Chapter 1: The Land
by Tala Bar
“Please, don’t fight!” Nim said half to herself, half to the arguing adults. She knew where her mother’s arguing with the man she was living with would inevitably lead.
“Shut up, Nim,” Orn said as an aside to her daughter, not quite harshly. In her mind, Nim was, though fifteen and two months, still too young to understand.
Nim, indeed, did not understand what her mother and her mate of two or three years were arguing about; but she knew from long experience that such continuous arguments, once they started to be a part of everyday life, were the beginning of the end of the relationship. Her heart filled with resentment, which was a mixture of anger and sadness, and she came out of the house and sat on the stairs leading up to it.
Being a passionate girl, the disturbed lifestyle Nim had been exposed to since early childhood, had opened for her enough scope for both loving and hating. She had always been happy when making new acquaintances, but this happiness was inevitably followed by deep sadness at having to part from them eventually. Because her mother, Orn — a pretty, vivacious woman — was both too independent and too needy of the variety of life to maintain a stable relationship or be satisfied with a permanent place of employment. Orn loved the company of men, and the thought of living alone with her daughter had never crossed her mind; but more than anything else she disliked constancy. Consequently she wandered from one man to the other, not always bothering to get married or troubling with a divorce if she had.
It was never clear in Nim’s own mind whether Orn had been married to her father or not. It did not matter much, because she hardly remembered him, being barely two years old when her mother had moved on to another man. Orn was always able to support herself by doing various secretarial jobs, at which she was highly skilled; she had never wanted to become a burden on society but was not averse to finding a man of means who could release her from any economic obligations. Jimo, her latest mate, had been that kind of man.
“What’d you think of Jimo?” Orn asked Nim when they had been living in his house for a month.
Nim did not particularly care for the man, any more than for any other man they had been living with. She did not, however, actively dislike him. He was of early middle age, big and handsome in a rather rough way; he was kind to Nim, exercising on her a sort of manly charm which she did not really understand, being rather young for her age. Nim liked Jimo’s large, lovely house, situated in a splendid neighborhood; she found out that it was Jimo who had built those houses, for other well-off people like himself. But the best thing about him for Nim was his son Col. When Orn and Nim came to live with Jimo, Col was a little boy of six; Nim, a girl of twelve and on the verge of puberty, fell immediately in love with him.
“He’s so cute,” she told her mother. “Without a mother of his own,” she added, pityingly, “he deserves a better father.”
Orn laughed that free, loud laughter which Nim did not always understand, and sometimes resented, especially when she herself was being quite serious. Col had never had a proper mother. His own had died when he was born, and his father had never thought of marrying another, too busy in his moneymaking business. There had been girlfriends, but none had stayed more than a few months, because Jimo’s temper had not allowed anyone to interfere with his life. He actually preferred putting Col in day care, looking after him in a casual way at night, treating him on the whole in the same remote way he regarded Nim when she came to live with him and Col.
Nim took over looking after Col as soon as she and her mother had settled down in Jimo’s house. He was a sad little boy, small for his age, with dark curls and large, dark eyes. She fell in love with his sadness and then with his laughter, after she had taught him to laugh and be happy in her company. She took him to school in the morning and home in the afternoon; she spent most of the evenings with him until it was time for him to go to bed, when she put him to bed and told him bedside stories. Her days were filled with him, and so was her heart, and for the first time in her life she had stopped worrying about her mother’s doings, and how they had affected her. She had now someone else to take care of, who was separate from them both.
Two and a half years of unconscious bliss had passed on Nim, when she noticed that Orn had grown tired of Jimo as she had done of all the men before him. The girl fell into a deep gloom, trying to hide her feelings from Col. She did not want to sadden the boy before anything had actually happened; but, having grown so close to her, the boy could not ignore his good friend’s sadness.
“What is it, Nim? Have I done something I shouldn’t?” Straightaway and characteristically, he was putting the blame on his own head.
The girl immediately pulled him to herself, hugging and kissing him, telling him he was the best boy in the world; the blame, as usual, was put on the heads of the adults, who could not understand the feelings of children. But she would not tell him what was really going on. She was thinking, as a matter of fact, that being the man he was, and the way he had treated his son, Jimo just might let Col go with Nim and Orn. She never had any doubt that Orn would not mind taking Col with them. She had been good enough in looking after Nim, and Nim did not think another child would be too much of a burden. She had not gone as far as talking to her mother about all that, though.
Jimo, surprisingly and unlike the other men before him, was not accustomed to let go of something he liked and thought he owned. He was happy to have Orn around the house and in his bed and had got used to Nim looking after Col; it had relieved him of that responsibility with no effort on his part. He was not such an easy man to let them go so easily. The fights between him and Orn became much more serious than Nim had ever seen before, and it was very clear to Nim that if her mother left Jimo, there was no way he would let Col come with them. She felt a disaster pending, and there was nothing she could do to prevent it.
On the morning of the catastrophe, Orn told Jimo that she and Nim would be leaving as soon as they finished packing their things, and after she had made a final check of her car. Col, by now nine years old and in no need for Nim to take him to school, had already left the house. Nim, in revolt, left the house as was her way when upset, to sit on the stairs leading to the porch in front of it, wait for things to quieten down. She had refused to make a move to pack her things, was not sure and did not care if her mother was doing anything about it. The adult couple then came out of the house to look for her, still shouting at each other. They were standing at the door when the earth shook and the house fell on their heads...
It was ironic that the catastrophe had saved Nim from the heartrending separation from Col. Nim; however, she was still too innocent to understand the irony of the situation...
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Tala Bar