fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Twenty Six. {fiction}

We came together as a whole group four times a month, the lunar month, since the Gregorian calendar we had all used before the virus held little use or meaning to us.

The moon was nearly always clearly visible in our desert sky. New moon, first quarter, full moon, last quarter. About once a week.

At our meetings, we planned the next week’s work, figured out who would be learning what skills from whom, and generally checked in with each other. In such a small community, it would be easy to think that we didn’t need such meetings, but there’s a lot that can be missed in each other’s lives if we didn’t check in deliberately.

The Cave People, which is the term the group had started using for themselves, had eight years in which to develop their ways of sustaining our small hamlet and they were good at it. But there were differences too.

“But there are materials we could use to live better, to do more,” said Tochuku in his deep, rich, Nigerian lilt at our late spring, first quarter, meeting. We had gathered in Jeanne’s massive living room, discussing the possibility of a trip to Silver City to scavenge electronic parts and other needed equipment. Tochuku had been in charge of all our technological needs, so it was his idea.

“Better? How much better? Enough better to risk being caught, or followed back here?” returned Olga, sapphire eyes flashing like winter lightning.

“Our current systems will wear out if we don’t replace wiring and other components now and then,” said Tochuku simply.

Yazmin rose from the couch to her full Amazon-like height and raised her hands, facing the two. “Hold on, hold on,” she said, pumping her palms, trying to calm them,“let’s see if we can figure something out.” She looked down at the combatants sitting in their chairs. Her athletic frame and firm manner conveyed an authoritative effect even as she spoke in soothing tones.

Tochuku sat back in his seat, massaging the side of his head as if trying to rub away his irritation. He sighed in resigned exasperation. Olga eyed Yazmin warily, waiting for her to continue.

“We can talk about this, okay?” asked Yazmin, looking back and forth between the two.

Chastised, the debaters maintained strained but compliant silence while the rest of us sat listening to the exchange, waiting to add our own thoughts.

“Tochuku, how can you do this without taking too many risks? Without being followed back here? Can you?” asked Yazmin.

“If Frank and Ching Shih come with me, we could travel quickly and quietly. We could be there and back in two weeks or less. I know exactly where to look!”

Olga looked dubious.

“What do you think?” Yazmin asked, looking around at the rest of us.

“I’m game. I’ve traveled most of the route enough times. There really isn’t much between here and there. We’ll just have to get in and out of town as quickly as possible. That’s the risky part,” said Frank.

“I’ll go. I think we can do it without being seen. If Tochuku knows exactly where we are going, we can keep our time in town to a minimum,” agreed Ching Shih.

Gary glanced at Olga, shrugging apologetically, “I understand Olga’s concerns. I think those are valid. Still, we could use the materials. What we have is bound to deteriorate over time. I could sure use some lab equipment for my research on the local plants and animals.

We know the weather has changed here somewhat in the last 15 or so, but we don’t know exactly how much, and how it will affect the available foods, and what we can grow, down the line.”

“We can’t take any unnecessary risks. You know we can’t afford to lose anyone. We need each other. All of us,” Beto said heavily, contrary to his usual joking manner. He reached for Hallie’s hand as he spoke. Hallie remained silent, studying the floor.

The smaller children, Uma, Sid and Ruby, played quietly with their wooden toys on the floor, nearby. The older children, Zoe, Walter and Thomas, sat at the dinner table, working on the homework that Gary had given them that afternoon. Even the children sensed the tension in the room, and avoided drawing the adults’ attention.

“We only need that stuff if we think what we have here isn’t enough,” threw in Noah. “But it is enough. We don’t need all that technological stuff. We’ve got water, heat, food. We only use the electricity for lights and some small equipment now and then, but we could do without it just fine!”

As if reluctant to contradict her son, Noah, Jeanne spoke so softly I strained to hear her, “Not if we ever want to communicate with others. We have no idea what’s going on. We don’t know who’s out there, where they are, or what they’re doing. We learned a lot just from hearing Lakshmi’s story, but we really need to know more. If they can even find just a radio, we’d be able to find out something.”

“There’s so few of us, all it would take is the wrong person, or people, following you back…” said Noah.

“Actually, we need more people. We don’t have enough people for the long term. We’re just lucky we lasted this long,” put in Yazmin.

“What? Now we’re talking about bringing people back?” Olga shook her head at Yazmin. “I have children to think of!” Patricio nodded his head in agreement with his wife.

“No, I didn’t mean… I mean, not right now, but sometime we’re going to have to think about that. We’ll at least have to have friendly relationships with other groups. We don’t have to all live together, but we do have to have more people to collaborate with,” said Yazmin.

“Look, we keep coming back to this discussion. I don’t think it’s going to go away. I know there are risks, so the question is, can we find a way that Tochuku, Frank and Ching Shih can go without being seen? They’re right that we don’t know what’s going on elsewhere, and maybe they can find out. And our energy systems will need to be maintained.

The stores of electrical and technological equipment could be all scavenged already, but if they aren’t, we need to get to them ourselves soon. Sure, we can live without them, but do we want to?”

“You know, if we know more about what is going on in the area, we can better protect ourselves. We need information,” added Frank, hands lifted at the argument he saw coming. “I know that means taking risks too, but we can’t protect ourselves from something we don’t see coming. Ching Shih and I can escort Tochuku while scoping out what else is going on out there along the way.”

Olga pinned Tochuku with her stare. “Do you promise me that you will not tell anyone about this place where we live?” She glanced at Frank and Ching Shih, indicating that she included them in her question.

Tochuku shifted uncomfortably in his seat, looking back at her, then nodded. Frank and Ching Shih nodded too.

Ching Shih added, “Of course. I wouldn’t risk what we have here.”

Yazmin looked around the room, gauging dissent.

Noah shrugged, resigned. Beto, arm around Hallie, said nothing. Ching Shih and Frank were charged with the community’s security so that might have swayed Olga and the other ones with reservations about the expedition, at least enough for it to go forward. Our security team had done a great job for us so far, so there was plenty of reason to trust their judgment.

Tochuku was clearly so focused on the supplies he needed to further his work that he genuinely seemed to care little about the risk of such a trip. The group may not have trusted our safety to him but they did trust Frank and Ching Shih, so it was a go.

This is an ongoing series from a forthcoming fiction novel by Laura Ramnarace.
Tune in weekly for the next chapter in ‘Sung Home’.

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Laura Ramnarace, M.A. was driven to earn a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution while on her quest to find out why we can’t just all get along. She has published a book on inter-personal conflict, ‘Getting Along: The Wild, Wacky World of Human Relationship’, published a newspaper column also titled ‘Getting Along’, and submits regularly to Rebelle Society. Since 1999, she has provided training to a wide variety of groups on improving personal, working and inter-group relationships. ‘Sung Home’ is a work of eco-fiction set in southwestern New Mexico.

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