Warning: This poem is mostly fluff, but includes some stressful thoughts about previous events in the threads.
"Serenity, Hope, Balance"
[Saturday, November 8, 2014]
It was a beautiful day,
bright and breezy, with
the warm wind whipping
Genna's hair in her face
as she and Pips walked to
the Emperor Beach Market.
They took a shortcut along
the beach, rather than the road
that connected the houses.
During the transition from
resort to residential island,
a former bar had been replaced
by an open market to supplement
the small general store nearby.
Fish were available every day
as the boats came in, and produce
more often than not, but on Saturday
the main market pulled in vendors
who sailed from one island to the next
offering all kinds of goods to new customers.
Today a produce stand stood first in line,
festooned with strings of bananas.
Underneath lay piles of peppers,
leafy greens, lemons, and coconuts.
"Mangosteen!" Pips pounced on
a box of dark purple fruit. "I suppose
it would be greedy to buy them all,"
he murmured to himself. "Half then."
"What are they?" Genna wondered.
"Meet the Queen of Fruit," Pips said.
He used his pocketknife to cut around
the middle, then pried off the top rind.
"You eat the white sections inside."
It smelled like perfume and
tasted like heaven and Genna
felt a little sorry that Pips had
only bought half the box.
Still, they had enough for
everyone to eat two, so
that was reasonable.
The next booth had tables
chilled with ice underneath
for displaying fresh fish.
"Shall we get some for dinner?"
Genna said. "What kind?"
"Yes, I know just the thing,"
Pips said as he pointed to
three bright red fish. "We'll
take the sabre squirrelfish.
Please deliver them to
house number 703."
One thing that Genna
enjoyed about living in
Amilla Vazan was that,
because nobody had cars,
you could get things delivered.
The stall after that offered
Muslim menswear, and
beyond it was another
for Muslim women.
Genna dragged a hand
through her dark hair,
trying to keep it out of
her face. The sun hat
wasn't helping that at all.
She missed her scarves
fiercely. Before she went
on the road, she had given
them away to a bohemian girl
who helped her pack for the trip.
"Do you want to shop?" Pips said.
"I need scarves, but I'm not
Muslim," Genna replied.
"Scarves are for everyone,"
the shopkeeper said, beckoning.
"Come in and look around!"
There were dresses printed
and beaded with beautiful designs,
scarves in squares and rectangles.
"Remember your colors," Pips said.
"Maybe look for a nice print?"
"Black, white, and navy,"
Genna said, and the lady
helped her look for them.
Soon Genna found a pair of
scarves, one black and one blue,
with white butterflies on them.
She bought both and tied
the blue one over her hair.
The next booth displayed
tropical clothes in styles
more suited to tourists.
There were sundresses
with spaghetti straps,
tie-dyed rompers, and
batik-painted tank tops.
"Why don't you go see if
they have any of the things
you're looking for?" Pips said.
It took very little encouragement
to get Genna into the booth. She had
gone too long without pretty things.
To her delight, they had several
of the Maui line that she liked.
"What do you think?" she said,
turning to Pips for approval.
"Compare those to what you
already have, and your list
of likes," Pips suggested.
"Here's the convertible skirt
with pink-and-blue flowers that
I loved," Genna said. "I want that."
"Give it here and I'll hold it while
you shop," Pips said, and she did.
"I've got a black convertible skirt,"
said Genna. "A black halter top
would be nice, but not essential.
I like the fuchsia multicolor halter,
but I don't think it'd look good on me."
Pips held a hand against the fabric,
then shook his head. "Those colors
are too warm for our skin tone."
"Yeah, I'm afraid so," Genna said.
"There's another coverup, and you
suggested looking at tricolors."
It was sort of a swirly tiger stripe,
black on white, except for the hems
where it turned pale blue on white.
"I don't think this makes the best use
of colors and patterns," Pips said.
"What about this set instead? You
love their two-piece dresses."
He held up a halter top and
a convertible skirt done in
a watercolor pattern of black,
white, and shades of blue.
It wasn't as bright as the floral one,
but Genna thought it would be
perfect for moonlit evenings.
It would even suit winter holidays
if she found a wool cardigan later.
"I'll take these," Genna decided,
taking them to the counter.
Maybe she could get Saul
to make some bedroom furniture
so she could fold up her knits and
crinkles, saving the closet space
for synthetics and linens that
would wrinkle if folded.
