Raging Alone 2: Comfort

It is a verifiable fact that the desert barbarians have no love or even compassion for their offspring.

— Chasen dea Fabrin, Tears of the Abandoned Desert

Desòchu scuffed his feet as he trudged along the path. The stone underneath his bare feet was free of rocks and sharp edges; countless years of Shimusògo racing back and forth had blown clear even the smallest mote of dust from the smooth surface.

He sighed as he came up to one of the junctions along the path. It had a small bench looking out into the mile-long valley. A scorched pole had been impaled into the stone next to it.

In a few hours, children and teenagers would run around to hang lanterns on the pole’s hooks to light up the paths. It was part of the nightly tradition in the valley. It was also tedious and annoying but it was better than being forced to carry garbage out after dinner.

He started to walk past the bench but noticed a bit of fabric fluttering around from the hook. When he noticed it looked like one of the orange straps Hyonèku wore around his thighs, he smirked. Gemènyo must have been pulling pranks again. Both of them were older than Desòchu but they acted much younger; Gemènyo had less of an excuse, he had already gone through his rite of passage and was considered an adult.

Shaking his head, he headed up to the upper levels and his home. The caves had been carved out of the sides of the valley years ago. The unoccupied ones were empty holes into the side of the valley. His home and the other populated ones had woven blankets covering the entrance; the fabric kept out the heat and wind.

He stopped in front of his own. It was a bright yellow blanket with four lines of dark red embroidery. The first was the clan name, Shimusògo. The other were his mother, father, and himself: Chyojímo, Hikòru, and his.

He stopped and pulled the blanket to the side. There would be a fifth name soon, within the week if nothing went wrong.

Desòchu hesitated. He had his doubts if there was going to be his sibling’s name on the blanket. The last four had ended abruptly, why would this one be any different?

Desòchu didn’t know if he could take seeing his mother in pain again. It wasn’t the physical discomfort of being pregnant that bothered him but the haunted look in her eyes after she lost her child.

He sighed and stepped back, letting the blanket slip from his hand to cover the entrance once again. He shook his head.

“No, I can’t do it.”

He took only a few steps before stopping. He had to remain. Kiramíro was right about him avoiding home. She was also right about his mother needing him.

A tear ran down his cheek. He wiped it away while he struggled to mask the emotions that were leaking down his cheeks. It took a few deep breaths before he could enter without breaking down.

Inside, the home cave opened up into a relatively large chamber with low couches forming a circle. A table made from southern wood stood in the center; that was where they ate meals when they weren’t down in the communal areas. On the far wall, one of the clan had painted a large mural of a feathered bird racing across the desert. It was a shimusogo dépa, the racing bird that the clan had been named after. He had never seen one but most of the adults talked about chasing them when they were running at high speeds.

He wiped his hands on his trousers and headed to his room. It was a much smaller quarter, maybe five or six feet across and an equal distance deep, but it had his bed and a pair of dressers in the same style as the table.

“Sòchu?”

He froze at his mother’s voice. She sounded broken and exhausted. Her thin voice didn’t even fill the room like it used to.

Sadness threatened to choke him again. “J-Just give me a second, Mama!” He fled to his room to wipe down and change into something cooler, a loose fitting red tunic. By the time he managed to return to the main room, he was once again in control of his emotions.

His mother smiled brightly as he entered her room. She was pale, her normally dark skin almost tan. Deep shadows hung underneath her eyes and her skin looked like it was sagging except for the large mound centered on her belly. Her hair was a mess, the tight curls reaching out in all directions but mostly leaning to the right.

“Sòchu!” Her smile seemed to make her glow.

“Hi, Mama.”

Her belly jerked and she pressed a hand to it.

Desòchu hesitated.

She patted the bedding next to her. “Come on, up on the bed. Please? I miss you.”

A flush on his cheeks, he crawled next to her. It took a moment for him to roll over as she slipped her arm underneath him.

As soon as he settled down, she leaned over and kissed the top of his head.

“Mama… I’m not a little boy.” He batted at her but didn’t have any force behind it.

“Hush, you will always be my baby,” she said with a smile. She kissed him again before slumping back against the wall.

“Are you okay?”

“Just a little tired, Sòchu. Everything seems to tire me out.”

He rubbed the side of his finger with his thumb for a moment. “Do you want me to leave?”

“No, please stay.” His mother squeezed him weakly and then groaned. Grunting, she turned slightly up on one hip and pointed to the small of her back. “C-Can you put a pillow there?”

Desòchu’s hands shook as he did. Then he mutely crawled around her to settle on her other side. It was a little cramped with her swollen belly but he managed to prop himself on the edge.

Chyojímo smiled broadly as him as she took his hand. “Thank you, my little river rock.”

He blushed.

She said nothing, just stroking his face. Her smile remained but it looked haunted to him.

“Are you going to be okay, Mama?”

“Of course. The last days are always the hardest.” He could see her eyes shimmering in the glow light hanging from the ceiling. She moved her hand down to his and squeezed. “It’s going to be okay this time, I promise. I promise,” she repeated.

He didn’t know what to say or do. Looking into her eyes, he rested his head against her palm and just smiled back.

They held each other for while. Her eyes moved back and forth as if she was trying to take him all in. He held himself still, balanced on the edge of the bed as he felt little kicks from her belly and the beat of his heart in his ears.

She broke the silence. “Are you looking forward to having a little sister or brother?”

“Y-Yes,” he said, his throat dry.

“Do you think it’s a boy or a girl?”

“A… a girl.”

“Do you know what we’re going to call her then? Piróma.”

“Piróma? Why?”

Chyojímo leaned back slightly, her back arching as she wiggled to get comfortable. “The first time your papa and I were on a job together, we ended up making a delivery to the Pirōma, a mountain clan. They grew these little juicy fruits called grapes. They would harvest and crush them before putting the juices into bottles to ferment into something called wine.”

Desòchu frowned, trying to picture it but failing.

“It was pretty strong, like bichíru, but sweeter. I really liked it but the bottles couldn’t survive the trip back. So all we had left was our memories.”

She smiled and stroked Desòchu’s cheek with her thumb. “That was the first time I realized I loved your papa and I don’t want to ever forget it.”

“What if you have a boy?” Desòchu asked.

“Oh, Rutejìmo.” She smiled sweetly.

“What does that mean, Mama?”

“The Tajìmo River ran in step with the Kesōchu River, the one you were named after. They came together just south of the Pirōma clan. Both of them watered the lands that made up the grape fields of the winery.”

She sighed happily and closed her eyes. “It was nice, I miss that region so much. Your papa and I were gone for almost a year for that job, it was one of the best years of my life.”

A little idea rose up. He wanted to do something, anything. “D-Do you think we can all go there? Just the… four of us? Maybe get a job that takes us to that part of the desert?”

The haunted look came back. “I’m sorry, we can’t.”

“Why?”

“It’s all gone…” She cleared her throat. “We can’t go back. Not anymore. Those places are in my head are nowhere else now. But when I look at you, I’m reminded of all those memories.” She smiled, leaned forward, and kissed the top of his head. “My sweet little river, I will always love you until the end of my days.”

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