Elza walked into the guest pavilion of the village and settled her travel pack to the ground. The local men ogled her as she moved to the communal well. Gaining acceptance in a new community was never a challenge for her. The greatest trouble she had was escaping the men who proclaimed their undying love for her. Even after more than one hundred years and four name changes, she still wasn’t accustomed to the attention.
They wouldn’t chase me if I looked the same as last Iteration. Infatuation is so shallow.
Some of the other women frowned in her direction. According to the tradition in these parts, a woman could ask any man to be hers. If he had previously accepted another woman’s offer, he then had the choice to trade if he wished. Men went to all sorts of trouble to impress women.
One of her men over the years had practiced running and lifting heavy objects to make his form more appealing. Most of them strived to gain a reputation throughout the village as a hard worker so that they could bring respect to a woman. Without exception, they all bathed and groomed themselves to an extent she found laughable.
This world was very different from the previous one. She thought it better in many ways, but the carefree existence of the brown-skinned villagers lacked a certain gravitas. People were too polite, conflict too rare, food too plentiful, wants too trivial. This cannot be the world Hess demanded of the Creator. It is so boring!
She drank from the well, watching the people around her, trying to decide if she wanted to settle in the area. There were too many young men and not enough beautiful women. It was counterproductive for an Observer to draw attention the way she did.
When she finished her drink, one of the older women approached. “Hello, friend. Are you looking for a new home? I have a grandson about your age.”
You think you have a grandson my age. “Sorry, friend, but I am passing through.”
“So sad. My grandson is a very good worker.” The woman paused for a response that didn’t come, then continued. “Will you at least accept our hospitality for the night?”
“I would be honored, friend,” Elza said.
“Excellent. Could you help us pound the Taro into dough?”
Elza gave a slight bow. “I would be honored to help feed the people.”
The old woman led her to a small pavilion across from the well where a number of young women gathered. In their midst was a single man who lifted and dropped one of the large paddles into the wooden bowl holding the boiled Taro root. Each of the women around him worked in teams, one pounding with the paddle while the other moved the doughy mass between strikes. The man worked solo, varying the angle of his paddle to spin and flip the dough in an impressive display.
Elza’s feet froze to the ground as she watched the man’s mastery of a woman’s task. He smirked as if he knew she watched him. Her heart began to skip. Elza stepped up to the man. “Why is it you do the work of women?” she asked.
“I like to do all the work,” he said. “Also, there are pretty women here.”
Her eyes darted over him, taking in every feature. “You are very good at this.”
“I am a good worker.” He looked at her and smiled. The vacuous pride in his eyes revealed to Elza that this man was a good-natured, proud, hard-working man and nothing more. His eyes slid past her to the old woman. “Hello, grandmother. Do you see how fast I am getting?”
She moved to help some of the other women. I definitely will not settle in this village. I need somewhere small. Somewhere quiet. A place where I can take a break from shallow men. Somewhere I can be alone.