My grandmother sent me a dress from Kobsarka for the festival, but it didn’t come in time. Canyon shipping can be so variable that it’s almost better to have someone carry it with lim on a visit.
Still, the celebration went well! My aunt let me borrow a spare gown at the satellite home, and I went to the rain dances with the rest of my family.
The processional attendants wore the traditional outfits and water-like face paints, their heads adorned with stiffened, spine-like growths shed by beasts in the Canyon-dark rivers that shatter through Narahja like jewels. The celebration lasted about half as long as the one in Menarka, as we must contend with the Shiji and Galasuhi rituals, and within each, the Eneiji and other categories of Sabaji religious practices. The Galasuhi practices look more like ours.
It’s odd because I thought that the Shiji and the Galasuhi were the same. The Galasuhi are, it would seem, just a subgroup of Shiji with a very strong monarchical influence. They’re a bit more blended, a bit more like us. They don’t speak Shiji because they want to preserve their cultural identity. I wonder if we could target them better with political campaigning — yeah.
We had the festival in Bell Park near the cultural center. While the meats roasted, we linked hands and did the labyrinthine dances, trampling the plants underfoot in that winding pattern at the center of most Ịgzarhjenya cities. I bought offering cakes and kaksado liqueur to offer to the gods. Readings and skits lasted about two hours.
Sweat beaded on my brow. It was so hot this year! The people who had planned these vigorous dances had Canyon ground and Canyon weather in mind. The monsoon rains would have cooled the performers, and they would have also worn mud-grips.
Two boys came by with watered-down wine to soothe our throats. Old men fed the fires with dried ćukuseh petals, and the smoke tendriled throughout the park. My mind felt like it had expanded to encompass the entire galaxy, and I was filled with such happiness. The loud chanting and bodies pressing and dancing were so much that I started crying, and I was not the only one. That part, at least, was exactly like the Canyons.
The god of the rains has come. Yilrega has come: the watery procession has penetrated deep into the ground and ler vines shoot up to form the doorway to eternity. Through this door le comes. Dripping with vines and water and blood, le comes. With the tempest le comes, and with the calm rains, and with the chaos of new growth. See lim wander Ameisa. See lim find ler people. Near, far—everywhere. Le has come.
The sound roared in my ears. I found rhythm in the ćukuseh and the drumbeats. My palms sweat as I slapped the hands of the people around me. The grills piled with meat made me hungry and lightheaded, so I ate, danced, and ate more.
Aneti called me when the festival ended at 10h. Still slightly high, very full, and humming with God, I stumbled away from the park and met lim, giggling.
The Skyrail had limited service, and the Bell Quarter — thankfully — was included in the list of access stops. The sub-rail system was closed, which I have heard that the Taritit abandoned completing as soon as they realized how much of a problem the bedrock would be, in addition to the earthquakes. The tunnels were abandoned until two years ago when the city started coping with overflow on some of the Skyrail lines.
One of the women on our train tried selling us fried dough balls. I took one in my mouth and kissed Aneti. Le stumbled back, a lehi in hand, to pay for it. Ler eyes swam in their sockets when I pulled away. We nearly missed our stop.
Fifteen blocks from the river, we walked the rest of the way. Aneti and I ordered iced nonu from one of the vendors, and le asked for extra ice. It’s traditional for the Galasuhi to jump into the water on the Summer Solstice, a tradition that no one else in Shija observes, and no one else anywhere — as far as I know — and Aneti says that ler family has always been in Shija, even before the Occupation — le says so many things, and I hardly remember half of what le said, but I think that it was important. Le says that the ice helps because the river is cold.
We joined one of the processions and made our way down to the river. Aneti handed me ler electronics, and le jumped in with a scream. I captured a photograph of ler face: Ler mouth is a perfect O, le has squeezed ler eyes shut, and ler hair is spraying water in an arc as le turns ler head. While people jumped, the priests and priestesses prayed to various gods.
Aneti asked me if I would jump in. I had freshly-scraped henna designs on my forehead and had worn a good costume for the Water Dances, but I did it anyway. That must have been the drugs.
Le was right about the water. It was so cold that it burned! But it must have been warmer than I thought. It was just a shock because the day was so hot.
When I climbed out, le said, “Look at you shake! The expression on your face! Do you take any risks?”
“Not at all.”
Aneti is a risk. I am taking lim, preferably down, and by all that my family holds sacred, why does writing preferably down make my cheeks flush? Why am I fantasizing about someone whom the police should have forced out of the Movement long ago? All I can think about is ler body pressed against mine and my body hard against lers.
We escaped from the crowds soon after the offerings finished and ran in wet shoes along the streets until we found a vendor who sold white festival robes. Aneti bought new ones, and I bought my first set. We changed in one of the squares, roped our clothes together, and walked to one of the parks.
The bug in my hair is waterproof.* I have captured the entire conversation. Tomorrow, I will invite Aneti to the apartment, and I hope that le won’t leave early.
* Waterproof is an interesting term. I wouldn’t recommend going diving in it below 2 meters. It now has some graininess in the audio that will hopefully go away on its own as the nano-repair kicks in. Don’t try it again! Self-repairing technology doesn’t always work. ↩