Author’s note: Another double chapter entry, as these too are also entwined. One takes place in a small garden allotment with few characters, the other takes place at a community farm with several people around. One focuses on peaceful movement, the other on busy movement. Yet they are both the same: understanding by observance and learning by taking part. This is the whole heart of the novel.
As far as first jobs at the estate were concerned, desk duty at the community center wasn’t bad at all. Diwa and Kaffi had traded notes on their way to the light rail station the morning after talking with their fathers; while he spent most of the day here, Kaffi would be helping Graymar complete the documentation runs for the co-op farm during the afternoons. This was the first weekend where they’d begin pulling full-day shifts, and as fate would have it, their paths would not cross for nearly the entire day. This meant the only time they’d be able to talk outside of school was during their vidchat sessions. It felt strange being out of contact with Kaffi for that long.
On the plus side, Diwa met and talked to a lot more of the tenants than he had in the past just by sitting here, available to everyone. They would all come through to the community center at some point during the day, stopping by to check their mailboxes, put in a maintenance request, use the shared library and internet access, or meet up with friends. He helped those who needed helping and talked with those who just wanted to talk. It might not have been all that exciting, but it was certainly a great way to get to know everyone better.
He didn’t personally know the aanoupii that had just entered the lobby, though he did recognize him as a new tenant Samuel and Graymar had interviewed a few weeks ago via vidchat, which Diwa had sat in on for the experience. He was from a small family; two brothers, a wife, and a youngling. They’d moved into the empty corner apartment in the sub-basement of Building D. The two brothers were cousins of Porro, the construction worker he’d always see coming home late in the afternoon. Porro had given them a positive reference and a spot on the waiting list, and they’d been cleared just last week.
Diwa glanced upwards at the towering aanoupii, with his large tusks and impressive horns and bulky frame. Diwa wasn’t short, but they had at least a foot or so on him. Despite his build, however, the aanoupii fretted and shuffled nervously, utterly unsure of himself and wanting to make the best first impression.
Diwa gave him a reassuring smile and nod. “Good afternoon,” he said. “Can I help you?”
“Uh, yes…hi?” the aanoupii responded with a scratchy voice that had an unexpectedly high pitch and a slight lisp. “You’re Diwa, yeah? I recognize you from our interview.”
He nodded again. Time to turn on the customer service…after all, this was why he was here, right? “Yes, I am Diwa. How can I help you today?”
“We…um. I…” He tapped the backs of his claws together. “My name is Tassh. We moved in a few weeks ago. To Building D. M-my brother and his wife and me. And their child. Samuel, um. He said he had a few forms that needed filling out. I just got off work, and thought I’d stop by to pick them up. If they’re available.”
“Oh! Certainly!” Diwa said with a quick nod, already picking up the phone. “I can definitely help you with that. Let me call my Pop, see if he has them available for you.”
Samuel answered after the fourth ring – he must have been distracted by the back room again – and paused for much too long before offering an embarrassed apology, admitting he didn’t have the forms easily on hand. They were somewhere in the back office and he’d need to look for them and he wasn’t sure how long it would take. Diwa forced back a groan and disconnected. Not a great way to make a first impression at all. What was he doing in there if he couldn’t be bothered to find important documents, let alone file them correctly?
“I’m so sorry, Tassh,” he said, rubbing at his temple. “Samuel was…he was in the middle of something and couldn’t get to them right away.”
Tassh nodded with grace. “That’s quite all right,” he said, and started towards the front doors. “I’ll be in all day if he’s able to speak to me then.”
Diwa huffed, shaking his head. He couldn’t let this situation end this way. He didn’t want Tassh to be waiting all day long, not knowing when or if Samuel would get back to him in a timely manner. What should he do? How could he fix this quickly?
He would get the paperwork himself, even if it meant upending that entire back room.
“Tassh, wait!” he blurted a little too loudly.
Tassh halted midstride, his eyes wide. “I’m…sorry?”
“I mean…” Diwa bit back an apology and stood up. “I’ll be taking a break in a half hour. I don’t want to keep you waiting all day long, so I’ll head up there myself and bring them over to your apartment. It’s D005, yes? Back corner near the orchard path?”
“Y-yes, that’s right.” Tassh stuttered, clearly surprised by Diwa’s memory. “That’s it exactly.”
Diwa put on his best smile again and nodded. “Great! I’ll have the paperwork over to you as soon as I can. Sounds good?”
Tassh beamed, showing not only his tusks but his frighteningly large incisors. “Marra apanna, my friend,” he said in thanks, and left the lobby, humming with pleasure.
