The Grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.
Dystopia 13: Hetû
Jack’s hands worked as if they had a mind of their own. It had only taken Callum’s wife, Araceli, a few minutes to show Jack the loose weave the Jaguars used to make the mats that hung over the crops on poles. These mats, according to Callum, served two purposes. They screened the harsh equatorial sun from burning the crops and they screened the crops from any “eye in the sky” that the Kohnstamm’s used to spy on the rebels. Jack thought the latter was so much superstitious nonsense but screening the sun was of obvious importance.
So Jack sat in the late afternoon after his day in the fields, and after his asaje, in the cooking hut watching Laissi and Ceci prepare the late evening meal while his hands did their work with barely any guidance from his mind. Laissi’s recovery had been rapid. The day after she sat up she was able to stand.
Feeling both claustrophobic and useless, Jack had moved out of Paje’s hut. He had taken up sleeping just outside the edge of the village under the stars. This had caused Callum a great deal of distress and he had offered Jack the “Bachelor’s Hut”. This was apparently a hut near the fields where boys too old to stay with their mother’s and too young to take a wife and build a hut of their own resided. The current residents were mostly under 20 years of age. Jack had reassured Callum that he was used to sleeping in the open and after much discussion Callum had given Jack a bedroll and a tarp so he could create a lean-to. He had also given him his own clothing back, washed and folded.
Laissi had had no difficulty fitting in. She had relatives at Jaguar camp and they had known her as a child. She had left Paje’s hut a few days after Jack. Ceci was apparently some distant relative of hers and had made a great fuss over Laissi staying in the hut Ceci occupied by herself.
Now the two of them scurried about the communal kitchen peeling vegetables, stirring pots and jabbering on and on in Guarani. Jack listened to the words but they went by so fast that he could only pick out a few here and there. Not enough to follow even a simple conversation.
Jack’s arrival at Jaguar Village had been as friend, and he remained so even after his story had been told to Callum. He was treated well and he soon fell into an easy and familiar rhythm. Jack helped with the work where he could and found this life as pleasant as any time he had spent on the planet. Water and food were reasonably plentiful by Jack’s standards and aside from having very limited conversations he was happy. In truth he had lost the desire to “escape”. The only thorn in his rose garden seemed to be communication. Gerry had been a man of few words and Jack had been content with his company most of the time. But when it mattered Gerry had understood him.
Now only Laissi understood most of what he was saying. Callum could understand limited English and between pantomime and English, Jack could usually make his needs known but there were no complicated thoughts or ideas exchanged between them. He did not know the social rules of living here or the language well enough to communicate any better than a child. In many ways he was like a child. In fact, he suspected, that is why he had been set to weave the mats in the cooking hut under the watchful eye of the women. Because he was seen as a child who might get into trouble if not supervised.
And so his hands did their chore while his eyes watched the women do their work.
Specifically, he watched Laissi work. She was making bread from the wheat whose stem Jack was weaving into screens. Her body swayed as she mixed in the last bit of flour until the dough was the right consistency. The skin on her arms had healed and was somewhat pale where the blisters had peeled away but even that was fading to her usual tea with cream color. The unevenness of her skin was currently mostly hidden by the flour covering her hands and lower arms as she reached into a sac of flour with her right hand and sprinkled flour over the mass of dough. Then she rhythmically folded the dough and brought her other hand down in the middle of the mass using her upper body weight to push the fold of dough deep into the center of the mass. Her body continued the rhythm. Fold push. Fold push. Sprinkle. Fold push. Fold push.
Her shirt covered the scars on her back and the new one forming on her upper arm. Although with each push of her body the lower edge of the healing scar could be seen peaking out from under her shirt sleeve and then disappearing back under the cloth. Her hair was braided down her back but she wore bangs over her forehead and they swayed away from her forehead with each effort and then fell back to their resting place against her face. It did not escape Jack’s notice that her breasts mirrored this effect under her shirt. All the while she chatted with Ceci and ignored Jack’s presence completely. All of this Jack took in as his hands did their trick without disturbing his contemplation.
Ceci began to look about the hut for something she needed and then turned to Laissi and said something. She was apparently going to seek some item they had forgotten. Laissi nodded and Ceci left, walking by Jack without as much as a nod. Jack’s eyes followed her out the door and then returned to their main attraction.
Since their trek through the desert Laissi had at least warmed up to Jack. Conversing comfortably with him in English and helping him to learn Guarani. With Ceci out of the room Jack took his chance to try and learn more of the native language.
“Laissi, how do you say…?”
“I taught you how to say that in Guarani. Use the phrase I taught you.”
Jack bristled at the comment. More and more she spoke to him like the rest of the village did. Like he was a child. He could take it coming from the rest of the village but it was harder to take from someone he had conversed with in English, “Mba’épa ka Guerra eha ‘the table’?”
“Karuha.” She said without looking up at him. She was quite used to this exchange by now the same way a mother is used to the incessant questions of a small child, Jack thought with some dismay.
“And ‘the chair’?”
