Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, E4)

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism, violence, autistic meltdown

Kolchais squatted with the Silent Spinner and watched the market — or tried to. The stalls on either side blocked eir view. Ey could see only a small part of the market.

Even so, there were things to look at. The Western market was largely unfamiliar. The Eastern Market was where the food sellers set up shop, and ey had rarely been able to buy anything more than some food.

Like the Eastern market, the Western market was busy and loud. Though no one raised their voices — even the people haggling — the dozens of conversations created a babbling hum that filled the space without overwhelming. The goods of the Western market were all local. Secondhand and poor quality goods sat near the southern gate, the quality gradually increasing until the north gate guards loomed over stalls of fine metalwork and thread craft.

As always, a lightning striker in the center of the square. It was supposed to be tall enough to draw lightning to it protecting the rest of the city. It was mottled with the impact of lightning strikes. Glass patches, sand, and odd places where the sandstone has become another kind of stone entirely. Dripping black bits, as if the stone had turned liquid for a time. And many places where sections of the pillar and even the ground surrounding it were simply… gone. Only lightning or (more rarely) the bright light of a midsummer day could reshape the world so.

One time, after returning from the Eastern market with Tsouchm, Lefeng said that the lightning striker was barely taller than the surrounding buildings, and even a far-walker who had never set foot in town knew better than that. Kolchais hadn’t thought of it before but realized with a shudder that Lefeng was right. And storm season was almost on them. Where were the workers to rebuild it? Why had the town council let it get this bad?

Kolchais shook emself. Ey could mention it to Chotaikytsai and hopefully ey could do something at the next council meeting. There was nothing Kolchais emself could do.

[paragraph about watching Spinner and thoughts on]

When the sun was halfway to midday, Kolchais got up and wandered the market a bit. Ey stopped to listen to a storyteller for a few minutes. To eir surprise, the storyteller winked at em. Still watching em, the storyteller started an ancient story about a child of a farming family. In the story, the family’s fields were dying, and they feared the fields were cursed. The family was planning to move away from the stagnant ground to someplace healthier. But one of the children refused to give up on the corner of the fields ey tended. The child planted all different kinds of seeds and added many different things to the soil. The story was a teaching story. It explained why fish guts and other trash were buried in the fields and how to change the crops to keep the fields healthy.

Throughout the entire story, the storyteller did not look at or entertain the children around em. Instead, ey looked at Kolchais as if speaking directly to em.

Confused, ey returned to the Spinner, needing to think over the story. Storytellers were teachers in their way. And it felt as if this teller was trying to teach Kolchais something. But before ey got back to the pottery stall, ey heard someone yelling and shouting. Kolchais hurried.

A crowd was gathering, and Kolchais had to squeeze eir way through. When ey finally reached the potter’s stall, ey saw a stranger looming over the Spinner, who stared straight ahead, ignoring em.

“What the stillness you staring at!” The stranger yelled.

The Spinner didn’t even blink. Kolchais realized that ey wasn’t ignoring the stranger — ey didn’t even see em.

“You got a problem?” the stranger continued, reaching out and shaking the Spinner’s shoulder.

Kolchais couldn’t watch anymore. Ey shoved emself between the stranger and the Spinner. “Please leave, Adult. Ey meant no offense, and no harm has been done. You have no right to touch em.”

The stranger growled. “Ey’ve got no business sitting around staring at people. Putting curses on em or other evil business!”

The pottery merchant seemed to shake emself and said, “Ay! Enough with the yelling and leave the Spinner alone. They’re all crazy but don’t do any harm.

“You want this pot or not? You’re making folks wait.”

Between Kolchais and the potter, the stranger finally backed down, disappearing into the crowd.

Kolchais stayed where ey was until the stranger was gone, then thanked the merchant for eir help.

“The Silent Spinners have always dealt fair, no matter how weird they are. And your friend has never caused any trouble. Stop by when your family needs pottery. I’ll give you a good deal.”

Kolchais thanked them again and turned to the Spinner. Ey was no longer squatting calmly. Instead, ey was curled in a ball, shaking and hitting emself in the head.

Kolchais crouched down next to the Spinner and grabbed eir fist. Ey went from trying to hit emself to trying to hit Kolchais. Unable to control the Spinner, Kolchais let go and stepped back, helpless to intervene.

After what was probably a short time, though it seemed much longer, the Spinner finally stopped hurting emself. Kolchais squatted down next to em, relieved to see no sign of injury. Softly, Kolchais asked, “Spinner?”

The Spinner twitched and whimpered. After another minute, eir hands started reaching out, searching the ground.

Kolchais looked around and soon spotted the spindle and yarn. Ey put the spindle in the Spinner’s hands. Ey immediately groped for the fiber bag and began spinning and humming to emself.

The spinning seemed to calm em. In a few minutes, ey had returned to eir previous manner.

Kolchais didn’t wander the market again, instead sticking close to the Spinner and making sure ey had no further trouble.

When there was no fibre left to spin, the Spinner packed up eir things and left the market, still saying nothing. Kolchais followed em. Ey walked all the way to the Silent Spinner’s compound, then turned and started towards the Trial Family’s compound. Finally, Kolchais asks, “Is it okay to talk now?”

The Spinner jumped a little, hand-spoke “Yes?” then out loud said, “I may… not respond.”

“Are you okay?” Kolchais asks.

The negative shrug combined with a gesture that Kolchais thought meant ‘too much.’

Kolchais didn’t say anything else.

By the time they got close to home, the Spinner was shaking again and starting at every unexpected sound. They were at the gate to the compound when ey stumbled. Kolchais puts a hand on eir arm to steady them.

The Spinner froze and whimpered. Kolchais pulled away.

At the compound, the Spinner retreated to a corner and huddled there, rocking and humming to emself. Kolchais, at a loss, looked around to see the others approaching, worried. Reluctantly, ey stood and walked over to the fire, waving for the others to join em there. For a moment, ey thought Paiokp would ignore em and continue to the Spinner, but the red-headed former fisher joined the rest of the family at the fire.

As the one who called everyone together, they wait for Kolchais to speak. As briefly as ey could, Kolchais told them everything that had happened.

“When ey stumbled, and I caught em, ey reacted as if I had hit them. I don’t know what is going on or what to do, but I don’t see how we can help when we can’t touch em or talk with em.”

Chotaikytsai hums to emself a moment, then says, “My parent, who came from the spinner folk, would rock. Most of the time, it was just… a thing ey did. But a few times, when ey got overwhelmed, we stayed quiet and kept our distance. It was… a difference in em at those times. Like ey was shutting out the world.”

“Yes,” Kolchais said, “that’s what ey was doing, I think.”

“Best we leave em alone, then,” Paiokp said, “C’mon, Kolchais, we got another load of whithes while you were out.”

Kolchais blinked, surprised by Paiokp’s immediate dismissal. Ey was usually the first to step in when someone needed help. But the walls needed to be built… so ey got up and followed Paiokp to the stack of withes.

From the corner of eir eye, Kolchais saw Tsouchm leave a drink and sweet snacks for the Spinner before returning to working the small garden.

Continue to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E5)

Return to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)
Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, Interlude: Kyawtchais)

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