Planting Life in a Dying City: Tsouchm (S2, E8)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

Tsouchm and Tchyawfu spoke of small things on the way home. Tchyawfu, unlike Tsouchm, was part of a ‘pseudofamily’ and had news to share of what eir partners were up to. The few children they had had were gone, living their own lives. Some with partners of their own, one going Tsouchm’s route and living a solitary life. One had taken ship on one of the great trading boats that crossed the sea and had not returned.

Nor had Tchyawfu expected em to, of course. The great sea voyages were safe enough except during the bright days, but the land on the other side of it… Who could say? The great sailing families did well, but the familyless who sailed with them did not return as often as not. And the child had always had what Tchyawfu called ‘an itchy foot.’

Lefeng nodded with understanding. “Itchy. That is a good way to say it. My feet itch, sometimes now. But not so much as I feared they would. Ey would have done well in the mountains, perhaps.”

Tchyawfu turned over eir hands in a small shrug. “Perhaps in a different cycle, but in this one?”

It was Tsouchm’s turn to nod. “I have heard you say that one who walks the mountains alone has a fool for a trail partner.”


Little else was said until they reached the gate. While they waited for Paiokp to answer their ring, Lefeng glared at the broken barrier. “Fixing that must be our next priority.”

Tsouchm clapped eir on the shoulder. “Protective one.”

Lefeng blinked, “That is not…” ey stopped. “Am I truly?”

“Is it such a surprise?”

“I have been so named before. I am not… I was never…”

The gate opened before ey could put thoughts to words. Tsouchm said what seemed obvious to em, “You have lost much. Is it any wonder you do not wish to lose again?”

“Oh…” Ey blinked then, blinked again. “Forgive me, friend of my parent. I think… I think I must excuse myself…”

Tchyawfu looked between Tsouchm and Lefeng. “Yes?”

Tsouchm watched in concern, Tchyawfu in confusion, as Lefeng hurried away.

Paiokp, standing by the open gate, cleared eir throat. “My parent? You have a guest?”

“Yes,” Tsouchm struggled to pull eir attention back to the present. “This is an old friend of mine. Ey is known as Tchyawfu.”

Paiokp nodded, “Welcome, friend. Excuse me.”

Ey closed the gate behind them and slouched away.

“Is this what a family is like?” Tchyawfu asked.

Tsouchm shook eir head. Ey knew why Lefeng, at least, was so rude but was not sure how to explain. Especially after Lefeng had worked so well with Tchyawfu all day.

“Come, let’s get some food and talk.”

To Tsouchm’s relief, Chotaikytsai was more open in eir welcome. “I apologize for my children,” ey said. “None of us came to this family without grief, but theirs is the most recent.”

Tchyawfu took the opening and asked how the family had come to be. So Chotaikytsai told the story of the wave, of Lefeng and Paiokp’s loss and Paiokp’s idea to start afresh, to create a new family.

“But while Lefeng suffers the grief of eir loss and throws eirself into our future, the caring one I fear is stagnating.”

Tchyawfu nodded. “No apology is needed, then. There are none of us untouched by grief.”

“Truth,” Tsouchm said.

“And more grief coming soon, it seems.” Tchyawfu narrowed eir eyes at Tsouchm. “You spoke of Chopaums.”

Tsouchm sighed. “A fear only. But the priests have plans.”

“You as well, I think.”

“I have hopes.” Tsouchm stirred the banked fire, causing embers to jump into the air. “I am no longer of the family-less, but still to be familyless is anchored in my heart and soul. I would not see this priest bring death upon those I grew up with and care for.

“And having been both now, familyless and familied, some things I see more clearly.”

Chotaikytsai slapped eir wrist to get em to leave the fire alone, then buried some tubers in the hot ashes. “You will join us for dinner, friend?”

“Ah… yes. Thank you.”

“Good.” Ey squatted down with them. “Our quick child and I might share some of that understanding, but I at least was never really part of the familyless. Ey… ey lived among you long enough to know some. But not to understand as my spouse does, in eir blood and current.”

“And what is it you see so clearly, then?”

Tsouchm shrugged, “Only this — if you had seen the chance I did — if someone you knew was creating a new family, would you seek to join them?”

“No!” Tchyawfu burst out. Then hesitated. “I mean… it is a dream. You know it well, Tsouchm, all of us dream of being part of a family when we are young. But…”

“But you are not young. And you have a family of your own.”

“What?” Tchyawfu and Chotaikytsai spoke at once. “What family could I possibly have?”

“You know.” Tsouchm met eir eyes steadily. “Why do you say you would not join a family?”

“Because I will not… leave… my partners…” ey trailed off as Tsouchm smiled.

“Your partners. Your spouses. You have a family. It is a different kind of family. But still a family.”

Chotaikytsai closed her gaping jaw. “You… are right. You are right, for if any of my old spouses had survived, but none of the grandparents or children, still we would have been family.”

Tchyawfu was still staring. “But. But…”

“We are not bound as a family,” Tsouchm said. “We have not gone before tree or wave. But still, we name ourselves spouses, children, parents.

“It was our protective one who threw it in our faces — asked if the council refused us permission would we… stop being family, go our separate ways?

“Of course not. We have made promises to each other. So we are, whether the council recognizes us or not.”

Now Tchyawfu started out of eir shock, “Whether the council recognizes you or not?”

“Just so.”

“And you say we are family? My partners and I?”

Tsouchm reverted to familyless courtesy and took Tchyawfu’s shoulder, shaking em. “My friend, why does it matter what I say?

“What do you say?”

Blinking as if ey had stepped into bright sunlight, ey whispered, “Yes.”

Return to:
Planting Life Season 1 Episode 1
Tsouchm Episode 1
Planting Life S2 E7

Continue to:
Planting Life S2 Finale

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