I don’t know what this fruit is called. I know what it is in Selati, but I keep forgetting its name in Pendika. I don’t know what this other fruit is at all. I cannot remember the Pendika name.
This is embarrassing. I have been raised to know much of the Pendika language, and am able to speak it–more or less. Yet there are still many words I do not know. They did not grow at the river dividing their country and mine. They were not in the books my mother stole from them. I know their system of government. I know the structure of their defence and military. I know who are the leaders of their country, and of their capital. Yet I cannot name a simple fruit.
I eat it, anyway. Master Beika forces it on me. She tells me I had not eaten anything the whole day. But I am not hungry.
The citizens of Pendi all stare at me, as if I were not just a stranger, but an oddity. A strange animal from a strange land. Never mind that many of my people serve them as cleaners, sweepers, bricklayers, waiters. I do not wish to be anything special in their eyes. But being stared at, as if I were not a man, of flesh and bone as they are…I do not want it anymore.
The Pendika Beika of northwest takes me by the hand and drags me into a small eatery, treating me as her equal. They all stare at me as if Master Beika has acquired a new animal pet. It is even worse when I am with Miss Marceau of the capital. They stare at me with a bad combination of pity and distrust.
I do not belong here, but I cannot go back to where I came from. I will be killed if I return. But I am as good as dead to many of the people here. I do not know what to do.
So I resolve to stay where they keep me, and not to move from there anymore. Until they tire of this sport of being nice to me, and they realize they made a mistake, and bring me back to the edge of the river where they found me…here I will stay, until I wither away.
So I close my eyes and wait for another day to pass without me, without me being seen as a stranger, by being seen by no one.
I feel a gentle pat on the shoulder. I peer out reluctantly. I find Master Beika smiling at me.
I take a while to translate what she quickly says in her language. She has raised a small bag to my face as she talks. I make out “sandwich”, “egg”, “cheese”, and “eat”. I also hear “soup”. I could probably understand everything she said, but I am tired about everything and nothing.
She pats me again, and rumples my hair. She pulls me up to sit. She gives another rapid wave of her language, so chipped and serious, so different from mine. Her words pass through her in tinkling river streams. She keeps forgetting that I do not know it as well as she does.
I shake my head. “Not hungry, thank you,” I say, halting, slow…foreign.
Beika lowers the bowl of soup. “What is wrong, my friend?” she asks slowly.
“Everything,” I say. “I am…stranger, here. I…not belong here.”
“Yes, you do belong here, silly!” The healer places my hand inside both her hands.
“Not like you,” I say, turning my head from her.
“Of course not, because you’re not Pendika,” she says, patting my hand.
I lower my head.
“Oh, my silly new friend, you misunderstand,” Beika says. “You didn’t grow up here, so you’ll always be different from us. But you belong here, my new friend. I promise you, you do.”
She gives me the warmest hug she could muster on short notice. “You belong here, with us. No matter what anyone says,” she tells me. “Never forget.”
I place my arms around her back, as I hug her as well.