It's an odd thing to think about, the personification of trees that is. If trees could tell stories, they'd be so much more interesting than what we perceive them to be. Countless lives are played out before them, catastrophes witnessed, and wars won and lost. Could it be that when their leaves rustle, they're just laughing at the sad sight we call humanity? Or could they actually be weeping in pity? For all we know, they make fun of us for every stupid thing we accomplish, which tends to be quite a bit. Trees balance everything out making it possible for us to live, but what do we do? We endlessly take what we can't replenish, giving into the cruel greed too many of us have learned. And what can the trees do about it? Nothing. The wisdom stored in one trunk can be nothing but a bystander to our own demise. It's depressing when you think about it like that, but that's what intrigues me when I sit here every Thursday morning.
A chilling spring breeze cuts across me and immediately I regret wearing shorts today. The dew-covered grass doesn’t help one bit because all it does is make my behind damp and uncomfortable. Jeez, what a dumb decision I made. Cicada chirps echo throughout the entire Nilm Forest, mocking me for my poor decisions. The trees must be having one of their jokes about it right about now.
The chimes from the village signal 9:00, inviting me to start my morning walk. With the market only open on Thursdays, it means I have to get a head start to make sure all the good items are still left. But, having done this routine for nearly 10 years, I barely even think about it anymore. It’s as regular as breathing to me. As for the two mile walk, it can be pretty mundane unless you learn how to occupy your mind the right way. I always just try to make shapes out of the shadows laid out on the pathway. With each step, a man is revealed, maybe a muskrat, or even the profile of a close friend. The whole thing depends on one’s imagination. Mine seems to be quite wild considering I see a man crying in despair next to his nagging wife. The two are situated in front of a roaring fire that engulfs the husband’s collection of porcelain teacups.
The familiar fading sign of Nioleme Market greets me with it’s usual, bland, red lettering. The two support ropes look close to ripping, the threads barely even connected to anything. Why they haven’t replaced it yet, I don’t know.
My eyes search for my first stop of the day: Mr. Wellsworth, an aging sixty something-year-old man with a heart of gold, who, knowing our family's tough financial standing, is quick to offer me discounts. Still, it’s pretty rare I accept such an offer. I’m not one to accept charity mostly because of this promise I have with myself. If I can’t do enough by myself for my father and me, well, I’ll start beating myself up. Not that I don’t appreciate it, don’t get me wrong. It just really affects my ego. Damn, I must sound like a really ungrateful bastard right now. Anyways, Mr. Wellsworth is like an uncle to me. His spirit is that of half his age and his quick wit draws us close. Not to mention his meats are the best in all of Nioleme.
Spotting his arched back and peppered hair, I trot to him and blurt louder than necessary, “Yo, Mr. Wellsworth!”
He whips around, clutching his chest. “Goodness me Nanami! Ya scared me ya did!”
“Sorry. Well, whatcha got today?” I ask eagerly.
He sighs and smiles, his grizzly gray beard moving up as he does. “Ya know the drill, look all ya want. No need for me to tell ya everything.” Straight to the point, but not without that joking tone.
A sort of smoky and gamey scent fills my lungs, sending a shudder through me. There’s nothing better than this aroma. Well, besides freshly baked cherry bread at least. My eyes shoot from one tenderloin to the next, noticing the varying prices as they go. “One pack of the zenu elk, one of the hog tenderloins, and two turkey breasts please.”
He grunts in understanding and starts to pack the meat into a small, brown bag. As his thick hands lay in the turkey, he asks, “How’s yer father doing these days?”
“Eh, better. He still can’t really walk, but he should be fine within a couple of weeks or so.”
“Good good, glad to hear it.” I hand him the gold pence, but as I do so, he takes hold of my hand, his smile gone. My hand starts to sweat as he tells me, “Ya tell yer father ter be careful now, ok? I don’t want somethin’ like that ter happen again.”
Boy, does he have a heater of a hand. “Thanks, I will.” My hand gasps for air when he lets me go.
“Anytime, my girl. Anytime.” And with a parting beam, he turns to a rusty oil lamp, dabbing it with an ash stained rag.
Putting the meat in my pack, I leave his stall and merge into the flowing crowd of elven folk, bodies of all shapes bumping into me as I attempt to find Finbarr’s stand. I feel like I’m drowning in a pool of body odor and sweat, my lungs becoming shallow and my shoulders tensing up. I can’t stand close contact.
