When Tonderai begins his story again there is a new edge, a steel edge, to every word.
“This is not good. This is bad for trouble, for now the Favourites notice Girl. They want to catch her, to hang her like a mouse by her tail, and then to beat her so others may know how strong they are. They want others to see that it is best to go quiet, and to go hungry. To see that it is safer to be silent, than to say that Grandpa is wrong.”
The rain begins to pound on the roof, and as it hammers Tonderai raises his voice.
“Girl knows this, but she is not afraid. She is brave, brave for others, for she knows that Grandpa is too greedy, and that he does not care for his People who live below. She sees that while his People suffer, Grandpa feasts and feasts. And that while he feasts those below must work always to fix his house, to keep it tidy, to do this, to do that. Yet, however hard they work, the prices rise, the money changes, their savings vanish, and still they do not eat. They have no chance to fill their stomachs, so that they too can grow to be strong. All this worries Girl, for every day she sees the People get weaker and weaker, and she knows that this is wrong.”
Tonderai pauses, and Rudd waits. The whole room waits. It is quiet now for the rain has moved on. When Tonderai begins again, it is with a question, his hands held palm upwards.
“But she is only one Girl. What can she do? As the days turn to months and then to more months, Girl sees that being furious is no good. It does not help. But she knows that she must do something, for if she does not, then who will?”
Tonderai turns and walks towards Rudd. When he stops he is so close, that Rudd can smell the damp and the smoke in his clothes. He can almost touch him, but he does not, for he sees that Tonderai does not notice him. His eyes are on the floor, deep beneath the water that sweeps in under the door.
“What is sad for Girl,” he says without looking up, “is that her beloved Uncle is tired, very tired, and with every day that passes he gets weaker. Uncle is not a well man, not a strong man. He is weak without good food, and there are no medicines in the hospitals to help him. What is worse is that his feet are twisted in. From the day he was born his feet face in, like this.” Tonderai hobbles away, his gumboots bent in awkwardly. “Uncle,” he says, speaking towards the dark, “can walk only on the outside bones, and this makes the People afraid.”
Then Tonderai walks back to the firepit, the hobble abandoned. “Uncle, who cannot reach the Table, is a carver but he is sick for lack of care. And there are no visitors to buy his carvings, for now they do not like to come to Grandpa’s House of Stone. Now …” says Tonderai, but he does not finish for sudden, pounding rain shakes over the billiard room. It floods in beneath the door, whining and slamming.
Rudd sits frozen, every sense deafened, and Tonderai waits, leaning against the billiard table.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023