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Pretending (1520.07.17): The life of a cripple in the Empire isn't exactly what you might think...
Jiba rubbed his hands together, although they weren't actually cold. Getting sympathy was an important part of begging, and he had mastered the sad, hopeful look and all the gestures that made his job easier. He kept his dark hair cut deliberately shaggy, and practiced just the right, slightly shy look in the mirror of the shared bathhouse, using his big brown eyes to greatest affect in his round face.
It was warm inside, and three musicians were filling the wide room with quiet, ethereal songs. You would not guess to look at them that one was blind and one nearly so. One of the two visually impaired, Mirbai, was playing a pair of ceramic jars, dipping fingers into a pool of water to rub a tuned hum out of the vessels. Reira puffed into the mouthpiece of a talv, making breathy notes that blended into each other. Each bottle was filled to produce a specific sound and he was able to mix them with a carefully placed mouth.
Oriraa was nodding her head in aphonic counterpart to the music she was hammering on an open-stringed tinamoln, a vacant look in her eyes that indicated a mental slowness.
The music they made would never have been accepted to the Music Guild; it wandered without purpose or restricted style, only sometimes returning to a shared melody. Jiba found that it was not entirely displeasing to the ears, and there were moments of triumphant beauty.
Raark waved him over to one of the wide, oval tables on the other side of the room and Jiba settled into a comfortable plush chair across from him. "Have a good sit?"
Jiba nodded, leaning his crutches beside him. "Good enough," he said, with the practiced look of melancholy and wistfulness. Then he grinned, breaking the illusion.
Raark laughed. "The Theatre Guild only wishes they'd gotten their mitts on you," he said, with some envy.
"Too good for the Theatre Guild," Jiba said casually, not willing to admit how much their rejection had hurt.
Raark's voice took a note of cynicism. "Probably, you are." He had worked in the Theatre Guild - a set-builder who didn't have the talents to be an actor, until an accident had damaged his hand and right arm beyond recovery. The Guild, with polite regret, had relicensed him as crippled, and removed him from their payroll. When Raark had asked to be involved as a volunteer, they shut the doors on him; a cripple's place in the Empire was to be cared for. It was too difficult for the theatre to adjust to Raark's specific needs, they said. And so, they didn't.
Raark pretended it didn't matter, just as Reira and Mirbai pretended that it didn't matter that the Music Guild wouldn't take them. Oriraa probably didn't care; she couldn't hold a thought in her head long enough to have a conversation, and as long as you didn't touch her too quickly and let her play music, she didn't mind who wouldn't stamp licenses for her performances.
Jiba let the conversation drop, pulling a pile of blank file cards and an inkplate towards him so he could write out the day's observations. Part of his dues to the Unguild were to carefully watch and make note of important people, and who they spoke with. With practice, he had gotten to the point where he could list several dozen such individually innocuous encounters each day. The Unguild records were a resource beyond equal to someone who knew of them and had the skill and patience to use them.
Jiba rubbed his leg as he wrote, wondering idly where the real stage was. Was it here, in the opulent rooms where they all pretended it didn't bother them that the Empire forgot them, or was it out on the streets, where they pretended it had?
A result of the August Muse Fusion, prompted by ladyqkat.
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