The water feels cool against my tan skin as I splash the contents of my washroom bowl across my face. Another morning has come. Taking a deep breath, I grab the hanging black washroom towel and dry myself off. Staring into the mirror directly in front of me, I take in my tired reflection as I return the towel to its proper place. It seems these days I’m always tired. Slightly shaking my head to clear my thoughts, I gather my long, brown hair streaked with purple highlights and tie it up into a messy bun. Brushing my purple bangs into place with my fingers, I stare again at the dark circles underneath my brown eyes, accentuated by the vibrancy of the purple color. All of the Wahelai essence I’ve been exposed to recently has made the highlights almost a bright neon purple. Before I became a mother, those dark circles were almost nonexistent and the bright hair colors Wahelai essence caused looked almost surreal against the brown of my eyes.
Exiting my bathroom, I make my way back into my bedroom and stare at the small lump hidden under my favorite starry night themed blanket. Stifling a giggle, I smile warmly. She must have snuck into bed with me again, knowing I didn’t have to work today. Sumeya. My sweet little three-year-old daughter. Deciding to surprise her with a warm breakfast, I exit the room and slip down the hall taking care to be quiet around my parent’s bedroom. Turning a corner, I note the slightly ajar door of Sumeya’s bedroom before entering the kitchen area. Moving towards the iron stove, I grab some wood off the shelves next to the stove designed specifically to hold cooking wood, open the door beneath the stove and place the wood pieces inside. Before closing it back up, I grab a small fire essence imbued Flein match, light it and toss it inside the stove before shutting it. As I wait for the iron surface to heat up, I place my hand on the small pipe connecting the stove to the ceiling of our home where the smoke from the wood escapes and decide on what to prepare. Sumeya was always somewhat of a picky eater and with that in mind, I settle on a simple mixture of eggs, potatoes and tomatoes. Walking over to the Corae made food cooler tucked neatly between the stove and the shelves of wood, I open the top, the Wahelai essence creating a pleasant tingle where my hand touches the surface. No matter how many times I have encountered Wahelai essence, I always feel that slight tingle upon contact.
Grabbing various seasonings from the small rack above it and six eggs, five large potatoes and three tomatoes from the cooler itself, I then set about cooking the morning meal, allowing my mind to wander. Immediately Sumeya takes over as she always does. Never did I expect to become a mother at twenty years old. It was a common age in our Aku society for women to have their first child, but I never believed I would join the ranks of motherhood so soon. I had planned to build a career for myself so that I would be able to earn enough money to hire myself a guard to protect against Ankya raids and visit Viern, home to the largest library in the world. In this lifelong dream, I would convince the Raelai to let me stay there and read my life away, even if they were not completely welcoming of Manu. I would provide my services to the library in any way needed in exchange for room, board and access to anything I could read. It was an unrealistic dream, but I truly believed I could accomplish it. However, an unexpected turn of events left me with a precious daughter who for all her wonderful innocence put those plans on hold. After I birthed her, I decided I would still work towards that goal and merely take Sumeya with me, but as time went by I discovered that all the income I earned was hardly enough to support myself and a child even with my parents help.
“Momma?” I hear her little voice from the doorway and see her stumble into the room, rubbing her eyes. The noise must have woken her up. “Are you hungry?” I ask her before hugging her. She nods slowly, the sleep still in her eyes. Nakan’s eyes. Her father’s eyes. “Momma?” She questions, shaking me out of my reverie. ‘She’s not him.’ I remind myself. ‘She’s my sweet little Sumeya.’ “Nothing, Sumy.” I say, using my nickname for her. “Go to your room and grab a hair tie so it doesn’t get in your food while we eat.” She nods and exits the room.
Once she’s gone, I take a deep breath and finish cooking the morning meal before turning to the shelves across the room holding our dishes. It’s always that specific moment, never any other. When she rubs her eyes and looks up at me, she looks almost identical to her father Nakan. The man who chose to abandon Sumeya and I the moment I made him aware of her existence inside me. I was only nineteen at the time.
Back then, I had just begun teaching fitness classes down at the Aku Military Training Facility on the pier. I was still being trained to teach the rescue and first aid classes, but had already been cleared to begin teaching fitness classes in addition to the swim lessons I already taught. One night during the fall season, I left a little later than usual because one of my students wanted some extra swim time in preparation for a practical exam her unit was having the following week. Wanting nothing more than to see her succeed, I stayed in our training facility pool longer so she could prepare. By the time she was finished, an extra forty-five minutes had gone by and when I left, it was an hour later than usual. The sky outside was dark blue instead of the normal orange when I left.
