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"All guys are pigs, every single one of them."
"I like people with depth. I like people with emotion. I like people with a strong mind, an interesting mind, a twisted mind, and also someone who can just make me smile...but since all guys are pigs, I guess I'll never meet anyone like that."
"I should just turn my face to the sun and let the shadows fall behind me. I'm confident and mature, but why do I still feel the pain?"
"A girl can like a guy for a minute and remember him forever. A guy can like a girl for a minute and forget him instantly."
"What do you think, Grace?"
"Nini, I think you are twelve years old," said Grace flatly.
It was mid-afternoon and the two girls carried baskets into the village. It was a lively day. All sorts of sounds and smells filled the air, shouting from the docks, children laughing, and shish kebabs sizzling over an open fire. Grace and Nini made their weekly trip to the market to buy fresh produce, mostly fish and vegetables. Their mothers always handed them a few coins and told them "Don't do anything stupid."
Grace made it her personal goal not to waste any of the money. She persistently searched for the best bargain. Shopkeepers always told her to "just pick one already" when she checked each and every fruit to ensure maximum ripeness. Nini, on the other hand, gravitated towards less useful things. Her mother's scolding was quite audible when Nini returned home with half a basket of food and three bracelets or a necklace she "simply had to have."
"So what if I'm twelve? You're fourteen, and you don't always have to be so blunt all the time!" said Nini.
"I'm not blunt!"
Grace pondered for a moment.
"Well, I'm not blunt all the time. Besides, you should thank me for being truthful. I'm one of the only people who will give you straight answer."
Nini blew a strand of hair away from her eyes.
Grace shifted the basket to her left.
"You have a whole life ahead of you for that kind of stuff. If I were you I'd just focus on things that make you happy."
Nini was a great friend. With all due respect, Grace loved her like a sister, but whenever she started ranting about gossip and drama Grace just couldn't handle it. She knew it was all a part of growing up, and Nini had just started to get bad recently.
"Freaking hormones," Grace thought to herself.
"I just want to know what it's like."
"I mean, I just want someone to return my feelings. You know what I mean?"
"Yes," Grace lied between her teeth.
In all honesty, Grace had never thought about her feelings, love, or anything like that. It's not like she was some hermit living in a cave, allergic to all forms of affection; it just never occurred to her that she was supposed to care at this point in her life. She enjoyed learning The Way of the Sword from her mother. She spent hours upon hours perfecting her brush strokes for calligraphy. She even started applying sword techniques to a hybrid form of hand-to-hand combat. Love? - Maybe later.
"No matter how many times I try to deny it, I will always remember every detail, every moment, every piece of memory he's left me. No matter how many times I try to forget, the feeling is still there."
Grace turned to her, "Wait, are you even talking about a real person?"
"No! And that's the problem!" Nini threw up her arms in exasperation.
"Ugh!" Grace groaned.
Grace ducked into a marketplace tent, partially to look at the goods, but mostly to escape Nini's incessant, overly emotional harangue. All kinds of produce lined the tables, fruits, vegetables, fish, and some kind of grilled sea cucumber (which is actually an animal). The ocean provided the village with all of its food and supplies, and the marketplace was a perfect example of this dependency. Almost everything at the market came directly from the sea, even the little trinkets and keepsakes were just sand dollars strung together with dried kelp twine.
"Ah, well if it isn't my two favorite customers!"
Grace looked down the table at the source of the voice.
"What's up Miss K!"
Miss K was by no means a young woman; in fact, Grace secretly assumed she was the oldest person on the island. Actually, the weird old silent guy at the bar was probably older. Nevertheless, everybody loved Miss Kuribayashi, or "Miss K" for short. She was basically an additional grandmother for everyone on the Island. Everyone gave her the utmost respect, and it seemed like she knew everyone as intimately as she would her own children. She didn't have any of her own children, or a husband for that matter, so she spent her time collecting interesting objects that washed up on the beach and fashioning pretty baubles. She even gave everyone something for his or her birthdays; she never forgot a face, a name, and especially a birthday.
"Hello Nini and Grace, how are you two today?"
"Good!" The two girls answered in unison.
"Well, that's always good to hear," Miss K smiled.
Grace didn't say it, but she couldn't help but focus on Miss K's elderly complexion, the way her wrinkles turned up when she smiled, her skin tanned from the sun. In a way, the old woman was still joyful and playful as ever. Grace loved talking to her and listening to her farfetched stories. Miss K had a seemingly endless list of stories, almost all of which began with the words "Don't tell your parents I told you this but... "
After exchanging formal introductions, Grace began examining the food in her usual manner, testing the ripeness of each and every fruit or vegetable to the discomfort of the vendors.
