I come to the Market because I am idle, not because it is expected of me.
My entourage surrounded me like silk cushions, keeping me softly safe while I trifle with the Market, with its anise-scented spice houses, its tangerine tea shops and its banners of cloth, multi-coloured, that dance with the sea-born trade winds. There is nothing here that I do not already own or that I could not have delivered by the shopkeeper himself after closing his stall and forsaking all others for the day. He would coo and trill and promise me the Islands themselves for a sale. It is expected, truthfully, that it would be my will to be entertained by the shopkeeper’s trembling hopes wrapped in precise words of praise and supplication. To buy from him would ensure his success for all of his life. For all of his children’s lives.
Indeed, coming here, in the precarious flesh among strangers outside of my caste, is gauche, even scandalous.
But I am above such scandal.
No, I come here to see what is rarest of all – life. It is not orchestrated for my whims, it is not sifted and preened for my delicate nature. The Market is one of the rare places where men and women of all castes come because regardless of their stature, they all require the same things. It is a safe ground, as close to holy as social caste can come, where glances and words and touches are not forbidden. And I may come – guarded, yes, I would expect no less – and see what is denied to me. It is this I desire most: the new, both wondrous and horrible , unshielded from my eyes.
And when I saw her, I knew I had found a treasure unlike any other.
She was small, that one, and at first I thought her no more than a child, a girl barely in the first years of her crimson moons. But as I neared, feigning interest in a golden bobble to the delight of its mistress, I saw the haunted hollows of her eyes, a grey like storm clouds cursed by sailors.
Or the grey of the grave.
I swallowed back one of the common blessings as a shudder thrilled my spine. I am no garden girl, no wine maid, no nurse, I told myself, and would not sully myself with superstition. No, I looked again and decided her eyes are grey like the Heron’s egg, with a hint of jade to them. Jade and time. She is older than she looks, I decided, and has suffered for it. I watched as she lingered in the shadows of the Market, moving under the flapping banners, sliding like a lemur under the wood slats and between the stalls, relying on her small form to fool others, believing, perhaps, she is a ghost herself, and not worth noticing. She wore no rank of family or caste; her clothes were plain, like the untouchables.
And that was when I stopped myself, somewhere between the vintner and egg-keeper, and raised my silk shawl to shield my face. Untouchable. Here. And tolerated! I bit my lip, casting my gaze about to assess where my ‘cushions’ were, to discern how much freedom I truly had, and realized I had none. At last I saw her turn aside and disappear into the throng of merchants and customers, a ghost now, but only of my memory. No one has noticed her. No one has missed her. I looked down.
The egg-keeper smiled at me, thinking I favoured her, now, and twittered like a hen herself. On cool grey silk in a position of honour among her goods, lay a clutch of eggs – Heron eggs. A sign, I decided, before I reached out to claim them. (Originally wrote it as a present-tense flowing sort of thing, then thought it should be 1st person past tense. This is fairly raw, so excuse places where it reads funky.)