Our Aku training facility was located on one of the many large military designated piers behind the giant cliff that housed the main city and I had decided that night to spend some time at the recreational pier parallel to our training facility to take in the evening ocean breeze. Only those associated with the military were allowed on the pier, so often times the evenings were quiet with few people around. My parents were out visiting friends that night and wouldn’t be back until later in the evening. No one was home to worry about my late arrival.
It was on this pier that I met Nakan for the first time. He was sitting on a bench near the piers edge staring out at the water. Not wanting to disturb him, I sat on a nearby bench close enough that it didn’t appear I was avoiding him, but far enough away that it didn’t seem like I was trying to approach him either. Pulling a book out of my workbag and a small Wahelai essence lighting device, I remembered taking a deep breath of the ocean breeze before settling into read, but before I could make it two pages in, I felt a presence behind me.
“Strange. I come here nearly every night and have never seen someone care enough about a book to read in the dark.” His voice had sent a shiver down my spine. There was something powerful in that voice, something mysterious and different from any voice I had ever heard before. “Mind if I join you?” Glancing at him, suddenly shy, I nodded slightly. In that single glance, I determined that he looked as mysterious as he sounded. Solid black hair loose and falling down his back, eyes as dark as the ocean on the night of the new moon. His skin was pale, much paler than the usual deep tan of native Akuians. I knew immediately he wasn’t from here. Taking a seat next to me, he stretched out his long legs and adjusted the black cloak that covered his entire body. “What book are you reading?”
That question led to a long, intellectual conversation that genuinely left me engaged for hours. Aside from my best friend Malla, I had never met someone who cared enough about books to ask what I was reading. That conversation became the first of many Nakan and I shared and it seemed every night I was visiting the pier after work, patiently awaiting his arrival. He never arrived until after it was nearly dark. A few months into our friendship, it was clear something more was growing between us. We were more intimate with each other, often sitting close enough to each other that our thighs touched and shoulders brushed. One fateful night when I was showing him my the latest book I was reading, our hands brushed against each other. Instead of pulling away like I expected him to, he grabbed my hand and held it. I looked up at him and him down at me. I’m still not sure who moved first, but before I knew it his mouth was on mine in a very light kiss. I knew in that moment we had immediately become something more than just good friends.
The following night we met at the pier as usual, but this time he invited me to visit his shack, a common one room, washroom and kitchen rental popular with the single people of Aku, and stay with him a while longer. I told him my parents would worry if I was out late, but that I would go with him the following day after letting them know I was staying the night with a friend. When I arrived at his home the following evening, I discovered that his little shack completely matched his mysterious persona. Everything was completely practical and hardly any sign of personality was present. We spent most of the evening chatting and eating the meal he prepared. It was a simple dish of grilled fish and vegetables, but I noticed he didn’t eat very much, as if that type of food wasn’t to his tastes. After the meal was finished, we settled in his bed and talked more about books. We each knew what was on the other person’s mind, but neither of us knew how to breach it. Finally, he placed a hand on my shoulder and leaned in to kiss me. The kiss was sensual, yet urgent, as if he wanted more intimacy, but wouldn’t do anything I wasn’t comfortable with. I slightly opened my mouth, granting him permission to explore and leaned back onto his bed. It was all the permission he needed.
After that night, our relationship turned fully intimate and resulted in my visiting his shack several times a week. My parents accepted my nights away, chalking it up to my growing up. I wasn’t concerned at the time about pregnancy because I was on Aku’s most reliable birth control medication, ABP (Aku Birth Prevention), so when my woman’s time became late, I thought nothing of it. I believed it was the exercise and physical demands of my occupation. However, three weeks later it still had not arrived, prompting me to schedule an appointment with an Aku woman’s healer in the medical facility of our military. These Healers, mainly women, sometimes men, were Wahelai essence users who focused in the Healing Arts pertaining to women’s health. They would be able to tell me what was going on. I had hoped it would be something simple.
