A rod is a standard unit of measurement of sixteen and a half feet.
Desòchu sat outside of the family cave. He had a mug of cactus tea resting next to him, the heat from the heavy ceramic container contrasting to the cold air of the desert night. Below, the central fires were dying down and only a handful of the clan milled around as they finished their card and dice games.
It was a breezy but dark night. He couldn’t see the moon, only the eighty or so stars in the sky. They were almost peaceful compared to the rest of his day. He wondered what it would be like to spend his nights out on the desert, like the so-called night clans did. What did they do when they weren’t attacking sun clans like the Shimusògo? He didn’t really know anything about them, other than the horror stories the clan warriors told of battles in the past.
He let his mind drift to when his mother used to sit out on the ledge with him, telling him about the stars. Apparently, the eighty-eight bright points in the back sky wasn’t entirely true either. Other lands saw different stars. She didn’t know why but she knew the names of all eighty-eight of the fallen warriors that brightened the night.
A tear threatened to roll down his cheek. He wiped at it before anyone noticed.
The scuff of bare feet interrupted him.
He closed his eyes but didn’t look back.
“Happy birthday, Sòchu,” said Gemènyo in a low tone. His friend sat down next to Desòchu and let his feet dangle over the edge leading to the lower paths.
“Thanks.” Desòchu hadn’t had a long conversation with Gemènyo since the night he punched his friend. Except for a few words here and there, it never seemed to be the right time to talk about it. For all he knew, Gemènyo kept a grudge burning but Desòchu doubted it. His friend was rather calm about things. Besides, even if they fought, Desòchu would easily win.
“I saw your papa wasn’t down at dinner. Didn’t he come back today?”
Desòchu gestured to the blanket covering the cave behind him. “In there.”
“Think he’ll join the celebrations tomorrow?”
“I doubt it. I don’t think he has said anything to Tejíko or Yutsupazéso since…” The word choked in his throat. He hated that he wasn’t allowed to talk about his mother’s death. It haunted him at night while he listened to his brother’s cries.
Gemènyo said nothing for a long time. Then he chuckled. “Remember when Chyojímo sat out here telling us about the stars?”
Desòchu’s chest tightened with sorrow. To his surprise, he also felt relief. Surprised, he looked over at Gemènyo.
His friend shrugged and then pointed to one of the stars. “You and I used to make up so many names for those things.”
Desòchu smiled through the pain. “Yeah, rude names.”
“I liked Fart-Biter the Stinky.”
“Or Sour Ass?”
Gemènyo chuckled. “Yeah…” his voice trailed off. “I miss her. She always had so many stories to tell us.”
Desòchu bowed his head to avoid revealing the tears in his eyes.
A firm hand rested on his shoulder. “It’s okay to miss her.”
“Not according to my grandmother.”
“Yeah, but Tejíko and Yutsupazéso both have cactus growing between their legs. They are barren as the desert now. They have even my parents scared. Everyone shuts up when the topic of Chyojímo comes up.”
The insult didn’t make Desòchu feel any better. “I know. I just miss her. Everyone acts like she doesn’t exist.”
“Your papa doesn’t.”
Desòchu shook his head. “Papa doesn’t think about anyone but her. I can hear him crying her name right before he passes out.”
“He drinks too much.”
Lifting his hand, Desòchu pressed his palm against his cheek. A recent bruise throbbed. His father had backhanded him when Desòchu had tried to move an empty bottle away from the baby.
Desòchu glanced at his friend. His vision blurred with tears. “I can handle it.”
“You shouldn’t. A father shouldn’t hurt his son. You should tell the old bat about the drinking.”
“What is she going to tell me? Pretend my mother didn’t exist? Tell me to stand strong to make me a man?”
“Or that your father is drinking too much?”
Shaking his head, Desòchu lifted his head back to the stars. He reached down and grabbed the edge of the cliff. It would be so easy to push himself off, though he knew that he would catch himself less than a rod lower with the wide path.
“It isn’t right, Sòchu.”
“He’s my papa.”
Unable to handle the direction of the conversation, Desòchu interrupted. “Where is Kiríshi?”
“With Somiryòki tonight.”
“Somiryòki?” Desòchu thought about the old warrior. Then he realized why. “Is he… showing her the way?” The clan warriors had the duty of introducing teenagers to the world of sex, despite the fact that Desòchu knew that Kiríshi had both Gemènyo and Hyonèku long before the adults realized it.
“Yeah, Yutsupazéso wasn’t fond of Hyonèku and her grinding against each other at breakfast. Somiryòki’s showing her how to properly do it. He probably has a cadence or a maneuver for it. Probably getting his boulders off in the process.”
Desòchu shrugged. “Why not? He can’t have children and she would have to asked him to teach her.”
A strange look crossed Gemènyo’s face. “Yeah, she did.”
“What about Nèku?”
Gemènyo shrugged. “I’m sure he’s fine with it. He’s with Kiramíro and heading over to Ryayusuki Valley.”
“Probably getting an education in fucking too.”
“Yeah… maybe. She does have a home cave there too.”
“She has a cave everywhere. Everyone calls her friend when she visits.”
Gemènyo looked around. He grabbed a small tuft of grass, peeled back a single leaf, and then shoved it into his mouth. With a grin, he leaned back on his hands. “Everyone is different. Your mother taught us that.”
Inside the cave, Rutejìmo began to cry again.
A moment later, his father yelled out, “Boy! Get… in here and deal with this thing!” His slurred voice betrayed his heavy drinking. “Boy!”
Gemènyo glanced back. “Want me to wait?”
“No, it will take a while for it to calm down. By then, I’ll just head to bed.”
“Good night, Desòchu. Take care of your brother. You are the only family he has right now.”