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Revision as of 16:40, 29 May 2020

Of Insects and Islands (Or, A Different Pace)
Dramatis Personae

Kavalam, Kelawini

2020-05-28


"This place is just so weird."

Location

<XAV> Stables - Xs Grounds


The distinctive smell of hay and sawdust and horses greets visitors to this large barn, kept well-tended by the stablehand and those who have a passion here for equestrianism. The horses at Xavier's are well cared for, stabled in comfortable stalls. The walls host a plethora of tack for those who wish to take a jaunt around the grounds.

It's another gray day out in Westchester, but at least it's moderately warm and not (yet) raining. Kelawini has, since being released from another training session, been wandering the grounds, and made her way to the stables, She's wearing a cropped black denim jacket open over a red v-neck t-shirt with an abstract geometric mountain design and the words "Ku Kia'i Mauna" underneath, black stretch capris, and purple flip-flops festooned with red hibiscuses to match their red straps.

Her expression has been dull and glum, but eases into something softer when she sees the horses. She roots around the equipment until she finds a container of oats, and scoops out a handful to offer out to a tall, sorrel mare ("Zenith", says the sign) who's poking her head out from behind the gate of her stall, ears flicking curiously. "Chee, you stay big!" she murmurs, offering the oats which the Zenith plucks up somewhat perfunctorily with large, soft lips. She caresses the horse's nose, takes another handful of oats, and wanders farther in along the row of stalls, offering the admittedly unexciting treat to any of the tenants who look interested.

She cranes her neck curiously at a wide and partially open stall at the back, right beside the wide doors that lead out into the paddock beyond. No horse peeks out at her as she approaches, but there's definite movement within. She cranes her neck and then freezes when she comes near enough to see the creature within. The immense metallic blue insect is fastidiously cleaning what looks rather like blood from her mandibles and huge, iridescent compound eyes.

It's only when she comes face-to-face with Sugar that there's any noticeable further stirring. This time, from not far away -- sitting on a small stool in front of a stall labeled 'Ramiel', opposite and a few doors up from the dragonfly, Kavalam is not dressed for riding. Neat yellow button-down, pale jeans, dark leather sandals. He is leaning forward, elbows on his knees and his dark eyes fixed thoughtfully on Kelawini from behind half-frame spectacles. "She's not very friendly." His words carry a heavy and distinct South Indian accent.

Kelawini had just started to relax, however slightly, from her shocked, frozen posture, when Kavalam speaks, and for all that she is facing down a giant dragonfly, it's this that finally wrings a cry from her--not quite a shriek, but certainly a startled "ayyyyye!" When she stumbles back, though, it's away from Sugar, and not Kavalam. "Oh shit sorry!" she blurts, dark eyes darting between dragonfly and boy. "I didn't know anyone else was in here." She pauses a beat. "So uh...howzit?"

Kavalam's eyes widen, though other than this the cry draws little reaction from him. His hands have been laced together; now they uncross, sliding back to his knees as he sits up straighter. "Nobody else was in here. I saw you come and thought I would say hello but then --" His eyes flick to the dragonfly. "You met Sugar."

Kelawini's gaze is still ticking dubiously from Sugar to Kavalam and back, but then settles for a moment on the latter, dropping down to the stool he's sitting on. "I just--didn't see or hear you come in." When she looks back at the dragonfly this time, she finally notes the sign on the stall, her eyes narrowing. "Wait...are you---" She breaks off, turns back to Kavalam. "She's not a--" Her cheeks darken just a touch. "--person?"

"Does she look like a person to you?" Now Kavalam lifts his brows, his eyes skipping from Kelawini back to the stall. "Is this a -- philosophical question?" He sounds just a touch dubious.

"How am I supposed to know?" Kelawini retorts, her cheeks flushing more visibly red. "My roommate looks like a scorpion, so as far as my experience goes, 'giant bug person' seems more ikely than 'actual giant bug'." Then, at a very slight hesitation. "Are there other giant bugs around here?"

"Apparently, there is a large scorpion." Kavalam leans back against the stall; from above him a horse pokes its head out, large and black with a white star marking. Dips its head to snuffle, brief and contemplative, at his hair. The boy frowns, lifting a hand to press it back into place. "I don't know what's likely, around here. Maybe bugs just -- grow." His hands lift, at first held near together but stretching wider apart as he contemplates this possibility. He drops his hands back to his legs, shrugs one shoulder. "Something in the water, could be."

Kelawini frowns, then shakes her head at a delay. "I think it'd be more in the news if random bugs just became huge around here." She edges back away from Sugar, though the dragonfly doesn't seem to pay her much mind--pausing in her grooming momentarily as the girl starts to move. "This place is just so weird." This sounds only a little resigned, oddly neutral. "Anyway, I'm Kelawini--I guess you probably know, half the school seems to. What's your name?"

