Sachen and her family was having dinner, as typical of them, and one might expect that they would eat without any interruption. Perhaps it should have been that way. But in fact, Datai and Saraji stirred into commotion. Sachen had finished her stir-fried noodles, to which the flavor stunned her mouth for a moment. From the table, sitting alongside Monkhuba, Sachen overheard her parent’s conversations.
“Datai, you don’t even know what you are talking about!” Saraji said, she was washing the dishes at the sink. “Monkhuba’s birthday is coming up next month, and you want to spend all of our hard-earned money on a vacation?! Where shall we go anyway?!”
“Why worry so much Saraji?” said Datai, he chuckled. “It’s all on the house for our little boy, who will be turning four. Let’s give him a chance to celebrate for the sake of having fun. Heck, I want to take him to the mountains, where we can sightsee the beauty of the landscape and even try the latest cable cars.”
“We can have fun at our own home. I will provide the best food and the best presents for Monkhuba, with my own hands. I am working overtime for the past three months, and I have to save money for the kids’ futures!”
“Don’t strain yourself my dear. Like I said, if the kid wants to laugh and giggle, then let him. Besides, we’re well-off already, and we have huge savings in our account. Let us also be happy that our little boy is going to be attending school when his birthday comes.”
“His birthday? Hmph, as if you care! The last time Sachen’s birthday had occurred, you were out on the streets, drinking beer with your construction buddies! What makes you say that you will celebrate for Monkhuba at this time around?”
His face burning, Datai smacked his hands on the table. He let out a purr and shook his head. Sachen and Monkhuba laughed, the former almost broke her stomach. “T-that was supposed to be a secret!” said Datai. “How do you remember… no, how did you know that?!”
“Why wouldn’t I know? I sent Sachen to spy on you!” Datai glared at his daughter, and sniffled. He begged for forgiveness.
“Dad, I actually had to do that, I was worried about why you didn’t show up to my birthday party. Then when I left the house and went to the eastern district, I found you dead drunk on the street, and you were about to get ran over by a horse carriage.”
“That’s supposed to be none of your business. Besides, can’t a man like me spend some time with one’s companions?”
“I guess so. But are you going to say the same thing for my brother’s upcoming birthday?”
“No no, my little angel.” Her father clasped his hands, he trembled.
“In fact, I have promised myself that I would take the whole family out on vacation! I told my friends that I would hold off the drinking party for next month, and they were okay with it!”
“Hmm, are you sure about that?”
“Yes I am sure Sachen. Your dad would never lie!”
“You can say that.” Sachen wiggled her eyebrows. “Although truth be told, you said before that you were going to buy me pencils for my classes, but you fell asleep in your bed!” Sachen snickered as she brought her plate to her mother.
“Well… regarding that matter, haha,” Datai said. Sachen squinted, and she could tell that her father had more to say about it. He then pointed his finger towards the ceiling. “I promise one-hundred percent! This time, I will buy you a lifetime supply of pencils, but that is not important right now! What’s important is that Monkhuba will have a fantastic, magical time! Isn’t that right my son?”
The kid nodded, and he could not help but salivate. His lack of effort to complete his food struck Sachen in the nerves; she was about to yell at him. But she remembered one time where her scolding took too far – it did not end well. Grumbling and suppressing the urge to raise her voice, she grabbed a paper towel and wiped the stains on his cheeks.
“Monkhuba. You should eat properly you know? If you keep getting messy, then you will never finish your food! Don’t make me clean up your mess again.” Her brother cowered and pouted his lips, and Sachen patted his head. “Geez, don’t be hopeless. Your birthday is coming soon, so please Monkhuba, act proper for once.”
Once Monkhuba cleaned up his plate, Sachen gave it to her mother.
With the finest of her scrubs and sparkles in her efforts, Saraji polished the dirty dishwares in a matter of minutes. The soap and water drained down the sink, and Saraji broke in a sweat. She went up to her husband.