Imagining her closets
divided between solids
and prints, with other things
tucked away in drawers, made
Genna feel less jumbled.
It was as if the process
of buying and organizing
new clothes somehow
cleared her head too.
She wondered if that
was part of Pips' plan.
He was smiling at her
under his tinted glasses.
So yeah, probably.
Then they came to
another booth that sold
souvenirs, bottles filled with
sand and dyed seashells, that had
the Maldivian flag pasted on the side.
"That is some truly hideous kitsch,"
Pips said. "Sorry, that was rude.
You can look at it if you like."
Genna giggled. "Actually, I
was staring in horror, not desire."
"Oh, good," Pips said. "I can
ignore other people's terrible taste
if I have to, but it takes some effort."
"Of course it does, you have
impeccable taste and you like
to share it," Genna said. "You've
been a wonderful help today."
Pips gave her a jaunty little bow.
"At your service," he said.
A strange rustling, jingling sound
snagged at Genna's attention.
Turning around, she saw
a man wheeling a bicycle
that supported a large rack
hung with sunglasses, hats,
jewelry, and other beach things.
"How are you set for hats?"
Pips asked, looking at Genna.
She put a hand on the straw hat
that she wore. "This came with
the clothes in the Can. I didn't
bring any others with me."
"That doesn't match anything
but your khakis, which don't
match much else, and you don't
look very good in warm tones,"
Pips said. "Here's a baseball cap
in black. I don't see any white."
"It'll do," Genna said, though
she wished for one of those
gallant white hats that ladies
wore in all the travel catalogs.
Maybe she'd find one in Malé.
Hafsa could doubtless tell her where.
"As long as we're here, check out
the jewelry," Pips suggested.
"I don't need jewelry," Genna said.
"You don't enjoy wearing it, or
you brought your own?" he said.
"Neither," she admitted. "It's just
you've spent enough on me already!"
"Nah," Pips said. "If you come
anywhere near the budget line,
I'll let you know. Otherwise,
don't bother looking at prices."
He had turned off the ones
on the websites, somehow.
Genna looked at the neon colors
of the nearest necklaces, and
wrinkled her nose. "Those don't
match anything that I have."
"If you don't see anything you like,
you can shop elsewhere," Pips said.
"There are some white ones, though."
"Oh, those are nice," Genna said.
"Help me look for a knotted one?
The boys are old enough that they
don't mouth things anymore, but
sometimes they still forget and pull."
Knots between the beads would mean
that breaking the strand would release
only one of them, not the whole set.
"Here," said Pips, holding out a strand.
"These beads are mother-of-pearl."
Genna tried them on and nodded.
"I like them. Would you look for
black, while I look for blue?"
"Sure," Pips said, and did so.
Genna sorted through beads
of ceramic and plastic and wood.
Some of them were cute despite
being ridiculous bits of kitsch.
She found a nice strand of
chunky beads in frosted glass,
a little brighter than navy blue.
"That's cobalt," Pips said.
"It's not real beach glass, though."
"I know, but it's pretty," Genna said.
"What did you find over there?"
"Black glass," Pips said,
showing her the necklace
of faceted oval beads.
"Okay, that makes black,
blue, and white," Genna said.
"We've got a good -- oooh."
"I know that sound," Pips said.
"What caught your eye now?"
Genna leaned over a line
of bangles that glimmered
in the tropical sunlight.
"Those look nice," Pips said,
picking up two sets of them.
"Pips!" Genna exclaimed.
"I do not need twenty bangles."
"You don't like wearing that many?"
he said, weighing them. "They're
light. I think they're hammered wire."
"I love them, but each set has ten,"
Genna said. "I'll just wear five on a side."
Pips shook his head. "The whole point
to narrow bangles is stacking them.
Small sets use wider metal."
That was true. Genna used
to have both kinds, and cuffs too,
but all of those were long gone.
She missed the days when she
could sweep through a fair with
loose hair and swaying skirts,
jingling as she walked.
"After all that you've
come through, anything
that makes you smile is
worth buying," Pips said.
"Okay, twenty," Genna said.
"They have necklace and
earring sets too," Pips said.
"The silver ones would go
with the bangles you have."
"What kinds?" Genna said,
moving closer to him.
"Seahorses, sand dollars,
and long shells," Pips said.
