Small Messages (bou din waa zuk)
Last fic for SpiritAssassin Week. Late as usual, because I kinda burned out yesterday & the day before, lol
Thank you everyone for reading. & many thanks to @fyeahspiritassassin for hosting. I had great fun doing this but man I’m so relieved it’s over. this was hands down the most difficult writing thing i’ve done lately.
SpiritAssassin Week 2017
Last prompt: celebrations
There are ghosts in Chirrut’s eyes.
colour mostly, or the memory of colour. Jedha City, or the memory of it. When his eyes were still functional, when the world pin-bright broke into seven colours and flipped upright on the screen of his retinas. And that was sight for him.
Nowadays the only eyesight he has are old visuals. He sees with ghost eyes. Useless.
when he was still a novice at the Temple, when the Temple still stood, when his eyesight worked fine, and yet he kept missing things. Muddling up. And Baze would tell him where everything was, where to look.
Where are my prayer beads? In front of you.
Where is the datapad? You’ve been looking right at it for ten minutes.
Where did I put my shoes? You’re practically stepping on them.
I know I left my prayer beads here! You did, and they are still there. What is that saying you always use?
Gwai am ngaan! Ghosts covering eyes.
When Chirrut lost his eyesight, he said: “Remember what I used to say?”
Baze never found it funny again.
The holopad powers up. A buzz. The harsh phosphorescence of the screen makes shadows spatter onto his grey featureless vision. Incoming message.
There is a crackle of interference and then the steady hum of a line. Connection. Nobody speaks. The silence is heavy with a familiar presence.
“You can start,” says Chirrut gently, “by telling me the time.”
“It’s early,” Baze answers. “Your time, that is.”
It’s strange that they’re far enough apart that they can split time between them. Yours and mine. Your half and mine.
“Have you eaten?” says Baze.
Chirrut remembers that he hasn’t. He hums a note in both reply and dismissal.
“Just because I’m not there,” says Baze, testily, “doesn’t mean you can forget to eat. Don’t pine too hard for me.”
“I was going to meditate,” Chirrut says. “There are other types of hunger besides the one that you speak of.”
“Who said anything about hunger? It’s basic self-care. But I forgot you know nothing about that.” There is a clatter of movement from the other side. A hiss and a sputter. Clacking. Something being dismantled. For cleaning. Perhaps a weapon. A shush of air, like an exhaust pipe.
“The Force–,” Chirrut begins.
“–will not feed you. You should eat something.”
Chirrut sighs. “It’s been three years. And you’re halfway somewhere across the galaxy. And you’ve gone right back to your nagging self.”
“I’ve lost count of the years,” Baze says. There is a lie in the falter of his voice. A flinty note of defiance.
“I’m going to meditate.”
“Wait,” says Baze.
“Leave the connection running.”
“I don’t talk much when I meditate.”
“You don’t have to.”
There is a festival (there is always a festival) going on in Jedha City and people have begun lighting tapers and burning sticks of incense in the many street braziers.
You’re supposed to do acts of compassion. Pray for the dead. Feed the hungry. People bake bread, boil vats of porridge, distribute food to the homeless, to the pilgrims, to anyone who asks for food.
Chirrut sits beneath an archway on a back lane, running his fingers along the worn beads of his prayer necklace. Sandals shuffle, the scrape of fraying leather. The hems of robes touch his knees and ankles, stray butterflies of fabric. The crowds move and he feels their wingbeats and their edges. The wake of their movement. The rotund vowels of a muezzin’s call. A minaret in the distance. The wind snapping the tarp. The souk, a heaving organic entity of commerce.
There are more unwelcome sounds now. Heavy boots. The presence of Imperials, their conversations in staccato, voices standardised into a nasal flatness by the inbuilt vocoders in their helmets.
Someone presses a roll into his hands and a flask.
“Eat and drink, uncle,” someone says, performing their act of compassion for the day.
Chirrut thinks of Baze. Of course he does.
“Are you asleep?” says Baze.
“What do you think?”
“Sorry,” Baze says. “I need sleep.”
His voice is thick, like textile, as though he’s lying in bed somewhere, one corner of his mouth pressed against rough sheets. Perhaps he has lain awake all night. Is it night where he is?
“Will you tell me where you are?”
“On a planet. There’s a lot of water here. Marshes. The speeders here are shaped like dragonflies. I haven’t been dry in days. When I took the job I didn’t know I’d have to become amphibious.”
“Like any other job,” Baze says, evasive.
The connection sputters. But it holds.
“Night time on this planet is longer than Jedha’s nights. About three times as long. People sleep three times as long, too.”
“You should get some now.”
“What is that?” Baze says suddenly. “There, on the side of your face. Turn your face to the left.”
It’s a cut. Healing, though. It must have been just a thin smudge in the holographic display of his face, but Baze’s sharp eyes had caught it.
“I was cornered,” Chirrut admits. “In a cul-de-sac. By five Imperials.”
Baze swears. “You took on five Imperials without backup?”
“The Force was with me.”
“Of course it was.” Baze scoffs. “So you had no backup. You idiot.”
“So says the true fool, who is faithless,” Chirrut shoots back. “So gwaa.”
Chirrut passes through the forms of zama-shiwo, ghost-eyed, with the slow silk movement of his arms and legs. There is no end or beginning to the forms. Perpetual transition. Keep your mind still. Absolute. Nucleatic. The body is not yours. The body is your environment. You are part of a larger body. Only the negligible pinprick of Chirrut’s mind shimmers, edged with feelers, hungry for messages, for a grid of sense.
