It had been almost three days since Channa left, and no one had seen or heard anything from her during that time. Thali was almost sick with worry, often talking of her mother while she did her chores as though to keep herself company; and even Tanmar could be found on occasion pacing the hallways, pausing every so often in front of the door to his wife’s room. Risa would watch them, a pitying expression on her face; for she did feel sorry for them, despite the fact that they had wounded her far greater than the grief they now had to bear. But why should she care if Channa returned or not? She almost felt that they would be better off without her.
She had come down the stairs one morning without looking where she was going when she bumped into Tanmar, who had been staring absentmindedly at the door to the Niche. He looked down at the girl in surprise, who returned his stare with an equally wide-eyed one.
“Iuste,” he said politely before turning to leave.
“You must really hate her,” Risa mumbled to herself as she continued on her way.
But Tanmar had heard her; and he stopped walking, turning his head slightly to the side. “Hate her?” he echoed. “Why would I do that?”
Risa stopped. “Well...well,” she stammered, wishing she hadn’t spoken at all, “doesn’t it hurt you when she leaves like this?”
“Of course,” he answered, turning to face her.
“And isn’t this selfish, that she’s thinking only of herself? She doesn’t care the least bit what happens to you, or her daughter.”
“So shouldn’t you hate her for that? Or, at the very least, make her stay?”
There was a pause; Risa couldn’t seem to read anything from his expression.
“Iuste,” he began, after a time, “How do you love people?”
“What?” Risa asked, taken aback.
“How do you convince people that you love them? What shows them this, if they do not believe your words?”
Risa ignored the stinging feeling this comment gave her. “I would know that I loved them through the things I’d be willing to do for them. I would do anything for the people that I loved,” she stated, a tinge of something painful in her voice.
“Even if it hurts?”
Risa paused. “...yes?” she answered, though strangely inconfident.
Tanmar smiled sadly down at Risa. “And that is why I let her go.”
Risa then stood there and watched him in the silence that followed, studying the ever-patient look that seemed engraved into the corners of his face. Never once had she heard him raise his voice; and she probably never would. Within that moment, she had more respect for him than anyone that she had ever known in her entire life.
And yet she could only watch him walk away, the thoughts that stopped her from comforting him coming almost ashamedly to her mind; for he deserved nothing more than this, as a son of the Kalpan nation.
Risa was the first to see Channa return that night; so naturally, Channa was the first to see her as well. Her expression was a mixture of so many different things that they were indistinguishable at first, one from another; but they eventually merged into one of unmistakable hatred, that was pointed straight at Risa.
She came stumbling up to the doorway, hollering something in Korish; her eyes, swollen and red, half watched and half scorned Risa as they swept over her, visibly judging her movements. Her clothes reeked of perfume and alcohol, which tickled Risa’s nose and made her gag; and small red welts, like overly large bug bites, dotted the underside of her chin and scattered their way down her shoulders. She yelled a bit louder, her words slurred and incoherent; and then she collapsed on the ground, her hair splayed out all around her.
Risa, who didn’t know what else to do, watched the entire scene with a look of disgust on her face.
Thali came bursting out of the house first, alarmed at the sudden noise and wondering if something was the matter with the Justice; but then she caught sight of her mother lying in a heap on the floor in front of her, and she cried out for Tanmar, dropping to the ground beside her.
“Mama...Mama...” she whispered over and over, shakily brushing away the hair from her mother’s face. The cloth that covered her lips was trembling, and her eyes were threatening tears. “Djaila, djaila, don’t leave me, Mama...”
“Channa!” Tanmar exclaimed as he threw the door open, rushing outside with a look of alarm on his face. He knelt down beside his daughter and took hold of his wife’s hand, massaging it reassuringly. “Channa,” he repeated, almost sadly.
“Zeyar?” she murmured.
“Dya, it is your husband,” he said, quietly but firmly. His grip tightened on her hand.
An understanding lighted her face and she lashed out at him, her eyes darting back and forth like a wild animal. “Leave me! Leave me!” she screeched. “I want only Zeyar!”
