‘Yin very quiet; Yang wants to know why’
Khyran slipped into the empty chair in front of me and smiled his fey smile I figured I could identify from a thousand other smiles all mashed together into a melded mess.
‘Yin unhappy, don’t want you, go the hell away’ I countered, with a weak-hearted attempt at sounding annoyed at him. I just sounded pathetic. Annoyed at myself, I scratched my pointy nail against the faux wood table, carving patterns into it.
He sat back in his chair, smiling, the very essence of Yang as they taught us long back in the Grade B Ancient Philosophy class- male and light and active, a thing of the azure sky, of celestial origin. I sulked at him, feeling quite the essence of Yin- female, dark and earthly…not to mention extremely pissed off at the world, which the ancient philosophers hadn’t bothered to include.
We sat in silence, something everyone thought incapable of us. The orange door revolved in the back of my mind; my stomach lurched in protest, and the large sandwich K was eating didn’t help one bit.
It was massive; he must have made it himself at the Make Your Own counter and then filled it with probably everything on the counter, and then topped it with a bucket of tomato ketchup. A smear of red stained the corners of his mouth and I watched him lick it off slowly, the orange door forgotten because of his actions.
‘Ew, gross, K. Stop that!’
He grinned happily, taking another huge bite. I suspected he was doing it to get me to talk, because he said ‘My mouth, my tongue. What’s it to you, Ani?’
I scowled petulantly at him, making another scratch on the table. The orange door resurfaced at an angle that made my stomach go queasy again.
‘What did you do? Bit someone? Kicked dirt in someone’s eyes? Bopped Trainer Mee on the head?’
He recited it like a grocery list, and I actually flinched at the last one. K could be very loud-mouthed at times…no, strike that, most of the time.
He was big-mouthed too; I couldn’t help but notice, seeing as he was putting that sandwich in his stomach fast enough. I wondered if he was at it with so much gusto because he wanted one more.
‘Ani Raye’ he said in a mock stern voice, leaning forward. ‘, Tell me what’s bugging you’
I chewed on my bottom lip. ‘It’s nothing, K. Just-’
‘Raye! Zevre! Move, NOW!’
Trainer Stratten’s voice was one loud, unfaltering bellow that nearly made K drop his plate as he scurried to get off the chair and out the door. I watched the plate fall from his hand, watched his fingers close lightly around the rim, quick as the wildest lightning, while he swiped a glass off the table at the same time and downed what was left of my water.
‘Bye, Nee…see you!’ he called as he dumped the plate into the dumpster and disappeared.
I continued to sit there miserably, watching his empty chair, like it would suddenly metamorphose into someone who would tell me, in calm and soothingly mellow tones, why there was an Appointment at the Principal’s Office.
My frown deepened as I picked tomato slices off my plate and chewed noisily on them. It was unheard of. No one went in through that Orange Door. No one even saw the Principal, unless their immediate family had suddenly died- but even then, I remembered with a pang, he’d come out to tell you. And again, I had no immediate family.
Once- just once-that door had opened for someone…and that had been Fayne.
The last of the Croppers.
A shiver shot up my spine at my memory of Fayne, looking wondrously regal and warrior-like as he strode purposefully to the door. Close-cropped hair; neck and face showing battle scars; one arm useless from an attack. I had been five then, but the sight of him had impressed on me what no textbook could ever teach us- the majestic worth of a Cropper, the hope they were.
He had seen me peeking out from behind the thick marble-veined columns and smiled. A scar ran down one corner of his mouth, disfiguring the smile slightly, and there was something that told me that wound was fresh. He looked almost like an android version of a patchwork quilt, but I’d felt safe under that gaze just the same. He’d reached into his pocket and pulled out a bar of chocolate and beckoned to me, and of course I hadn’t gone, so he put it on the floor, smiled at me again and disappeared through the orange door.
Later, sharing the rich chocolate with K, we’d gushed for hours about how we’d be nice to young kids and give them all chocolates if only we’d been lucky enough to have been born with the gene that made us Cropper.
I’d heard about Fayne getting a bionic arm later on. Maybe he could throw chocolates with both hands now.
There was no reason that door should open for me.
