Mockery

            Luck was not with Nalai. The streets were not as crowded as they had been the day before and what few people were out and about at this early hour weren’t all that busy. Most were wandering around while waiting for the shops to open. Unfortunately for Nalai, her distinctly non-Nakuk height stood out much more. There was nothing she could do to hide it either. She’d learned years ago that slouching simply drew more attention to herself.

            She walked as quickly as she could through the streets but she could never walk fast enough to escape the continuous stream of jeering insults. Nothing helped. Walking fast, walking slowly, pulling the hood of her parka closer around her ears. The taunts always made it to her ears. It always made her face flush and her ears burn.

            “Oh there goes Nalai,” a boy about her age jeered. “Get off the street, your freakish height is blocking my light.”

            “Giant,” jeered another.

            Nalai hurried away from them as fast as she could, pulling her parka’s hood as close around her face as she could, though not to block the sounds. She didn’t want anyone to see the hurt on her face. It was only Iquiuk’s comforting presence that kept her from bursting into tears.

            I wish I knew why I let them get to me like this. I’ve been hearing it for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been taller than the other children, taller than kids older than me after a while. After everyone else stopped growing I kept growing. I remember mother complaining about how hard it was to find clothes for me. I don’t know how she would have managed if her childhood best friend wasn’t a seamstress. Nalai tugged on the edge of her hood. Practically all of my things come from her shop. I don’t see mother much anymore though. I understand the tradition behind why, but I miss her sometimes. I miss her cooking. Geioq would have my hide for a new rug if I let slip that mother’s cooking is far better than hers.

            The closer she got to the gate the less taunting she heard. No one ventured close to the gate unless they had business there. It was one of the factors that had influenced her choice in apprenticeship.

            Going outside the dome is a blessing. Sometimes I think that if I weren’t so good at finding plants there would be no use for me at all. If there’s one thing the Nakuk won’t abide is a useless person. I’m not a proper Nakuk woman so there’s no chance of getting any marriage offers. She sighed deeply.

            The guard at the gate was the same one who had been on duty the day before. He looked at her cautiously. “Going out again so soon?” he asked.

            Nalai shrugged as much as she could with the weight of the heavy parka on her shoulders. “I wasn’t able to find something that Kiuktuk needs very badly for his shop so I have to go out again.”

            The guard nodded. “I wish you luck. It would be a bad thing indeed for you to upset your Master. Off with you then.” He opened the gate enough to let her out and then shut it quickly once she and Iquiuk were on the other side.

            Nalai sighed adjusted her satchel strap, shivering in cold as the wind whipped her parka around her and tugged at her pants where they tucked into her tall boots. It was a lot colder than it had been the day before.

            “I hope I’m right about this,” she said to Iquiuk as she headed south towards the water. I almost wish I hadn’t convinced Kiuktuk that I could do this. The coast is dangerous even if I am bigger than I was the last time I went there alone. It’s too late to back out now. I’ll never hear the end of it from the other gatherers and Kiuktuk will be furious with me if I come back empty handed after I made such a convincing argument. I only hope my arrogance doesn’t get me killed.