I Am Lenn – Chapter Two

The very next sensation I felt was the contemplation of a very strong smell. In fact, a collection of smells all wrapped into one. They weren’t individually unpleasant. Together, they clashed. One was an acidic cleaning solution. Another was the kind of odor that every individual has that identifies them; do you remember when you told me mine was like colored ink? Yeah, I never could help having that smell. But this one was thick, the smell of an Iatvi child and something sweet, like strawberry seeds. A third smell that filled my nose made my mouth water: some kind of flavorful cooking meat.

My eyes opened. A dim white ceiling greeted me first, made yellow by a single light source from somewhere in the room. My eyes tracked the ceiling to the far wall, upon which sat two rows of wooden shelves. On these shelves was a colorful assortment of plastic toys and books, well-used boxes with frayed corners, and plastic cases with a variety of titles. Or were they games? I knew these were different things. I could not tell you which was which. Beside the shelf was a striking framed painting of a bearded man with a delicate expression and bright green eyes; upon his shoulder was a red robe. I remember this image very clearly, as I had much time to look upon it.

I tried to lift myself to get a better view of my surroundings, but the pain kept me pinned down as assuredly as a five-pound weight. I dared not move my neck, but I again attempted to hear any sound escape my lips. When I mouthed words, I could hear the delicate wind of spoken language, but it did not have my voice, nor did it have any great volume. Then, for the first time since my injury, the inside of my throat inflamed. And appropriately so. If something about my throat had been ‘displaced’ or ‘fractured’ by whatever sharp object had sliced me, then perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to continue trying to reassemble my voice myself. I settled back into my light-blue bedding and simply stared at the ceiling.

My ears strained for sounds. Muffled voices could be heard somewhere inside the Iatvi home in which I lay, all of which were too indistinct to be recognized. Every six or seven seconds, I would hear a sharp click from somewhere behind me. This I didn’t recognize, but my fear of it lessened the more I realized that it sounded hollow and tinged like the metallic ping of a bell. When I focused on it, it hurt my hearing a bit. But it didn’t move away or towards me, so I deemed it unthreatening. Somewhere deep within the house the sound of plumbing echoed, and I knew what that meant: whenever water flowed, Iatvi weren’t far behind it. But it sounded too far away to worry about. Until, of course, I reasoned with myself that distance wasn’t a factor when all Iatvi in the house knew what I was, where I was, and my current state of health.

I’m unsure how long I laid in that strange rectangular room by myself. I mused upon the observation that Iatvi were the only beings I knew that adored ninety degree angles, and constructed their homes with only those in mind; another sign of their obsession for precision. I didn’t mind it, truth be told, but I knew many who regularly complained about its ugliness. ‘Every room is the same,’ they often said. ‘The only thing different about each room are the obstacles on the floor’. This always made me laugh. As if the gatherers only remained on the ground. Climbing was the only way to survive in an Iatvi home. Olem, climbing was the only way to survive anywhere. And hiding in the dark. If you had any trouble with these two skills, you were better off staying home and tending to your garden.

Like me.

Which I had never minded, as you know. I never was very physical. I always stayed in the village, teaching kids how to read and write, and enjoying the scraps of paper the gatherers would bring home for study… when I begged them to do so. I wondered if I would ever get to do that again. Or, if I would even live in any village again.

A sound. The click of a closing door. Footsteps. They distanced themselves from my hearing, but then reappeared as deep thumping upon hardwood approaching. I could not move. Every instinct I had told me to do so, but the pain grew unbearably intense as I attempted to rise. I relaxed, and the pain dulled. But enduring pain felt like an excuse when Death was approaching with alarming speed.

And then it did appear, as a great door suddenly clicked open directly behind my head. I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep, which by itself filled me with more dread: if the blackness of wicked Death was in the room and came for me, I’d never see it coming. Great footsteps muffled by the sound of carpet entered, closing the door behind them. I heard the sound of a quiet sigh, and within three seconds, felt the brush of stirred air as something very large strode past me. I dared to open my eyes for just a split second, and I saw the dark-haired head of a familiar ka ignoring me and walking further into the room.

