I ride north for the Lumpong Agency, and it takes me most of two days to reach it from Carbonate. It would take several more days for me to ride to Nanung, the seat of the Agency, but I don’t need to go that far. Just far enough to see my uncle.
The land becomes flat and arid once I leave Tochopa National Forest. The forests become flat scrubland that stretch for miles in every direction. I can’t see a tree no matter which direction I look. The only vegetation are low lying shrubs and bushes. It’s also hot. Almost unbearably hot. I wear nothing but a simple desert robe that covers me but doesn’t smother me.
There are faded signs warning me about that I’m about to enter the Lumpong Agency. I’m stopped by an agency ranger less than five minutes across the border. I show him my papers and explain to him who I want to see.
“Who is he to you?” the ranger asks.
“He’s my uncle,” I say. “My mother’s brother.”
The ranger looks surprised.
“He doesn’t talk about me often, does he?”
The ranger shakes his head. An oddly human gesture. “But then again, he has plenty of children as it is.” The ranger returns my papers to me. “I’ll take you to see Thabit.”
I nod my head. There’s no point in arguing so I follow him. The ranger attempts to make conversation with me, but I offer few answers. I’m not much interested in conversation as my mind is occupied with thoughts of my uncle and my father.
Sanapong is built on top of a steep hill. A few old mud huts are built at the base behind a sagging barbed wire fence. Newer looking trailer homes sat higher up on the hill towards the peak. Adults are passed out on front stoops, either from drugs or alcohol. I avert my eyes, unwilling to see it for what it is. Children run out to run around the horses. They’re dressed in dirty rags.
“Why aren’t they in school?” I ask.
“School had to shut down. No money.”
Thabit ibn Sasah lives in a trailer near the summit. We’re met by a broad shouldered orc who’s scowling at me. I recognize him as my brother, Dilal.
“Odima,” he says, still scowling.
“I’m here to see our uncle.”
“Our uncle? After what you did to our father?”
“If you’ll notice, brother,” I say, “I’m here to see our uncle, not our father.”
“What is this about?”
“We’re family. Do I need a reason?”
Dilal glares at me before finally relenting. “Follow me,” he says.
I follow him inside the trailer, carrying my sack with me. Dust dances in sunlight shining in through the windows. The top half of the walls are covered in faded wallpaper and then lower half are covered by wood paneling. The furniture is old and torn. A group of children sit in the living room, watching static-filled I Love Lucy reruns on the television while drinking Coke from glass bottles and eating falafel.
Uncle Thabit is in the back bedroom. His skin is sallow and sagging. The room smells like rosewater. Thabit opens his eyes and looks at me. “I thought I wouldn’t see ghosts until I was actually dead,” he says. “Hamah, is that you?”
“No, uncle, it’s me, Odima.”
Thabit closes his eyes. “I must be in hell.”
“I’m not dead, not matter how much you wish I was.”
“What do you want, child?” Thabit asks.
“I’ve come to discuss the future of our people.”
Thabit begins to laugh, but it quickly turns into a racking cough. He wipes spittle and phlegm from his lips. “Our people? You mean the people you abandoned.”
“I never abandoned my people.”
“You live and work with the Autumn-Men. They’re dead leaves. Why do you care?”
“Because they’re our future, whether you want to admit it or not.”
“Have you become a rot-eater?” Dilal asks.
I try not to rise to the bait. I drop the bag I’m carrying on the floor, and it makes a loud bang.
“What’s that?” Dilal asks.
“Two hundred pounds of copper bars. They’re mining metal from the ground from our land. This is our future.”
“What’s your point?” Thabit asks.
“The future is here,” I say. “We can’t fight it, but we can forge our space in it.”
“A space? Have you found your space, child? Do they accept you as one of their own?”
I open my mouth to say something, but stop because I realize that I can’t argue with my uncle.
“Where did you get all this copper?” Dilal asks.
“I stole it,” I answer.
“You accuse me of being a rot-eater, but I’m the only one trying to make my place in their world.”
“By killing them?” Thabit asks.
“By keeping the balance,” I answer.
“You are not keeping any balance,” Thabit said. “Leave my presence, child. I never want to see you. You have your dead leaves to play with.”
“I am repaying the money that I–”
“I said be gone! Leave! As far as I’m concerned, we no longer share any blood!”
I clench my fists and bite my tongue. Without saying a word, I turn and march out of the trailer, slamming the door behind me.
“Odima!” Dilal calls after me as I mount my horse.
I don’t acknowledge him.
“Father will know you’ve returned,” Dilal says.
“I don’t care,” I say, pointing my horses back south towards Carbonate.