"Darling, you know if you can hear the juices it's ripe," said Miss K.
"Miss K, I am well versed in the way of the fruit," said Grace jokingly.
"Not just fruit, your mother tells me you are quite talented in The Way of the Sword," Miss K gave a sly smile.
Grace placed a bunch of bananas in her wooden basket.
"Well, I've been learning for four years, but I still feel like a beginner. There's just so much I don't know. I can't wait to- "
Nini cut her off, "How much do these bracelets cost Miss K?
"One copper piece hon, but I'll let you have one jiyu ni, free," Miss K flipped Nini a bracelet.
"Thank you so much!" said Nini, visibly pleased.
Miss K turned back to Grace "What were you saying darling?"
"I don't know. I lost my train of thought," said Grace.
She didn't really forget what she was going to say. She just didn't feel like saying it anymore. It was one of those moments when the obstruction of something else stops the flow of conversation. Grace was going to talk about how excited she was to learn each level of the Eightfold Path and eventually forge her own sword. She knew Miss K probably had no clue about The Way of the Sword or its complexities, but Grace still loved to talk about it. It was just one of those things she could always think about, talk about, even dream about. She didn't care if her ramblings annoyed people: it was her passion.
"Annoying ramblings," Grace thought to herself, and then she glanced over at Nini.
Nothing could really annoy Grace at the moment. It was a gorgeous day, and it seemed like everyone was jovial because of it. It's crazy how something as simple as weather can change the entire dynamic of one's mood. There was no place Grace would rather be than in the company of her two friends. She didn't even mind not talking; in fact, she enjoyed those moments of silent camaraderie, those in-between moments of transition, so she stood there, beaming like a drunken platypus-bear until Miss K changed the subject.
The elderly woman glanced around to make sure nobody else was eavesdropping.
"You two will never believe what I saw the other day."
Grace's focus returned to the conversation, "Hmm?"
"Wuhhn-," choked Nini, her cheeks filled with banana chips.
She swallowed rather ungracefully.
Miss K, ever the storyteller, hushed her voice and motioned her hands to create an air of suspense.
Grace rolled her eyes.
The elderly woman cleared her throat.
"I was walking along the water's edge last week, minding my own business. You know I do my beach combing early in the morning. I found a couple of sand dollars and some devils heads, too. Well, I was just about finished when the sky darkened. I thought it must've been a cloud, so I continued on my way."
Grace and Nini leaned in closer.
"Then, the air grew cold, and the shadow never left. I remember shivering and rubbing my arms. When I looked up, I saw them."
"Saw what?!" gasped Nini.
"Uh, sorry... please, continue."
Miss K pursed her lips, "To be honest, I don't know what it was. High in the sky a dark mass blocked out the sun, except it wasn't a cloud. From a distance it looked like a flock of sea ravens or even a swarm of dragonflies, but I knew it wasn't possible. Whatever it was flew a least a mile high, higher than anything I've ever seen. Why they were flying, I don't know. All I know is I've never seen anything like it."
"Maybe they were going on vacation," offered Nini.
"Or maybe they were trying to get away from something," said Grace darkly.
Miss K and Nini gave her a look.
"What? It's a possibility!"
Miss K. stroked a (thankfully) nonexistent beard, "Whatever they were, they were flying from East to West. Birds usually fly from North to South."
Grace figured the story was most likely an exaggeration, although it was pretty entertaining. She took a moment to check the contents of her basket: two bunches of bananas, a couple coconuts, and a papaya.
"This isn't going to work," she thought to herself.
"Hey Miss K, any recommendations on what other foods I should buy?"
"I'm glad you asked," she answered and began rummaging through one of her bags.
Grace and Nini stood awkwardly as the elderly woman scoured the deepest depths of the bag.
"Aha!" exclaimed Miss K as she fished out a handful of small fruits.
"Are those sea prunes?" asked Nini with a sour tone.
"No my dear, these are ocean kumquats!"
Grace shoved Nini aside, "Yes! I love ocean kumquats! I'll take all of them!"
"Eeeww, those taste so bitter," said Nini.
"Don't hate on ocean kumquats! Their flavor is a perfect blend of tangy citrus that makes every meal taste divine. Also, if you brew the skin into sake it releases antioxidants. So, in your face!"
"If you like ocean kumquats so much, then why don't you marry them?" Nini teased.
"Oh my goodness! You are just so funny!" Grace scoffed and began to sarcastically clap. "You are by far the craftiest person I have ever met!"
"To be young again," Miss K. shook her head and smiled.
"It's best you run along now, girls. I don't want to keep you."
"Bye Miss K!" again they answered in unison.