‘Lost in thoughts? Again…’
Trainer Stratten took K’s chair and pushed a glass of the lavender potion they kept feeding us towards me. I let my fingers fold around the glass, feeling the sweet numbness of ice against my skin.
‘I have an Appointment’
Trainer Stratten frowned. ‘Hm?’
‘With the Principal’
He poked at the glass in my fingers and I raised it to my lips, wincing as the cold liquid scalded my throat, the way it always did. A warm, energetic buzzing pulsated through me, setting my nerves tingling.
‘The Principal. Hmm’
The mess hall had emptied except for the Lowers- the silent servants- on work cleaning up. Trainer Stratten brushed a hand through his close-cropped hair and watched me with a scorching intensity to his black eyes.
‘Who told you?’
‘Trainer Mee’ I mumbled, putting the glass back on the table and wiping my hand across my mouth.
‘Zoran doesn’t get his facts wrong’ Stratten said, thoughtfully. I nodded, more to myself than him, and watched a Lower scrape the remains of the sandwich toppings off the counter. ‘ ,It could be about a transfer’
‘Transfer?!’ my voice ripped through some twenty octaves and came out a shriek- a sound of pure despair.
He took my hand and squeezed gently. ‘Oh…relax, Ani’
‘They can’t!’, I cried, anxiously. ‘, They can’t do that! They just can’t!’
Everything seemed to have dissolved into a blur of colors. My chest heaved with the sudden tightness in my breathing, and panic grabbed my throat in a choke-hold.
‘Ani, come on- .’
‘They can’t do that! They can’t…’
Stratten stood, reaching across the space between us to clamp my mouth shut.
‘Quit it, Ani- don’t make a scene!’ he snapped, and the no-nonsense tone cut through my haze of panic. I exhaled once, softly, and felt the heat of it in the small space between his fingers and my mouth. His skin smelled of sweet soap and I pulled away, rattled by the fact that I’d even noticed that.
‘Listen. If you want, I’ll come with you. They won’t be pleased about it but-’
‘I’m not a child to be clinging to your finger anymore.’ I said, quietly, ‘You told me to face my fears, remember? “Don’t let even the shadows of doubt in. Remember, it’s shadows they play with”?’
Stratten grunted. ‘Maybe I still see you as the baby I brought to the School’
I smiled at that, scratching another line with my nail. I had been scratching alphabets unconsciously. AK. Ani and K.
No one ever said Ani or K individually except when speaking directly to us. It was always ‘Where’s Ani and K? What’s Ani and K upto?’
We were plural in numbers but a singular entity to the School. Ani-and-K was one being to the staff and students. Yet, I hadn’t told him about the appointment.
Crap. I’d have to find him and tell him before it or he’d lose his mind over where-Ani-could-have-gone scenarios.
‘You and K going in together?’
Stratten’s question was so in sync with my thoughts that I nearly yelped out loud in surprise.
Strangely enough, a small smile spread across Stratten’s face. ‘I’ll be going then. Don’t worry’
I watched him go, a little bewildered. Trainer Stratten had been the one who had found my after my parents’ death and brought me here to the School. According to the Sickbay nurse Willa, K and I had arrived together, two babies under three thrust into her care in a single day.
‘Your names fell the moment we saw you both- one fair as snow, the other so completely the treasure of the earth. We called you Khyran and Ansinah because of their meanings in my language- white and black, light and dark’
Willa never tired of telling that story, loved us both like crazy and was like a mother. When K had nearly killed himself accidentally by swallowing an inch long piece of glass (when he was off-the-planet stupid at seven) Willa had stopped sleeping for nearly a month so she could just hold me (off the planet weepy at six) on her lap while we waited for him to recover.
Trainer Stratten never mentioned anything about K though. While I knew my parents’ names, K knew nothing. White Stratten was always nice and fatherly to me, he bullied and picked on K like it was a ritual. I wondered if Stratten ever saw K as the baby he’d brought to the school, like he claimed he did for me.
I could probably have talked Stratten into stopping his nastiness to K, but K would be angry with me. He would not accept Stratten’s kindness unless it was obtained through his own merit.
Off-the-planet proud at twenty- that was what K was right now.
2 b continued…
Image courtesy: the net. Guns and roses- that's how I sum up Shaded sometimes.