Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Generation 1: Layla Lufti

Even though his beginning was unlucky, Kim Chong did not have the mindset to become despondent. He could sulk as much as he pleased, but if he did not eat he would die. He tended his meager garden and carefully weeded the ground around the young plants. When he walked to town, more often than not he was picked up by the truck driver. Her name, he eventually learned, was Ginny McDermott.

He sold his scanty harvest to Cherry Kanto to use in her drinks, and she slipped him a few simoleons in return. She also taught him her drawling English in between fetching beers and pouring whiskey. "Say after me. 'May I have another?'"

"'May I had nothin?'"

"No! Gawd, that doesn't even make sense now …" 

She shook her head in mock disgust and repeated the sentence and he repeated it back incorrectly as usual. She laughed at his blunders, glad to see him laughing too. Heaven knew he had enough to cry about, poor little orphan. If she wasn't already engaged, she'd have taken him in. He might be an innocent, but she sure as hell wasn't. Damn, the tricks she could’ve taught him, if they’d met only two months sooner … 

All she could teach him now was enough rudimentary English to keep him from having to pass his days in complete silence.

Kim Chong had made contact with that local government clerk more than once, sometimes on the threshold of the pub itself. She wasn’t able to give him any help as far as returning to Shang Simla. Instead, she rather bluntly suggested that he go through his grandfather's belongings and make use of what he could, as he could not expect to squat on the land forever without having to pay property tax. 

Kim Chong protested that it would be stealing to take his grandfather’s things, but the woman just laughed at him. "Kid, he's dead. You're the one stuck here, you might as well look and see if he has anything you can use."

After a few more days of indecision, Kim Chong finally gave in and went through the bag. He found clothes, as he expected, and much to his surprise, stones that looked an awful lot like the ones in his pocket. He wondered if they might be worth something. 

A few more days went by, the money in his pocket continued to dwindle, and he finally asked Mrs. McDermott if she knew anything about it while they sat waiting for a roadblock to be moved from the road. 

"Oh yeah," Ginny McDermott shouted back and nodded, "I seen those rocks every now and then. They're good for some money if you sell 'em."

"Sell? How sell? Who buy?"

"Give 'em to me, I'll do it for you."

This was a lot of trust to put in a stranger, but he passed the rocks into Ginny's hands regardless. 

A day later she handed him a bank envelope stiff with cash. It might have been §1500, more money than he'd ever seen at one time. He thanked her as best he could, and she smiled. "Y'know, if you still got yer passport you should travel overseas. Lotta rich people here, they buy this kinda stuff."

"Go where?"

"I dunno, you wanna go back to China?"

He had to think about that. He had been trying to find a way back to China since he’d come here. … but why? He already couldn't live up to the expectations of the Path of the Wind, and his grandfather's death automatically granted him the inheritance of the school. He was shrewd enough to see that this new existence, as narrow as it was, might be his only chance to avoid an inevitable destiny as a martial artist. Perhaps the teachings would be lost forever … but that was not his burden to carry any longer. He had his own life to live.

So he plied the paper daily looking for information on flights to other countries. He learned to recognize the words "sale," "hot buy," and "super deal."

Ginny looked over the deals with him in the evening, nixing them all immediately. He trusted her implicitly and did not question her decisions. At last she pointed at an ad and said, "There's your ticket."

"What say?"

"'Wanted: canopic jars. Will buy, or pay trip expenses if needed. Contact Mr. Ingersoll.' There ya go. Contact Mr. Ingersoll, there's his number."

"But ... cannot ..."

"Whaddya mean? You got a phone, dontcha?"

"Not work."

"Oh, right … you need one of our phones. Alright, hold on." 

She acted as his go-between, nodding, shrugging, speaking far too quickly for him to follow. When she hung up the call she was frowning, but only a little. "Good news and bad news. Bad news is he doesn't want you to do it because he don't know you, says there's nothing stoppin' you from just taking the money and havin' a good time that he's gotta pay for." Kim Chong's face fell at this, but she went on. "Good news is I volunteered to do it, and he was fine with that."

"So, what?"

"So you're gonna go to Egypt in my name, get him his damn jars, and give 'em to me."


"Tomorrow, if you want. I got the money, I just ain't goin' to Egypt, that's all."

Traveling was no issue for Kim Chong. Ginny agreed to keep his plants watered while he was away, and at 2 a.m. a cab pulled up by the mail bin, waiting to take him to the airport. 

Despite everything, he was shivering with excitement … or perhaps just hunger. He'd learned the hard way not to over-indulge in bar snacks, and as he had no way to cook otherwise, usually had to content himself with fruit. it wasn't the ideal diet for a fairly active young man, and he went many a day with an aching stomach. It occurred to him, far too late, that he didn't have the first idea how to get by in Egypt.


The heat was like nothing he'd ever experienced, but he quickly adjusted, bought a small guidebook and went his way. The little English he knew was sufficient to help him understand that digsites open to the public were fair game, but that entering a tomb with intent to steal was expressly forbidden.  So he couldn't search in a tomb. Fair enough.

He took advantage of his youthful strength and spent the hottest parts of the day diligently sorting through the shattered remains of ancient homes, which had been unceremoniously knocked over and half-buried in the shifting sand. He found several things that interested him personally (he had a partiality to vases), and as the client wanted canopic jars, he thought he might be able to keep these other items. He couldn't sell them here, of course, but perhaps when he returned home … a hundred half-finished schemes entered his head and exited just as quickly.

He was hungry.

