Sachen examined Neha’s foot. Seeing her skin reddening, she squealed.
“Neha, this looks awful!”
Neha whimpered and held back her tears. “I think I might have sprained my ankle. I can’t stand up.” Sachen rubbed the afflicted area with her hands. Neha yelped. “D-don’t do that!”
Sachen sighed. She glanced at the trees, trying to find anything that she could use for treatment. From leaves, to barks, to even a pluck of feather, she hoped to utilize them. As little as she knew how to even make something from these resources, she needed to help her friend.
Going to the doctor at this time was a stretch, and Sachen would have to steal a wagon or a cart in order to get there fast. Waiting for somebody to come was out of the question – whether a soldier, a foreigner, or even a person from their community, it could guarantee them trouble. As the afternoon was closing, it was necessary to leave the area as early as possible.
Neha’s foot contracting and blistering, she bellowed. She clutched her chest and squeezed her eyes. The pain penetrated her nerves, giving her no room to relax.
Sachen seethed. She found nothing upon the trees. She could only stroke her friend’s head.
“It’s going to be all right. But we shouldn’t stay here for long.”
“I know. I-I’m sorry, that I tripped. I’m rather clumsy am I? I can’t run through these trees without anticipating the chance to fall down or to get hurt so often, that I feel like I need to be in a bubble… but how can-”
Sachen covered Neha’s ears with her hands. “Ah, you’re talking too much! Don’t worry about it!”
The wound was throbbing like a heart, the redness of it shined. “This looks like a minor injury,” Sachen said. “It might not be a concern in a long run.”
“B-but I can’t stand up or even walk without feeling the bump…”
“That’s why I am here! If you can’t, then I’ll just have to help you! But first, you must let your fright go away.”
Sachen took a deep breath. Neha did the same thing, easing herself off from the tension. Sachen stood up and brought Neha, the latter twinged.
“It still hurts. I don’t think I can make it far by walking.”
Sachen smirked. “What are you saying? Walking? Why in the world should you walk now?”
“Huh? You’re confusing me there…”
Sachen turned around. Her hands hovering near her hips, she wagged them. “Hop on my back, I’ll carry you!”
Neha squirmed. “C-carry me? You possibly can’t. I am too heavy for you.”
“Hahaha! You are not certainly heavy! Well, don’t keep me waiting here, and hop behind me, so that I can get you out of here!”
Sachen crowned the wreath on Neha’s head, and it made the latter blush. Her face glistened more than her wound itself. It was as though she had become a queen, with Sachen being the throne.
Neha looked to her sides. Her voice stammered, and her fingers convulsed. Then nodding, Neha approached Sachen’s back. She wrapped her arms above her friend’s shoulders. At once, Neha hopped.
She almost twisted her foot again, and the pain itched her skin. In time did Neha land on her back. Sachen’s face bloated, and she turned blue.
“My goodness… you’re not heavy at all! This is fine, this is totally fine! Well then Neha, let’s get going!”
With Neha clinging on like a baby, Sachen was ready. She took her first step forward, and she teetered. The weight of Neha was gravitating Sachen to the pile of leaves behind her. Straining her knees, Sachen maintained her composure. This was better said than done. But the girls had to get out of here. They might end up like the logs on the river otherwise, and such a thought left them in quivers.
Sachen took her first step again, and the next one, and the next one, so forth. She did this at a snail’s pace. Watching her feet and paying attention to Neha were too important to ignore. Sachen then stopped; her calves began to burn, and the heat blanketed her face. She wanted to take a break and beat her chest. But with Neha starting to whimper, Sachen resumed her efforts. Not more than a few seconds in, a pulse punched her stomach. The gears in her head clicked and motored, she could feel the frictionizing sparks zapping her. She displayed a grin.
Her legs cooling down a bit, Sachen bolted away from her original position. She dashed and dodged the trees in her way, and blew away the dragonflies with a puff. Neha sweated, she tightened her grip on Sachen’s neck.
With the exertion of her strength, Sachen headed to the border where they first entered the forest. The eastern gate being in their sights, the two girls groaned and sighed. Sachen zoomed to the doors. The guards were sleeping there, and they mumbled to themselves. From the flush of their faces, they seemed to be drunk. The tavern was a few block aways from here, so they might have been drinking for a while. The girls then slipped through the gate, and Sachen slowed down her pace. Neha wiggled her lips, her face tensed a little.
“We’re finally here! See Neha, I told you we can make it!”
“I-I had doubts… never mind.”
Neha knocked her face against Sachen’s shoulders, and she buried herself with a flush. The girls then went to the western district. It was a place where most of the villagers resided in a single neighborhood. On both sides of their vicinity were rows of lumber-made houses. Flowers and squirrels occupied the roofs and the doorsteps, all of them shivering upon the arrival of the duo.