“Hmm.” A distracted hum from the area near Samuel’s desk.
Diwa moved towards him, trying to keep his annoyance in check. “Do you have that paperwork I asked for? It’s for the aanoupii family in D005. You told them you need to have them finish it up.”
Samuel’s head popped up from behind a filing cabinet. What was he doing back there…? He was clearly distracted, and heavily so. Was he hiding? He blinked in confusion, slowly scanning the office, until his mind finally made a connection. “Yes! Yes…the aanoupii family, you said? I just had it the other day. Let’s see…” He clambered out from his hiding spot. “The others still need to sign the rest of the rental agreement,” he said, and began to search the multiple piles of folders laid out on one of the long tables. Some files he casually glanced at or touched with his fingertips, others he flipped quickly through. Diwa was surprised that he could recognize specific items by folder alone…perhaps lolo Daniel’s personal filing system, erratic as it was, made sense in its own strange way after all? “The main pages are done, this is the…oh, where is it?”
Diwa raised an impatient eyebrow at him and tentatively leaned closer to the desk. “Can I help you find it?”
“No, no…” his father said a little too quickly. “I just had it the other day, just give me a moment to – Ah! That’s right, it’s over here.” He deftly yanked a folder from near the bottom of a perilous-looking tower of paperwork, which wobbled ever so slightly in response. Both he and Diwa backed away in case it started to go. “Here you go,” he said, pushing the folder into his hands. “We need signatures for all three adults. So far, we only have Moffer’s. The other two were still in transit when it was originally signed.”
“Moffer’s the older brother, right? The plumber?”
“I thought so. That was Tassh that stopped by. So – just Tassh and Kantah then.”
“Can you get it back to me by tonight? I need to send a scan of it to the Tenancy Association and I’d like to get it done as soon as I can.”
Diwa nodded. “Sure thing. Anything else you need while I’m out?”
Samuel glanced around the office as if it held an answer for him. “No, anak, I’m fine. Thank you.”
Diwa turned to leave, nearly knocking over another tower of nearby folders, and stopped short. He held back a frustrated sigh…why was his father so distracted by this room? Was he actually doing anything in here, or was he just using it as a hideout from his family and the rest of the world?
He wondered if he should ask again if he needed help clearing this mess, but he held back. Now wasn’t the time.
Diwa strolled along the outside walkway towards the central stairwell of his building, taking in the expanse of the estate. Their space had a perfect and mostly unimpeded view of the five other towers across the way, the rows of bungalows lining each side, and the community center near the main driveway. He never tired of the view, even when he felt that slight pang in his stomach every time he lingered near the railing for too long.
Their complex resembled an opened hand from this vantage point. His building was a wide curved tower, its concave side facing the main green. The other towers across the way were taller and thinner and facing perpendicular to his, like fingers pointing upwards, and the short bungalows bracketed each side like a hand’s edges. The main drive circled the main green, with an exit curving past the community center and out onto the main thoroughfare to his left like a thumb. The gentle curve of his own building resembled the base of the palm, thus the origin of its name.
Samuel said it had been built that way on purpose, to evoke a ‘giving hand’ to anyone who wished to live there. It was a micro-community, with all kinds of humans, aliens and numerous other beings living alongside one another in relative peace and harmony. Anyone was welcome here. That had been one of the most important stipulations in the original deed written up by his distant elders, some five or six generations ago, and handed down to each successive proprietor.
He understood this kind of living environment was a lot more complex than it seemed. It wasn’t enough to just hold out that giving hand; it was also about using that hand to keep the complex alive and thriving. This meant caring for the property itself, but it also meant caring for – and listening and connecting with – every tenant that lived there. This was to be his future, and he had no doubts about following through with it. He understood that learning Samuel’s job was not going to be easy, yet he still believed he could do it. With Kaffi, with Anna-Nassi and Cole, and everyone else, he could do it.
He walked across the wide central green, humming to himself. It was late morning and many of the retired elders would be heading out for their daily errands. He recognized a few of the tenants here and there as he crossed. The chatty elderly mandossi couple from Building B were sitting at a picnic table with one of their cousins who lived in one of the bungalows, and they were deeply involved with the latest gossip. Satoshi and Sakura, the human newlywed couple that recently moved into a unit on one of the lower floors of Palm, were heading out on foot to do some shopping on the main street, and the seemed a bit more sure of their surroundings now. A daycare group was gathered in the sprawling playground in the shadow of Building C. The youngest of the kids were hooting and screaming and having the time of their young lives. Maricel was over at the far edge of the playground, playing a game of catch with one of her hedraac school friends. The chaperones and parents were off to one side, chatting and occasionally reprimanding a youngling. His mother stood outside the community center with the mandossi Elise-Nooviya, having quite an animated conversation about an upcoming tenant meeting. All their voices echoed between the buildings; the layout had been such that there would never be complete silence.
