This scene contains mild sexual content.
43rd of the Postill’s Dew, 2031 D.C.E
Nocht Federation, Republic of Rhinea — “Jewel of the Orient”
Ramja Biswa heaved a sigh of relief after closing the door behind her and flipping the sign on the door from Geöffnet to Geschlossen. She briefly stood by and watched the day’s last customers walk away, through the soft drift of snow falling from the sky. She picked up a broom and glumly she began to sweep the entrance and dust off the welcome mat.
Though the sun was in retreat, it was not yet night, and normally Ramja would await dinner service instead of cleaning up; but the Jewel of the Orient, Rhinea’s most underrated 2-star Arjun-style restaurant, did not open for Friday night hours.
There was too rowdy, nasty and often racist a crowd out for it to be profitable.
“You need to be more confident with our customers.”
Behind the counter an older woman appeared, tinkering with the register. Pink-skinned with white-blond hair, dressed in a sari and a silk garment, and with an exhausted expression; she was the owner of the restaurant, and she certainly did her best to look it.
Ramja gripped her broom with both hands.
Replying in the Ayvartan tongue, she said, “I’m confident! But we need to be careful too!”
“Practice your Nochtish,” replied the boss, whose Ayvartan was quite rusty.
“Malakar, I’m always nervous about the northerners causing trouble!” Ramja said. “You let anyone in and you let them do whatever they want up front, it’s nuts in here.”
Her Nochtish had gotten much better since she moved in with her girlfriend.
Malakar scoffed. “There’s nothing to be concerned about.”
Few people could tell that Malakar was actually mixed race. Malakar and Ramja had lived in Nocht roughly the same amount of time, but Malakar was older, she already knew the language from her Nochtish father, so she found it much easier to integrate and to acquire capital. She also looked less conspicuous. There were jokes by regulars that Ramja brought more color and authenticity to the restaurant than Malakar.
She was brown-skinned, dark-haired, dark-eyed; easier to pick out than her boss.
Ramja could not help but feel sometimes that Malakar did actually want her for the authenticity — despite the cold, she was dressed in a sari and a tight blouse and skirt that perhaps too clearly accentuated certain parts of her. She felt like a mascot character.
It only added to the amount of eyes that would naturally be on her.
“Men around here are racist, yes, but they won’t do anything except say things. If they say things and eat we have their money, it doesn’t matter. Just calm down.” Malakar said.
“At my old job, a man almost fought my boss because I was around.” Ramja said. “And you see all kinds of things in the papers. People aren’t happy about Ayvartans at all.”
“Your old job was a chocolate place full of Franks, of course there’d be racists.”
“My– best friend is a Frank!”
Ramja almost said my girlfriend which, would not have been advantageous for her.
Malakar, as far as Ramja knew, was not a homosexual.
Though they could relate as Ayvartans a little, sexuality alienated them just a bit.
It was just easier for Malakar to go around without worrying.
“See? If a Frank can love you as a comrade, any other racist can too.”
“She’s not racist!”
Malakar chuckled. Ramja sighed and went on with her sweeping.
She was grateful to the older woman for the job. It had been hard finding work after the chocolate place; her girlfriend tried all kinds of things, but she just had no connections who would take on an Ayvartan without a state-issued proof of language competency. At last however a local mosque connected her with the restaurant. Neither Malakar nor Ramja were of the Diyah faith, but many Diyah were Ayvartans, so the Jewel was known and traveled and well-liked by Diyah, and the Diyah were compassionate to Ayvartans.
“I’m thinking of opening tomorrow. I hear some men are coming back from the war for the first time; maybe they’ll be back with a taste for dal and curry.” Malakar mused.
“Malakar, they’ll come back wanting to pour the lentils over your head.” Ramja said.
“Oh please, this is starting to seem less cute and to verge on frustrating.”
“I’ll calm down! But you need to consider these things more than never.”
“Fine, fine. Okay. Lets open tomorrow, but I’ll load this guy just in case.”