A couple of blocks in, and they arrived at their houses. Being next to each other, they had lived their whole lives as neighbors. Every morning and evening, they would see themselves through the windows and make funny faces. Their friendship couldn’t get anymore closer.
From Neha’s house, the door opened. A woman emerged from there, and she walked down the doorsteps, looking around. The girls hid in the bushes besides them. Holding a pale complexion, the sunlight pricked and blotched her skin, easy for her to get itches. Her cheeks sunk in her face. Her hair was falling out, and a lack of wrinkles made it seemed that she was a ghost.
“Hey, it’s your mom,” Sachen said.
“Y-yeah. I wonder why she’s out right now-”
Sachen zipped her friend’s lips. From her side, a person in armor walked by. He then approached Neha’s mother and bowed down. He was carrying a sack, something inside was clacking.
His hair sparkling, his eyes looking like comets, Neha wiggled.
Steam blew from the top of her head, she closed her eyes shut. On the person’s right arm, it held a silver chevron, which signified his status as a junior officer in the Holy Army, a rank that was below a senior officer.
“It’s that guy, the one that your mom always see now and then,”
Sachen said. “You know, you have quite a fancy for him every time he shows up.”
“No I don’t!” The crimson marinated Neha’s face. “It’s just that I get nervous around him, you know? He’s so handsome, I can say.” Neha continued to move around, she couldn’t contain her blush.
“Handsome? He looks like every other person, to be honest.”
At the man’s right hip, a gold chain dangled, and there was a bulge in his pocket. No sooner did Neha tempt herself to open her hands and want to grab it, but her arms fell into numbness.
The girls sewed their mouths, and through the bushes, their eyes poked out. They held their breaths and eyed on the individuals there.
The man gave the mother the sack, and the latter untied it. “Tulisen, thank you for the allowance. I wouldn’t know what to do if you have not come this week. I really need the money.”
“No problem, my fair lady,” Tulisen said. “After all, you need to get that medication again, the price for it is so high and limited in quantity.”
“I know, the extractors from the north are breaking their bones, from picking the right plants to confirming its composition.” Neha’s mother squinted, and she puckered her lips. “By the way, where are you going off today? Surely it must not be another meeting from the High Order right?”
“As much as I don’t want to go, Aijin, I have to. It’s my job as a junior officer to go to meetings for the regulation of logistics and manpower. I hear that the troops are getting weary from the western campaign.”
Aijin wrapped her stomach. Haze infested her eyes.
“The west… that’s where he still is right?”
“‘He?’ You mean him? Yes.”
“Oh, I am so worried about him, that I can’t go to sleep at night without having demons prancing and pounding on my chest! I miss him so, I wish he can come back!”
“Don’t fret Aijin, one day he will. Besides, the campaign will be over soon.” Tulisen set his eyes on his watch. He jumped back from the doorsteps. “Ah, I have to go to the meeting madam. Have a nice day!”
Tulisen dashed off, and Aijin gave her thanks. She closed the door Leaving the bushes, Neha and Sachen walked to the former’s house, and knocked. The mother showed up again and pouted when seeing Neha.
“Sweetie, where were you? It has been almost the whole day.”
“I have told you in the morning mother, did you forget?”
“Actually, I think I did,” her mother said, she scratched her neck.
Sachen stepped in. “We went to the forest and played by the river. When we were about to go back home, Neha tripped, and she got a bad wound on her foot.”
Aijin clicked her teeth. She looked at Neha’s wound. The redness subsiding, the mother shook her head and wrinkled her forehead as if there was still something wrong. Bringing the girls inside the house, Sachen placed Neha on the couch. The dust and cottons from the cushion tickled Neha’s nose, she then sneezed. To the left of the couch was the kitchen area. Utensils and food crumbs littered the stove and tables. The oven in the corner roared plumes of smoke, sending it to the ceiling. Barrels and crates of dishware laid on the ground, unopened; the mother had not touched them for a while.
Aijin rubbed some herbs on her daughter’s wound. It bit and burned Neha, and she let out a huge sigh.
“It’s not severe as I thought,” Aijin said. She then wrapped her daughter’s left foot with a gauze. “Well thanks anyway Sachen, for bringing her here. I appreciate it.”
“No problem. We were having fun the whole day, nothing serious at all. I have to go back to my house now, I don’t want to be late for supper.”
“Okay… bye Sachen. And thank you for carrying me all the way back.”
Sachen waved at Neha, and she departed. Neha turned to her mother.
“Mother, how long is it going to heal?”
Her daughter gleaming, Aijin’s eyes twitched. She scratched her neck again, and a waterfall of sweat drowned her face. She uttered gibberish under her breath, she then peeked at the kitchen.
“Oh I don’t know, maybe about two days, if you don’t walk around and stay on the couch.”
“Two days? That’s a relief. I thought it’s going to be forever.”
