Monday, July 9, 2012

1.1 - One Day in Shang Simla

I suppose my story starts at home, just like anybody’s. It probably even starts the same way that I suppose most people in my position start out.

I was adopted at the age of 6 by my lovely, long-suffering mother Rachel. When I came to her, I had very little memory about the life I had led before that day – and even now, I can’t summon any more than the faintest recollection of cherry blossoms in the spring. They had told my mother that the only thing known about me was my name was Sapphira. Not sure what possessed whoever gave birth to me to call me that. Brunette, brown eyes… I’d have been better named “Amber”.

What else would be important to know about my past? Well, I’m the eldest of five children. I’m the only one who’s adopted, too. Check another complex off the list of “things that contribute to the deviance of adopted children”, along with “unknown past” and “single mother”.

There’s another thing for you to know: messing with an adopted kid’s family is asking for nasty karma. Or at least, messing with this adopted kid’s family.

I had a relatively normal childhood from the time I came to Moripiko Island. I loved exploring the forests around the tenement building I grew up in, I watched my mother tend to the rooftop garden, hung our laundry out on the lines in the warm island air. There really wasn’t anything that screamed “FUTURE DEVIANT CHILD”.

I suppose the first time I knew something was going wrong was right after I started high school. The second I stepped foot in that school and felt the crush of people moving around me, without a single one ever really seeing me, something woke from deep inside of me. Something dark and dangerous, and something that I never want to feel again as long as I live.

It was the first time that my mother and I have ever seriously fought. I must’ve seemed like a two-faced she-demon: swinging back and forth between the daughter who would tirelessly clean our unit, and then skipping school, causing holy hell when forced to class and staying out until all hours of the night.

It wasn’t all bad during my teenage years, though. My senior year, I met this guy named Artie McCann. He was sweet – the kind of guy that people chew up and spit back out in high school. In fact, that was how I met him in the first place: he was serving detention for swiping the Calculus tests off the teacher’s desk for one of the cheerleaders. Now there’s a deviant breed if I’ve ever seen one. After I heard that story, I guess I sort of took him under my wing and things just sort of evolved from there.

The day we graduated, Artie and I went out to one of the little gardens that the council has been putting up. It’s a nice, quiet place – it doesn’t get me riled up the way some of the community parks do. I suppose I should’ve seen this particular discussion coming: Artie had been dropping hints for the last week or so.

But again, something began to rise in my chest and threatened to choke me. Why was I so afraid to start a life with this boy that I’d been dating for years? He was safe, he was ready to begin adulthood with two feet firmly on the ground. This was supposed to be everything that I’ve ever dreamt of having. So why the desire to pull away?

It only took me a few seconds to realize what it was that I wanted to do after graduation – what I think I might’ve wanted to do for years.

“It’s okay,” I remember him telling me with that heartbreaking little smile on his face. “I get it. I’ll be waiting for you.”

And then that dark little voice in my conscience as I tried to memorize the way his skin felt against mine. “Bless your soul, you’ve got your head in the clouds.” There he went again, believing and trusting in the best in people – even when he’d seen them break promises and walk away without so much as a tear. As if he was really going to be waiting for me when I got back.

I was off to find out what lay in my hidden past, no matter the cost.

I knew from the second I stepped off that plane in Shang Simla, and caught the first whisper of cherry blossoms in the air, that I had come to the right place.

When I went to check in with the Simlandian embassy’s base camp, I heard somebody gasp as I passed them. Of course, what else would you expect me to do?

He struck me as a guard of some sort, the way he stood so tall and proud at the pathway, dressed in long silks despite the heat. I thought maybe I had stumbled upon the royal family’s courtyard or something, and that was why he was watching me so carefully.

So, like the good Simlandian that I am, I marched right up to him and demanded the truth. Well, sort of. It was a little more timid than that. Actually, I barely managed to stutter and stammer out my story. When he didn’t reply for a few seconds, I had this horrifying realization that he might not even speak Simlish. And then he answered, in a deep voice,
I can tell you what you seek. I ask only that you aid me with a task.”

Who the hell falls for that, anyway? “Aid me with a task” should be synonymous with “Let me rope you into some horrendous, life-threatening escapade in hopes that I might actually tell you something you want to know.”

Anyway, that’s how I came to find myself now hundreds of feet underground, peering around dark corners and down dimly-lit corridors, half-expecting a zombie to burst out of the stones. And let me just tell you, I also don’t deal well with the dark. It’s another one of those “psycho-Sapphira” triggers.

And then there was FIRE. Honest-to-God FIRE. This was not what I signed up for when I got on the plane in Moripiko Island. I was figuring on spending a month or so in Shang Simla, see the sights, maybe hit up some town records, find out my biological family died in some freak tourist trap accident… Instead, I’m stuck underground for days, chasing some stupid hunk of rock down pitch-black corridors with creepy sounds and fire… all for some deep-throat dude in a red silk shirt who says he “has answers”.

Did I mention the fire?

Okay, so it was a pretty nice-looking rock. I thought diamonds were more of an Al-Simharan thing, but hey – whatever gets me my answers, right?

Whatever gets me my answers. That was almost as stupid a decision as the decision to come out to Shang Simla in the first place. After all, Mr. Deep-Throat-Guard (or Ho Jun Kim) is apparently quite happily married. He is also a useless source of information.

Seriously, I went through all of this for two measly sentences: “Your parents passed through here many, many years ago in the times of my father. They were outsiders.”

UGH. I could’ve found that out without the secret midnight meetings and the underground tunnels of fire.

I was in Shang Simla for the better part of a year. I did the tourist thing. I started studying martial arts in effort to try and channel some of this anger and darkness out of me. I tried to coax more information out of Ho Jun. But I finally had to cut my losses and go back to Moripiko Island when I couldn’t even stand to look at him without feeling the need to vomit.

Initially, I thought that I might move back in with my mother. After all, Elissa and Jap have reached those horrendous teenage years, and Evan and Kalea are just at the age where they’re getting into everything. My mother’s not exactly at the top of her game anymore, and she could probably use some extra hands. But it didn’t take me long to realize that staying with my family wasn’t going to work out. Apparently, I took a little bit of Shang Simla back to Moripiko Island with me.

I still haven’t run into Artie, and part of me is hoping that I don’t for a very long while. After all, I left him hanging for close to a year, and I have nothing to show for this quest except a big belly. The trip didn’t work for quenching that need to know, either. Something tells me that another trip to Shang Simla will be in my future – this time prepared to ask the questions.

Who were my parents? Why does a tourist-laden village remember them? What exactly happened 13 years ago?

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