She crunched his shoulders. “Do you promised that you will give Monkhuba the best birthday ever?”
“Y-yes milady! I do!”
“Are you sure? Don’t lie under your teeth, or else I might have to punish you.”
“Anything but that! I will, I will!”
“Great! Then when the time comes, I will go with you all, to the mountains and to the resorts.” After Saraji and Datai nodded to each other, the former told the kids to go to sleep. Sachen stretched her arms and yawned, her mouth loosened. Beginning to bite her nails, she watched her mother with her frizzy, long hair. The girl felt the compulsion to ask her something. Although Sachen would ask her things every instance this time of the day would come, at this moment she could barely speak or yelp in calling for her mother. It must have been that Saraji realized her daughter was getting away it with too much. Her chest wrenched.
Sachen jumped off her chair and went to the kitchen. Pulling her mother’s tunics, Sachen whispered something in her ears.
“Mom… I want to go out alone again.”
“Huh?” Her mother pulled her face back. “Why must you go somewhere at night? These days, you are doing it every time I ask you to go to sleep.”
“It’s important to me. I don’t want to miss it out.”
“Well if you don’t want to miss anything, then why won’t you make plans prior to these times?”
A thread sewed Sachen’s lips, she swallow the truth. She couldn’t afford herself to say what her purpose was in her nightly excursions, as she could assume that either her mother or father would tail her. It felt to her, that she was becoming more like her father, excluding the part of being a drunk. She played around with her fingers and looked away from her parent. At this time did Saraji start to huff her breath.
“I just want to meet up with a friend, so that we can study together.”
Saraji scrunched her eyebrows. “You should have met up when you were at school!”
“I promise mother, that I will come back in an hour. Just let me please. Ah, later on, I will do the dishes for you, okay? How about that?”
Saraji sighed, she did it so much that she could fall asleep on the spot. She turned to her daughter, crossed her arms, and snapped her fingers. “Fine fine. Geez, this happens every time, and yet I have to say yes to you.”
“That’s because you trust me!” Sachen giggled, she beamed a crooked smile. The girl could have made more excuses to make things more believable for her parents, but one little lie was enough to subdue the suspicion and curiosity. In spite of that, the truth pile up like a landfill in Sachen’s mind.
Her parents and brother soon set themselves for sleep. They went to the bedroom, and shut the door. All quiet, Sachen grabbed her sandals from the carpet, and wore her emerald necklace – she headed outside.
The night air swirled into her nostrils, frosting her lungs. The chirpings of the crickets and the buzzings of the dragonflies amplified the empty streets. Sachen heated her hands with her breath. With the absence of the villagers outside, she could take this as a moment of delight, for she loved it so much that she might sing and dance to herself. But now it was not the time, for she had something important to do.
“I have to find him… yes, Kuraizang. Right away, I need to get him back home, no matter what the cost. I am not sure at this time, that Kuraizang is in the forest; but even if he is, the gates are heavily fortified with guards, so there’s no chance that I can break through! I need to look around the village. It is possible that the High Order is stashing him somewhere in some cellar, some tavern or something, I am not sure. Goodness, I could have asked anybody, but doing so would arouse them into skepticism… but, I still need to do this. Now, this is my 12th or 13th attempt, and I must not waste time.”
Thus Sachen roamed about the village. She went to the northern district first, where the food stands stood barren and quiet. The woodwork and the metal structure of the facilities creaked and moaned, cancelling out the sounds of the insects. The moonlight glimmered on the cobblestone, and it lighted the way for Sachen to stroll to and fro.
She rubbed her arms, and inspected every spot and corner of the place.
Black hair and starry eyes, Sachen could not mistaken Kuraizang for anybody else; if a ghost were to come out having the same characteristics as the vice-president, then Sachen would get herself in great fright.