Graymar was once again up on the roof of Building C, observing it all. He and Kaffi would soon be departing for the co-op farm to deliver the last batch of paperwork that needed completing. Diwa waved at the tintrite, not expecting him to respond, but Graymar nodded and waved back, his wings fluttering slightly. Diwa smiled and went on his way.
He met up with the furtive aanoupii at his apartment moments later. Tassh grinned and let him in. “I apologize, I should have been more formal,” he said, and held out a rough palm. “Tasshigatri, Moffer’s younger brother. Welcome to our home.”
Diwa bowed slightly in response and placed his tiny palm in Tassh’s enormous one. A slight lift and dip; it was the local handshake for those who could not quite manage the human version. “Glad to meet you, Tassh,” he said, and pulled out the paperwork from his satchel. “Thank you for waiting. I should apologize myself; our office is currently…” he paused, trying to find the right words that wouldn’t embarrass him or his father. “It’s getting an overdue sprucing up,” he finished.
Tassh hummed, his lower tusks rising and falling in appreciation. “That’s fine. Your father is a good man, Diwa. I’d like to thank him again for letting us live here on the estate. There was a worry that we might not have been accepted. As tenants, we mean.” Tassh blushed, dark blue splotches appearing on his grayish cheeks, after realizing that his words could have been taken entirely the wrong way. “We heard there are many wishing to live here, that is.”
Diwa completely understood. Getting a unit here was a lesson in patience, but the only reason for it was that the average tenancy was measured not in years but in decades, and the turnover was slow in response. The estate was considered a long-term home for many. “He says he’s glad to have you here,” he said, and handed Tassh the folder. “Here you go. He needs Kantah and yourself to complete the paperwork, just to finalize it. Would you be able to return it to us by the end of the day? Samuel needs to prep it and get it off to the Tenancy Board in Panooria soon. You can leave it at the front desk at the community center, and he’ll pick it up tonight.”
Tassh nodded again, and Diwa was once again taken in by the aanoupii’s large horns budding off his temples, mottled black and white like granite, much larger than the usual aanoupii horns he was used to. Tassh noted his curiosity and gave them a hard, loud knock. “Pride of our clan, these!” he said, flashing his equally large tusks and teeth. “Strongest in the area. Moffer’s are even bigger. Our entire family works in construction and renovation, so these things come in handy.”
Diwa laughed at his obvious pride. “Good to know! I heard that Building C might be slated for updating work next year. If you or your brother want to put in a bid as a construction associate, just let Samuel know; he could look into the legalese and logistics. Oh – and I’ve heard you’re into gardening, yes? We’ve got plot openings on the central garden out front, as well as near the south end of the orchard. Come and let us know if you’re interested and we can have one set up for you.”
Tassh leaned back and barked out a laugh, all signs of his previous timidity gone. “Of course I shall!” He tapped Diwa’s hand once more. “Tell your father we wish him well, and we will get the documents back to him later tonight.”
“I will,” Diwa said, and saw himself out. He found himself grinning despite the mundanity of the entire conversation. He was going to enjoy talking with that aanoupii.
On the way back to his apartment, he caught a glimpse of Kaffi and Graymar heading out for the co-op farm. The idea of Kaffi flying deliveries fascinated him; he’d seen his friend fly for years, but never burdened with delivery satchels, or even a ride for that matter. He realized he missed the tintrite, even though it had only been less than a day. He was so used to being with him that his absence touched him more than he’d expected.
He stopped in the center of the green once more on his way back. It was slightly quieter; the chaperones having taken the daycare children back to the community center for a late morning snack. He could hear the chattering of the elder mandossi this time, talking in their own language. He also saw Anna-Nassi and Cole off in the distance, having a quiet conversation near the path to the gardens. Some tenants had left the green, while others continued to pass through or stopped for a brief time.
He exhaled, looking up at Palm. His apartment was at the center of that curve, halfway up, near the central stairway. And Samuel was there on the balcony, leaning against the railing, looking back down at him. He waved at his father, and his father waved back.
The flight to the co-op farm was a bit further than Kaffi had expected, but he had no complaints about the distance. The longer he stayed up in the air, the happier he was. The flight itself was relatively easy and enjoyable, heading southwest for a dozen or so miles over a succession of flat valleys, light forests and farmland. Having an extra twenty pounds worth of paperwork and other documentation secured to his underside, on the other hand, felt incredibly awkward. The satchels were tight against his belly and shifted his center of balance, causing his back end to lift slightly to make up for it. He’d been assured he’d get used to it eventually, but right now it made flight rather uncomfortable.
