The door to the shack creaked and rattled so loudly as it was drawn open that it almost fell off its hinges. Inside was a cluster of people huddled about a tiny fire. They looked up like owls. Terrified, huddling – and then they were angry and ready to attack.
They cried out, clutching at each other yet lurching forward as one. Ekundayo held up a hand, and said something. I wish I knew what he was saying, and they in turn. But I couldn’t understand, and would remain as if deaf to this whole conversation. The conversation rattled on, sharp retorts from person or other among the huddle, and Ekundayo answered so calmly. He placed a hand on my shoulder, and I decided not to shrug him off. We might need his story to be actually believed.
Finally, the huddled people returned, not to owls, but to disgruntled sparrows or something like that. They huddled again, and took to whispering. But the conversation was over. Ekundayo smiled at me. “They welcome us,” he said sweetly to me.
“Who the fuck are they?” I muttered angrily, hugging the cloak around me. We were still standing in the doorway!
“Oh, dear, they are poor people,” he said as he drew me away from the door and back out into the cold. “They’ve, how shall we say it? They’re a society of people.”
“Okay,” I snapped as I was directed to turn and walk to another building.
“And they’ve decided we can live in their lands. It’s a sort of, commune? People that share, that hoard and spend together. All coins are to be deposited in, here,” he said as he gestured to the next building. “Come,” and he went up and rapped upon that door. It didn’t look ready to fall over. It practically did.
This door was shoved open by a person with a rat-like face, protruding hairs, and a sniffing nose. Their eyes were sunken in caverns, and they had a walkign stick in hand and a shawl about their shoulders.
They sniffed the air, then cocked their head to the side. A grin split their features.
“Ekundayo,” Ekundayo said. He drew a pouch from his belt and rattled it loudly before handing it to the blind rat.
“Ekundayo!” the person cried out. Then they sniffed again, reaching towards me. Ekundayo took their hand and guided it to my shoulder, where he patted it into me. I grimaced, but didn’t move.
“My daughter,” Ekundayo said with a twinkling smile at me. “She’s my apprentice too.”
“Oh! Oh!” the person cried out.
“This is Crow,” said Ekundayo to me. “He used to be a great dame.”
“I was elegant,” Crow sniffed. “But I am happy now!” He squeezed my shoulder and patted me. “Come in, daughter and father!”
Crow backed away into the building, shuffling and muttering. We followed, Ekundayo gesturing me in before himself. Once we were in, he shut the door behind us. The cold remained, only a little stifled by the shack’s walls.
Here, there was no fire. There was only a large table laden with coins, pouches, and all sorts of items, a straw mat in a corner, and a pile of more junk in another corner. Ekundayo dropped his pouch into the pile and began rummaging. “We need clothes for my daughter,” he commented calmly. “Her mother is going to want her back, as will the princess. She was a handmaiden, you know?”
“Oh! Do you know dame Minstrel?” Crow asked chirpily as he shuffled to his straw mat and plopped down with … no grace whatsoever.
I didn’t answer, feeling the vices of our lie tightening around us. Ekundayo sighed into the pile of junk. Loudly, he drew out a piece of clothing. “This will do!”
“What will do?” asked crow loudly. “Is she a girl? Or a boy?”
Ekundayo looked at me with a glimmer in his eye and a foolish grin on his face. He held out the tunic to me. “Hm?” he asked, to prompt me to answer.
“I’m a girl,” I said sourly. I reached a hand out for the tunic. It was a bit large, but it would do. It was sufficiently mud-colored with a hue of green about it. I would blend into the streets.
After digging me up some pants and a pair of oversized boots, Ekundayo went to sit on the cot beside Crow with his back to me so I could change.
Crow, however, had gotten a taste of conversation and seemed ready to indoctrinate. “Are you sure? You seem,” he snapped his fingers in the air before himself. “Unhappy.”
“Oh, she is unhappy,” said Ekundayo with a chuckle. I began changing angrily.
“It is not about that,” I said sourly as I pulled the boots on. Then, thinking things over, I moved to sit on Crow’s other side. Resting would be nice, I decided. A bath would be better, but that would be probably impossible in this world.
“So what is it about?” Crow asked. Then, completely ignorign me, he began prattling about how, when he was young, he never knew what was wrong, but he knew something was wrong and –
I tuned it out, glaring at Ekundayo. He grinned at me like this was great fun. I scowled and leaned against the icy wall, hugging my cloak about myself.
Then, to the sound of Crow’s exaggerated story of elegance and misery, I fell asleep.