He sighed but complied, “Je’e ‘the chair’.”
Jack repeated the words trying to drive them deep within his memory. He watched her push more dough in the center of the mass. He could understand the others treating him like a child because he spoke to them like one. But Laissi knew better. She could speak English fluently. She knew he did not have the mind of a child. If not for him, she would have died in the rebel camp. Or be nothing but bleached bones in the desert by now. He was a man and not a child and she should know that. She had no excuse to treat him as a mother treats a child. “Ha ‘to sit’?” He continued giving no clue to his rancor.
He repeated the words as his hands wove the final border along the mat’s edge. He stood and laid the mat so it leaned against the wall of the hut. He turned and looked at his chair for a moment. There was more straw but he did not start a new mat. Instead he turned his regard back to Laissi. Watching her split the dough into loaves and shaping each loaf. “Ha ‘to stand’?” he asked.
“Moî.” Jack repeated several times dutifully, with his eyes squarely planted on her. “Ha ‘to walk’?” he asked as he began to move toward her end of the table.
“Aha.” Laissi spoke automatically while her attention was on scooping up the loaves and placing them on a board in the window to rise.
“Aha.” Jack repeated several times as he approached the area where she was working. She had to understand. He was not her child. “Ha ‘to touch’?”
“Havi’u.” She said automatically as she scooped another loaf and deposited it on the sill.
Jack was now standing at her side. “Havi’u.” he said in a barely audible voice. His gaze had become ever more intense but Laissi had not noticed. When she turned back to the final loaf he spoke again, “Ha ‘to kiss’?”, he said.
She froze for a second with the loaf in her cupped hands and stared at the table. Then she lowered the loaf back on the kneading board and turned her head to give him a confused look. He met her gaze with his piercing stare. He raised his hand and gently brushed her bangs away from her eyes, then ran his fingers down the side of her face. His hand lingered on her cheek. “Havi’u.” he whispered. She continued to stare at him frozen and giving away nothing of herself as he caressed her. Finally she whispered, “Hetû. To kiss. Hetû.”
Jack reached up with his free hand and embraced her other cheek cupping her face in his hands. “Hetû.”, he whispered and he bent down and lightly touched his lips to hers. She neither refused him nor kissed him back. He drew back and scrutinized her again. Her eyes were big with surprise and her lips parted as if to speak but she said nothing. He let his hand drift down to her waist and he drew her closer. The intensity behind his eyes softened. What was he showing her? He could not recall. He whispered to her again, “Hetû?
She stared at him, not speaking or moving. True to her character she gave nothing of herself away. For what seemed like an eternity they stood motionless in each other’s embrace. Jack’s gaze slowly dropped to her lips again and this time he meant to kiss her, really kiss her. To leave no doubt in her about his nature.
The spell was finally broken when Ceci returned to the room with three tomatoes in her hands.
“Laissi….” Her voice tapered off when she caught sight of the two of them. Laissi’s head snapped toward Ceci and then she seemed to come to her senses. She pushed herself away. She paused looking at Ceci and then turned to Jack. She was breathing hard and her face was flushed. Then she turned and left the room at a near run with her head down and her eyes averted from Ceci.
Jack could think of nothing to say to Ceci even if he could speak fluent Guarani. He smiled and shrugged with his palms exposed in apology. Ceci snorted and turned to chase after Laissi.
Jack looked down at the last loaf of bread sitting on the kneading board. He was no stranger to cooking. That went with the survivalist lifestyle of his upbringing. He picked up the loaf and gently deposited on the sill with the others. Then he wet a thin cotton cloth and spread it over the row of loaves. Ceci reentered the room to see him covering the loaves. At least this seemed to win Ceci’s favors again and she inspected the loaves and looked up to nod at him and smile. As one would reward a child that had excelled at his lessons, Jack thought with some exasperation.
The Concepts Behind the Fiction:
1. Bad Week at Work
I was not going to write anything about current developments until I saw yesterday’s headlines. Apparently, Congress voted to limit CEO pay. I wanted to weigh in on it just a little.
The myth of capitalism is that “a rising tide raises all boats”. This may have been true in times gone past but in our own generation this is provably untrue It assumes that economic good times are shared by reasonably equally. As I have pointed out that has not occurred. The top 1% kept the doubling of the GDP that has occurred in the last few years. Sharing of the profit turns out to be counter to what makes a successful business under capitalism. So sharing in this system would be systematically extinguished, and in this case economic theory was proven right by actual events. Legislation is the only way to restore the “sharing” in this system.
But my question is not “Did Congress overreach in putting limits on CEO pay?” but “What economic system would be inherently equitable?”
2. Winners Win Again
Did you happen to notice that the headline on JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs making record profits this year despite their need for government assistance. Essentially, the same people who “won” during the Great Depression, “won” during the latest economic show down.
By the way, if you think you see “green shoot” of economic growth you should be asking what is in the “assets” that the government bought for $14 trillion from the banks. Because right now even Congress isn’t allowed to know.
Why have you posted 3 essays covering the same subject matter?