“The letter, then, it is not a secret?” I ask.
“It’s no secret, though few know about it,” Ben shrugs, “Koso is an introvert, you can’t blame him. He’s suffered. Don’t look at me like that, I’m quite aware that he isn’t the only one. It’s a wonder you two have had a conversation within this past decade, you cowards.”
He is only half-serious, but he’s right and I can’t rebuke him. I let out a breath.
“The letter is old, then, of no hope.”
Ben so obviously wants to tell me that I am wrong, wants to give me hope, but can’t. There is no substance to the argument of hoping. I turn my gaze to the ground. I want to spit.
“Look at me,” Ben says, but I am too slow and he grasps me by the shoulder. His face has something- fire, will- that intensifies his words. “Look, there is hope only so long as there is action. Hope can die. We will be complacent. If you don’t like it, do something about it.”
He rises, and I with him. I take in the view of all the people around us. They are not mine, I have no claim of ownership or leadership, but we are together. Some glance at us as they walk by. I can name everyone, I know their children and their professions. Naomi has an armful of corn in one hand and a toddler clutching the other. Jasper is selling fruit across the circle, his face permanently crinkled from smiling too hard the first year, trying to make up for the dearth of happiness.
A woman walks toward us from the market ring. She wears the apron of an herbalist, and motions at us as she weaves through the people. Zink.
She hugs Benson first, with affection and zeal, greeting us with quick words. Everything about Zink is quick; her mind, her speech, her temper. She embraces me around the neck and kisses my cheek lightly.
“What are you two doing today?”
“Talking about the past, about change, about all the maybes.” I say. She smiles, rolls her eyes.
“You two are all talk. Ben can’t get out of the past, and you’re stuck on the future. Live a little, boys,” she jibes. She is especially quick today, her mind on multiples. Benson notices, too.
“What’s got you so full of yourself, then?” he asks with a smile. She turns back to us, she’d been looking over her shoulder.
“I’ve got a pair of girls who have signed on to help me, apprentice I guess, though we weren’t exactly asking for it. I couldn’t say no, I guess I’m just so charitable. Anyway, they’re with the shop now, and it’s making me nervous.”
“You just don’t like other people doing your work,” I tell her. She smiles and responds,
“That’s pretty true.”
She has blue eyes, a rarity, and they laugh at me. I can never be sure what she and I are together, but I forget my hollowness here. Her nervous glances towards her store eventually lead her back to it, with me alongside her. Benson leaves us for other pursuits of the day.