She slowed down. From here to there, crickets jumped from their own shadows, and their beady eyes startled the girl. They hopped forward, making their way to the end of the food stands. Sachen was unable to find Kuraizang here, and without knowing what to do, she followed the bugs. They gathered around an empty space to the right of Sachen, and they danced and chirped before they departed in the darkness. What seemed to be a trick, turned out otherwise. She turned to the space, and her heart carved itself open. Her eyes melted, her drive to find her classmate came into a temporary halt.
“This is still here… the mound I made for her.” Sachen bowed, her fingers dug the dirt. She gritted her teeth and mewled. Tears could barely come out. In memoriam of Usheniko, Sachen afforded her efforts to making a simple, soil-made mass among the emptiness of the place.
Sachen drew her eyes to the mound itself. Next to the stick to which she implanted a while back, a lavender flower bloomed in wake. Its scent sweetened her nose. Such a speck of beauty, with its color shining more so than the moonlight and its petals fluttering, marveled the girl.
“Who had put it here?” Sachen caressed its petals, and it calmed her down. She brought a smile; after a long time, she thought about her best friend, the one that Sachen purposely swayed away in light of her own problems. “I bet it’s her. She is a kind girl isn’t she? Unlike me. Well, I have to keep searching for him. Don’t worry Usheniko, I’ll bring him back so that you can rest in peace. But… how can you tell that he will be in trouble? It seems like-”
Something then paralyzed her.
The air became heavy. Her necklace was clacking on its own. Sachen got up and scanned her vicinity. Gazing down to her chest, a slender finger was flicking the jewelry. Sachen perspired, her lips stuttered.
From the corners of her eyes, a figure that looked like an apparition manifested. Tattered clothes shrouded the entire body, and the hood masked the face. Sachen jolted to the side. The sight of the individual made her want to run away, but as much as she desired to do so, the influx of her anxiety weighed down on her legs. The more she gleamed at him or her, the more she felt like yelling for help. But being alone, there was no way of avoiding this.
The person then removed the hood. Sharp eyes like sabers, lips that softened among the starlight, and unkempt hair, it was her the whole time. What was she doing here? Perhaps that she was taking a stroll, or that she wanted to harass random strangers. From the bottom of the lung, the person snarled. She glared at the girl.
Sachen held her tunic, and she heeled her sandals against the cobblestone.
“What do you want? Are you here to hurt me, like what you did to your mother?”
The figure laughed, and she then showed a smirk. “Oh my, oh my Sachen, you don’t have to be so rude. And can I ask what you are doing here?”
Sachen hissed. “Go away, I don’t want to see you… Azukunika.”
The lady’s presence forged a dent on the girl’s head. She balled her hands into fists and lunged one foot forward.
“Do you dare to fight? Go on ahead, I’ll end you in no time, haha!”
Azukunika wagged her finger, and she said something in a low voice.
She turned to the moon. “I remember your face in the service. You were terribly ridden with rage when you found out that Usheniko was the criminal. Was it really that surprising? I felt that you were about to jump into the stage and attack me!”
“Be quiet, you. It is injustice for you to convict your mother like that without evidence.”
“Oh?” Azukunika moved her hips, she stretched her legs. “Well at least it’s over. Now I have the luxury to do anything I want, for I have done the duty that the Lama had assigned to me after the execution of that witch. I think of going back to prison tomorrow… I forgot, I have to do one more thing before my departure! Of course, I ain’t going to tell you.” Azukunika’s eyes darkened, much darker than the night sky. The corners of her lips sharpened. She giggled, then she shut her mouth. “I don’t want to repeat the same thing over and over again… but you better be careful of yourself. That’s what I told to Neha once.”
“What? You met Neha?”
Azukunika nodded. “I met her in the neighborhood. She was mad, although she did not threaten and hurt me at all, for she is a weak girl. But she has something in her heart.”
“Yes… with that something, she will be of great use for the High Order. Goodness gracious, they really need a female candidate now, or else the village will be in trouble. But we are already in trouble – those damn barbarians are still attacking us! Not that it matters much to me anyways, oh well!” Azukunika walked away from the moonlight and shrouded herself in the umbrage. She raised her voice, which made Sachen jump to the empty space.