Tanmar bowed his head. “Thali,” he said quietly, “take your Ona inside.”
“Ku, Oja,” she nodded. She pulled Channa’s arm around her neck and began to lift her slowly off the ground, leading her towards the house. “Merka, Ona,” she said softly once or twice.
Channa grunted incoherently, her head swaying back and forth. Her long black hair was a mess of tangles.
“Zeyar...Zeyar...” she moaned as she walked. “Ane could you leave me na, Zeyar?”
Risa watched the two of them amble back into the house, unsure of what to do; and when they had disappeared behind the door, she turned to look for Tanmar, remembering that he had been standing there also. But he had already gone.
She hesitated, wondering if she should wait for him to come back; but she decided that it would probably be best to return to the house, and leave the door open for when he returned. With a sigh, she began walking toward it, weighted down by a heavy tension in the silence.
Thali was just leaving her mother’s room as Risa entered. She could almost hear the woman’s gentle sobs from behind the door as it closed, and she couldn’t help but stare. Thali turned to see Risa standing there, watching without meaning to; her face reddened as she ducked her head uncharacteristically and tried to move past her to the door on the other side of the hall.
“Excuse me,” she said quietly.
“Thali, wait,” Risa called, stopping her. “I...I wanted to ask you a favor.”
Risa’s heart pounded in her chest. She didn’t know what she was trying to do; she wasn’t even sure what had made her call out in the first place. But there was a strange ache in her heart at the sight of the girl looking so dejected...she felt it would be inhuman of her to go on as though nothing had happened, even if the girl was a Kalpan. She couldn't do it, not again.
If only she could distract her from her problems, in the way Kalauda once had so very long ago...
She fumbled over her words, barely able to grasp their meaning before they left her mouth.
“I...was wondering, if you...if you could...” she took in a deep breath, closing her eyes in concentration. “If you could teach me Korish.”
Thali had braced herself, as though for a blow; but if there had been anything she had been expecting the proud-faced Justice to say, it most definitely wasn’t that.
“What?” she said, disbelief shining clearly in her voice.
Risa could feel her face grow hot; and she opened her eyes, but only to stare at the ground. “Could you...I mean, would you...teach me Korish...please?”
Thali blinked. “Of course,” she answered. “But why?”
“Well, the next time your mother decides to create a commotion,” Risa said awkwardly,” maybe I could talk to her and calm her down too, instead of just standing there doing nothing. And I’d like to be able to defend myself also, in case she calls me those...names again.”
Thali paused, and then the widest of grins spread the cloth that covered her face; and Risa felt a sudden swoop in her stomach, a certain sort of satisfaction at having succeeded in her task. The sinking feeling that had been occupying the base of her heart since she had first arrived left her all at once, and quite without her realising it.
“I would be happy to help you,” Thali gushed excitedly, “Really I would. We can even start tomorrow, if you like.”
Risa nodded, hiding her happiness by turning away; and Thali watched her go, listening for the click of the door upstairs before she entered her own room. She closed door slowly behind her and leaned up against it for awhile, before letting out a very long sigh.
And immediately, as though a light had burst in her mind, she began formulating exactly what she was going to teach her new student, and how she would successfully present a useful amount of Korish each day to an ignorant Reihimian girl without becoming too overwhelming. She pulled books off the shelves, flipping through them excitedly for anything that could aid her in her teaching.
She would never forget the look in the Justice’s eyes as she spoke those words. There was of course that ceaseless pride, both in her countenance and in her voice; but her eyes had betrayed the first hint of kindness than she’d ever seen in the girl since they first took her in seven suns ago. She closed her book with a sigh and flopped down on her bed, holding it close to her chest. That girl was so very strange.
For the more she got to know her, the more she felt that she was beginning to understand her; and then she would go and do something entirely unexpected, and Thali would have to rethink everything, ending right back where she had started. She was a strange girl indeed.
But perhaps that was why she was beginning to like her so much.