"Sand dollars," Genna said,
and he picked up a set of them.
"Did you see anything else
that you liked here?" Pips said,
waving at the racks of stuff.
"Well ... yes, but it's silly,"
Genna said, looking down.
"Show me," Pips coaxed.
"Silly I can buy for you. If you
fall in love with something fancy,
that's for your husband or brother
to buy. I know my place."
"I don't think this guy carries
fancy jewelry," Genna said.
"True, it's all travel jewelry,
so you won't cry if you lose it
on the beach," Pips said.
So Genna showed him
the necklace of wood and
stone and glass, which had
several starfish encased in
plastic. The earrings held
another pair of starfish.
"It's whimsical, but it
doesn't look bad," he said.
"Look at all the shades of
blue and turquoise -- this
would match a lot of clothes."
Genna thought about what she
had at home, and what they had
just bought today. It was getting
a little easier with practice. Pips was
right; the starfish set would go well.
"Okay, that and the rest should do it,"
Genna said, handing the set to Pips.
He was packing everything into a bag
when Genna noticed something else.
She wouldn't cry. She didn't dare --
if she started, she wouldn't stop.
"Hey, what's wrong?" Pips said.
Genna pointed at the display.
"I gave away all my teething jewelry
from when the boys were babies,"
she said. "It's hard to find the kind
with natural beads of wood or
crochet, and I just ... miss it."
"Why did you give it away,
if you miss it?" Pips asked.
"I had to," Genna said.
"I couldn't take it with me,
I didn't really need it anymore,
and Lateesha was pregnant.
She needed it more than I did,
so I gave mine to her."
Pips had that look again,
like he wanted to take it out on
whoever had mangled her life.
"Some things are harder
to replace than others,"
he murmured. "We can
only make a start today."
Then the vendor held out
a teething necklace. "A gift,"
he said, "from a father to a mother.
If you wish it, may Allah grant
you many more children."
It was red and green and beige.
It went with nothing she wore at all,
and Genna didn't care, at all.
"Thank you," she said, sniffling.
"Pips, put it on for me, please.
I can't see straight right now."
"Of course," Pips said gently,
fastening it around her neck.
They ambled through
the few remaining stalls
of the market, but found
nothing else of interest.
"What now?" Genna said.
"Check your energy level,"
Pips said. "Do you need
to go home, or would you
rather do more here?"
Genna looked around at
the sugar-sand beach under
a blue sky dotted with white clouds.
"I don't really want to go back yet,"
she admitted. "I thought that I'd be
exhausted by now, and yet I'm not.
Something about the beach makes
me feel ... almost happy again."
"Depression and activity
don't like to live together,"
Pips said quietly.
"Yeah," Genna said.
"That could be it."
"Since you're not ready
to head home, how about
we stop for a snack," Pips said,
heading toward the nearest path.
"The General Store has a deli."
"Sure, why not," Genna said.
"I should scope out the resources
on the island when I don't have the kids
running back and forth so fast that I
can't keep track of what's where."
"Let me just flag down a courier
and offload our purchases,"
Pips said, lifting a hand.
Instantly a young man on
a cargo tricycle stopped by them.
"How can I help you?" he said.
"Please take our packages to
house number 703," Pips said
as he offloaded everything
into the basket of the tricycle.
He hadn't let Genna carry anything.
"All right, let's go see what they
have in the deli," Pips said.
They walked along the path
until they found the General Store.
They went inside and browsed
the modest selection of drinks
and nibblements at the deli.
"The Tropical Island Smoothies
look good," Genna said, watching
the barista shovel frozen fruit
and sherbet into a blender.
Soon they were sitting
in the shade at a picnic table,
sipping deliciously fruity drinks.
Genna could detect the notes of
banana, mango, and coconut in hers.
She enjoyed watching people walk by,
with a mix of Maldivians and immigrants,
a few of them showing visible superpowers.
"Shall we walk along the Beach Club?"
Pips asked when they finished.
"Sure," Genna said. So they
went to Barrels of Books, which
had once been a winecellar.
It was hard to tell what had
changed and what had stayed
the same when the island went
from resort to residential space.
Nobody had updated the maps,
and that was a real nuisance.
Genna liked Barrels of Books,
though, which was a mix of
study space and book swap.
She picked up several titles
for the children enjoy, and
a romance for herself.
