weekly (Another Night…) – 2

Manadan winced at the memory of the fine, detailed work he used to do. When he’d been able to see.

Four minutes.

Lifting the light cover, he sat up and dropped his own thin legs over the edge of the bed, his slippers still upon his feet from last night. His threadbare nightshirt barely softened the pricking grip of Hazhi’s pronged wingtips as the Sik-Wa settled immediately onto Manadan’s shoulder, the rough weight of his tail whisking back and forth along Manadan’s hunched back.

Manadan barely noticed the creature, beyond its habitual presence, as he focused on returning his breathing to normal. The first few minutes were always the worst, before he’d had his cho tea, when even sitting up in bed sucked the wind cruelly from his chest and made his muscles tremble with the effort.

Each morning, however, was the same, and each morning he silently cursed his damnable luck to be alive again as he slowly worked his heaving chest back under control and readied his muscles for the trip down the stairs and out to the privy.

He could easily have let rooms somewhere with a ground level occupancy; he even had the means to find a domicile with internal plumbing, but such options meant acceptance and, by direct association, failure.

This he would not tolerate.

With concentrated deliberateness, he levered himself down off the edge of the bed and upright with as little bending as possible. His thin legs only bore his weight with audible complaint, the snap and pop of his subdermal jurus cartilage slipping across the sudden gap between his femur and hermus sounding exactly like the arthritic, eighty-year old grandfather he distinctly was not.

One short step. Another.

The thin soles of his slippers husked across the worn pine board floor in tiny increments, stretching the length of the cramped little tenement into a voluminous expanse.

Hazhi balanced easily throughout the crossing, his serpentine tail moving in perfect opposition. He sniffed the stale air softly, then snapped lightly at a wandering goutfly, his elongated throat humming slightly as he digested.

As usual, Manadan’s own bowels began to act up before he was halfway across the bedroom, and the pressure upon his bladder took noticeable effort to defy. He knew the end result almost never matched the initial demand, but there was absolutely no way of being certain and the shame of again calling upon Eia and Sil’a, the brother and sister landlords, was unpalatable. So, each morning found him trapped in this disgraceful shuffling race to relieve himself properly, before he did so all over his floors.

Eleven steps and his arm lifted automatically to brush the doorway to the study. Four more and his other hand acknowledged the corner of the broad desk he’d once written his notes at. His fingers drifted slowly along the near edge as he moved past. The surface was tilted slightly, an improvement he’d picked up from the university scriptorium. A pinkie-wide groove ran the length of the lower edge, a small improvement he’d kept for himself. His palm grazed over the three pieces of chalk and stylus sitting in the space.

Unconsciously, and unavoidably, his finger checked the stylus tip: the fine point pricked him, sharp as it always was, as it had been since the morning he’d recounted the journey, unprepared for the sickness that came the next day.

Pushing aside these useless black thoughts he turned himself to the work of his feet and the placement of his hands as he ground his way onward through the study, around the high-backed chairs in the front room, and finally to the meagre front door.

Forty-three steps.

He breathed heavily for several moments, gathering his strength for the stairs beyond, and convincing himself that it was worth it.

Every single night he stood here, winded by the twelve and a half foot journey, sweating straight through his nightshirt, facing a door he couldn’t see, and preparing to endure another night of horrified stares, terrified whisperings, and vengeful curses. All in the name of duty.

Every night, as his bowels threatened and his very bones moaned in constant agony, he thought back across the tiny distance to the straw-filled bed. He wondered at himself, at his own plain stubborn nature, at his simple abject refusal to lie down for good. He wondered at his purpose, at why he felt the need to keep going, when those he helped only hated him, begrudged his assistance, and actively fled his presence.

Even his fellow guardsmen feared him, and as much as he wished to, he could not blame them for it. He was a pariah, tainted, and no sane person, D’nom or otherwise, would spend any more time than was absolutely necessary with one such as him. One who had paid the terrible price for his curiosity.

Gupti would arrive soon.

And so it went every night. Following the same train of dark consideration, he would teeter on the threshold of forward and backward, of achievement and refusal, of life and death, aching to let go, but every night, the routine and impending arrival of his mis-matched partner revealed these thoughts as mere self-indulgence. There never was any real question about his decision. They had a job to do, an oath they’d sworn, and Manadan was not one to quit.