The weight of his body walking across carpet unnerved me, certainly, but I was somehow high up in the air as if on a shelf. If I had been low in crushing position, my mental state would have been considerably different.

I couldn’t see this ka named Ian once he passed from my view. But he began humming some tune, and I heard the crunch of mattress springs beneath tons of pressure. I didn’t want him to find me awake. But I preferred he didn’t fall asleep and leave me in constant anxiety for two or three hours either. Aria, you would be so proud of me. Or shocked at my daring, perhaps both. I didn’t know if the boy would see it, but I lifted my right arm despite the pain. I waved my hand back and forth above the edge of the towel.

I felt quite foolish for a moment; I was waving down a behemoth. But it soon had its intended effect.

“Oh!” said a quiet voice.

The mattress springs complained again as the giant rose to his feet, and deep footsteps brought the Iatvi into view. He hadn’t changed in appearance, although I didn’t quite know why I expected him to change. Maybe my imagination had turned him into a hideous form as I slept. In the dim yellow light that shone from behind him, Ian’s form was shadowed but not over much. I could still see his round pointed chin, bright green eyes, and messy hair that grew past his ears. I could only see his face and part of his shoulders, so I knew I must have been quite high off the floor.

“Hi,” he said to me.

I offered a small wave in reply, blinking to make sure this boy was truly looking down upon me and not someone else.

“How are you feeling? Are you in pain?”

I shrugged my shoulders, which made me wince.

“I’m sorry. I wish I could give you medicine to help, but… Dad isn’t sure how much we could give you. Do the bandages help?”

I nodded.

“Um… Do you need anything, little guy?”

Again, I lifted a cupped hand to my mouth. Recognition lit up his face.

“Oh yeah, I forgot! Wait right here.”

Not that I had much choice. Just as abruptly as he had entered the room, he stepped out, opening his door with a click but not closing it behind him. I heard the footsteps travel a short distance, a door opening, a drawer pulled, and water poured out of a faucet. Ten seconds later, the ka returned, closing his door and coming back into my view.

“Here you go,” said Ian, holding out a large plastic tube to me. “It’s the eyedropper. Drink from this.”

Ian brought the plastic to my mouth, and my lips immediately met with moisture. I inhaled the first enormous drop; I hadn’t had a clean drink of water in two days, minus sickening river water which I had thrown up. A second drop emerged, and I lapped it up with the same voracity. A third, fourth, and fifth drop formed, and I took my time, allowing my desire for water to satisfy. I laid my head backwards as a sixth drop formed, which caught me off-guard thinking it would spill across my chest. But Ian watched the procedure closely, and the drop withdrew back into the plastic.

“Is that all?” Ian asked. “Do you want more?”

I raised a finger up.

“One more?”

I pushed my hand forwards a few times.

“Oh. I’ll wait. Sorry.”

So much ‘dev’ from this boy. Perhaps I wasn’t an animal to him after all. Once I regained my composure and felt there was room in my stomach for more, I waved at him.

“More? Okay.”

The plastic lowered and produced a droplet, which I sucked up with gratitude. I did the same with the second, the third, and the fourth. I then raised my hand to make the water stop. Now, I thought to myself, what do Iatvi do? I lifted my hand, formed a fist, but left my thumb extended. Foreign to me, but very satisfying to Ian.

“Yay,” he said. “That’s great. Is there anything else I can do? Are you cold? Hot? Lift up your arm.”

I did so, and the boy took it in his fingers.

“Hmm. What about here?”

He confirmed it by feeling my stomach with his forefinger (I lost a bit of air as he pressed down), and then lightly squeezed my bare feet. It was then I knew for sure that I had lost my ratty shoes. I didn’t much care anymore; they had offered very little protection anyway. I was just grateful I still wore any article of clothing at all.