From behind the counter a grinning Malakar produced a sawed-off Ayvartan rifle.
She held it in one hand like a pistol, the other hand stroking the woodwork.
“You’re awful! It’s no wonder you’re unmarried!” Ramja said, half in jest, half serious.
About a half hour later all of Ramja’s cleaning was done in the front. She swept the floor, wiped down their tables and the counter, and made sure all the spice shakers and sauce bottles were good enough for the (thankfully limited) operation tomorrow. The Jewel was a small place, so it was easy to keep it neat, and it paid to do so. Malakar was pleased.
“I’m locking up soon, but I can wait for her to pick you up.” said the boss.
She disappeared into the kitchen, unlikely to come out for a while.
Ramja nodded, and took a seat by the window, looking out at the lightly falling snow.
A few minutes later, a figure in a fancy coat walked by the window and knocked on it.
Ramja grabbed her coat and ran outside.
“Bonjour darling. I parked around the corner.”
Ramja was as elated to greet her girlfriend then as she had been a month ago when they first hooked up. She was a glamorous blond named Cecilia Foss. Sharply-dressed, her lips and eyeliner well made-up, with her hair in a utilitarian ponytail and thin spectacles perched on her nose, Cecilia was like an actress or a singer to Ramja, a celebrity, a person she thought she’d only ever see in magazine covers or theaters. But she was here now.
Cecilia reached out a hand to hold Ramja’s own.
Its delicate solidity and warmth were mesmerizing.
“I’m so happy to see you!” Ramja said.
Wordlessly, Cecilia’s other hand pulled Ramja in suddenly and she kissed her.
Her kisses were ravenous; Ramja was startled at first and afraid of being seen.
However it was snowing, and the street was deserted, and the few cars driving by likely weren’t seeing anything; and what’s more, she was too delighted to care about it for long.
Ramja felt like she would be devoured as Cecilia’s lips locked with her own. She took long draws of her lips, as if she wanted to savor her taste. Ramja was almost left breathless. At first only the soft shock of a playful bite gave Ramja room. Cecilia was so forward! But she was skilled. After taking Ramja’s lips a dozen times she teased and then thrust with her tongue, one hand holding Ramja’s head forward and the other creeping elsewhere.
Though she had kissed before meeting Cecilia, it had never been like this for Ramja.
She fell in a trance, following Cecilia’s lead perfectly through each pull of the lips and tongue. She loved it, she loved how on top of everything Cecilia was, it was so sexy! She was lost in the fervor as their lips joined, drew back for breath, and quickly and fully reunited. Ramja’s hands settled under around Cecilia’s waist, under her coat, gripping.
Feeling this, Cecilia nearly drove Ramja back to the door of the restaurant.
Her hands started to dance as well as her tongue did; Ramja had to politely intervene.
“Not here.” She said, peeling Cecilia’s hand from her thigh.
Both of them drew gently back, breathing hot air into each other’s gasping mouths.
“You’re right. I apologize. I’ve got some bad habits to shed.” Cecilia said.
Her cheeks flushed, and she looked almost demure for once.
Ramja smiled. “We can pick it up where we left off at home.”
They walked down the street together, though for modesty’s sake, and the awareness of their position, they did not hold hands. There were few people out because of the cold weather. Everyone was taking their cars or the buses, and vehicles were covered in snow. Ramja thought, probably nobody was watching the street. And what would they see anyway? But still, holding hands on the street was a bit more visible than two women one in front of the other in a recessed doorway. It was such an odd situation.
Unlike in Ayvarta, where girls just kissed girls and it was nothing, the Federation was very cruel to what Cecilia referred to as a “sapphic.” Ramja trusted Cecilia on that.
The Federation was very cruel about a lot of things, after all.
“I’m working tomorrow, can you drive me Cecilia?”
“You’re working on a weekend?”
“Malakar wanted to open to see if we can get any GIs coming back.”
“Well, I can drive you.”