"I would have thought it'd be more in the news if a billionaire collected an entire school full of mutants and ran a crime-fighting team out of the basement." Kavalam's reply is light; he gets to his feet as Ramiel continues snuffling at his hair, pulling away from the horse and running his fingers through his thick dark locks more properly. Smoothing them back into place. "But here we are. -- I am Kavalam. I did know," this with a faint trace of apology before, "It's a very small school." He drifts over toward an unlabeled stall, fetching up against its door instead. "Kelawini. How many people have butchered that, so far." It doesn't exactly sound like a question. His fingers trace against the rough wood of the stall. "Are you far from home?"

Kelawini actually laughs--a small, truncated guffaw, but a laugh all the same. "Okay, point. Giant bugs seem kind of minor by comparison." She nods, echoes, "Kavalam. Probably about as many as butchered yours, at first? The last name gets it way worse, though." She shrugs, her expression resigned and philosophical, as she leans against a support column between two stalls, keeping Sugar carefully in her peripheral vision. "Yeah, way far--well..." Her face scrunches up. "Depends which home, I guess. Our parents are in Chicago, but we were from Hilo, before that. About as far as you can get and still be in the U.S." She pauses, studying the boy more closely. "How 'bout you?"

"Every time, they slaughter it." A wisp of smile crosses Kavalam's face when Kelawini echoes his name, though. "I usually do not bother trying to coach them through Neelakantan." Though he hasn't exactly been tensed something still eases in the set of his shoulders, the uncertain caution in his expression. He shakes his head, fingers curling down against the stall door. "Whichever home you like. This place, it is weird. I sometimes think everyone here is very far from home. But maybe some of us --" He holds up forefinger and thumb, just-so-much apart. "Little bit farther." His eyes lower, tone a little wistful. "India. It is not close. Chicago, I know. Where is Hilo?"

"Neelakantan? I might be saying it wrong, but I bet the white people just throw whole extra syllables in there for fun." Kelawini's smile comes more easily to her. "I think the only reason Māhoe comes up at all is--well, whether you say it right or wrong, it's less of a mouthful than my name and my sister's in one breath." She blows a long breath. "Oof. The home I like is definitely Hilo, that's--" Her hesitation is very, very brief. "--Hawai'i. Big Island." There's both wistfulness and a swell of something like pride in her voice at the last. "I don't know a whole lot about India, but I know you got me beat on far." She tilts her head and studies her schoolmate. "Sucks, huh?"

"Māhoe I think is less of a mouth-ful than many Malayali names. Sometimes, extra syllables, sometimes they just give up halfway through them." There's a slightly wry twist to Kavalam's lips. He picks slow and steady at a stray chip of splintering wood, peeling it off in dusty fragments to drop onto the hay-strewn floor. "I know very little about Hawai'i, so maybe we are even there. Island is -- mostly where my knowing ends. Island...s?" His eyes lift, brief, to Kelawini. "But I do know far it can be -- maybe a little relative, hm? There are a lot of miles but --" His shoulder lifts jerkily. "Also a lot more than distance only." When he looks back up it is with a smile, albeit a small one. "And yes. Sucks."

Kelawini snorts. "Like white people don't have longass names. If they can say 'Schwarzenegger', they have no real excuse with my name or yours." She plucks at the hem of her t-shirt. "Islands, yeah. Eight big ones, lots of little ones, but ours is, well, the biggest. And the best." Her smile is a touch crooked, but not insincere. "All I know about India is...lots of people? And tea." She tips her head the other way, eyes lifting to the rafters for a moment. "Yeah, I guess it's not just the miles. It's like a different world where life just--" She chews on her lower lip. "--moves at a different pace. So's Chicago. Probably New York, too, but I haven't been."

"What makes it the best?" Kavalam dusts his hand off against his jeans. "Setting aside fondness. At home we also think that Kerala it is the best part of India. God's own country, how it is called. There is," he acknowledges with a small pleased smile, "good tea." The smile fades; he turns inward to lean his elbows against the half-door of the empty stall. "A different pace. Yes. A whole adjustment. New York is -- a lot. It will be a lot. I think. Maybe you will think different."

"Oh man, where to even start. Get no big cities, but every kind of nature from mountains to beaches to jungles to plains to lagoons to hot springs, all packed in there. We're the keepers of the--" She stops, chews on the inside of her cheek. "--of the flame. I mean not just cuz of all the volcanoes, it's like---the traditional Hawaiian ways. We also," she adds, mirroring Kavalam's smile, "got pretty good tea. Is Kerala the...town, or like the whole region you come from? Is it an extra holy place?" She looks away, too--peering with somewhat less apprehension now at Sugar, who has finished her grooming and gone eerily still, like a fantastic sculpture of a dragonfly. "I'm gonna guess it'll be a lot for me, too. Maybe differently a lot. I didn't even have a chance to try adjusting to Chicago before all the. Sick."

"Volcano?" Kavalam straightens, his eyes widen with some excitement. "With a real lava? We do not have those. Kerala is a state. My city is Thiruvananthapuram. In Kerala also there is every kind of nature. Lovely beaches. Rainforest. Mountains. It is -- not like New York." He removes his glasses, absently wiping at the lenses with the bottom of his shirt. "I don't know if it is extra holy but all kinds of religions --" His face twists, briefly tighter, "-- historically have been together in Kerala peacefully." His head bows, eyes fixing on the glasses as he rubs them harder. "I'm sorry. Was your family..." He trails off, brows pinching together. "I can only imagine that did not make settling-in any. Easier."