“Yeah, you’re cold. Do you want me to get you another towel?”

My hand waved a negative and fell back down to my side. Despite my dizziness and bare body, I was fairly comfortable.

“You’re sure?”

I nodded.

“Um, let’s see…” he whispered, lowering his eyes to my level. I turned my head as best I could, and finally saw the light of his eyes beneath his dark pencil-thin eyebrows. I’m not going to lie… it was slightly horrifying. “Dad says to make sure your patient stays comfortable. And he said that sometimes a distraction can help lessen pain. If you want, you can watch a movie on my TV. And I can watch with you to make sure you’re okay.”

Again, I knew what a movie was, if only because of the word. The thought that this Iatvi would actually turn one on for me to watch amazed me. My eyes grew wide, and I gave him a halfway shrug. At least, until my slow mind comprehended what the boy was offering me. I quickly nodded to override my shrug.

“Yeah? Cool. Uh, hang on, let’s see how I can do this…”

Ian looked around his room for a moment, and then stepped outside again. His thundering footsteps grew quiet, then I heard him faintly shout to someone. For a moment, everything was silent. Then, a door closed very far away, and Ian’s footsteps boomed towards me until he entered the room and shut his door behind him again. He passed me by, and then sounded as if assembling something wooden and metallic. I had no idea what to make of it, so I remained still.

Ian appeared into my view.

“Here you go, I got you a chair,” he said. “You’ll have the best seat in the house. It’ll be like sitting in your own theater.”

I only knew of ‘theaters’ by the word. But if it had anything to do with movies, they must have been fantastic places to visit. I nodded, not fully understanding but remaining hopeful.

“Okay, here you go,” Ian said, his gigantic hands appearing above me. One hand descended beneath my right side, and the other crossed over me beneath my left. Suddenly, I was airborne, descending into a deep unfamiliar room… until me and my towel bedding came to rest upon a flat surface. It certainly felt more comfortable to be seated upwards. I looked up as Ian’s hands disappeared, and I witnessed the largest and darkest rectangle in the world. I had never seen a television before.

To my surprise, the descent wasn’t what frightened me: it was the giant that towered over me that drew my horrified gaze. Dressed in a plain gray tank top and athletic shorts, I could see from his knees all the way up to his head. It was like looking through some strange mirror or frame that elongated this child, making him appear as tall as a building. But no. In reality, I was lying prone, completely under the control of this very real Iatvi boy.

But contrary to any tale I had ever heard about the Iatvi, this boy named Ian didn’t pose a threat to me. His size did, sure. But his demeanor did not.

For a moment, Ian crossed in front of me and took some device in his hand. A pair of bright blue words flashed upon the black screen as the television turned on. It made no sound, but an illustration of a television crossed back and forth across the screen in random directions telling us both that the device was active.

“Okay,” Ian said, stepping towards the shelves that hung from the wall. “I’ve got a couple of movies. Star Wars? Lord of the Rings? Maybe a Disney movie?”

I had no idea what any of those words meant. I almost shrugged again, but then an idea emerged in my mind: I had a very important question to ask, and I had come to the realization that there was only one way to ask it. I raised my hand to stop the boy. Before he could ask why, I pressed my fingers together and wobbled them back and forth against the palm of my opposite hand. I watched Ian’s face for any sign that he understood.

Ian cocked his head to the side.

“You want to… write something?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Oh!” The boy snapped his fingers. “You can’t speak, but you can write! Why didn’t I think of that? Hang on, what can I use…?”

Ian stepped away from my view, and the sounds I heard resembled rummaging through a filled drawer. He spoke to himself in the meantime.

“No, not a pen… Too big. Pencil’s too big, too. Marker? Nah, they’re all dry. Crayon? Oh!”

Something snapped, delicate but clear. More rummaging. Then Ian reappeared standing tall, and bent down to get a better look at me.

