Tharkay is accustomed to the stillness around him, the lack of light where those around him are beacon of brightness. The ties that bind him are few and far between.
When he had been a child, he had basked in the sheet of orange that swooped around him, his mother’s love endless and effusive, curving and joyous as it peaked and waned in smooth high tides. He was blessed he knew, by the sweeping lines of gold and orange that drew around him to his family, the softer golden-orange hum of his grandparents, sweet like the laughing kisses of his mother’s sister, warm like the solid heat of his uncle's’ arms drawing him close in the evenings.
Hidden beneath his family’s bold, unafraid love, a secret of his own, was a rope of hard burnished orange. As long as he had been aware of it, it had remained unchanged, an uncompromising, unbreakable chain that trailed to his father, a proof of love as bold as his mother’s. It was a quiet bond, noteworthy for its strength rather than its colour an anchor through the tumultuous adventures of a well indulged child.
He had always known that others were not so well gifted, that their lives did not overflow with the laughter and affection he was granted without thought or care. The trails of light that curled around him, sometimes fully covered him, were a blessing he carried with him under the harsh burn of the sun, under the cold fingers of snow.
He could not have imagined his world without them, but the world cared not for the contentment of a naive Nepalese boy.
When he was 7, he had learned sorrow. A sorrow that would follow him further into the future than his child’s mind could have imagined. He had been laid bare and exposed by the loss of his mother, the desperate, cushioning love of his family had amounted to nothing in the face of the absence of his mother’s orange, sometimes so recklessly fierce it would blind him. Afterwards he had been blinded by his grief, as his family had cried into his hair and clung to his form he had seen only what was not there. When the fog had lifted he was alone on a ship and it was much too late. He had clung then to his father’s leg, watching the waves of grey crash down, listening to the ocean lift its voice in a roar. When his father’s hand had dropped to rest on the back of his neck, the large palm covering almost half his head he’d felt some level of solidity take root again. Despite the sloping decks and the cold spray of water on his face, his father’s hand had been hot and protective, the rope of orange around his chest as strong as the day he had been born.
England was strange.
His father had led him through his homeland with a hand on his head and a look of such aggravation on his face that Tenzing had felt an unassailable solidarity between them. He had looked on the rolling green and built up grey and black of England with something approaching awe tinged heavy with fear. His father had looked only regretful, filling their travelling days with a picture of an alien future, of cousins unknown, of secret languages made public, of rules of nonsense and decorum.
Scotland was horrible.
The estate was like nothing he had ever seen before and nothing he ever wanted to see again. This home they had come to was full already with his father’s relations, strange and cold and unfriendly. Their faces were pinched, with judging eyes and unkind mouths but more than that, they were strangely colourless, the trails that bound them together were thin and faint, grey like the skies, grey like the walls. He stood out beyond the colour of his skin, the shape of his features; the sweeping lines of sun and saffron that wisped around him, trailing far off to the South East, no less bold for the distance were just as strange and alien to his new family.
His father seemed to fight incessantly with his brothers, it was unseemly, embarrassing for them to walk around with the binds of their love so open for any to see. He remembered peeking through a cupboard in his father’s study as he had shaken his head at one of his uncle's while gesturing absently at Tenzing’s wild marigold ducking and peaking around him, face pitying, and then with an absent fond smile ‘I can’t do anything about it. Literally. There is literally nothing I can do.’ When he looks back on it, it warms him. At the time he hadn’t understood.
He‘d slipped out after his uncle had left and settled into his father’s lap, followed his father’s fingers trailing over the map in front of them with his own, both of their hands heading to a home they would not see again. He had drawn his father’s attention down to his chest, gently plucking at the various fading lines of light around him, naming each one as he went.
‘ Bajai’ , he had brushed against the softer line from his grandmother, remembering the scratchy sweetness of her singing voice and the line had lit up suddenly brighter and wider, moving around him in a dizzying swirl while a corresponding swoop wrapped around his father. He had shared a shocked moment of uplit joy in the gloom of the room before his father’s face had crumpled and he’d dragged him closer, pressing Tenzing’s face into his chest, where he fell asleep to the heavy beat of his father’s heart.
His father had carried him to his own bed that night, tucking him close and warm as if he were back home with his heart between Kesar and Aadesh. The morning had brought a painful conversation about how the fading lines would soon be replaced by lines from his newly discovered family.
The fading lines would never be replaced by his newly discovered aunts and uncles and cousins, the children disliked him and the adults had seemed to actively loathe him.
He had always been precocious and though the joyous child had been replaced with a solemn young boy, he had no shortage of the small silvery lines of concern and affection that appeared and disappeared like dust on the wind. He had been favoured by tutors and servants, partly through his own behaviour and partly as a result of the thoughtlessly cruel behaviour of his family. Housemaids had kissed his cheeks and helped him hide his books, footmen had patted him on the head and warned him off locations where he might encounter a particularly mean relation, the kitchen staff had fed him and perhaps most usefully taught him to cook. In his avoidance of his family, he had learned from the gardeners, the farmhands, the stablemen, the kennelmaster and visiting huntsmen and falconers. He had learned to see, to untangle the waves of light that wound around and between people. That was when he had learned that other people couldn’t see the lines between, the lines that tied people together. As a child it had seemed a pointless gift.
His father had combed through his hair with his hands as he retold his lessons in the evening, thoughtlessly tactile and immeasurably proud. His father was his shield against the world, more clever, more wealthy, more powerful than anyone else in his little sphere.