Tumblr, I have had the worst time sitting on this for a month. But, behold! My early 30th birthday present to myself!
In this scene, Kalp, Gwen, and Basil (coworkers at the Institute and, if everything goes according to Kalp’s plans, soon to be his lovers as well) have skivved off work and are touring a small farmers market in a small town outside of London.
I can’t wait to get a large print of this up on my wall!
EDIT: Due to everyone’s enthusiasm, I’m putting up a longer excerpt of this scene. Thanks for the great feedback! Enjoy!
This “other place” is a small outdoor market tucked away in an ancient square at the centre of the village in which they live. As Basil parks the car, he points out the church that was built in 1407, the meeting hall across the square, the pattern in the coloured cobblestones. He is clearly proud of his cultural heritage.
Kalp asks Gwen where she was born and whether they might visit her home village, and her answer is more complicated. She tells him about deportation ships and horse theft, of a country called Whales and another called Kanada. Kalp gathers she is from the opposite side of the planet, which explains why her accent is so much flatter than the other humans around here. For a while Basil and Gwen playfully fight about the relative merits of Hockey and Football (“real footy, not the sissy-boy crap with padding”), and Kalp is not quite sure which either is, but they sound like sorts of war games.
She does not invite him to go visit her nation with her. Basil senses his disappointment and holds Kalp back for a moment while Gwen goes to investigate a stand filled with soft bright scarves.
“Gwen had a really horrid row with her mum,” he says quietly. “She doesn’t talk to her no more, yeah?”
Kalp comprehends. He is unsure how he feels about the news. He understands the slang word “row,” that it is a very heated argument. He had rows with his mothers and father when he was young. All offspring do. But he also wants to shake Gwen and yell at her, tell her to talk to her mother before a disaster strikes Earth, too. Before it is too late. Kalp’s family died while he had no regrets, and he is lucky. He would be unhappy if Gwen remained miserable about her mother, and then something horrible happened.
It is also partially selfish, and he can admit that to himself. He wants to see Kanada. He wants to travel to the other side of the planet and see long flat prairies and pointy mountains and the curved waterfall that is famous for simply existing. He wants to see them with Gwen.
He wants to hear people talk in the same flat cadence that Gwen does and know it as her own, as her accent, her marker of home.
Basil rubs Kalp’s shoulder in a comforting, friendly way, and tentatively, Kalp raises his hand and returns the gesture. Basil accepts the touch, seems to enjoy it as much as Kalp does, so Kalp leaves his hand there as Basil leads him over to the side of the square with the food stalls.
Basil tells Kalp about his own family — the torment of being the youngest son with two elder sisters, his mother’s rotten culinary skills, his absent father — while they crush and sniff herbs between their fingers. These sprouts are far more fragrant than the ones in the commercial market, though they are not as visually appealing. Kalp wonders at the inanity of cultivating the visual quality of an herb over its ability to add flavour when all one is going to do is chop it up for the purpose of adding flavour anyway.
They purchase great handfuls of several different plants, including one that smells like it may produce a beverage Kalp used to enjoy at home, and the woman behind the stall gives them their package wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper. Kalp finds it quaint. The next vendor is selling fruits — big red apples and purple figs and green fuzzy little things that Basil tells him are kiwis and come from the bottom of Earth — but the vendor is not pleased with Kalp’s presence.
He makes a sharp gesture that Kalp does not understand. Basil, however, does understand it and becomes immediately enraged. He shouts, quickly and in a baser language filled with cusses and slang. The fierce anger flowing from both human men hurts.
It almost comes to fisticuffs. Kalp has hold of Basil’s arms as best he can, his long fingers wrapped around to restrain the furious human. Gwen comes rushing to their aid and to Kalp’s surprise, is even more vocal in her reprimand of the vendor than Basil, though she helps Kalp keep Basil’s fists in check. Kalp supposes that her vocabulary of impolite words is even more extensive than Basil’s because she says several things he does not understand (but nonetheless perceives the meaning), and then she speaks in an entirely different language: “Cer i grafu! Y sais afiach!”
The vendor’s reaction is to turn entirely white, then entirely red. Another vendor must come and restrain the first and Kalp presses his ears against the back of his neck, eyes darting to the growing crowd, searching for escape points.
This day really is not going well.
The sharp bark of an angry man breaks up the crowd and they scatter away like the pigeons in the park. This man is wearing the uniform of the local constabulary and Kalp’s whole posture sinks. They are going to be arrested and thrown into jail for his disturbance!