“Here you go.”

His hand approached me, and between his fingers was a short gray stick a bit thinner than my thumb and twice as long as my hand. I recognized it immediately, as I had used them many times: it was the lead of what the Iatvi called a “mechanical” pencil. I took it gladly.

“And here, you can use these.”

With his other hand, he placed a thick pad of light-green paper that fit neatly in my lap. I’d used these as well: “sticky” notes. My family generally used them not only as writing material, but as a source of adhesive that came off easily enough with a sharp thin knife.

I began writing my question when there came a knock at Ian’s door. I panicked somewhat when Ian said: “Hi.”

I looked, and a familiar face looked in.

“Ian?” asked Ian’s father. “Is our patient awake?”

“Yep,” Ian said. “I was going to have him watch a movie, but he knows how to write.”

The Iatvi’s face brightened.

“That’s wonderful,” he said. “I’d love to join you. Is it all right if I come in?”

“Is that okay?” Ian asked me.

Despite the water I just drank, my throat ran dry. But I nodded all the same.

The Iatvi opened the door and stepped inside. To my surprise, he carried a large wooden stool in one hand. He placed it beside my chair and sat down. Ian leaned backwards and descended to sit on the floor; this, at least, made me feel a little more comfortable having him lower down.

I pressed my hand into my forehead and closed my eyes for a moment. This would have been so much easier with my voice. Slowly, I pressed the graphite to the paper, and aware that the Iatvi would likely not be able to see my regular handwriting, I struck out my first words. I then wrote the question large enough to be seen. It only took me a moment. I tore off the paper from the stack and handed it to Ian, who took it expectantly.

He squinted at the note, and for a moment, I thought I might have to rewrite it. But he spoke.

“Why would… because you were going to die.”

“What does it say?” asked his father.

Ian handed the note over.

“It says, why did you save me?”

The Iatvi above me placed a hand to his chin, and seemed to understand the intent of my question a bit better than the boy.

“Something tells me you don’t have very much experience with people… like us.”

I shook my head.

“What do you mean?” Ian asked.

“I’m not sure he trusts us. He doesn’t know us. I’ve never seen someone like him. You probably didn’t expect to be found by the boys, either. Does that sound right?”

I paused, and wondered if what I wanted to say would be appropriate. I carefully traced letters to paper, pausing for a moment when I realized that they wouldn’t be familiar with my language. I pulled the note from the stack, and hesitated on who I should hand it to. I chose to offer it to Ian’s father.

He took his glasses from his pocket and studied my writing.

“Most of my family,” he read. “…are dead because of humans.”

Ian’s eyes opened wide.

“…seriously?”

His father remained quiet, and I nodded. Everyone remained silent for a moment.

“You have every reason not to trust us, then,” said the Iatvi.

I looked away, and didn’t move.

“Your whole family?” Ian asked, pulling forwards. “How?”

“Ian,” said the father. “I don’t think that’s our right to ask.”

They looked down upon me, and saw me busily writing. Mother, Father. Little Han and Sareil. My students, your brother. I remembered all of them. What grief I had in me was spent, and I could write about them without pain. I know this was always difficult for you to understand, Aria, but you were one of the only people who really cared about me, and I didn’t care about the rest of them. Writing about them all wasn’t terribly difficult when most of them hated me when they were alive. Ironic, isn’t it? That I lived when so many others died?

I handed the note to Ian’s father.

“‘Mostly sickness,’” he read. “‘Bad water and food. Accidents. Animals.’”

I wrote another.

“‘But I don’t blame you. It’s not your fault.’”

I wrote another; there was little room to say everything.

“You’ve done more for me in one day… does it say… than my family ever did for me?”

I nodded.

“Oh, I’m sure that’s not true,” Ian’s father said.

“Yeah, all we did was pick you up out of the canal,” Ian said.

I frowned. I wrote more.