"Volcanoes," Kelawini emphasizes, grinning wide as she returns her gaze to Kavalam, "we got six. Kīlauea is the most active in the world, it's basically been going our whole lives, it spews out so much lava." She stands up a little straighter, leans forward slightly. "I mean, I'm probably prejudiced but Kerala sounds pretty amazing, even if you don't have volcanoes." She frowns thoughtfully. "I guess, 'no volcanoes' is probably a plus in most people's books. Religions getting along peacefully, or is that...not a thing that's happening anymore?" She shakes her head. "I just meant the lockdowns. Our parents are okay, but I'm worried about our tutus back home. They're old, and tourists keep breaking quarantine." She tilts her head, going rather still by her standards. "Your folks okay?"

"Six volcanoes." Kavalam nods at this, eyes still wide and his tone very earnest. "That's why in Kerala we have none. You are hoarding the wealth." He stops rubbing at the glasses, but doesn't yet replace them, just toying with one stem between his fingers. "Lately we have had more -- trouble. On the religious front." He lifts the glasses, squints through them appraisingly before carefully positioning them back on his nose. "People can be very thoughtless. I hope your family stays safe. Mine --" Here he hesitates. One hand clasps tight at the opposite wrist. "I have not. Talked to them."

Kelawini nods emphatically, completely unabashed, apparently, about her homeland's greed for volcanic activity. "That is kinda how we roll, yeah." Then, less brightly. "I'm sorry there's--troubles. Gonna guess that's like, bigger religious troubles than accidentally getting into a Bible conversation with some cousins. They'll still take care of our tutus, though, Bible or no Bible." She bites her lower lip, clearly fighting to control her expression though her eyes have gone rather wide. "Are they like--not okay with you um...being a...mutant?"

"A little bigger, yes." One of Kavalam's ankles rolls to the side, his weight shifting a little lopsided as he rocks down onto it and back up. "I don't know. They were -- okay. With it. Now I think they've mostly forgotten that I am one." His eyes drop abruptly, his smile small now and somewhat tight. "I should maybe go. Actually take an exam. It --" His fingers squeeze harder at his wrist. "Was good to meet you. Kelawini."

"I'm sorry," comes a little quieter this time, a little more steady. Kelawini's brows furrow now. "That sounds--very strange. Didn't mean to stick my nose in your business. It's...kinda how I roll, I guess. I hope they're okay," she says earnestly, "if you're able to to. Talk to them, soon." She smiles, too, though the traces of her frown never completely vanish. "Good luck on your exam, Kavalam. Glad I met you." She hesitates, looking at the boy's hand on his wrist. "Hey, if you wanna hang out with me at dinner? I'll be the one behind the banyan tree in the far corner of the Consveratory with like, three plates."

"Well." The breath Kavalam huffs out is not exactly a laugh. "This school is weird, yes?" He swallows, looks at Kelawini a long moment before his head dips in a very small nod. "I like that tree," he offers quietly, "and I -- would like that. It was --" Another hesitation. His fingers unclench, clench again; ultimately he crosses his arms over his chest. "Well. I will see you."

Perhaps he even makes it to the stable door before Kelawini feels alone with the horses once more.

---

It's suppertime at Xavier's, and raucous laughter, overlapping conversations, and the savory scent of masoor dal fill the cafeteria. Kelawini is not there, however. She's tucked against the wide trunk of a banyan tree in the conservatory, concealed from easy view by its curtain of unanchored aerial roots. This little secluded corner appears to be an unintentional hideaway--though, given the groundskeeper's quirks it's hard to say--with no benches, though the tree's voluminous roots serve just as well. She does not have three plates, but is working on her second bowl of dal, the first one nested empty beneath it. Stretching her bare feet out in front of her, she looks up now and again to admire the epiphytes trailing glossy leaves and feathery fronds from nooks in the banyan's trunk and branches above.

As is customary for him, there is not much fuss or fanfare that announces Kavalam's approach -- though he's taking very little care to be quiet about it as he makes his way down the conservatory path. He has a bowl of his own in hand, dal and bindi masala and still-steaming roti. As he nears the banyan tree he slows. Halts. Hesitates outside its curtain of roots and hanging fronds, fidgeting with the bowl in his hand as he looks through the leaves. His weight starts to shift back onto a heel -- he starts to turn, but then takes a breath, pushes forward.

The parting of the leafy curtain is the first intrusion into Kelawini's awareness. He doesn't come much forward, just hanging back at the edge of the tree's large fringe. "Is it -- do you mind some company? The cafeteria can be a bit much." One forefinger and thumb pick at an edge of his roti as he offers her a small smile. "I can sometimes use a different pace. I'm -- Kavalam. It's Kelawini, right?"