Suitors and advisors (Chapter 9)
“This is more awkward than when I bled through my pants in middle school and had to hide it all day” Becky whispers to me. I can do nothing but nod and stare. Across the large ballroom stand Pinns. Young men, some gawking, some leering, some inspecting, most silently observing. Among them older couples are scattered, men and women, talking to them or about them. Some clearly remarking on the merchandise lined up across the room from them, others encouraging them.
The shadows of the early evening make it hard to, but among the onlookers I can see a few of the teachers mingling. As they speak they point at various women. It’s a cattle market. If I had known the teachers were going to advise potential suitors I would have acted differently around them. Maybe smiled more. Eh, I had every reason not to smile.
All are dressed in what I can only assume is the local flavor of finery. Suits with elaborate stitching, gauzy neck ties, and large gold link chains around their shoulders with small gold plated seals on the end. Some of the older men wear what looks to be elaborate priestly frocks with colorful patterns stitched along the hems. The older women wear elaborate gauzy wrap dresses that float around them with jewels that twinkle in the light.
I feel on display and cross my arms in front of my body to shield me from prying eyes. The strangeness of this situation almost has me wishing I was back in my dull grey room on the spaceship and in my plain white uniform. At least there no one stared hungrily at my breasts like the man on the opposite side of the room.
In an attempt to look anywhere but him, I glance around the room again. The ballroom is a long rectangle that is neither too small to fit all of the people nor so large that it felt spacious. When the teachers had described how the socials, they described romantic evenings where the women would be swept off their feet by handsome strangers. This doesn’t feel like a romantic evening- it feels like a market hall, uneasy transactions waiting to happen. The decor is limited, small silver chandeliers drop from the ceiling glow in the early evening light; they are not too grand and almost feel too small for the space, casting shadows for the lack of light. The strong scent of heavy cologne pierces the air giving the room an oppressive feeling. At the end stands an orchestra of 5 men.
Suddenly there is movement near the far end of the room and everyone falls silent. I jerk my head towards the movement to watch. A young man nervously walks over, introducing himself to a woman. I simply stare. He smiles, she returns a smile politely, they talk. She nods at something he says.
The loud sound of a man clearing his throat startles me. I abruptly turn. Oh no no no, not breast-guy. My admirer stands nervously in front of me. He is biting his lips, shifting from foot to foot.
“H-Hi I’m Barth” he hesitates.
“Ivy” I reply. I feel annoyed which is helping me overcome my prior anxiety. I don’t really plan to go home with a Pinn at the first social, but I also don’t want to waste my time talking to a guy who has all the awkwardness of teenager gawking at a girl for the first time.
“I….um…” He mumbles. I look squarely at him. It doesn’t seem to help him at all as he starts to blush profusely. He is cute. I have to give him that. He is pale with a strong jaw and auburn hair. His pale blue eyes fixated on my shoes before him. And the blush makes him look all the more adorable. He continues to mumble somewhat incoherent phrases, trying to come up with something. I don’t know why but I am beginning to feel bad for him. He is like a lost puppy. A lost alien puppy.
“Do you live in Yandhude?” I ask, hoping to save him from himself. I just can’t bear his embarrassment any longer; it’s beginning to make me nervous all over again.
“Yes, yes, on the south side” He nods vigorously. A smile creeps up on his face.
Yandhude is the first stop on our social tour and we were able to see none of it. After landing the teachers had ushered us through long hallways immediately into the large room where we got ready. We saw none of the city which our teachers had claimed was more beautiful than any on earth, no glimpse of the greenery. Most upsetting, no breath of fresh air which after a week in the grey spaceship I was desperate for.
“Why do you think we can’t go outside?” I heard Ana whisper to someone next to her. Her voice echoed slightly in the long grey corridor. Bright overhead lights lit our path from the shuttle.
I turned their way in time to see the woman shrug and reply “Maybe we never left earth?”
Another woman chimed in with an air of authority “They don’t want us to escape –if we can see the outside we can escape”
My question appears to have opened the flood gates. Barth is now happily painting a picture of our future lives in the south side of Yandhude. I am told we will have any many children as I want, as long as it is at least four. He has rooms for them all. Yes, he already has ideas for names.
I have to smile at his enthusiasm. He is trying to sell me a future, but he is too clumsy at it to come off as a sleazy salesman. It was somewhat adorable, but no I wasn’t tempted. Am I honestly expected pick a man to spend my life with after a 20 minute chat?
The orchestra begins to play a slow song and people move away from the center creating a makeshift dance floor. A few couples move in, dancing, swirling, and softly swaying to the music. Its romantic- it is also become very hard to hear Barth who has starting to explain his role as a merchant in fabric dyes.
“So….. is …..often….. and so you……. by yourself…..”
I move closer to him in the hopes of hearing him better.