“‘You don’t know my family’.” The father shrugged. “Well… I suppose we don’t.”

“But that’s sad,” Ian said. “Were you running away from home?”

I wrote.

“They threw me out.’”

“But why?”

“Ian…”

I hesitated. They didn’t need to know the whole truth. I put pencil to paper.

“‘My leg doesn’t work well’.” The father frowned. “What do you mean?”

“You can’t walk?” Ian asked.

I wrote more.

“‘I can walk, but not quickly.’ Hmm. Do you know why this happened?”

I wrote.

“‘I was a baby. I became very sick, and my leg stopped working.’ Just one leg?”

I nodded.

“Hmm. I can see. Does your knee bend normally? Or is it a little crooked?”

I wrote: ‘very crooked’.

“Can I lift up your pant leg and take a look?”

I nodded again.

Ian’s father gently grasped my foot with one hand and lifted up my pant leg with the other. I watched his face as he examined it.

“Can you keep it lifted?”

I did my best, but my leg immediately began shaking from the strain.

“Whoa…” Ian whispered. “It looks… backwards.”

“Hmm. Atrophy, too.”

“What’s atrophy?” Ian asked, peering down at my leg along with his father.

“See the muscles of his calf? Can I lift it?”

I nodded, grateful for the relief from shaking. My mind told me to be worried, but at that point, I preferred someone remove my leg altogether and save me the trouble of hauling it around.

“See? It’s atrophied, which means the muscles have shrunk. Or never grew strong.”

‘Atrophy’. That was a new word to me. Now I could describe why my leg was ji kalok ys menn. So skinny and bent.

“It does bend the other way… May I?”

At his request, I quickly shook my head and waved my hands. I could hardly bend it myself without pain, I didn’t want a Iatvi to do so.

“Oh, understood. You’ve never injured your back or your neck? It was just from falling ill?”

I nodded.

“I don’t think it’s cerebral palsy. Maybe multiple sclerosis, but since it’s just his leg, maybe not. I wonder if it was something as simple as polio.”

“Polio?” Ian asked. “What’s polio do? Isn’t that gone?”

“You’re right, it’s nearly gone. It’s a very horrible disease that almost everyone gets immunized for these days. Before immunizations, it used to kill or paralyze thousands of children a year all over the world. You can’t cure it, you can only prevent it. Now it’s nearly eradicated from us humans, but maybe not from them. It’s possible he contracted polio as a child and became paralyzed as a result. Or, just nerve damage and hyper-extension, since he can still feel and move his leg. Right?”

I didn’t know ‘polio’, or any of the other diseases he talked about. Or hyper-whatever. But I knew the word ‘paralyzed’. My left leg wasn’t that bad, I could feel and I could limp.

“How do you move around?” Ian asked me.

Instead of writing it, I extended my arms (wincing at the pain) and ‘walked’ with them, making motions as if someone had placed sticks beneath my underarms.

Ian’s father nodded.

“Crutches,” he said. “You’re a tough one.”

I wrote two words.

“‘I guess’. It’s true.”

“Wait…” Ian said. “With the rain last night… you didn’t swim in that, did you?”

I painfully nodded.

“You can swim with just one leg? Wow.”

“You must have some very strong arms,” Ian’s father said. “Where did you get your injuries?”

“Yeah, how long were you in the water? Did something attack you?”

I held up my hands; too many questions. I wrote. Ian’s father gathered all of my notes in his fingers.

“‘I fell into the water. I hit something sharp.’”

Ian’s father nodded.

“We’re definitely going to have to keep watch on your wounds,” Ian’s father said. “Canal water is dirty stuff, but it’s worse if you hit something rusted. If you get a fever or start to feel sick in any way, you tell us.”

“But he can’t tell us.” Ian said, scratching his shoulder.

“Oh. Hmm. And it’s not easy to shout out loud on paper. Maybe we can find something he can use to make sound with. Like a bell, or something he can hit.”