Finbarr’s stand is hidden off to the side between a cart of spices and another of fresh bouquets. The air around it is barely tolerable with its scents of robust cayenne and affable lavender fighting for dominance against his already diluted fruits. No matter the lack of smell, his produce is the freshest and ripest anyone will ever find. I’d die to taste another urke melon of his before the summer ends. As wonderful as they are though, he doesn’t get as much business as the others, probably due to people being wary about his lack of experience at twenty-one. If there’s one negative Nioleme is famous for, it’s that the people here are highly judgemental.
His apricot head of hair makes its appearance and I gladly slide away from the incoming crowd of brutes. It’s funny really; he’s a walking produce stand of a man. His eyes match that of the lush collards he sells and his skin rivals the gentleness of a polu peach. The freckles on his face remind me of the rind of his melons, always perfectly spaced out and sparse. I hate to admit it, but he’s quite a looker.
A wide, white grin appears on his face as he sees who’s most likely his first customer of the day. Finbarr leans on his elbow, “Goooood morning Nanami! Doing your errands I see. What can I get you today?” That smile could melt ice caps, seriously.
“Let’s do a pound of carrots, three oppils, some spinach, and mulberries, please. Oh, and a watermelon.” The watermelon is a little more than I’d like to spend, but father may find it nice due to this great weather we’ve been having.
“You got it, sweetheart,” Finbarr replies with a wink as he begins to gather my desired groceries. “Good thing you’re getting the carrots now. Those old lopflies have been giving the crop hell these days.”
“Not surprised. Those things are as ravenous as I am at the Yiol harvest. Seriously, you should see me. Last year, I ate four pies and a whole pan of Trisa bread!” I feel myself gloating.
He laughs wholeheartedly, the creases at the corners of his eyes becoming apparent. “Is that so?” My heart flops in its socket.
I gulp as a moment of silence takes over the two of us, drowning me in a quiet moment of anxiety.
“Hey, Finbarr, would you maybe… want to...”
As I’m gathering my words, a familiar voice rings out behind me and sets the mood to a perfect setting of ‘awkward’. “Nanami! Hey, Nanami!”
Yantrika enters my sight as I irritably glance behind me. He looks like he’s nearing the end of a marathon, running with his last breath and pushing irritated people out of the way, all accompanied by the obnoxious pack on his back which causes him to trip every other step.
“Yantrika? What are you doing here?” And why are you ruining my one moment of pleasure? my mind seems to question.
After catching his exasperated breath, he answers, “Lydia. She’s not feeling well, like always, so I offered to do her shopping for her.” Yantrika beams and spins around, showing me the already obvious bag from a different angle. That thing is so large, it makes his meager height look even more depressing. His head doesn’t even reach the level of my chin.
“Don’t you think you went a little overboard there? There’s no way someone like her needs that much stuff. You’re not gonna impress her if you buy her too much. You’ll just come off as desperate.”
Yantrika pouts in the way he always does. “Isn’t it better to have too much of something than too little?” His eyes shift away from me. “And besides, I’m not trying to impress her. What would the point of that be?”
“Getting her attention obviously. It’s clear you like her. Whenever I see you it’s always, Lydia this and Lydia that. And by spending all your money on her, you’re a ‘prince in shining armor’, tending to her every whim tenfold. No girl can resist that, at least to your degree of thinking,” I state sarcastically.
A hue of pink shows through his otherwise olive face. “Aw, Nanami, you’re cruel. Robots can’t love; it’s not in our script too. You should know that better than anyone.”
“I do. But I also know that you’re a cyborg, not a robot. I’m positive that if you can blush at the mention of her name, then you sure as hell can love her too.”
Yantrika opens his mouth to rebuttal but quickly shuts it. He attempts to use his left charcoal bang to hide the remaining flush in his cheeks. Sad to say, it only makes it more obvious on the other side. At this point, Finbarr is slowing down on bagging my groceries in order to hear how this finishes out. He’s always been a sucker for gossip.
“To be honest Yantrika, messing with someone like her is just gonna end up hurting you. I think you’re better off programming yourself to look at other girls,” I say to his still flushed facade.
“For the last time, I don’t like Lydia!” Switching from relaxed yellow to violent red, his eyes take less than a second to deliver the message that I’ve gone far enough.