The two girls finished their usual rounds of the market. Grace picked up a tiger-bass and a couple of rainbow eels, and then they decided to call it a day. Traditionally, they walked by the docks and took the scenic route back to their homes. At this time, most of the boats were either docked or in the process of tying up.
"Kumquats are my best friends in the world! Kumquats are my best friends in the sea!" sang Grace.
"I can't believe you make fun of me for talking about guys when you are prancing and fawning over a common ocean fruit," Nini sighed.
"Woah, woah, woah, hold it right there. Ocean kumquats are not a common fruit. They only bloom once a year, and most of the time the turtles get to them first."
Grace held a kumquat into the air and admired it as if it were a diamond. "Just look at it Nini, so majestic, so spherical!"
Out of nowhere a white bird swooped in and snatched the fruit out of her hand. Grace stood paralyzed in petrified horror at the empty space where the kumquat used to be. Her eye twitched as she had no choice but to watch the bird fly off with her prized possession.
"My kumquat!" she shrieked.
Nini collapsed to the ground in a fit of laughter, and Grace set her basket to the side in preparation to pursue the bird, but something stopped her. Three boys about the same age as her blocked her path. The boy on the left was chubby and wore a smirk on his face. The boy in the middle was of average height and seemed to be chewing on something. The boy on the right wasn't really a boy; he was over six feet tall and built like a komodo rhino.
The kid in the middle sneered, "There's a toll, Miss."
Grace rolled her eyes, "Just move to the side so I can go get my kumquat."
She tried to get past them, but they stepped in front of her each time. Meanwhile, Nini just stood there and stared.
"Listen, little girl, just give us your basket and be on your merry way," said the middle guy. This struck a nerve in Grace.
"First of all, I'm not a little girl. Second, I'm not giving you my basket so just forget about that. Third, just look at yourselves. You look like a bunch of dweebs. You have chubby munchkin over here that reminds me of a caterpillar. Then there's this caveman with the mental capacity of a used napkin. And you're standing in front of me chewing what looks to be a wood chip. I mean seriously, if you're going to try and "mug" me than at least make an effort to be a bit more intimidating."
The three boys didn't have a response as they stood there and took insult after insult.
"I am going to take my basket and my friend, and we are going home. Have a nice day."
And with that, Grace picked up her basket and walked past them. Caught up in her annoyance, she forgot all about Nini.
Upon hearing the cry, Grace whirled around and saw the boys attempting to steal Nini's basket. Without thinking, she reached into her basket and picked up a coconut, and, from about fifty feet away, she chucked it like a projectile. The chubby kid didn't have time to react until it was too late. The black sphere momentarily eclipsed the sun as he looked directly up into the sky. Time seemed to move in slow motion as the coconut bomb knocked him square in the forehead. He only felt the pain for a split second, and then he unconsciously fell to the ground.
"His blubber probably softened the landing," thought Grace.
She turned her attention to the other two boys who were still after the basket. Acting quickly, she took a banana from the basket and sprinted to help her friend.
The chewing kid turned around and he felt the sting of a banana slap on his cheek. He couldn't even defend himself before Grace launched a flurry of jabs to his stomach, knocked him off balance, and sent him crashing into the ground with a punishing kick to the chest. From the dirt he tried to reach out, to warn his friend of the impending danger, but when he opened his mouth no words came out. Grace gagged his muffled screams with the banana, and then he fainted like an old lady.
"Two down, one to go," thought Grace.
The huge guy held the basket in his hand.
"Listen, can you please give the basket back to my friend? I really don't want to fight you," Grace sighed.
"Yeah, no problem. I'm a pacifist anyways," said the huge guy as he returned the basket to Nini.
"I only hang out with these guys because I have really low self-esteem," he said sheepishly.
Grace scratched her head in disbelief.
"Oh, and it kind of hurt my feelings when you said I have the mental capacity of a used napkin."
A tear formed in the corner of his eye.
"I am so sorry! I was just really angry about my kumquat getting stolen, and then you guys were blocking me. I tend to go overboard when I'm pissed."
She placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
"I'm sure you're very smart, and you should be confident with who you are."
"Thank you so much!" the huge guy beamed.
"Well, have a nice walk back to your homes!"
With that, he scooped up his friends and whistled as he strolled away.
"Wow, that was unexpected," said Nini.
"Oh, and I can't believe how badly you beat up those guys. I mean, you may have scarred them for life!"
"That one boy will never want to see another banana for the rest of his life!"
"But really, thanks Grace. I owe you one."
"You're welcome, though it was pretty enjoyable to see the look on the munchkin's face."
The two girls resumed their walk home after the odd altercation.
"I told you all guys are pigs," Nini said smugly.
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