“Sachen my dear, you should forget. That way, you don’t have to worry about anything, including your amateur quest of what you are doing right now. Kuraizang, you don’t even want to know where he is.”
“Why should I forget?” Sachen asked. “He is in danger!”
“Danger? He is in good hands now. What gives you the right to find him? Because you want to make something meaningful out of yourself? Because you don’t trust the likes of us? Don’t even bother anymore – or else you’ll regret turning back.” Leaving with those words, Azukunika left the area. Sachen smacked her sandals at the gravels and rocks, her mouth sealed itself shut for a moment. She turned her eyes to the mound, and whimpered.
“That meanie… who does she think she is? Do you know why she is resentful? I bet you know the answer. But I shouldn’t leave you with such a question. Just be happy in heaven… okay? I got to go now!”
Sachen departed from the western district, resuming her search. The words of Azukunika carouseled around her head, and as she struggled to ignore them, the woman herself began to flash before her eyes. Her face, her demeanor, her way of talking, it all bedeviled Sachen; that there was something odd within Azukunika, Sachen couldn’t propose a single explanation. It was like she was too different to be part of Usheniko’s life, a complete contrast in every aspect.
The girl then scoured at every area of the village. The neighborhoods, the open-air markets, the fence containing sleeping livestock, the taverns, and other buildings, she squirmed through the corners and gaps. She called Kuraizang’s name as loud as ever, her lungs burst and she panted. Below her feet, shadows of objects moved, and it led Sachen to think that Kuraizang was on the run. She sighed when she realized the notion to be false.
Reaching the temple area, where all doors and windows were shut, Sachen stared aimlessly at the left tower. A star brightened and stuck itself on the peak. She awed and gasped at the sight. She magneted her gaze to the front doors. A group of guards were on patrol, they grunted every time they took two steps. According to rumors, there was an incident inside the temple that almost cost the life of one of the Lama’s associates – supposedly, a person that Neha knew got involved. It resulted in the temple being close early in the evening, and also being close for two Sundays, which brought a lot of villagers into a rage. The first thing that Sachen had in mind was joy. Now for at least a while, she didn’t have to go to service.
Sachen left the southern district. She targeted her goal to the east, the place that was not in her mind until now. From a lack of oxygen, her head and chest contracted. Sachen slowed down her pace, and dangled her arms and feet. Wheezing like an old woman, she slowly regained herself. She then arrived at the school. Soon there, a march of footsteps convulsed the school grounds. Sachen hid behind the gates. She let herself hear the sound coming closer and closer. It wasn’t until she saw a blinding light, that she turned around.
“What the?” Sachen twisted her tongue. A fire blazed on a stick – a soldier was holding it. The personnel, in armor and in a hood, seemed to be alone. But upon scrutiny, there were ten more fellows besides him, all of them were circling around the building. Their presence piqued the interest of the girl; she listened attentively, and started to catch every word that their running mouths disseminated. Lucky for her, their voices were boisterous, so everything they said was clear and crisp.
She stood there for a couple of minutes. Over the period, she heard something along the lines of ‘military inspection’, ‘preparations’, and ‘afternoon raid’. Such words were foreign to her ears, but nevertheless did Sachen retain it in her head. The soldiers continued their conversations, they gawked more towards each other’s faces than their surroundings. They accompanied their talks with cackles, the shadows of their face lightened themselves up more than the torch.
They spoke topics pertaining to the use of force and the emphasis of their operation on the school. They also mentioned of a person that would lead the plan; they referred to a man who was chubby and had a bushy moustache. Sachen wrapped her hands around her chest, her face tightened. She could barely believe it with her own ears. It chilled her bones and hammered the sides of her head. She resisted against the urge to replay their conversations in her mind, for the fear that it would mesmerize her. All too real their talks were, Sachen ran off.
“I have to remember this. Better yet, I have to tell this to someone.”