The bustle and liveness that affronted me when I walked into the room was only something I had experienced on rare occasions--occasions that I explicitly tried my hardest not to be involved in. There wasn’t constant movement but the animated and lively nature of the customers, as well as the frequent (presumably) servants delivering food and drinks, made the singular room feel a lot busier than it would’ve had everything been dull and subdued.
As I stepped in through the door and saw the wood-panelled room, with two sections of the room at differing heights--one half on a small platform and the other not--only half of my hesitation could be attributed to its population while the other half was more due to trepidation regarding actually moving around inside. Suffice to say, it wasn’t exactly spacious.
I was clumsy and hadn’t even been walking for a day yet; surely, I’d annoy some people or get in their way. Thoughts like this plagued my head as, forced by my mother, I walked towards an empty set of table and chairs.
It was small and located near the back of the whole establishment--as seats closer and closer to the window were more and more filled--but the whole time, I felt her hand on me, pushing me forwards, as if assuring me I could do this. Maybe I’m just reading too much into it.
But, finally, we had gotten our way to a relatively sparse area where our two chairs and a table resided.
Ah; it seems that a new problem had emerged--sitting down. However, before I could panic and get all flustered, my mother had walked round to my side and held my shoulder, steady myself.
“You’re gonna have to learn how to sit down at some point,” She said, her tone sounded ever so slightly regretful as her sentence trailed off.
She was to my left and had a firm grip on my right shoulder. Gently, she guided me to lift my left crutch and let go of the grips, moving it over so it was right next to my other crutch. Then, she rotated the crutch so the two grips were touching, forming an ‘H’ shape. I stretched out my fingers and gripped both at once--a task that would’ve been easier in my real body--and sat down, putting my weight on both crutches at once.
It was slow and, even as I felt for the armrest of the chair with my left hand, I was nervous, feeling like I could fall over at any moment. I was grateful for the literal support of my mother.
Once seated, she passed by some unusually firm and sturdy paper and, what I saw on it, was spectacular. Portraits were expensive and only the wealthy amongst the nobility, and the royal family, could afford to have a portrait painted of themselves. Furthermore, they were time-consuming and tedious, not an experience one would want to go through more than once. Additionally, being a model was very uncomfortable, having to sit in the exact same position and pose for perhaps hours at a time--there were even devices used for you to hold your head against, not for rest, but to make sure it stayed in the same place.
Given all this, being an artist was a lucrative career but there were so few of them--both because the talent required to actually get paid combined with the small number of customers meant few could survive as an artist.
Knowing this, my shock could be easily explained--on each page of paper, there were incredibly, unbelievably detailed paintings of varying foods that all looked gorgeous. The texture didn’t even feel like oil paint!
To be honest, I half-suspected it was another System Specialisation. If so, they must be extraordinarily rich, having talent that far surpasses any painter in the Arden Kingdom. The fact that examples of the paintings were located here, an establishment that didn’t look as prosperous of many noble houses, means that its probably the owner, or at least someone involved in the business, that could do this.
As I stared at the pictures, my face barely hiding the shock, my mother chimed in:
“Do you not know what you want to have?”
‘What I want to have?’ So, the paintings are showcasing the different foods you can eat here. It’s a rather ingenious system which works so well with the System Specialisation but that’s what usually happens--the System Specialisation influences your profession.
But having to choose! Simply looking at the options had me salivating; actually needing to discern between them was, frankly, too much for me at that moment. Panicking, I planted the paper down flat and pointed to the first item on the list.
“A pancake?” My mother leaned over slightly, reading what I had pointed at. “Why am I not surprised.” You should be surprised; it was random!
She must’ve settled on what she wanted to eat as well for she grabbed both of our sets of paper and deposited them back into a metal rack on the table from where they had initially come from.
Not long after, an Uxlor-looking man dressed in what looked to be a low-cut, sleeveless, red vest and a clean, white shirt that contrasted beautifully against his skin, arrived at our table, armed with a pencil and some paper.
“Are you ready to order? What will you be having?” He asked, after my mother replied ‘yes’ to the first question.
“We’ll be having two banana pancakes please,”
“Do you want anything on top as well; chocolate, syrup, or ice-cream?”
Chocolate, syrup, or ice-cream? The only word there that I actually recognised was ‘syrup’, a common food item that could be made fairly easy by even peasants by mixing honey and water in a one-to-one ratio.
However, chocolate and ice-cream… Nowhere in my memory did I have any idea what either of these two things were. As they were being offered similarly to syrup, that meant they were probably also dressing you can apply to food to alter the taste. But ice-cream sounds like it should be similar to ice and ice isn’t a food!
“Avery? Do you want anything?” My mother’s voice pulled me out of my rumination and, flustered, I mumbled:
“Sy-syrup,” I was unsure if she had heard but once she relayed my order back to the man, I realised she must’ve after all. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting to be asked and so choose the only thing I knew.
“Alright, and what drinks will you be having?” He continued, writing down things on his paper whenever my mother spoke.
Eh? Drinks? Why wasn’t I given something like the paper with food for the drinks? Ahhh; I’ll say whatever my mother says.
“Avery?” What? She hasn’t told him what she wants! What do I do?
What drinks are there? There’s wine, ale, and water but water isn’t drunk often… Wait, the only thing I’ve drunk in these past few days has been water rather than wine. Should I ask for some water?
“Avery?” Her tone was tinged with concern this time.
“W-water,” I answered, my mouth conspicuously dry.
“Excellent. I’ll be back with your food and drinks later.” With that, the man briskly walked off.
“Are you okay?” My mother reached out to grasp my hands, looking directly into my eyes whenever I met hers. “You’re not usually this quiet and anxious.”
Oh no; I totally hadn’t thought about the fact that I’d undoubtedly act differently from the daughter that she knew.
Should I just tell her that I was fine? That I was all okay? What nonsense; she could feel my hands were sweaty and what competent person would act how I did? It’s obvious that I’m not fine.
I’d been staring at my hands, held within hers, but when I looked up and saw the genuine, loving concern in her eyes, I couldn’t bring myself to lie. From her perspective, how must this look? Her daughter wakes up after some kind of surgery that resulted in her losing a leg and she starts acting differently, weirdly, nervous of the world and other people. How would she feel if her daughter pushes her away?
But I’m not her daughter. No matter how much it looks or feels like it, the worry and concern that she’s expressing aren’t for me. She doesn’t even know who I am.
What should I do?
“If you feel like you’ve got no one to talk to, I will always be here for you, Avery.”
She keeps on saying the same thing; how she’ll always be here for me, for Avery. Just which one is it? Will she continue to be that opening, accomodating, caring if it’s clear that I’m not the daughter she used to know?
Should I just be honest and tell her the truth? Heh; how could I do that. I wouldn’t believe someone if they said they had died and were revived in someone else’s body.
But my silence, in of itself, wasn’t helping things.
“It’s… Hard. Talking,” I get out, my voice stilted and unnatural.
“Are you able to tell me why you find it difficult?” Her voice was soft and quiet, as if being any forceful would push me back.
I shrugged my shoulders as an answer.
“Do you think that talking to a professional could help?” A professional? At what? It’s not like it matters; more talking wouldn’t solve anything, so I shake my head in dissent.
“Well, if you say so. Once we’ve eaten, we can go home, okay?” I nod my head in acknowledgement of her words.
Far too long a time transpires before we get our food and drink but my mind is clouded by a fog of worry to savour the majestic taste of the food. I barely even eat, my appetite gone.
Once my mother pays for the food, we can finally go home.