Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Interlude — Tschoum

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

Tsouchm got breakfast, as usual, from a rundown cooking-family by the docks that catered to the familyless. Ey sat and ate alone, unusual among even the family-less in eir stubborn individuality. When ey was younger it had seemed a fine thing to make emself a reverse of the society that had rejected em. Not for em the banding together in unsanctioned “families” that mimicked (and mocked) the ‘proper’ families that ruled the city. Ey went eir own way, as eir own person, and did eir own thing. Ey had survived, and even to some small extent thrived, alone since eir Cenn died when ey was still a child.

But lately, ey had been feeling regrets. Age was creeping up on em. It was a fine thing to walk alone amidst the whispers and stares as a young one, daring the world to react to eir choice. And if ey could be sure of a quick, clean death, it would not be a bad way to finish eir life.

But the memory of eir cenn dying slowly, coughing out eir life over long, horrible weeks, haunted em. Nothing could have saved eir Cenn, but the dying would have not been as hard if there had been anyone other than a poor child to take care of em. It was, Tsouchm thought, the beginning of old age and these creeping fears that had em dreaming of eir cenn’s death so often of late.

For the first time since Cenn died, Tsouchm found emself wishing for a family to belong to.

It was with these things in mind that Tsouchm heard the gossip. The two strangers ey had spoken briefly with a few days before, given directions to the husk of a family compound where old Chotaikytsai stubbornly held on, sought to form a new family. That last night they had been seen moving all their things into the once-weaver’s place.

From the gossip, not many would bond with strangers. Why force a new family into being when one could live life as best ey can with friends and unfamily? But Tsouchm was curious. Ey had done business with Chotaikytsai many times over the years. They had become friends. Ey didn’t know Kolchais as well, but the younger had frequently been at Chotaikytsai’s home when Tsouchm had visited the last several years. So they knew each other.

Deciding to humor eir curiosity, Tsouchm paid for the tab and headed out.

Arriving at the burnt-out compound set off a familiar routine. Or should have. But it was a stranger who came to open the gate, the lean far-walker who had constantly checked eir stride to keep from outdistancing eir companion. Ey would not let Tschoum in immediately but asked em to wait. Family propriety was already reasserting itself.

Chotaikytsai was technically not familyless but family-last. And ey had been raised in exactly the kind of family that would least encourage a marriage to such as Tsouchm. When eir family had lived, Tschoum would not even have been allowed inside the gate except for occasional day-labor. But to Tschoum’s relief, Chotaikytsai came to the gate a moment later. Ey greeted Tsouchm as always, with full courtesy, giving respect to eir rank among the familyless.

Tsouchm had always liked Chotaikytsai, and the once-weaver’s respect was part of why. Ey was the only one from a family who looked at Tsouchm as a person deserving of respect and consideration.

Tsouchm had at one time considered a liaison with Chotaikytsai but had decided against saying anything. The weaver was still very much a child of the families. And one thing that stuck with em from eir childhood was that no physical liaisons were to be had outside of the marriage group. It would have shamed eir family.

Chotaikytsai’s loyalty to eir family had made Tsouchm doubt the rumors. But the stranger who had opened the gates went to join another stranger and a child. They were clearing the remains of the burnt house while Kolchais sat nearby talking with them.

“I heard rumors but did not know what to believe. You will do this thing?”

Chotaikytsai nodded. “I had thought to never be a grandparent. But the cycle has turned and it is time to start anew.”

Tsouchm grunted. “I hope that this cycle is a good one then.” Ey looked around the familiar compound. “I… expect I shall see you less often. Now that you will have a family.”

Chotaikytsai flipped a rude hand sign meaning ‘root rot’. “You have been a friend when I needed one most. You will always be welcome in my home and my family’s home.” Tsouchm laughed and shook eir head. Ey should have known better than to think Chotaikytsai would go all proper on em.

They spoke for a few more minutes, and then Tsouchm took eir leave, much distracted.

Tsouchm had enough saved by that ey didn’t need to seek work for a few days. So ey went to the edge of the dockyards and squatted in eir accustomed place. Any of the familyless who wished to seek em out knew they could find em there. A twinge of arthritis reminded em of eir age. Ey didn’t know how old ey was. Like many familyless Tsouchm had no one to remember eir birthing and no younglings to count the years by. But eir hair had grayed several years ago, so ey was probably of an age with Chotaikytsai.

One of eir neighbors stopped by, needing information on what families were hiring for day-labor. They haggle briefly, but Tsouchm’s heart wasn’t in it.

Unlike proper families, the groups the familyless formed were all the same age. When those eir age were banding together, Tsouchm had been taking care of eir cenn. Cenn had been part of a group, but they all died either before Tsouchm was born or while ey was very little. So ey and eir cenn had no one else. Tsouchm could only have joined a group by leaving eir cenn to die alone. And ey refused to do that.

By the time eir cenn finally died, ey had a reputation as a loner. Even if the groups forming by then would have been willing to accept someone older, everyone just assumed Tsouchm wanted nothing to do with any group. And ey had been too proud to ask.

So Tsouchm made a badge of eir alone-ness instead. And it had worked for em. Ey was known and respected not just by the family-less but also by some of the families. Ey had even done business a few times with members of the council. And ey never looked back.

It was a bold thing these strangers were doing. They had to have had families. No one born to familyless-ness would have considered it. To start a new family with strangers, trusting that the belief in family and what it meant would be enough to bind them together for generations.

Tsouchm grimaced. Old age was making em too prone to endless thinking and not enough doing. But, ey admitted, in this case, there was a reason for that. What ey was thinking of doing scared em.

Slowly, Tsouchm stood up and headed for eir tiny room in the port district. Ey changed into eir one set of good clothing and strode back to the compound which was once the home of the color-work weaving family. Boldness and refusal to apologize for who ey was has gotten em this far. Ey would ride that current where it took em now.

Continue to:
Episode 11: The Grandparents

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