But the police man does not yell at his team, he yells at the vendor. He calls the vendor ‘bigoted’ and ‘slanderous’ and tells him to pack up his cart and go home. Kalp is sure that the vendor cannot afford to be closed for business on a fine sunny afternoon, and he supposes that is his punishment for starting the altercation.
The vendor packs, muttering more obscenities under his breath.
The police officer sends a few sharp words to his team, as well, and Kalp dutifully bends his head and lifts his palms to catch the reprimand.
Bemused, the police officer then shakes Kalp’s hand, apologizes for the “display” of the argument, welcomes him to Earth, and strolls away. Kalp is confused. Basil is still puffing through his nose, cheeks mottled and red, and Gwen’s hands keep balling up and flexing alternately on her hips.
“Finish your shopping, dear,” says the woman from the herb cart. She comes over and pats Kalp’s arm affectionately. “Go on. Don’t take nothin’ old Rudy says seriously. He’s always off on ‘those Pakies’ and the ‘dirty blacks,’ huh! As if he weren’t the boy of immigrants himself. Go on now — there’s a new girl opened down the end of the row I think you’ll fancy.”
“Thank you,” Kalp says, and he can see that Basil’s breathing has evened out. Kalp is relieved. Basil’s heart has been pattering too fast and it is making Kalp anxious.
This time, Kalp takes the initiative and tugs on Gwen’s hand. His other hand has the now-crushed herb packet. Kalp leads them to the cart at the end of the row, and Basil follows. Before he is within five feet of the cart, Kalp knows what it holds. He stops at its lip, staring down at the assortment of produce with wide, burning eyes.
It is all food from his world.
Some of it is smaller and tougher looking. Some of the fruits are a bit misshapen, some are not vibrant enough, but some are bigger and brighter and fatter than Kalp has ever seen them grow. The woman — barely an adult, Kalp thinks — grins hugely at him.
“Was ‘opin you’d come my way,” she says. “See anythin’ familiar?”
Kalp is overjoyed!
“Where did you acquire the seeds?”
“One o’ yer people was a botanist — snatched thousands of ‘em from her labs. She’s working with my Pa. Got us the best hothouse in the county.”
Kalp’s eyes burn anew to hear that so much flora has survived.
Kalp wants one of everything. He wants all of it! But Gwen has only meted out a small amount of tender, enough to buy the required ingredients for one meal. He points out what he’d like, squeezing and sniffing and grinning back at the vendor. For every one he purchases, she gives two for free. He is as flattered by her generosity as he ever has been with any human’s.
Basil keeps up a steady stream of inquiries, asking what that is, and this, and what does it taste like, and how is it prepared, and can you eat it raw, and can he try one of these right now? Kalp selects the ripest of a small red fruit his people call the osap and the vendor washes it with her bottled water and Basil goes into raptures eating it on the spot. Gwen demands a bite, and is equally as pleased.
The vendor is happy, because now other shoppers are crowding around. Where the strangeness of foods from other worlds at first kept them away, now they are drawn by Kalp’s ability to explain what it is and how everything is used, by the novelty of the experience, and by Basil’s ringing endorsements.
Soon the vendor is too busy dropping produce into cloth bags and collecting tender to converse with them, but Kalp is happy to have helped her become prosperous. This is an excellent way to pay her back for her generosity. Kalp, Gwen, and Basil turn to go, and the vendor stops them with a shout:
“Oi!” she says. “You stop by after closin’ next Friday, mebe, we’ll talk. Mebe I’ll take you up to Pa’s farm, eh? You can give ‘im tips?”
Kalp bobs his head in the affirmative. He would very much like to see the farm. Kalp is no grower of plants, no cultivator of land, but he has been on farms on his own planet as a child and would like to compare.
Their last stop is at a vendor’s cart laden with animal carcasses. Kalp’s front teeth are sharp, an evolutionary throwback from carnivore ancestors, and he is eager to peruse the wares. He cannot find exactly what he is looking for, but settles on something called “venison,” which he hopes tastes close enough.
All the way back to the car, Basil keeps trying to dip his hands into the sack filled with produce to snatch another osap, and Kalp gamely keeps the purchases elevated far above Basil’s sneaking arms. Kalp’s reach greatly exceeds Basil’s.
Kalp tries out his first laugh, and it seems to be well received.