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And Now We Can No Longer Grow

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Komugi cannot wash dishes or press seeds into the ground with her thumb; when she holds cutlery, even the round clay shapes that belong to her parents’ house, she shivers and shakes with nerves. Every possible crack she can feel with her fingers, so wide to their delicacy, even if it is no thicker than a hair, so wide that they feel full of possibility, just like the Gungi board. And she could be the one to cause it to widen, to make the plate shatter in her hands.

Plants she cannot handle, the whiff of nearby flowers and the rushes her older and probably prettier sister likes to garland the floors with makes her nose tickle and her chest heave so that great sneezes ensue. She can’t remember the last time her nose was clear; probably before she was even born.

And she cannot stay in the sun too long, or dig with hands whose every nerve is keyed into the small, pebble-like feel of a Gungi tile. If it weren’t for the fact she is blind, her parents would deem her a layabout. Lazy, a scrap of nothing with a name that describes the fields she can never walk freely through.

It is strange then, that in her dreams she walks against plants that are giants to her, their feathery tips brushing against her fingers as she reaches out desperately to part them. Strange, since she has only once touched the dead, dry husk of a wheat stalk that her brother made her a present out of, a mockery of what she had been named after.

‘See’, it had seemed to scorn, the rough feel of it bruising her feelings far more than it did her fingers, ‘here you are, dead, dry, dust. Only Gungi allows you to be more, like a queen who cannot walk among her subjects.’

Things change in the few days she spends with Meruem. He is the Supreme Leader, one who can match the electricity behind her useless eyes with his Gungi playing, though he is only a beginner. And like her, he does not wash dishes or plant crops. She has never even heard the clatter of a plate beside them; he eats away from her and she imagines he is delicate in the way he presses his food to his mouth, thinly sliced fish and fruit in dishes that do not contain the musk of clay. She imagines he is as graceful as he plays. And he has never watched her eat, for which she is grateful. She does not want to imagine the distaste in his voice, the barely-suppressed snarl as she chomps down into bread and porridge, thicker and meatier than the stuff she is allowed at home.

And in her dreams now, there is a hand holding hers, thicker and stronger, as is the case with almost every other person she has ever met. Her hand is dwarfed in his grasp; she knows this by the way he places his Gungi pieces on the board, the way he slides and lifts them, the echoing taps speaking of a strong, meticulous grip, fingers thicker, wider than any she has ever touched.

In her dreams she does not push anymore. She is pulled.

 

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Later, her hair falls down her back, bruising against the thin slice of exposed skin on her back. She is not ashamed the way she would be in her parents’ house. And she does not think the Supreme Leader will mind.

She fidgets and he comments. She plays and he is angry. But never once does he slap her hands away or force her to stop with words that are meant to be cruel. He is the first person not to think her worthless for being able to do nothing but play a game.

And when she is thirsty, he does not force her to get up, does not tell her that she should wobble over now that her stick is long lost. He shifts and stands, walks to a nearby bathroom and Komugi, with wonder in her heart, hears the tap turn and the water fall. When he comes back he deliberately presses the cup into her hand, wrapping her hand around the rim with a cautiousness she has never felt in the hands of anyone else. She feels the texture of his skin, rough panelling that feels more like armour than flesh, as hard and strangely brittle as both clay and turtle shells. She does not say a word about the way this makes her feel, how much relief there is at not feeling the squeezey give of human flesh.

‘I wish I could do something for you!’ she bursts out. ‘You’ve done so much for me, and I! And I...’

I can only give you a game of Gungi. No, I can give you thousands and never let you win.

‘It is enough,’ says Meruem and Komugi remembers that he has also given her his name, free of honorifics. For someone in his position, it must seem like the ultimate gift.

She almost bursts into tears again, careful to keep her eyes above her hands. There is no need to sully their game further, to smear the backs of her hands with water that could roll over the skin and wet the tiles she touches. There will be time enough later when Meruem has no strength left to play. She can save her tears for his hands, if nothing else.

There will never be children. There will never be hands to pull her through a field she has felt barred against her. She will never hear the rattle of dishes as they sieve through water, never hear Meruem grunt as he leans over to press seeds into the ground for her. But he has pressed a cup into her hand instead and played thousands of games of Gungi, both with her and for himself.

And like he says, it is enough.