Raging Alone 7: Duties
Desòchu woke up to his grandmother screaming.
“… steaming pile of castrated balls!” Her voice filled the room with a fury that brought on a reflexive shudder of fear.
He scrambled to his feet but his legs caught on his blankets. With sweat prickling his skin, he struggled to yank one free before either his father or grandmother called him.
Outside, his grandmother continued her tirade. “You know how to take care of a baby! Why didn’t you change his diaper!? He’s covered in spoiled milk and vomit! Why did you leave the milk skin in with him!? You know better!”
“You know this stuff! You know how to take care of a baby!”
Desòchu froze with one hand holding up his blanket. They were fighting over how he had left his brother last night. Tears burned in his eyes with fear. No one had ever told him how to take care of a baby. His father never explained anything, he had just went to bed.
“Listen, you loud-mouthed goat! I didn’t do those things! I know better!”
“You are blaming the boy instead of yourself?”
Rutejìmo’s cry rose in a high pitched whine.
“Yes! He’s the one who did it!” Desòchu could almost hear his father pointing.
“Did you tell him how to take care of a newborn?”
“No, of course not. Why—?”
“Then how would a fourteen year old know what to do!?”
Desòchu flushed. He yanked a shirt on and then started toward the entrance.
“Then he should have asked!” his father roared back. “He’s smart enough!”
Desòchu didn’t think either of them would stop yelling soon. He took a deep breath and steeled himself before entering the main room.
Tejíko knelt with one knee on the couch. She had a blanket spread out across the other cushions with an almost naked Rutejìmo flailing in the middle. Her eyes never left his father’s face while she smeared on something white and thick across the baby’s rear and penis. Her movements were curt but the baby didn’t seem to mind.
Hikòru stood near his own room on the opposite side of the living room. His face was dark with rage and he seemed to have forgotten the bottle in his hand. His eyes flickered from one side to the other.
Desòchu stepped toward his room.
His father caught sight of him. Hikòru pointed accusingly at Desòchu with two long fingers. “Boy! You—!”
Desòchu’s grandmother threw a bag at his father. “Don’t blame him!”
His father batted the bag away and it hit the wall next to him. A clay jar from the pack fell out and shattered against the stone floor. He stepped over the mess and pointed back to his mother. “Boy, deal with the old goat.”
Desòchu gulped but started toward the couch.
Hikòru turned and headed for the outside.
“Asshole!” snapped Tejíko. “Where are you going?”
“You have a child who needs you!”
Hikòru spun on his heels. “I don’t want it, Mother! I never wanted Chyojímo to try again and now I lost her because of it!”
Tejíko’s eyes shimmered with tears. “I also lost a daughter yesterday.”
“She wasn’t your child,” he said with a growl. “I’m your son, not her. Me.”
“How could you say that, Kòru? You both were my children. For twenty years, she’s been in my life. I spent countless dinners together, chased Shimusogo for thousands of miles next to both of you, and I held her hand when she lost so many.” Tejíko sniffed and wiped a tear from her face. “I lost… someone precious to me.”
Tejíko’s jaw opened in shock.
“I see what you’re already doing. Yesterday you were calling her Chyojímo. Today, it is just ‘her.’ Tomorrow you won’t even pretend she had ever existed. You even had someone take down our name on the entrance.”
“I took it down. I will embroider—”
“Yes, you! You and your traditions. The second my Chyojímo dies, you steal the rest of our names. Just like you did with Rifòma!”
Tejíko flinched at her late husband’s name.
Hikòru smacked the stone wall next to him. “That’s your way, the way. You and your traditions, Mother. Well, your tradition isn’t helping me right now, is it?”
“Boy, you need to stop—”
“Enjoy your horse shit.” Hikòru turned and stormed out of the room. “Do what you want, Mother. Take it and get out of my life!”
Tejíko let out a choked sound.
Desòchu’s father gestured rudely with his thumb and then stormed out.
She stared at the door for a moment and then sniffed. Tears ran down her cheeks as her eyes shimmered in the light. Then she wiped her face before turning back to change Rutejìmo.
Desòchu sniffed and rubbed his face too. “I-I’m sorry, Grandmama.”
She jumped. “Oh, Sòchu! I had forgotten you were there.”
When she held out her arm, he came over and she hugged him.
He turned his head to rest on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know I did something wrong. I thought I did the right thing, I really did, Grandmama. I really did.”
Tejíko squeezed him tightly and then kissed him. “It’s okay. No harm, he just messed up the crib. We can clean that up. Same with little Jìmo’s rash.”
“Is papa really going to…?”
Tejíko shook her head. “We are all struggling with Chyo… your mother’s death.”
She worked in silence, using a cloth to pat Rutejìmo’s body dry and then to wrap a fresh diaper around his bottom. She had four pins which she used to fix the fabric into place. The red material looked stark compared to Rutejìmo’s darker skin.
“Why don’t we talk about it?”
Tejíko gave him a heart-breaking look for a moment. Then she turned back to Rutejìmo before speaking quietly. “Mifúno has her now.”
“The desert, why does Mi—?”
She held up a finger. “Don’t say her name too often. The desert is where all things are born and all things go when they die. She is cruel. She takes when you need someone the most, like my… my husband.”
Desòchu sank on the couch across from her and reached down to his brother.
Rutejìmo grabbed his fingers firmly.
He smiled and tugged on the tiny fingers as his grandmother started to speak.
“It didn’t matter if… he fought to save those farmers from that sandstorm, she still took him. He tried so hard to find that little girl but the wind threw him into the well.”
A choked sob rose in her throat. She pressed her palms tight against her chest for a moment. “I-I saw that he broke his fingers trying to hold himself up. His leg was broken from the… fall. I have no doubt he swam but she still took him in the end.”
“A-And the little girl?”
“Crushed to death when a wall fell on her.” When she looked up, her eyes were shimmering. “Naming the desert is to ask for death in your life. To dwell on it is the same. We don’t speak of the dead because the desert hears everything and she listens.”
She closed her eyes tightly and wiped her face with her shoulder. “You can’t dwell on death, Desòchu. If you do, you are asking the desert to pay attention to you and no one survives long when she watching.”
Tejíko chuckled. “All this talk of death may have brought her attention upon us… me.”
Tejíko seemed to gather her thoughts. When she spoke again, her voice was steadier. “So we let the dead deal with the dead and we focus on the living. Like little Rutejìmo here.”
“Did Rutejìmo kill—”
Tejíko looked at him sharply.
Desòchu closed his mouth.
“It doesn’t matter why death comes to us, not anymore.”
It wasn’t an answer.
Tejíko tapped the couch. “Here, let me show you how to change him. He’s your brother, so you might as well learn how since he may only have to take care of him. Until your rites, he’ll be your responsibility.”
“Hikòru will calm down, he is just grieving.”