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Simple Questions   1520.06.13  
Creators: Deirdre / Wyld_Dandelyon (Writer)
So many things are new for Tiklai as she works to become a full citizen of the Empire. Here, she meets Lalya and they talk over pie.
Posted: 10/19/15      [1 Comment] ~ 1073 words.

The latest customer came in, waving casually at Lassati and Osatha while striding to a small table near the kitchen.

Lassati nodded, murmuring "License Manager," before ducking back into the kitchen.

Osatha just smiled in welcome, then turned to her trainee. "You're up, Tiklai."

The licensing official looked strange to Tiklai. The official was dressed as a woman, but the height, broad shoulders, and beard—despite the flower-jewelry twined in it—screamed man to Tiklai. She twined her hands in her dress and stared. The dress was red with lace in a deep brown, almost as dark as the official’s skin. There was a matching, tiny red hat, with metal flowers matching the ones in the beard. It was a startling look, but attractive. Really attractive. She walked up to the table, setting down hot water for tea, then stood there, tongue-tied.

Osatha looked at her in exasperation. “Tiklai, this is License Manager Lalya. What do you say?”

“Sorry. Nice to meet you, Citizen. Do you know what you want to order?”

The official smiled at her. “You must be the prospective citizen Osatha is sponsoring.”

Tiklai nodded.

Lalya offered a token. “I’ll have the meat pie. Lassati always makes such good meat pie. Two servings.”

Tiklai’s eyes widened, and Osatha explained, “Lalya is Mayaloi; they are licensed for larger food portions.”

Even pregnant, Tiklai couldn’t finish one serving of Lassati’s pie in a single sitting. “You can really eat all that?”

Lalya laughed. “If I don’t eat, I won’t be able to concentrate halfway through the afternoon. I learned that the hard way, before I found out which restaurants had the best cooks.”

Tiklai nodded, and went to give Lassati the order. To her surprise, Lassati already had one pie ready. Apparently Lalya had a regular order. She took it to Lalya’s table and set it down.

“Thank you.”

Tiklai looked around. There were no new customers, and no one was looking up, needing attention. She looked again at Lalya, and blurted, “Are you a man or a woman?” Then she covered her mouth. She hadn’t even called the official ‘citizen’. What if her rudeness lost Lassati a customer?

Lalya smiled, apparently used to this kind of question. “I was born male, but am now licensed as a woman. And you?”

“I—I was born no-gender, but—“ Tiklai looked down at her obvious belly.

Osatha brought a fruit drink for Lalya and set it down. “Tiklai’s provisional license states she is female, but the doctors are arguing about that."

Tiklai rolled her eyes. “Endlessly, every time I go in to have the checkups they require for the baby. It’s worse than the reading lessons.” She reached to rub her back.

Lalya pointed her fork at the second chair at her table. “Sit for a minute or two.” She looked at Osatha. “Tiklai is due for a break, I hope?”

“The doctors all say she should sit for part of every hour, even lunchtime.” Osatha nodded toward the chair.

Hesitantly, Tiklai pulled out the chair and sat. Involuntarily, she sighed as her weight left her feet. “The baby keeps getting heavier. It will be a relief when I can put her down.” Tiklai's stomach growled, and she looked at it, dismayed. “I just ate!”

Lalya swept the neat packets of tea out of the decorative bowl at the center of the table and picked up the fork from the second set of silverware. She scooped some of her pie out of the far side of her own dish and slid it to Tiklai.

“Clearly, the baby is hungry too.”

“I--no, I can’t eat your food.”

“Nonsense. My mother told me never to let a pregnant woman go hungry, and in that, at least, I am a dutiful son.”

She looked up, confused. Lalya was a Licensing Manager, part of the Empire government, with fine clothes and jewelry and a fat license pouch with luxury tokens in it. How could she have disappointed her mother?

Lalya caught her look. “Well, her dutiful daughter, now. Eat up, child, and then I have a question for you.”

Obediently, Tiklai took a bite. Lassati’s pies were wonderful cold or reheated, but they were even better fresh. It wasn’t long before she set her fork down, feeling stuffed.

“Want more?” Lalya’s second pie had arrived, and she offered to scoop out more for Tiklai.

“No, I’m stuffed right now.”

“Good. So, tell me, what do you want to be?”

“Um, I like working here.”

“Then this is a good starting place for you. Good. But that’s not what I meant.”

Tiklai looked at her, again confused.

Her voice gentle, the strange woman asked, “What gender do you want to be?”

Tiklai stared at her. “What gender—“ Her voice trailed off. No one had ever asked her that before, like she had a choice. But she didn’t, did she? “You mean, I might choose?”

“If the doctors can’t agree, who better to choose? They don’t have to live with your license afterward after all.”

Tiklai stared at the masculinely handsome woman across the table from her, and watched as Lalya took another bite of pie, waiting for her answer. She had no idea what answer to give. Her eyes darted around the room, and she realized that some new customers were entering the restaurant. She sighed with relief. “I have to get back to work.” She gestured toward the door.

Lalya nodded. “I understand. See you later.”

Tiklai didn’t understand at all. Why would a government official go out of her way to be friendly—and to feed her? But there were customers to greet, so she put that all out of her head for a moment, doing the job she was getting good at. She delivered hot water for tea, took orders, and brought sweets to the customers who were finishing their meals. But in between tasks, her thoughts kept returning to Lalya’s question.

So many amazing things had happened since she had asked Osatha if she could become a citizen. Tiklai started to believe she could dream for more than to give her child a better life than she’d had. She hoped, for the very first time, that she would be able to make some meaningful choices about her own life.

It felt good.

Author's Notes

This was written for the March, 2015 Muse Fusion.

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