To Speak of Dying…
Night had fallen. Simetra sat outside on the porch of her unit. It was normal – and polite – custom for women and children to stay within the inner walls at night or only venture out as far as the common gardens but that still felt too public for her. Her rooms were hot and she wanted to be outside but didn’t see why she had to be on display. The streets were quiet at night and shielded from view by the high walls of the domestic units. Leaned against the outer wall with his legs crossed was her brother. His eyes were shut but he opened one eye to regard his twin sister sat in the same pose on the other side of the open door. Light spilled outwards and gave them both a soft gold glow. It occurred to him that they must resemble some strange sort of art work used on Ancient Earth. He didn’t pretend to be an expert on these things but they interested him from time to time. They were regarded suspiciously by passersby on the way to night shifts who shook their heads disapprovingly at them – flouting the bounds of polite behavior. Ollopa normally went to the Porneia to get drunk with his friends and struggle to work with a sore head and nobody thought anything of it. His boss would clap him on the shoulder and laugh then set him to work somewhere cool and dimly lit. His boss loved him like a son and went out of his way to help him but not his sister. People looked up to her, even respected her, but the way he saw it, nobody really liked her. Her behaviour was indiscreet and her general manner was considered surly by some but he was her brother and despite this he loved her. The looks and sighs were irritating him now and longed to speak but the quiet had sunk in now and he felt like his own voice would be deafening. All they were doing was sitting. They were just enjoying being silent in each other’s company.
Everyone knew that Sim did not much care for company and this made her an anomaly to others’ eyes. Other women were acceptable to her for short periods and she occaisionally allowed a few girls to follow her in her work to assist and learn. She thanked them for their help but would no more accept payment for their learning than she would pay them for their time. She tolerated him in a social sense at some level, albeit a very low one. For some reason, he must not really count as a man in her eyes. That was okay. He didn’t want to be. So long as she knew she was not alone that was fine by him and he did worry about her. Changing their normal behaviour at this time would not change their situation. It would only serve to alert whoever was watching them that they knew they were being watched. Opening the window or door to the inner courtyard would mean they would have to listen to the pointless chatter of women and children mindlessly repeating every poisonous lie the news screen in the main square had told them that day.
Ollopa was as scornful of the wives and matrons that whispered about his sister, as she was of the men who thought to rule her. They were as bad as the men who kept them in social seclusion. He swore that he would never do that to her and nor, for that matter would anyone else especially her. They had allowed themselves to be cloistered and used. To be bought and sold like chattels by the men of their families. The women that had happened to were the willing prisoners of their husbands. They had the legal option to refuse a match even if they could not choose one for themselves and were rarely seen again after they were married. When they were it was by Sim when she was called as a last resort to assist a problem birth. This was usually too late because the Clerics had got there first. Insisting that all the poor woman needed to help her through her ‘trial’ was some spiritual and moral support but while mother and baby were dying the Clerics were refusing to allow Medics in while they were there. The standard excuse was ‘so as not to crowd the mother.’. The mother’s were either new or had had so many children that her body was used up. The Clerics had ensured that contraception was only available to the girls of the Porneia. The wives were to produce legitimate offspring; The courtesans were for pleasure alone and too many of the children born to those women ended up in the orphanages. It was causing an overcrowding problem. Courtesans were not necessarily female but all of their custom was male. None, but the most desperate women ever set foot through those doors but only those women were permitted to appear in public without a veil and respectable women were expected to cover up. This was another rule that Sim flouted. Time and time again she had been pulled up on it by someone but each time she had told them ‘Thank you for taking an interest but due to my work, your beautiful garments would be spoiled.’ This seemed to satisfy some. Others ignored her. Her skills were rare and they might need her help one day.