I hadn’t realized just how simple. “You’re pregnant, love.” The Healer had told me with a smile on her face. I stared at her, shocked. “But how? I’m on ABP.” Her smiled immediately turned into a frown. She knew how effective that prevention was. “Let me check again.” Nevertheless, a few minutes of her gently probing my stomach again led her to shake her head. “I’m sorry, love. I’ve never seen this happen to someone on ABP, but you’re definitely pregnant, eight weeks give or take a few days.”
I spent the rest of the day in shock, canceling my classes due to medical problems and standing by our normal bench inside the recreational pier until Nakan arrived. I had no idea at the time as to how he might react, but abandonment was never even a consideration.
The evening started like any other and after about an hour, he invited me to his shack. I wasn’t comfortable going with him until I knew where he stood. “Wait, Nakan.” I said, placing a hand on his arm. “Hm?” He asked, glancing down at me. Immediately, he noticed the concern on my face and sat back down. “Rika, what’s wrong?” I sighed and turned away. “I don’t know how this could have happened because I was on ABP, but a Healer confirmed it today.” I looked back at him. “Nakan, I’m pregnant.” Inwardly, I winced at the blank expression that settled on his face.
“That’s not possible.” He stated matter of fact. I turned to him and sighed again. “I know, but it is.” He shook his head and looked forward towards the water. “Then it’s not mine, Rika.” The anger had instantly flared inside me. I quickly stood up. “What the hell do you mean it’s not yours? What are you implying, Nakan?” His face took on an apologetic tone as he turned back to face me. “I didn’t mean it that way, Rika, but it’s impossible. I can’t have children. I’m sterile.” At his words, I sat back down, confused beyond belief. I was on ABP, had no other partners and he was sterile. How could it have happened then?
“It’s okay, Rika. It doesn’t bother me if you’ve been with someone else.” He smiled at me sincerely. I didn’t know what hurt more, him assuming I was with someone else or him being okay that I was with someone else. “Nakan, I haven’t been with anyone else. Where would I have the time? I teach classes all day, five days a week. In the evenings, I’m with you and on my off days I either visit Malla and Tamara or I’m holed up in Aku’s main library, you know that. Where would I find the time to be with someone else? I don’t know how this happened, Nakan, I don’t, but the Healer tested me twice and the results were the same.”
At my words, he scooted closer to me and placed a hand on my belly as if to confirm something. My confusion only grew when his face turned from certainty to blatant shock. “How… it’s not possible.” He stammered, quickly standing up and backing away. “It’s not possible.” He moved back towards me, felt my belly again and sat down hard next to me. “You… I….” He placed his head in his hands and shook it. “I need a minute.” I merely stared at him. I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be, but a child couldn’t have been that big of a deal. It’s not like we were young teenagers with no job prospects. I had a decent income from teaching classes and he, well… my heart had stopped when I realized I didn’t actually know anything about him. He never mentioned a job, friends, or family. He hadn’t even mentioned where he was originally from. I had never seen him during the daytime and we never went out together, all of our meetings either at the recreational pier or his shack. When I slept over, he was always gone by the time I woke up, almost as if he had never been there. The only indicator another person had been in that room with me were the small notes he left me every time I left in the morning. How could I have been so naïve? I barely knew this man. “Nakan?” I asked softly, touching his shoulder. He winced, but didn’t move away. “I’m sorry, Rika.” He said, standing up. “I need time to think. Let’s meet here tomorrow.” Reluctantly, I agreed.
Tomorrow never came. I waited for him the next day then the next. After a week, I visited his shack. Everything was as it was, nothing out of place, but his presence was gone. I knew at that moment he was gone for good. Devastated at his abandonment, I decided the next thing I had to do was tell the important people in my life. Breaking the news to my parents was the hardest moment I had ever faced, but after a moment or two of shock, my mother took me into her arms and said she was now the happiest mother alive. “I’m getting a promotion, dear!” She told my father, who had been standing right next to us. “I’m going to be a grandmother!” My father had smiled and hugged us both. “Don’t worry about a thing, Rika. Your mother and I will be here for everything.” Malla, my best friend, and her wife Tamara were easier to tell. Both received the news as a shock, but were as welcoming and supportive as my parents. “I’ve always wanted to be an Auntie.” Malla whispered in my ear as she held me close while I cried on her shoulder. She was the only one I told about the pain and confusion I felt at being abandoned by someone I had come to love. With the support of the most important people in my life, I had a healthy pregnancy that allowed me to continue teaching classes and seven months later, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl who I knew at first glance was a very special child.