They were talking in Nochtish, quite comfortably. Both had accents, but they understood each other. Certainly, Ramja was very comfortable talking to her own partner this way.
Cecilia huffed suddenly; Ramja saw a tiny white breath fly out of her.
“You don’t have to work at all, you know. I can support you just fine.” She said.
“I know! But I just feel bad sitting around. Everyone’s always talking about merit–”
“Everyone’s an idiot, believe me.”
“Oh, Cecilia, I just want to earn my own money too–”
“If I was a man, would you feel more secure letting me take care of you?”
Ramja blinked hard, staring blankly at her girlfriend.
“What’s this about? Is something troubling you Cecilia?”
She had only really known Cecilia for a month before they decided to move in together, so it wasn’t as if the two had shared their life’s stories with one another. Cecilia was always open, when asked; but Ramja couldn’t help but feel she still hadn’t asked the right questions to really understand her mysterious, glamorous, wonderful girlfriend.
That was scary, and also made her feel anxious and a little unworthy.
So she had on a rather worried expression when she asked Cecilia this.
And obviously, Cecilia must have picked up on it immediately.
In the next instant, however, they were around the corner, and at the car.
It was a small, fairly recent Oder Olympus model, a cozy two-door convertible.
Once they were both seated inside, they were silent for a moment.
Cecilia sighed deeply and put her hand on Ramja’s own.
She met Ramja’s dark eyes with those mesmerizing blues the girl loved so much.
“Look, Ramja, I’m sorry. To be completely honest, and this must sound so pathetic, I had a bad day at the office and now I got something an old girlfriend told me stuck in my head. I should have put it out of my head and thought about the wonderful girlfriend I have now, instead, but you know, I’m a disaster, so I’m just flashing back to that awful mess.”
Ramja smiled. She was almost relieved that it was something that silly.
“Cecilia, I may not speak Nochtish very well, but I’m not a child, you know? We’re both adults, and I can help you with your problems if you talk to me without being cryptic.”
“I know. Ugh. Okay. Today some nitwit at work got away with the credit for a project I was on, and it just. It reminded me. She basically said ‘I wish you were a man.’ As if me being a man would’ve solved our problems so fucking easily. It’s stuck in my craw now.”
Ramja nodded sympathetically.
“Oh, Cecilia, that’s an odd thing to say. I think you’re an absolutely wonderful woman.”
“I know I am, darling. But there’s certainly things a man is allowed in this world that a woman isn’t.” Cecilia sighed again, shaking her head. “That’s what’s getting to me.”
“Well, I don’t want you to be a man. I wouldn’t feel more secure at all.” Ramja said.
Cecilia shook her head. “Sometimes I wish I had my old job. But, it’s better I have you.”
As far as Ramja understood it, Cecilia’s old job (and presumably her old girlfriend with it) was some kind of government job, that she left behind to go work at the Central Bank. Ramja started dating her in the process of her leaving that job and finding her new one. It had been strange but fortunate; they met at the chocolate shop, both their lives seem to have exploded after that, but then they picked up the pieces together. It was romantic.
“I’m glad you’re here, Cecilia. You made my life a lot brighter.” Ramja said.
“You too darling.” Cecilia said. “Honestly, you saved me from a mess. Not the other way.”
“Well, I helped you quit drinking, I guess, but you still smoke too much.” Ramja teased.
“I haven’t smoked at all today.” Cecilia said, defensively clutching her coat pocket.
“You’ll smoke after we have sex. You always do.” Ramja said, giggling.
“Ugh. I’m so predictable. Listen. I’ll try not to.”
Cecilia started the engine and drove them out from the side of the alleyway and down the road toward the tight little inner city apartment that acted as their new love nest. Rhinea had been Ramja’s home for many years, but 2030 had transformed it. In the inner city there was still all the hustle and bustle around the office buildings, hotels, train stations and the stock market. Old town was reeling from the war, however. Factories that once made meats and clothes and toys were shells of their selves, and the council houses were emptied of the poor. Market street was a shadow; the stadium was empty.