He caught a caravan back into the town center, where he was quickly overwhelmed with the noise: the cries of animals, people haggling over goods, the sounds of food being prepared and diners enjoying meals—

He moved in the direction of a most enticing scent, only vaguely aware that a nearby woman seemed very displeased by his presence … and perhaps his body odor. He was so used to life back in that small town, where everything reeked pleasantly of warm animals and fertilizer and people regularly spat tobacco chew onto the sidewalk and the grass and the road and everywhere else, that he had forgotten that stench was not a universally-accepted fact. He ate a meal in thoughtful silence and returned to his distant campsite near the water.

The following day, he continued his search, at least until he caught sight of a lovely figure passing by in the marketplace.

He gazed at her back and asked the relic merchants who that might have been. They laughed at his pink face. "That is Layla Lufti. She is the youngest of three sisters."

"Layla," Kim Chong murmured. The name felt good in his mouth. He looked again at where she had stood and imagined her still there.  "Layla."

Mischievously, one of the young pages showed him the very house where Ms. Lufti lived, and all thought of canopic jars flew far from his thoughts. He could only think of that house … and the youngest of three sisters within.


"… what do you mean you couldn't find it in my size in black? Are you trying to be funny? Why do I even waste my time—"

"I meant what I said! They don't have it in your size in black! What's so damn hard to understand about that? Maybe you should buy a bedsheet if you care so much—"

"Oh, go to hell! You're just as big as I am and you manage to find all of the clothes YOU want! But the one time I ask you to get something for me—"

Layla stirred the greasy dishwater with her hand and sighed. This was normal, painfully normal. Her sisters were fretful and quarrelsome and argued from the sheer pleasure of it. She was used to it, but still …

She was startled by a knock at the door. At this time of night? Who could possibly be visiting?

She opened the door timidly and was startled to see a young man, a stranger and a foreigner, standing there. She almost asked if she could help him before realizing that he wouldn't be able to understand her. And then he managed to surprise her yet again by blurting out "You're pretty" in her own language. She took a few steps backwards, let him in.

"Who are you?"

He had to guess what she might be asking. He pointed to himself and said, "Kim Chong."

Her expression became more curious. "What do you want?"

No response. She realized that he had probably spoken the only bits of Arabic he knew. She asked again in English, "What do you want?"

"I … come see you."

"Why?" she asked, although it was perfectly clear why.

"You're pretty."

Again with the pretty. Her giggles covered over the argument that continued on in the back of the house, and he smiled and blushed.

"You're not from here? Just visiting?" A nod. "Are you staying at the big tourist camp?" Another nod. "I will give you my phone number. Can you call me?"

Call. He knew that word. He also knew he couldn't do it. He shook his head, perversely pleased when she looked disappointed.

"Layla!" a voice shouted from the back. "Layla, get in here!" And the look on Layla's face changed instantly to fright.

"Write down your name," she whispered frantically. "And get out of here!"

By the time Aisha and Mena came storming up to the front of the house to demand Layla's opinion on whatever they were arguing over, Kim Chong was gone, gone back to the tourist camp and gone to find the young Frenchman from whom he had borrowed the very clothes he was wearing. He wanted to stay awake, for he was certain that Layla would not have asked for his full name or his phone number if she hadn't intended to find him again. But it had been a long day and he was sleepy. He waited up as long as he could before finally falling asleep.

But luck was with him after all; in the dark of the night he heard his name being whispered in a woman's voice. 

When he opened the zipper of his tent, Layla Lufti crept inside to join him. And that night, she taught him all of the things that Cherry Kanto couldn't.

"I want to go with you," she said afterwards as she lay against his side.


"Take me away from here. You love me, don't you?"

"Love," he repeated. He took her hand and nodded.

The truth was, he didn't have the first idea whether or not he loved Layla Lufti. But if he did not know love, he at least had some dim idea of jealousy, and he knew that if he did not take Layla along, one day another man would do what they had done tonight. And he didn’t want any man to do that to her. He wanted her to be all his, and his alone.

So two days later, they returned to Riverfront Meadow together. Kim Chong found that very helpful government clerk, and after a small, perfunctory ceremony, Layla Lufti became Layla Shin Yi. Kim Chong gave his neighbor the requested canopic jars (as it turned out, Layla herself had several) and they retreated to the plot of land to set up house. The trees had grown, he had a tent to sleep in and a stone chest to store future valuables, and now he had a wife. He was happy.

 Layla, naturally, was not so easily impressed. She was not enormously wealthy, but obviously she had had more than this in Egypt, and she expected a house at least. Unlike her spouse, Layla was no farmer; she was a scholar. She demanded a computer for writing.

"Don't have," Kim Chong explained. "No power."

"Then get power."

"Cannot, no money. Tent good, live in tent."

"No!" she cried, and sat on the ground to sulk. "This is your home, why do you live like this at home?"

He was distressed by Layla's anger. He found Ginny McDermott and had a quick talk with her before bringing back a notepad and a pencil. 

Layla spitefully refused the gift at first, but finally relented. "Where will I cook?" she asked as she brushed open the notebook and began to write by hand. After years of typing, it felt so strange!

"Ah … will get."

"Get what? There is no electricity, no stove, no refrigerator …"

"Will get!" Kim Chong called and rushed away again.

He returned with a sooty fire pit and several sturdy sticks. Layla was aghast at the notion of barbequing—she did not eat meat—but he quickly assured her that he only meant to roast the fruit in his pocket. They dined on sweet apples and smoky plums drizzled with lime and honey that evening and spent their night staring up at the sky.

"Sorry for not have," Kim Chong said quietly. "Will give better when have money."

And Layla smiled at him. 


  1. Oh dear... I didn't expect another update so soon. I only hope it's not out of boredom because of not having a computer with you?

  2. Boredom, ehehe! More like OCD. ;)