Late Afternoon, Achtus 30, 2716
An Empty Classroom
All things considered, Uzoji thought, the kofi had come out well. The color was rich and deep, a little more watery than perhaps it should have been, but the smell was good enough to make up for it, pungent and nutty and a little sweet. He would have to thank Erhue for them again; there was something amusing about living in the Muluku Islands and getting kofi recommendations from a man in Brunnhold, but he trusted Erhue’s judgment and thoroughly. Perhaps he could add a plant of this variety to his own garden.
Perhaps, Uzoji thought, gazing down at the beaker in front of him, he could make a cup for Aremu – perhaps – how long had it been, since he had done the full ceremony, and properly? To go to the plants himself, and pick the beans, one by one, finding the bright red berries hidden between the leaves – to remove the twigs from the end of them, and find the hidden unripe ones in a glass of water. To dry them, beneath the hot sun, to mill them and then roast them, himself, on a heavy pan in the hearth, and only then to begin the grinding and the brewing.
Uzoji felt an ache in his heart, and an odd tangle of memories rose to mind – his father’s hands, busy with the heavy pan, when he had been a small boy, and the smell that had called Uzoji closer to the hearth – Anoze, his eldest brother, teaching Uzoji the trick of it himself when he was home from Thul’Amat after their father had passed, and Aremu watching from a distance, keeping back, out of range, when he had been young enough to come home with Uzoji.
He had stopped, Uzoji remembered. They had not minded – even Anoze had not minded the presence of the quiet imbala, and Uzoji had always loved to have him there. But he had understood that not minding was not enough for Aremu, and he had not begrudged him the space.
Uzoji grinned over the kofi at Aurelie, and didn’t laugh when she almost choked on the first sip. “Give it time, Miss Steerpike,” he said, easily, and lifted the beaker and took a sip of his own. Yes, he thought – the quality of the beans came through, even with the uneven preparation.
“My wife,” Uzoji said, casually, because he was not unaware of the implications of his presence, and he was not sure – it was taboo, utterly taboo, here in Anaxas, and yet he had seen some male students watching in ways that had made him uncomfortable, “took a few tries to come to terms with the taste,” he smiled, fondly, at the memory. “She’s Bastian, so she didn’t grow up with kofi. I think she rather likes it, these days.” His hands were together on the desk, and he could see them both, the glittering golden ring on his left, and the scarring across the palm of his right. They both made him think of her; they both made him smile, just a little wider.
She looked more contemplative than dismayed, at the second sip, and again Uzoji found himself just a little impressed by her courage. He didn’t press her for her opinion, but took another sip of the kofi himself, and let Aurelie have her moment of whatever peace she could salvage.