Seeds of Yesterday
The Waiting Area
The voice came from far away. High up, off to my right.
She was talking to me, wasn’t she?
I opened my eyes. Looked up. The woman standing over me wore a loose blue tunic and slacks. “Navy blue” they call that color. “Scrubs” is the name for clothing like that. “Hospital scrubs”.
She was a nurse, a human, with kind, rather bleary, early-morning eyes. Her touch was gentle as she laid a warm hand on my shoulder.
That’s when I found a word to describe the feeling that had hunched me forward in my seat and hugged my arms tight across my chest.
Not from the chill of the plastic chair I’d been sitting in for I wasn’t sure how long.
The cold came from inside. Deep to my bones, to my blood, to my two aching hearts.
Her warm fingers pressed, tugged a little, a silent, beckoning call for my attention. “Susan?” she said this time. “I brought you something hot to drink. You’re shivering.”
She’d recognized what my body felt even before I had. Knew shivering was common to both humans and Tenctonese.
“Come on, Susan, try a little,” she encouraged. “You’ve had such a long night…”
A night? It wasn’t hundreds of lifetimes?
“It’s hot coffee…” she said.
I saw the Styrofoam cup in her hand. Smelled the aromatic steam trails above its white rim.
“I put a little mustard in it…” she added.
How kind to think of that small, comforting detail.
“Susan?” she said again.
I realized I hadn’t answered, had barely registered the name, though I’ve been Susan for almost ten years now. Since I came to this planet. The immigration worker filling out my paperwork gave me the name. I liked the sound of it, even before I knew what she bestowed on me. It reminded me of the words Tsu-shahn, which, in our language mean “Sun rising”.
Sun rise. A new day, new beginning… It was a hopeful thing.
When we came here, we so badly needed hope.
Later, I learned to speak my full name as she had given it to me. It was Susan B. Anthony. When my English was good enough, I sought through the quarantine camp for her and was able to ask her if it meant something in my new language. She said she saw me trying to set up a sleeping area for the littlest podlings and named me in honor of a determined organizer who fought for the right of women to vote in this country. To have a voice. So they could make a difference for themselves and their children.
After that, I liked the name even more.
So many of us Newcomers were given names that suggested only the indifference, tiredness, or cruel humor of the bureaucrats in charge. Slave names like Sonny Day, May O’Naise or Hugh Manatee, that labeled us as less than the humans that inhabited this world. Thanks to her, I carried a name to be proud of. That said something about the hope she held that our two species could live together and also about what she saw in me.
Even back on the slave ship, when I spent my kraig-ta cleaning ventilation systems and was called Appy, I wanted to make a difference. At least, once I had someone to protect, to dream dreams for that went beyond the drudgery of slavery. First, it was my husband, my dear neemu, Stanya, known as George here. Later, it was our daughter, Kiteari, who was taken from us by the Kleezansoon when she was ten years old. George and I, by silent agreement, don’t speak of her now, though I think he also studies spot patterns in a crowd. Then, it was our son, Finiksa, now called Buck and finally, our little Devoosha- Emily as she is in this world, who was not so very long past her toddling days when I made the choice that brought me to this hard plastic chair.
The nurse beside me was still waiting. More to please her than for any other reason, I nodded and reached for the cup. “Thank you,” I said, though I didn’t care about the coffee, even with that beckoning aroma of mustard rising from it.
Still, with the Styrofoam cradled in my hands, I felt better, stronger. There is always something hopeful in the smallest touch of warmth amid cold.
Such a sweet, treacherous word.