“That’s a good idea. And I can hear for it if he needs anything.”

“You’ll be his personal nurse, right?”

Ian took a dramatic bow as well as he could from a seated position.

“Yes, sir. Whatever you would like, sir!”

I laughed without sound and shook my head. Though my lack of voice should have been expected by then, it wasn’t. As the two Iatvi motioned away from me to stand, I frowned and closed my eyes. I tried to growl, and to my pleasant surprise, my upper throat could still make a depressing rasping noise. At least it was something.

“Oh,” said Ian’s father, standing immense over me. “You know what? We’ve been incredibly rude.”

“Huh?” asked Ian.

“We’ve completely skipped introducing ourselves,” said the father, placing a hand on Ian’s shoulder. “I’m sure you know him by now, this is Ian. My name is James, James Petersen.”

“Oh yeah. Sorry about that!”

“Can we ask for your name?” James asked.

I nodded gratefully, and wrote one word. Ian took the page from me and read it aloud.

“‘Lenn’. Just Lenn? That’s a cool name.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lenn. When my wife gets home, I’ll introduce you to her as well. I hope we’ll be able to help you heal, I really do.”

The movie Ian picked out for me was one of the strangest things I’d ever seen. Ian called it ‘science fiction’, two words I didn’t know could be combined. Something about ‘space’, a place that looked like the night sky but up, down, and in all directions. Giant buildings of metal floated through this ‘space’ and attacked each other with shining lights. Walking machines made of gold and silver talked and beeped at one another as if they were speaking their own language, and strange creatures in hoods and glowing eyes did the same. The main characters included a blonde-haired boy from the desert, a princess dressed in white, an enormous growling animal, a clever pilot, and a bearded old man that reminded me of old Orphys; I’m sure you remember him when we used to play near the old trees. The villain of this movie was a demon dressed in black with a deep voice, who wore a frightening mask, and sounded as if a machine breathed for him. The old man and the demon fought using swords made of light. Then, airplanes flew through the sky fighting with colored lights, sparks, explosions. I hoped we would see it together someday. It’s all very exciting, and equally as confusing. I’ve watched it many times since then, and it never becomes less entertaining, but never makes any more sense.

Perhaps the most horrifying idea in the movie was that Iatvi could build a weapon so powerful, it could destroy the entire world. Something called a ‘death star’, although it looked nothing like a star; it looked like a dark-gray circle that could create a green light and make an entire world explode and vanish in less than a few seconds. This shocking event happened halfway through the movie, mind you. I waved at Ian, and quickly wrote him a note asking if any of this was real. He laughed and assured me that it was not.

The movie was absolutely incredible, and looking at the clock on the wall above the television, I could hardly believe two hours had passed. Ian stood in front of the television and removed the movie disk from the machine below.

“Do you want to watch another one, Lenn?” he asked me, placing the movie back onto its place on the shelf.

I sighed. I worried about this moment, but it had finally arrived. I wrote the note, and handed it to him.

“You have to… oh.”

I smiled, pitying myself and my new friend.

“Um… how do you normally do it?”

I wrote another note.

“‘It’s complicated.’” Ian laughed. “I guess that makes sense. Wait right here, I’ll go ask Dad.”

Yes, that was precisely what I wanted: more than one Iatvi to become involved in my bathroom issues. I remember you laughing at me when you helped me when we were young, and it didn’t make me feel any better about my situation. A stool to lean my arms against, a plastic soda cap, and a running stream with which to clean everything. Glamorous it was not, but we didn’t have anything better back then, did we? Before my arrival at the Petersen’s, life had been so chaotic I don’t think I had dedicated time for a break in three days, maybe four.

After a few moments, Ian and James stepped into the room with concerned faces.

“Well, this is a predicament,” James said. “If you had legs to stand on, it would be a different story, huh?”

I quickly wrote a note as my face turned red and handed it to James. He read it.