Graymar flew beside him to his right, his own satchels bound to him and his body stretched out and even with the flow of air. He made it look so easy and effortless! No strain at all. He glided on the wind, pumping his wings only when needed. It made Kaffi realize he still had a long way to go when it came to flying…but he was happy to be learning from the best.
“How much further?” he asked.
“Mile or so,” Graymar said, gesturing into the distance with his snout. “Those orchards on the incline just ahead of us. The office is at the head of the fields just below them.”
Kaffi hummed in response. He’d been paying attention to Graymar’s chosen route, picking up the scents and sounds and visual points of reference, as well as the way the wind felt as they flew. They were flying against the air flow so they would tire easily on the way to the farm, but it would be a quicker and smoother ride on the way back.
Graymar often talked about how flying to Panooria was a two-day event, but the flight back was an almost effortless single day trip because of the wind currents. Panooria was a good seventy miles north of the city and on the other side of a range of high hills. He’d been there a long time ago via transport, but it had changed significantly over the years, becoming an extremely important political and economic hub. He’d heard so many wonderful and fascinating things about it that it was a trip he looked forward to when he got older. Perhaps with Diwa.
But for now, heading out to the co-op farm was good practice.
They began their slow descent, gliding over roads and fields, until Graymar directed him towards the large landing pad just outside the co-op offices. “With the extra weight, it’s going to be a harder landing than you’re used to,” he said. “Use your wings to slow up, then drop down. Try to drop as erect as possible, use your heels and knees to cushion the touchdown. Expect a faster pulldown.”
He knew this instinctively, but he took his father’s guidance to heart when it came to flight. Thing was, he’d never flown with this much weight strapped to him, and he was afraid he’d do it wrong and damage the satchels or hurt himself in the process. There’s always a first time, he reminded himself. I can do this. But as he approached the landing pad, instinct and habit kicked in, already maneuvering into his swoop-and-drop landing. He tried to stop himself, but it was too late, flapping his wings more furiously than he’d meant to, and misjudged the height. He was at least six feet higher than he’d planned. He growled in frustration and let his wings slow up, letting gravity take over. Landing hard, the angle of his body and the weight of the satchel suddenly pulled him forward, and both his arms shot out to keep from crashing down face first.
Graymar dropped down quietly and gracefully beside him a moment later with a two-step landing just as he picked himself up and brushed himself off. Eiyah, what must his paddir think of him right now?
“That could have gone better,” Kaffi grumbled.
Graymar hummed lightly and flashed his fangs at him. “I’ve done much worse in my time, Kaffi,” he said. “As long as you are fine, and the package is undamaged.”
“I’m fine,” he said, and patted the satchels. “No damage. Just my pride.”
Graymar nodded and led the way towards the main offices of the co-op farm, a low boxy building with numerous doors and truck bays, and quite a lot more workers and visitors than Kaffi had expected. The main doors opened to a wide lobby with several low benches, tables, and vending machines. Warehouse employees were everywhere, heading from one department to another or heading out to the fields or taking a break in the cafeteria. It was much noisier than he’d expected; there were so many conversations going on that he could barely parse any of them.
His paddir led him away from the lobby and entered a long hallway. Away from most other people, he could now pick up the scents of all the produce grown here, and it made his stomach growl. He hadn’t had that much to eat before they flew – he’d been too nervous – and now he was starving. His stomach gurgled once more, and he cleared his throat to mask it. His father looked at him over his shoulder, grinning. “This place does the same to me,” he said. “We can eat after we’re done here. The office we need is just down the hall.”
Kaffi nodded but said nothing.
Graymar tipped his head, showing a soft and unexpected grin. “You’re doing well, Kaffi,” he said softly, patting him on the arm. “Don’t be nervous.”
Kaffi felt the bridge of his snout heating up. “Y-yes, paddir,” he said.
He followed him into a large office and motioned for him to take a seat at one of the low benches lining the wall while he talked with the person at the front desk. The satchel was still secured to his underside, making sitting down even more awkward, but he didn’t want to take them off just yet. He wanted to follow protocol, even if he hadn’t been told what it was. His father was still wearing his and hadn’t motioned for him to do anything else with them. Better to follow his lead than make himself look foolish.
But gods, it felt good to rest! He let his wings ruffle just a tiny bit as he stretched his back. Long distance flight was always hard work, but it was enjoyable work, he’d already decided. He’d just need to get used to the additional weight.