Normally she wasn't
much of a romance reader,
but she liked BiblioThecla,
and Beyken'bi Veyo was
set in the Maldives.
They peeked into
the artist studio, where
Pips picked up a flyer
about art lessons.
"Here," he said. "You
might like the classes on
painting your feelings, and
there are family sessions
on Turquoise Reef Beach."
That one was closed to
swimming and watersports
due to hazardous currents, so
people used it for quiet pursuits
instead, such as art and yoga.
"I'll keep it in mind," Genna said
as she took the flyer from him.
"Shall we walk back the other way?"
Pips suggested, and she followed him.
Genna tried browsing for a bit inside
Amilla Fihaara Lifestyle and Fashion Shop,
but the clothes were fancier than she liked
and she wasn't interested in knickknacks.
"Not your style?" Pips asked as
he came along beside her.
Genna frowned over a rack of
bikinis. Clearly this store catered
more to immigrants than locals, still.
"I'm a mother," she said, shaking
her head. "I can't go swimming in
nothing but three postage stamps
and a few pieces of string!"
She had gone swimming in
a T-shirt and shorts, but that
wasn't very comfortable, and
it just made more laundry.
Genna took a moment
to revel in the fact that
all their new purchases
meant she wouldn't have
to do laundry every day --
or even every other day.
"Fortunately, we're in
the Maldives," Pips said.
"Doubtless there are plenty of
more modest options somewhere."
"Let's try the thrift shop," Genna said.
"I've seen all kinds of people going
in there, but not so much in here."
So they went next door and found
the place much more interesting.
Here the housewares were
more practical, as things from
the former resort had been
racked up for new residents
to choose what they wanted.
There was white dishware
like what came with the house,
along with more colorful stuff.
"I like the idea of choosing sets
in a different color for each person,"
Genna said. "What do you think?"
"Invite your family here and let
everyone pick their own," Pips said.
"That's a good idea," Genna said,
snapping a picture for reference.
The clothing selection seemed
more promising as well.
"Are you looking for
anything in particular?"
the shopkeeper asked.
"Yes, I would like to find
a swimsuit that doesn't
expose too much skin,"
Genna said hopefully.
are right over here,"
the shopkeeper said.
The burkinis were
beautiful, but Genna
wasn't sure she wanted
to go that far -- or if it
was even polite.
in between these and
a bikini?" Genna said.
"We have modest separates,"
the shopkeeper said. "You can
choose your own coverage."
Genna sorted through
the colors and sizes,
ruling out things that
wouldn't suit her.
"Oooh," she said.
There were four T-shirts
in different shades of blue and
four shorts of varying lengths,
some with skirts over them,
all made of the same stuff
usually used in swimsuits.
"Go try them on," Pips said.
"Pick out whatever you like."
Genna tried them on, and
found that they all fit her.
She couldn't make up
her mind which to get --
then impulsively decided
that she didn't have to,
not with Pips waving
his bottomless gift card.
"I'm getting all of them,"
Genna blurted out.
"Excellent," Pips said.
"I'll put them on the counter."
They would only be in the Maldives
for a few more weeks, but while she
was here, she could go swimming
every day -- twice a day! -- if she
wanted to, and never have to wear
a soggy swimming suit again.
Maybe when they went
back to America, she'd buy
a gym membership, too.
She hadn't done that since
before ... since Before.
She could do it again now,
though, and maybe it would
help her feel more at home
in her own skin again.
Genna drifted through
the store, looking at
racks of different things.
One held all kinds of batik.
"I think this is mostly rayon,"
she mused, stroking it.
"Good or bad?" Pips said.
"It's made from wood pulp,
with chemicals, so it's sort of
semi-synthetic," Genna said.
"I love batik, though, and rayon
is a popular fabric for that art."
"You might consider it a bridge
between your synthetics and
your naturals," Pips said.
"Oh, that's a good idea,"
Genna said. "Help me
find something nice."
"Gladly," Pips said.
He pushed aside
the warm colors and
showed her cooler ones.
After some searching, and
trying on several things that
didn't fit, Genna found a twinset.
The tank top and jacket both had
long bottom trim of solid black, but
their upper parts had floral designs
in various shades of blue and purple.
"What do you think?" Genna said,
holding it up. "I know purple's not one
of my colors, but it matches all the black."