“No, don’t apologize. We’ve all got to do it. This is all part of the learning experience. You’re our patient, and doctors take care of their patients no matter their difficulties. If Ian’s going to be a doctor someday, he’s got to start somewhere. Right?”

“Right,” he said. “So, what do we do?”

I had no good ideas, besides the thought of making a mess and a total embarrassment of myself. I’m not above that, of course, but I like to avoid it when I can. I listened to them discussing my fate.

“Lifting him up under his arms is not a good plan,” James said. “We don’t want to do more damage to his wounds. Maybe if we had something like a bedpan.”

“A bedpan, yeah,” Ian said. “What if… Do we have any cups or bowls?”

“Not that would be very comfortable for him.”

“What if I just held him up? By his waist? Over the sink, or the toilet?”

I wrote a note faster than I ever had, making both Iatvi pause.

“‘Please no.’ Well, that answers that.”

“Hmm…” Ian hummed, folding his arms and looking at the floor. “Hey Dad, what about your little plastic pill cups? From your work?”

“Might be too small.”

“What about… a spoon?”

James laughed.

“Too shallow. Besides, your mom certainly won’t like that.”

“Well, what else do we have? How about a ladle?”

James shrugged his shoulders in agreement.

“Catherine will like that even less. But I suppose it would be deep enough. The edge might still be a bit painful on his legs, but I guess it’s the best we’ve got right now. Tonight after your mom gets home I’ll go shopping. Maybe a child’s bedpan will work, if I can find one.”

“Does that sound good, Lenn?”

I swallowed hard, and attempted to clear my throat; it sounded like a violent gurgle, and hurt intensely. ‘Reluctant’ was a good word for the situation, but it was better than nothing, and things were becoming dire. So I nodded.

The procedure actually resembled what I had to do at the village, except the bucket was a stainless steel ladle with a basin that could have seated my whole body. I’m sure it was all a sight to see, and I’m not sure if I were more ashamed for myself or for the ka that was helping me. No wonder my family had abandoned me; even simple bathroom breaks took me a good half an hour.

I wrote a note to Ian that I would need something to lean my hands against as I went, and that clever boy came back with a flat wooden stick perfect for the job. I had no idea where he produced it, but it turns out that solving problems for someone of my size and difficulties was one of Ian’s specialties. He took me to their bathroom, an expansive chamber filled with bright light and a mirror as wide as the room, off-white tile walls up to Ian’s shoulders, a glass shower, and a white lake-sized bathtub beside it.

He placed my bedding on the counter. Then, he placed the wood in the middle of the ladle basin and held it there tightly while simultaneously keeping the ladle centered and balanced. With his other hand, and with my permission, he grasped my whole body with his hand about my waist and lifted me into position. My bottom aimed downwards, my hands on the wood kept me upright, and my legs dangled uselessly over the edge of the ladle. I was practiced enough to proceed without further assistance, and I’m sure you can guess the rest.

Sorry if my description of all of this seems inappropriate. But I want you to understand the extraordinary kindness these Iatvi showed to me on the very first day under their care. I’m sure you know what I mean, knowing my mother. She never cared to teach me anything, and took no notice when I learned how to live life without any help. And you know my father, always out with the gatherers and keeping his head down while at home. I suppose I don’t blame him. I did the same thing, until I was old enough to not remain at home. After all, you know how much time I spent at the school and the garden. By the time Han and Sareil were born, I had fallen so far from my parent’s good graces that my position as a teacher at the school was the only thing keeping me fed.

Ian surprised me, though: he locked the bathroom door for privacy and turned away from me as I did my business. With my voice gone, anything could have happened; falling in, for instance. Wouldn’t that have been thrilling? But nothing happened, and life carried on.

One important thing I must mention: having a near infinite supply of toilet paper available at any time of the day is a luxury I wish all of our people could experience. Laugh at me all you want. It’s still the best thing ever.

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