“but…. Me….” He continues without a need for my input much like before. I look at him and wonder what it would be like to spend my life with him. Sure I haven’t known him long, but he seems like a happy and uncomplicated man. He doesn’t seem like the type to hurt me- he just seems too eager to please. Of course I would never get a word in edgewise for the rest of my natural life.
The music picks up speed and the couples begin to dancing to the faster pace. Jumping, twirling, laughing.
Tired of listening to only pieces of conservation, I touch Barth’s shoulder and gesture towards the couples. “Do you want to dance?”
Impressively, his smile grows even wider. He leads me to edge of our makeshift dance floor and begins leading me around. It’s been a long time since I danced, but I recognize the familiar feeling of excitement and exertion flowing through me veins. I feel almost giddy and weightless as we hop from one side of the room to the other. I’m not sure we are matching the beat, but we are having fun.
I glance at Barth and see him grinning down at me, sweat dripping off of his forehead. I feel a modest form of happiness. This is the most fun I have had since I was kidnapped and for a brief moment I have forgotten all of the stress of the past week.
After a few songs he leads to towards a table cluttered with glasses and bottles on the far end of the room. He says something, but I don’t quite understand. He then shoves a glass into my hand before proceeding to talk some more.
Could I have found someone compatible already? It seems too soon and far too quick. He does have a lot of the qualities that I would consider important. He seems happy, friendly, and willing to put effort into our relationship. I am not attracted to him even although he is reasonably handsome-the chemistry just isn’t there. I’m not sure I prize attraction so much in an alien partner- there is too much else at stake.
As I marinade of these thoughts I glance over to see Ava giggling in the arms of a young looking Pinn and he spins her around the dance floor. Her smile is broad as she touches his shoulder. I’m not sure whether to feel happy that she has been able to deal with the situation or betrayed by how easily she accepts it.
On the last thought the room suddenly begins to feel stuffy with the stifling smell of candles and musk of sweat. The oppressive heat of too many people in bearing down on me and the music once peaceful begins to feel overbearing and rough. I decide that I have had enough- enough of the pretense that this is somehow normal.
I somewhat abruptly excuse myself from Barth. I suppose he was just getting into the details of bird hunting, clearly a favorite topic of his. However, he nods in understanding when I say that I need to use the facilities. God, I even feel pressure to be nice to those who would benefit from my kidnapping- I feel ill.
I made my way through the sweaty overdressed bodies towards a nearby door. Chains, rings, buttons, and broaches scratch as I squeeze through and around the chatting couples.
Relief floods me as I grab hold of the handle, swing the door open and step into the cool hallway on the other side. The chatter of the social now more mumbled and distant. I lean against the cool grey cement wall before sliding down to sit on the floor.
Five minutes is all I need. All I need before I go back to smiling and pretending. Okay maybe ten. I rest my face in my hands and close my eyes.
I jump a little when I feel something on my shoulder and look up. It’s Mr. Hertilz leaning over me, casting further shadow in the dim light of the hallway. I wonder if he is stalking me- or maybe has a crush. Of course, he could just be doing his job…
“Are you feeling alright?”
“Uh, yes. I just need a break from the heat”
“Not a break from the Master Trader?”
“The man you danced with”
He just nods. Ugh, I guess he is here to push me to commit to him or talk to someone new. I’m sure my kidnappers are eager to have me sold.
I shrug. “No, he seems nice. I just got overheated”
He pursues his lips in disapproval. “Allow me to give you some advice. I have been doing this a while and you can do better than the Master Trader”
He doesn’t saying anything.
“Better how? More money? I don’t care. He seems nice and easy to get along with. And um…..passionate about his work.” I use my hands and prop myself back up to a standing position. I am beginning to get worked up. This idiot doesn’t get a say in who I pick. It’s the one thing they allow me.
“This is not earth. You do not understand how things work here.”
“What money gets you things? That is not new”
He gives me an annoyed look, “Do what you will. No one said you have to accept my advice”
With that he abrupt turns, pulls the door open and escapes into the crowd of the ballroom.
I spend a few moments reigning in my seething emotions. God he is annoying!
Fuming I straighten my spine and I too open the door to the ballroom and scan the crowd for my target. Standing at the edge of the ballroom fidgeting with his sleeves is Barth.
I decidedly walk towards him. He glances up at spots me and I smile my widest smile. It may be that the annoying Mr. Hertilz is right; I don’t know how things work on Pinn. I don’t understand the social system or what I should look for in a potential alien baby-daddy, but this is not my fault but his and his stupid colleagues that dragged me away from everything I’ve ever known. Within all this madness that they thrust upon me the only thing I have left is that choice. And what I don’t need is Mr. Nosy butting in.
But I will show him what I think of him sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong.
I do my sexiest walk up to Barth and grab his sweaty hands before dragging him to where the other couples are dancing and proceeded to spend the rest of the night dancing in his arms.