“Forever, forever you say. If you want it to be like that, then you can stay in the living room, and for that matter, you shouldn’t do strenuous exercise! You’re just nine years old, there is no need to push yourself that much. By the way, I am starting to remember what you said to me about your outing before you left this morning. Why did you bother to visit Usheniko? Do you know that she is a lunatic, along with her family, that she is only scamming people for money?”
“Why must you say that? Usheniko is a nice woman, she wouldn’t even scam people out of their pockets.”
“Nice? Is she nicer than me?”
“Well, I can’t compare.”
Aijin stuck out her lower lip. “I don’t believe a single bit of her fortunes anyway! There are rumors that Usheniko’s daughter is here from prison, with the intention to visit her mother, which I think they could make themselves a boisterous pair. She should stay behind bars, from that treasonous act two years back! Also, how did you exactly get to the forest of the east? Did you get permission from the guards?”
“We merely snuck past them. They were sleeping.”
“Hmph! Sleeping?! I should have whooped their behinds if I were an officer! How dare they, not being aware that two little ones like you were scurrying through the gate! It doesn’t matter anyway, as you two were not caught by the authorities”
Aijin darted to the kitchen, disposed the burnt bread from the oven, and doused the flames inside with a sprinkle of water. She extracted every crumb from the area, throwing them in the trash. She then reached for the cupboard, and her fingers slithered through cans and bottles in search for blueberries. Her knuckles knocking the cans to the ground, Aijin growled and bit her lips. Neha watched her, she mewled.
Such an expression from her mother, Neha tend to see it now and then.
She wanted to help, but her injury was weighing her down.
After some minutes, Aijin retrieved a pouch that was full of blueberries. She ripped it open and poured the fruit into a pot. Along with water and a pinch of sugar, she stirred the ingredients with a wooden spoon. Slanting her body to the side, Aijin jerked the spoon and clanged it to the rim of the pot; she then thumped the utensil at the bottom, splashing the mix onto her clothes. She showed a bleak look on her face, and shrugged.
Finishing it, Aijin streamed the blueberry soup on a porcelain bowl.
She stuck a metal spoon in it, and gave it to Neha. Her daughter gave her thanks, she soon chowed down. Right away, the bittersweet taste strangled her cheeks and tongue. She sucked on the blueberry bits to get more of the flavor, squeezing herself. In a couple of minutes did she eat all of it. As she slurped the last bits, her face reflected before the soup.
From there, she drew out her breath; she recalled a memory.
“What’s the matter my dear?” Her mother put her hands around the bowl. “The soup is not thick enough? Here, let me get it for you.”
“N-no, it’s not that… it’s just… I miss my dad.”
“Your dad?” Aijin rolled her eyes and tapped her feet. “Why do you miss him? He barely cares about this place! All for some campaign in the west, how foolish he must be!”
“He has been gone for a year. I really miss him, and on the night of yesterday, I had a dream in which he arrived. He took me to outer space in gazed at the galaxies and the stars, before he vanished into thin air.”
“Oh, your dreams must be nothing more than nightmares. Don’t worry about the guy by the way. For eleven years, I endure every one of his jokes and banters about me. It’s apparent that he doesn’t take things seriously at all. I feel like I’m going to collapse in my bedroom and die if he utters one more joke. He is a neglectful one towards us, he had abandoned us one year ago for the sake of gaining prestige by fighting some barbarians. It shows how utterly vapid he his about us. Look at me Neha, look at me!” Aijin, retrieving the sack that Tulisen gave to her, chucked it to the floor. She grated her right foot on it, and gold coins spilled. “I am relying on a man’s treasure chest, a saintly knight for a lack of better words! He keeps on giving ten percent of his income to you and me every week, as a way to keep us afloat. I can’t get a single job due to my ‘condition’, and day by day, I am feeding on the hopes that everything will be okay – but nothing will be certainly okay, so as long as I live! If I can’t get a job soon, then I might lose this house, and if I lose this house, and my husband will leave me, and if I lose him, then I will lose you too! I will die from some random seizures or heart attack, and you will cry all day and night. I am ashamed of myself. I am an utter disgrace to him and you.”
Aijin plucked the gold coins from the floor and put them in the sack.
She tied it up and slammed it on the table. Soon she walked back to the kitchen, her eyes glaring at the pot. Neha contracted her lips, she couldn’t help but beg to the gods to cure her mother from her suffering.
It seemed as though this could last for the rest of their lives. Neha missed her father, she desired to find him; but with her mother being here, she had no choice but to stay put.
“Go eat your soup dear. And also, don’t forget that we have temple service on Sunday, so we shouldn’t miss it.”
“Temple service? Okay.”
“I heard that the High Order are going to hold an important meeting for the village. Something important…”
She mumbled to herself while she cleaned the pots and utensils at the sink. Neha set the bowl at the table. The succulent taste of the soup erased the pain and burns of her injury. Tired and sore, she took a nap on the couch.