Belly Of The Earth


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1. Sea of strangers

Before me, a steep hill plunged down into the hot morning. I stood at the top with my package, watching the town stretch out from beneath my feet. A sea of people had swarmed out to the high street and dominated the slope, covering every inch of the uneven cobbles. Clearly this was not going to be one of my simpler deliveries. I sighed, picked up the parcel from my feet and headed into the crowd. At this point I figured it would be better to be a bird than anything else. Ravens were circling by the rooftops across the road, limitless in the empty sky .Down here, I had already been hit by seven elbows and six arms and I was only outside the first shop. I groaned and used the wall to pull me along, collapsing into a closed doorway and panting like a dog. I could feel a bruise emerging on my hip so I forced myself to run; there was no way I was getting stuck and knocked by every person that passed. It took ages to make my way to a break in the teeming masses: the small entrance to a narrow lane provided a window of chance. I ducked eagerly into the gap and sank willingly to the floor.It was several seconds before I realized someone was peering at me from around the corner. I started. Rising back to my feet ( would I ever get a rest? ) I retraced my steps and stuck my head, unwisely  into the gaggle of people.

A woman was looking out through the open door of the shop to my left, and almost at once I felt the first stirrings of curiosity. Her eyes were almost too dark; I couldn't read her and I think she knew it. Instead of staring openly at her face, I tried to distract myself by looking discretely at her clothes. I must confess I was jealous: she was draped head to foot in a silken dress, that swilled around her ankles as she glided out of the doorway and closer to me. The color combinations were like nothing I had ever seen anyone wear: gold, silver , blue, red and orange, all side by side in curving patterns. She saw my appraising look and smiled. Warmth that her eyes had hidden flooded out in her voice.  

 

"Hello there!" 

I nodded  in her direction. Inside I still felt a little unsure. Why had she been watching me?

"Will you tell me your name?"

The more I heard it, the more I liked her voice. She spoke softly, but with great strength.

"That's not important just yet" I said. 

"Good. That's good."

It sounded as if I had given her the answer she wanted. It was quite strange. I felt glad to have withheld my name.

" May I ask you a question ?"

Her voice was near to a whisper now as she looked at me with a small smile. It was clear that she would proceed with or without my permission, so I agreed. 

"As you wish."

For now, I kept my voice steady and even.

"Very well.What is your opinion of change?" 

Her eyes hovered on my face and I held her gaze. What was this? I had presumed she would try to sell me something, or invite me into what I had guessed was her shop. Perhaps ask the time or the weather predictions. Not this. It felt like she would place great weight on my answer - it had not escaped my notice that I was being judged. I though for a minute. Now I knew what I wanted to say. I saw no point in lying - I would give her my truth. I liked to think about things like this.

"I think," I began slowly, " that change is essential to life. Night turns to day and life turns to death. Cold turns to warm and seeds turn to trees. Change makes the world go round."

Instantly I could see that she had liked what I said: her eyes lit up and her smile widened, and her hands which had previously been tugging at her hair were now extended towards me.

" Those are wise words you speak! Well done! They hold much truth. Please, come this way," she beckoned, " I have much to tell you. I have been waiting for the right person and you are they."

Hang on. What had she meant by that? She had been waiting for the right person? For what? A little unusual, but she seemed kind enough. I was so curious at this point that it hurt. Curious as to what sort of person asks open questions like that without knowing whom they are addressing it to. A person after my own mind, perhaps. I hoped so. She certainly seemed in control; there was no denying that under the fabulous colors their was an equally strong woman. For the first time I thought to look up at the shop sign above us. I read the faded words in lilting golden script. BELLY OF THE EARTH.

 I knew now that it didn't matter what I tried to tell myself ; I was downright curious about this place. I had to go in. How bad could it be ? They probably just had a very orientated target market. And the parcel could definitely wait - I  like to start earlier than I need to anyway.

Without further thought I followed the woman into the doorway.

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