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|Life in Shu Min|
July 6th, 2011
Life in Shu Min
Zoai absentmindedly kicked a loose pebble in the dirty street. It didn't go far; it was blocked by the flea-ridden cattle, the rickety carts and the molting chickens. It was trampled by the tired, peaceful people, and rolled through the mud by the never ending moist breeze. The Earth Kingdom village of Shu Min was alright, if you didn't mind the deathly boring way of life.
The sun beat down on Zoai's back, and sweat rolled down her forehead, further staining the worn white bandana. Biting tick-flies swarmed in her face, persistent even when she beat them away. She needed to go somewhere out of the heat, somewhere where she could get cool water. Shouldering her way through the lazy crowd that tramped on continuously, with no regard for where they were going, Zoai squeezed over to a small tea shop.
The crowd was pushing against her so forcefully that Zoai lost her balance and fell through the door, accidentally knocking a teacup out of an old serving man's hand. With expert reflexes, Zoai thrust out a hand and caught the cup before it could hit the floor. The jasmine tea it had held spread out in a large brown stain on the woven carpet.
"I'm sorry I couldn't save the tea," she said with a smile, handing the cup back to the wizen man.
"Oh, it is alright. I have more in the back. That is," he said quickly, "if you would not mind waiting a few moments, sir?"
The solitary customer at a corner table shook his head with a grin.
"Not at all, Hoshi."
The serving man bowed as far as his aged back would allow. Then, turning his attention back to Zoai, he asked:
"And for you, good miss?"
"A cup of water if you please. And some bread, if you have any."
Hoshi bowed again and scurried to the back room. Zoai wiped a bit of the spilled tea off her glove and brushed her hair off her sweaty forehead.
"Bread and water, huh? You've simple tastes," observed the customer jokingly.
"It suits me."
The man grinned and pulled back the second chair at his table.
"Please, join me."
Zoai nodded. Walking over, she slipped her katana over her head and off her shoulder, leaning it up against the table. She sat down heavily, cracking her knuckles absentmindedly. The man's eyes followed her movements for a little while, watching her as she retied one of the red bands on her boot. Neither spoke till they had been served.
"So," began the man, after he had sipped his tea, "What brings you to Shu Min village?"
"Oh, I'm just here for the sights," said Zoai sarcastically.
The man chuckled.
"I am Du Loh. I've been dragged here by my irrepressible thirst for a peaceful life. But now that I'm here, I despise it! This whole town moves as if it were half-asleep! No one seems to care about anything happening outside the gates, except those few who are unfortunate enough to have family members fighting in this accursed war."
Zoai took a drink of her water thoughtfully before replying.
"Perhaps this town is useful after all. Those who wish to escape the rush and fears of the other cities can come here, to experience peace and calm."
Du Loh laughed bitterly.
"They can go to Ba Sing Se for that. Don't tell me you actually enjoy this dump?" he asked incredulously.
"I confess, I loath it as much as you do. In fact, I plan on leaving it behind me as soon as possible."
"You know," said Du Loh thoughtfully, tapping his finger restlessly on the table, "you seem too young to be travelling on your own. Have you anyone accompanying you?"
"No...I travel alone."
Du Loh was quiet for a moment, studying Zoai's clothes and face again. He noticed how she gripped her cup, the muscles in her arm constantly tensing. Her shoulders were burned from the sun, and Du Loh thought he saw traces of small scars on her arms and back.
"You're a fugitive, aren't you?" he asked quietly.
Zoai did not reply, but merely took a bite of her bread.
"I hate this war," growled Du Loh. "I hate it! It has torn apart families, homes, and lives! It has sent hundreds of men and women to their deaths, and even more children to the streets! And it is all the fault of the Fire Nation."
Zoai shook her hair into her eyes and sipped her water.
"It is the fault of the Fire Lord," she whispered.
"It is the fault of the whole Fire Nation combined!" spat Du Loh, slamming his fist down on the table. "The Fire Nation is loyal to the Fire Lord, and thus they are one and the same!"
Abruptly, Zoai stood.
"We're finished with this conversation."
Slinging her katana back over her shoulder, she dropped a few coins on the table. Hoshi hurriedly came and scooped them up when he heard the clatter. Du Loh watched Zoai leave with a look of surprise on his face. She did not look back, but pushed open the door and was caught up in the sleepy throng of peasants once more.
Later that evening, after a quiet supper in a lonely corner of the street, Zoai wandered the twisting paths of Shu Min. The sleep-walking crowd had sluggishly made its way off the roads, retreating to the tiny shacks that passed for homes. Zoai was relieved to be rid of the stuffy, slow-moving throng as she walked to the center of the village.
In the heart of Shu Min stood a small shrine to the village's founder, Shu Min himself. There was a statue of the man, and a small garden, in which grew beautiful flowers of many colors. There was always a candle lit at the base of Shu Min's statue, to signify the life of the town. Sadly, the town was growing lazy. The candle had burned down till it was in danger of blowing out. The garden was filled with weeds, and the badly weathered statue was never repaired.
Zoai stood for a moment, looking at the statue. She didn't know whether to feel amusement or sadness when she noticed the bird's nest built on top of Shu Min's head. Yes, this town was lazy. It was lazy, uninformed, and uninteresting. Zoai was bored here, bored to death. She planned on leaving first thing in the morning. Yawning, she turned to leave, and walked right into a leather-clad fist.
Falling down hard on the uneven stone, Zoai gingerly felt her face. No blood, but there would certainly be a bruise. Slightly dazed, she looked at her attacker.
Du Loh stood before her, flanked by a group of soldiers. It was he who had hit her, and he now pointed a gloved finger at her.
"Arrest her. She's Fire Nation."
Zoai seemed stunned. Her jaw dropped and her eyes darted nervously between the soldiers and Du Loh.
"What? How dare you call me Fire Nation! I'm from the outer Earth Kingdom!" she cried in a frightened voice. Anyone could see that she was shaking.
Du Loh laughed bitterly with a smile that did not reach his eyes.
"You can't fool me. Those eyes are a dead give away. Arrest her!" he shouted again.
Zoai brushed her hair away from her face, revealing sharp, bright eyes the color of gold. Her lower lip quivered.
"My father was a traitor to the Fire Nation years ago! My mother was from Ba Sing Se! Don't arrest me, please! I haven't done anything!"The soldiers did not make a move to take her. One of them, a short, stocky man, turned to Du Loh and said:
"She's just a child, sir. Maybe it's not worth it."
"You idiot, she's not just a child! Does a child carry a weapon like that?" snapped Du Loh, pointing at Zoai's katana. "She's more dangerous than you think, so for the last time, arrest her!"
The soldiers looked again at Zoai's face, but instead of the tears they expected to see, they were greeted with a sarcastic grin.
"I'm impressed, Du Loh. You're not as stupid as I anticipated," she taunted.
In a flash, Zoai was on her feet with her hand on her katana.
"Who's first?" she smiled.
Life in Shu Min wasn't so boring after all.
For the collective works of the author, go here.