Which made him think about Diwa again, and that he’d be flying with him soon enough when they were both ready. He was just as curious about it all as Diwa must be. He had no idea what it felt like to have a ride. What was his weight, anyway? He laughed quietly to himself…how would he even ask such a question without flying away in embarrassment?
He lifted his snout and turned towards the other tintrite that had just entered the room, a young adult female with a slightly smaller frame and sleeker shape than his. A longish mane dyed a vivid dark crimson, and dark eyes with golden irises. A snout more pointed, with the left nostril pierced.
Kaffi’s eyes widened and his heart raced, finally recognizing her. “Lieysha? Eiyah, is that you?”
“I thought that was you! You’ve grown so much!” She grinned and waved him over. “Come, give me a hug already!”
Lieysha was a dear tintrite friend from school who’d graduated a few years previous and had been a mentor outside of his family and circle of friends. She’d watched over him during his awkward teen years and been the close and often physical connection of his own kind that he’d needed at the time. She’d also taught him several tricky flight patterns that his paddir would never have shown him, including the sideways turn and glide that had recently impressed both him and Diwa. They’d fallen out of touch some time ago, though he still thought of her occasionally. He leaped up and pulled her into a warm embrace, both humming joyously, high and melodic. “It’s so good to see you!” he sang. “I haven’t seen you in so long, I’ve missed you! What brings you here?”
“No longer the youngling, I see,” she said, tapping her snout against his and motioning to his satchel. “My manae works here as a transport coordinator, and I work here part time while I study for college. I’ve seen Graymar here a few times over the last few weeks. I hear your estate is signing up for the co-op?”
Kaffi nodded with a wide smile. “Everything should be official within a few weeks. I’m assisting my paddir this summer for the experience. Part of the internship.”
Lieysha hummed, long and lyrical; impressed. “Still going for the position?” she said, tapping a talon against his forearm. “Good for you. I always knew you’d follow through with that dream. I’m assuming you’re still hanging out with Diwa? It was impossible to separate the two of you.”
He hummed quickly in response, feeling the bridge of his own snout warming up. “We’re still together, of course. He’s working with his paddir at the estate for his half of the internship. It’s going to be a busy summer for both of us.”
“That’s great. I’m happy for you, Kaffi,” she said, and leaned forward to touch her snout with his again. She was always such a tactile tintrite, and he missed that the most. It made him feel happy and connected. “Listen to me, leinah,” she said quietly. “I’ve always believed you were able to do whatever you set out to do. You were always a wonderful flier, and Diwa will be a fine ride for you. Just…don’t make do, okay? If there’s ever a higher calling, I don’t want you ignoring it.”
Kaffi opened his mouth but couldn’t quite find the right words to respond to that. He’d have expected that from his manae or his paddir…but one of his tintrite friends?
“I…I won’t,” he said, and tapped his snout against hers once more before moving away. “I’ve always trusted myself to do the right thing,” he said. Pithy as it sounded, it was true. “I go with what my soul says,” he added, tapping his chest. “Always have.”
“Eiyah,” Lieysha laughed. “Very true.” She waved and turned away to head into one of the inner offices. “I need to rejoin my manae before she wonders where I am. I shall see you here again, yeah? We should get together again! And tell your family I said hello. Tell Diwa I said hello!”
He watched her leave the room, but now his mind was running far too fast. He completely understood the intent behind her parting words; she’d watched over him when he was teaching himself more complex flying methods, bonded with him as a close friend when he needed someone of his own kind. She would never try to talk him out of learning Graymar’s job, but she must be concerned by what that entailed and what he would be giving up, staying at the estate for the rest of his life. She understood his conviction…but she also understood his passion for flying.
“Kaffi?” Graymar grumbled from across the room.
He shook himself out his reverie and turned to his father, who was beckoning him over. He’d finally taken off his satchels and was holding them by the straps. Kaffi nodded and joined him, secretly relieved that he could finally take his own satchels off.
“Who was that?” Graymar said, nodding towards the closed door across the room.
“My school friend Lieysha,” he said, undoing the straps of the bag and gathering them up to carry it by hand. “Remember her from a few years ago?”
Graymar hummed. “Ah yes. I thought that might have been her. I’ve met with her manae Soriah here a few times. I’m glad you met one of your friends here! Come – we must make this delivery, then we can have our lunch and rest. Then we can fly back with the last run of documentation.”
Kaffi nodded, smiling as he fell in step behind his father.
aanoupii – (ah-noo-pee) very large bovine-like creatures similar to minotaurs, extremely friendly