"We bookmarked a purple shirt in
the cotton catalog," Pips reminded her.
"I figured a little variety wouldn't hurt."
"That would work under the jacket
with a black bottom," Genna said.
"Or turquoise," Pips said. "You'll
have turquoise bottoms too."
"Okay, I'll get the twinset,"
They were heading
toward the register
when she stopped
to stare at a display.
"What is it?" Pips said.
"That outfit," Genna said.
"It looks like the things that
I used to wear to festivals."
The crinkle skirt was a waterfall
of purples, greens, and blues
with leaves and flowers
twining through them.
The matching vest was
purple with flowers seeming
to grow from pockets made
to look like flowerpots.
There were even shoes,
soft black leather with
low heels and silver snaps.
"Those look handmade," Pips said.
"They are," Genna said, looking
between the shoes and her feet.
"Try on the outfit," Pips said.
"It looks close to your size,
and the vest has a ribbon
in back for adjustment."
"Could I try these on?"
Genna asked the shopkeeper.
"Yes, of course," the woman said,
helping her take everything down
from the carefully assembled display.
Genna went back to the fitting room.
The skirt was big on her, but it had
a drawstring, and the vest cinched
into place with a tug of its ties.
The shoes fit quite comfortably,
and didn't feel like they'd rub.
When she stepped out,
Pips grinned at her.
"You look splendid in
that outfit," he said, "like
something out of a fairy tale."
Genna did a celebratory jig --
and felt something in her pocket.
"What's this?" she said, pulling it out.
Three smooth stones lay in the palm
of her hand, black with gold paint.
"Serenity, Hope, Balance,"
Pips read, looking at them.
"They're inspiration stones."
"I wonder how much they are,"
Genna said. She twisted around,
trying to see everything at once.
"I couldn't find a price anywhere."
"I told you to stop worrying about
prices today," Pips scolded gently.
"There is no price," the shopkeeper said.
"A traveler in distress stayed in one of
our zakat villas, and left those behind
when she no longer needed them.
She told me to give them away
to the first person they fit
who fell in love with them."
"Well, they fit and she's in love,"
Pips said, grinning at Genna.
"Then yes, I'll take them,"
Genna said. "I should
leave zakat, though --"
"It's covered, paid into
a clothing bank when
the card was filled,"
Pips assured her.
"Oh, good," Genna said.
She went back to the fitting room
to change into her own clothes.
When she came out, everything
was neatly folded, but she still
held the stones in her hand.
"I've seen such stones before,"
Pips said. "Usually they
come in a set of six."
"What are the others,
I wonder?" Genna said.
"I don't remember," Pips said.
"Harmony, Faith, and Peace,"
the shopkeeper said. "The woman
who left these things told me that
she scattered the others around
the island. Perhaps if you look,
you will find those as well."
Genna wasn't sure that
she'd ever find any of
those things again, but
then she hadn't expected
to enjoy shopping either.
Maybe it would work out
if she gave it a chance.
That thought tumbled
in her head like a shell in
the surf as Pips paid for
her latest purchases.
"I'm weighing you down
again," she said as they
walked out of the shop.
"I'm stronger than I look,"
the tiny man replied.
That was certainly true,
in more ways than one.
"You're not going to argue
with me about who gets
to carry these, are you?"
Pips said, looking at her.
Genna shook her head.
"You keep asking about
my energy levels," she said.
"I'm getting tired now ... but I
still don't want to go home."
Pips smiled in a way that
reminded Genna simultaneously
he was a supervillain and a friend.
"Perfect!" he said, rubbing
his hands together. "Now you
won't be able to escape when I
kidnap you and turn you over
to my minions at the spa."
Genna was pretty sure that
Pips didn't actually have
minions at the spa.
She had been dragging
her feet about going there
for a while, but today the thought
of being pampered seemed oddly nice.
"Oh, eek. Oh, scream," she drawled.
Pips burst into laughter. "Let me
just find us a pedicab," he said.
There were none in sight, so
they headed toward the Bazaar
where the path got wider and busier.
Finally they found a pedicab,
and they even managed
to fit their packages into
the bench seat with them.
"Pips," said Genna as
the pedicab pulled away,
"do you really think that
I'll find the other stones?"
"I don't know," Pips said, "but
won't it be interesting to find out?"
* * *
This poem is long, so its notes appear separately.