The Jewel still got plenty of business. Its clientele did not go to the war.
But there were far less lavish birthdays being booked, according to Malakar.
“It’s sad around here. I wish I could’ve gotten a job in the city proper.” Ramja said.
“Once we get you your language certificate, I can get you in at the bank.” Cecilia said.
“I’ve got an old friend there, y’know.”
Cecilia gently slowed the car to a stop.
Ahead of them a pair of wooden barriers came down, blocking off a level crossing.
Moments later a massive train thundered past them, pulling many open cars each loaded with military vehicles. Ramja was amazed at some of them. They were armed, tractor-like things, big and rounded off and sharp and heavy, intimidating but fascinating all the same. Those were certainly artillery cannons that they bore, Ramja knew that much. She had read about some of the things that happened during the Ayvartan civil war before.
Cecilia, however, had a concerned look on her face as the long, long train passed them.
“Those are not Sentinels.” She said to herself, in a barely whisper.
“What do you mean?” Ramja asked.
“They’re too big.” Cecilia said. She was still a captive to the sight of the vehicles.
Ramja crossed her arms and sat back and sighed.
She thought of something cheeky to get her attention while they waited out the train.
“How many girlfriends did you have before me, Cecilia?”
“Huh? What? You’re asking– Ugh.”
Cecilia looked so annoyed by the question that Ramja laughed.
Ramja was not insecure about it. Cecilia had made her passion for her very clear.
She was curious though. Nobody could help but be gently curious about such things.
Especially because Cecilia so often mentioned “old friends” who did her favors.
Old lady friends usually.
“Come on, I promise I won’t be mad or jealous. Heck, I’ll tell you, I had a girlfriend once, a girl from the mosque. We called it off because of an arranged marriage. So, your turn.”
After a while of grunting and groaning Cecilia, with an anguished face, said, “just guess.”
Ramja burst out laughing, and tapped her hands on the car door.
“Wow, that many, Cecilia? I knew the first time you made love to me that you must have been a woman with experience. But I thought also, there had to be an upper limit to the number of women in Nocht who slept with other women. Now though, I’m not so sure.”
Ahead of them the train whistled, and the armored vehicles on the cars rattled loudly.
“You look so innocent on the outside, but you’re awful thorny.” Cecilia mumbled.
“It’s an Ayvartan talent. We’re all polite, but also vicious. It’s why everyone hates us.”
“Eh. Damn it. I slept around a lot, okay? I was young, and a mess.” Cecilia said. “That’s just how naive sapphic women communicate in this society, you know? It’s by having sex. We had sex before we could say more than sentence fragments to each other.”
“Wow.” Ramja replied.
“I was young!” Cecilia whined.
Ramja said aloud in mock wonder, “You could’ve been young yesterday.”
“I thought you didn’t care.”
“I care now that it’s this much fun.”
“Ugh. I’m going to shut you up the instant we make it through the front door.”
Ramja put on a little grin. “I’d like that.” She patted Cecilia on the shoulder.
Finally the crossing barriers lifted, and the train charged out of sight.
But the little Olympus wasn’t moving across the track yet.
Cecilia looked at Ramja, and finally smiled, and she also, surprisingly, started to tear up.
“I do love you so much, darling.”
Ramja started to tear up as well. Those were words she just was not used to hearing in the Federation of Northern States. For a woman like Cecilia to not just bed her, but love her, and for Ramja to love back. It was hard. It simply didn’t happen.
It felt miraculous.
It wasn’t just Cecilia who was a mess; everything was a mess.
Ramja was a mess too in her own way. The Federation was a mess. The times; oh they were a mess. At least, however, they managed to weather the mess together now.
2031 was not shaping up to be a good year if they were both crying together at the mere thought of two women having a steady relationship, at the thought that past mistakes and current challenges could be reduced to fodder for jokes on a wintry car ride.
2031, however, was their year.