The Luxury of Touch

2021

Tags: death

Cause of death: loneliness?

The villagers didn't actually know. They still treat the hummingbird lady like one of their own. When it was put to a vote, only one of the elders objected. She had to though. That was the tradition.

There were reasons to object. The hummingbird lady was from the Big Knot. Or, that's the conclusion they had come to.

The Big Knot was south of the village. Silt's ma said it was like the village they lived in, but bigger. Silt couldn't imagine their village being bigger. She had never even seen another village.

Silt's da had though. They didn't have a lot of resources to waste on travel, so he was one of the few men sent out to trade. He said that he had once seen the Big Knot from the top of a hill.

The Big Knot was a big gray lump. Like one of the village's builders dropped a big hunk of wet clay on Silt's ma's neatly-made table in the middle of supper. It wasn't a volcano, but it spat out smoke like one.

Apparently it also spat out…those things.

No one in the village knew what that thing was. It was big, made of metal, had long flappy bits coming off of it. It looked…kind of useless, but there were lots of people crammed inside of it.

Most of them were dead now.

Except for the hummingbird lady.

The villagers had heard the crash, but she was the one who found them first. Silt and the other girls were going to look into it on their way to get water. The hummingbird lady jumped out of the bushes in weird shiny clothing, and pulled each one of them into a tight hug.

Well, now they knew that Knot-people (Who knew there were people in the Knot?) weren't any different from normal people.

Mostly.

She was called the hummingbird lady for a reason. She would "sing"— her mouth would make noise that sounded less like words and more like vocalizations.

Sometimes Silt and the others would pick out a word that sounded like one of the words they used. They'd repeat it back to her and she'd get excited. Her song would pick up the pace again. The villagers would remain confused.

Other than that, she was nice enough. Though she would interrupt others frequently.

They thought she might be afraid of going back to the metal thing. Of seeing her friends. She clung to Silt's da the whole journey, so they figured she was scared.

But the hummingbird lady is the one who approaches the metal thing first. She takes some of the bodies out and hugs them, talks at them. The villagers figure that's okay, until they see her trying to crawl in their with them and have to pull her out.

But she didn't seem sad about their passing. She seemed like she didn't care if they alive or not.

The hummingbird lady didn't complain when they decided to keep her in the village.

The only problem was that she wouldn't do chores.

Silt's ma called it "being idle".

Nobody was idle in the village. There was always work to be done.

Getting water. Growing crops. Foraging. Building and repairing the winter storehouses. Trading. Hunting. Cooking. Raising kids. Making clothes.

Extra hands were always a good thing. Silt could remember how excited she was when she was finally old enough to fetch water with the other girls.

Silt didn't think the hummingbird lady was idle. She thought she was too friendly.

Getting water with the other girls was nice, but the job was about the water. You needed two hands to carry two pails of water. The hummingbird lady wanted to use both of hers for hugging the other girls.

Sometimes she was content with latching onto one girl. One pail of water instead of four. Most of the time, she wanted to latch onto two girls. Two pails of water instead of six.

It didn't matter what job they gave her. She would cling to whoever was there and sing at them.

For a while, the villagers thought that's what she did back in the knot. Sing.

Sometimes Silt and the other villagers would sing or hum. It came out when they were busy working or having a season's meal together. A few creative villagers might create a few new songs for those occasions. But no one ever really sang to the detriment of everything else.

The hummingbird lady was affectionate and she liked to sing. The villagers figured she'd work well with children.

She was a different person around children. It was like she didn't notice their presence at all. She'd sometimes hurt them on her way to cling to the nearest adult. Would ignore their cries completely.

The nannies made sure she never came near the kids again.

Despite all her quirks, the hummingbird lady seemed healthy enough. Her eating was messy, but she was eating. She wouldn't ask for more than they had either.

They still needed something for her to do. They couldn't afford to have someone in village using resources without contribution.

It was a last resort, meant for those who couldn't do anything else, but they decide to give her sewing work. They set her up in the kitchen, making clothes for the children and mending them for the adults.

Silt would go out to fetch water. Silt's da would go out to hunt. Silt's ma would go out to forage. The hummingbird lady would be alone for a time.

She could be alone. Couldn't she?

They each give her one hug to calm her nerves, then head off to complete their tasks.

Silt was the last to leave.

As she pulled the door shut, she expected to hear the hummingbird lady crying. Or see her get up and rush to the door.

Instead she sat there. She was silent for the first time. She was looking around the empty room like she had never been in one before.

It made Silt uneasy. She didn't even make it halfway to the river. She came up with an excuse for the other girls, then doubled back to the house.

By then, the hummingbird lady was already dead.

Silt is the one who gets to pour her into the Little Hole.

She used to think the Little Hole was bottomless. Maybe all the villagers did. The village didn't like the idea of people dying if they didn't want to or didn't have to.

Of course people died. It couldn't be helped. But they made sure everyone could contribute something, so there would never be an excuse to leave someone behind.

The Little Hole was normally a hole. Empty. But the ashes of all the Knot-people had filled it right up. So much so that the hummingbird lady spilled out a bit. Silt had to the seal up the Little Hole with some dirt.

Huh. No one ever had to make a new Little Hole in Silt's lifetime. Then again, no had ever seen a Knot-person in Silt's lifetime either.

The villagers couldn't figure out why she died. The elders said it might have been loneliness. Silt didn't understand.

The elders said it was not having other people around. Silt still didn't get it.

Silt didn't need the other girls around to fetch water. When they weren't around, she had the wildlife around her. When there wasn't any wildlife to marvel at, she had her own thoughts to listen to.

Was it even possible to be lonely from inside your own head?

The elders didn't have an answer for her.