large pot of polished steel. Steam curled from under the slightly askew lid, and past the thinning pot holder draped over its side.

A group of four people sat at the far right long table. The three men all had their hair cropped in a buzz close fitting to their skull. One of the men had salt-and-pepper hair with a blad spot right on his crown. Another had black hair in which the beginnings of curls could be seen, and the third had blond hair so thick you couldn’t see the skull underneath even as short as it was. The woman had hair a similar color to Med. Similar body to it too, and similar length. Her hair was tied up behind her head in a scarf which kept it pushed back out of the way – a pony tail trapped in a rigid red cone.

They all looked like tyhey had good upper body srength, especially in the shoulders. Strands loose at the necks and cuffs of their woolen clothes seemed to be held to the garment by the cauterization of the small burn marks that spotted the clothes.

They turned their heads from the bowls over which they were hunched, to look at who was coming in the room, and held their look a full minute on these strangers, of which they had had no warning. But before the staring became absolutely rude their heads and gazes went back to their bowls. If they had been talking, it must have been quiet. They went back to it. They spooned the soup or stew into their mouths in relative silence, with only occasional glances over at the three newcomers and the married couple in charge who were escorting them.

Med stepped over to the counter and lifted the lid off of the stew pot. “We have goat stew tonight,” she said. “I hope you find it palatable, at least.”

Teres smiled. “Thank you.”

Med took up the ladle and a glass bowl from the stack next to the pot. “We will join you, if that is all right?”

“Of course,” answered Teres. Bil and Cal only stared blankly at the pot. Their exhaustion had carried them beyond care.

Again, Ferr stood behind them. While Med served herself first, he was last. The three of them, their little fractured little family, clustered tightly to each other, followed Med’s lead. They each poured two ladlefuls of stew into a glass bowl and grabbed a metal spoon from the adjacent pile, then followed her and sat down at the rectangular table in the south-west corner. Med sat on the near bench and Teres, and then following her Cal and Bil, sat along the bench opposite.

They ate in silence. Med and Ferr asked them no questions, and they volunteered no answers. They also did not ask Ferr or Med about their factory, about themselves, or the other people there. They were too tired. It became clear that Med just wanted to make sure they got something to eat, and wanted to sit with them to make sure in addition that they were comfortable eating in the same room as the other compound residents or workers, and that they weren’t bothered.

Ferr ate in silence beside his wife. He seemed to be following her lead in this, though he was the one who had first greeted them and had probably made the initial decision not to throw them out or report their presence to whomever he could or might.

They ate in silence, and when they had finished eating, Med reached for their bowls, and said, “Don’t worry about cleaning up. You are tired. Please rest as much as you need to.”

Teres and following her Cal and Bil, rose, thanked Med, thanked Ferr also, and walked toward the door. Med stopped herself from offering to show them the way back to their room.

Teres, Cal and Bil stumbled into this back sitting room, closed the door, and slumped down on the bedclothes, exhausted and sleepy from the heavy food they had just eaten. They each srtared at the wall or ceiling for a while, contemplating the conversation they each felt they should start, before they fell backwards onto the blankets and dropped off to sleep.

Teres woke briefly after a few minutes and got up to turn off the light, then lay back down and fell instantly, deeply into sleep like a heavy stone into a deep deep pond.

When they woke the next morning their main concern was washing up, and then finding a place where they could help, where they could do something useful around the compound.

Teres was the first to wake. She rubbed her eyes and sat up, then stared stupidly at the sunlight streaming in through the high windows in the northern wall far away in the middling far distance of the room. She felt the previous two days’ dirt on her. Carefully crawling out of the covers which she did not remember crawling into during the night, and being careful not to wake Bil and Cal, she stood up, swaying a little bit, and with the quiet nervousness of a small animal eased the door open, just wide enough to slip through, then eased it shut again just as silently.