The sun, he remembers, is frail and dewy, angling away like errant vapour from the domes and the glittering mosaics in the murals. Useless light: the city’s solar dishes had to coax heat out of it, old, old dying light.
But now that his mind and his body are sharp with the recent practice of zama-shiwo, he can feel the sun’s heat, amplified. The sun is a hot salty coin at the back of his throat when he tips his face upward. Sunlight is swallowing metal. The scrape of thirst.
Where Chirrut is standing on this rooftop, he should not be able to feel this much warmth. Not at this time of the day, because this time of the day, the shadow of the Temple would have stretched over it, blotted out the sun.
The spire of the Temple is no more, though. And its shadow fled with it.
The holopad buzzes as Chirrut puts the porridge to boil on the portable stove.
“Look,” Chirrut says when the transmission comes through, “I’m eating. Or at least I’m going to.”
Baze makes a noise of approval on the other end. There’s silence for a bit.
“There was–” Baze begins. And then changes his mind. “This marshland planet, it’s got a very high evaporation capacity. Whole lakes can vanish in days. Then it will rain and rain somewhere else until there are floods, and there’ll be a new lake. All within such a short span of time. They call this the planet of Leaping Lakes.”
Chirrut imagines it. The transient landscape of it. The lakes leap faster in his mind, faster than Baze, slogging through marshes that dry out as he walks, his skin old and cracked from sand. Unamphibious. Dragonfly speeders zipping over dead reed beds.
“I had to–the job involved–,” Baze begins.
“You don’t have to tell me,” Chirrut says. “About the jobs that you do. I can hazard a guess. Or three.”
“What if I want to talk about them?”
“Then tell me how you’ve changed. How they’ve changed you.”
The porridge boils over. Chirrut hisses and Baze lets out a long, slow sigh. Too long and slow to be sincere.
“Your fault,” says Chirrut testily. The porridge has thickened into a layer that clings to the bottom of the pot. A skin of rice. Carbon bitter.
Baze fled not long after the Temple was sacked.
“I will never put on those vestments again,” Baze told Chirrut all those years ago. “They have been burnt.”
Chirrut reeled. He’d known the slow crumble of Baze’s faith. But still. “I won’t let you. You can’t go. You are the most devoted of all the Guardians.”
The words broke out of him, splinters of pleas.
“Then come with me,” said Baze. “The Temple is gone. The kyber crystals are gone. There’s nothing sacred here any longer.”
“The Force is still here.”
“Yes it is,” Baze started to walk towards the gates of the Temple. Across the half-uprooted courtyard. “The Force is here and there and everywhere and it is dead. We breathe in its deadness every day. We celebrate its death in the deaths of everyone else. So. Are you coming?”
Chirrut steeled himself. “A match.”
Baze laughed. “I’m not a Guardian. I don’t play with sticks any longer.”
“If you beat me, you can go. You can leave.”
“And you’ll come with me.”
Chirrut didn’t say anything.
“Fine. Just to humour you, then,” Baze said.
They sparred in that ruined courtyard and Chirrut won.
He brought Baze to the ground, kicked his knees in, elbowed his throat and slammed his staff into Baze’s abdomen.
Baze lay on the ground, panting. How Chirrut would have liked to straddle him, lick away the blood from his teeth. He’d hit Baze on the jaw.
“Well,” said Baze. “I guess I stay, then.”
Chirrut hated the hostility of his laughter. He put the end of his staff at Baze’s neck, tipped his chin upwards.
“No,” Chirrut said.
“Are you still angry at me?” Baze asks. The sound of thunder in the background. But not thunder. Just a downpour in the marsh planet, in some distant corner of the galaxy.
The generator in the room that he lives in is old. It rattles. It smells like breath. There are probably small dead things caught beneath its casing, things like rodents and moths, fossilised inside.
“No,” Chirrut says. “Are you?”
“Not at you. Never at you.”
There are countless things to be celebrated in Jedha City. Apart from the big festivals. There are weddings, births, engagements, various milestones of growth. Deaths, sometimes, depending on what you believe in. Seasonal shifts. Phenomena like rain.
The Imperials have put a damper on many of the Holy City’s festivals, and declared that permits need to be granted for the rest.
But here’s the thing about people: they remember. They remember when celebrations are due, when rituals start calling to them, feast days notched into their internal calendars. The secret way which they measure time within themselves.
And so people find other reasons for celebration. New acquaintances. Extra rations. Finding lost things. Finding lost people. And so on.
The reasons for celebrating anything become smaller and smaller. Until Chirrut finds himself rejoicing at coins on the street. Or coins in an alms bowl. A call of a bird far out beyond the city walls. Clean washing brushing against his face as he wanders through the alleyways and courtyards. A day without the sound of blaster fire in some quarter of the city or other. A memory, an old visual of the inner sanctum of the Temple, stored in his ghost eyes. Still vivid. Preserved even after the destruction of the building.
He goes home in the evening, his stomach a whorl of hunger. The pot with the burnt crust of porridge is still sitting on the stove. The smell is thick and disheartening. Outside, wind. Sand scours the window.
The sting of saline. There are ghosts in his eyes. And sometimes they weep.
But then. Then he remembers something. He reaches for the holopad. Trusts in the Force. Prays for connection.
A crackle and a hum. There is transmission. There is a line, the thinnest thread across the galaxy, but steady. It feels like a celebration.
“I was finally getting some sleep,” Baze grumbles. But it’s a glad sound. Relief to be woken from the lonely press of sleep.
“So,” says Chirrut, “when are you coming home?”
bou din waa zuk - literally translates to ‘boil telephone porridge’. means when you talk for hours on the phone. except there are probably no phones in R1