One day I called Inni Villa, where incidentally I was once again entitled to live but did not. Vinja answered the phone and listened to my request to meet informally with the Geese there. I wanted to know if they had any advice or ideas that would help me with the organization of Gvagma Village. Naturally Vinja agreed, absenting herself from the phone for a minute to ask the other Geese what time would be convenient.
"Come to Inni Villa tomorrow morning around four (9:36 AM), with Zevanardia, if you wish. We'll have a leisurely breakfast together and discuss your new project."
When Zevanardia and I arrived at Inni Villa, Vinja was there alone, explaining that the four others had had to leave suddenly, but would be back in a while.
"We can still talk about Gvagma Village, if you wish. You know, Ajinblambia and we did visit Gvagma Village, and we found it perfectly lovely and adorable, very, very sweet." Though these words of praise were like flower petals to me, I could not help noticing ever so slight an overtone of patronization, witting or unwitting, in adjectives like lovely, adorable and sweet, as if she had been a grown lady and I a little girl.
My awareness of the fact that Vinja was making millions of acres of desert bloom in western Ub by desalting seawater in her scores of nuclear stills could not but color my perception of her attitude towards Gvagma Village, which, by comparion, was a mere playground. The great glorious thunderbird of the House of Vrikshaya seemed to look down from limitless heights upon my lovely little mile of Mecnita.
"I want to add to Gvagma Village, and I thought perhaps you and the others would be kind enough to give advice and make suggestions about the sorts of projects I ought to undertake there," I began timidly.
"Why don't you and I fly to Molonolo and visit the orchid plantations there? Perhaps we can select a few hundred species of orchids and create a thicket or labyrinth."
"But I understand that orchids are difficult to care for, with so many kinds in existence, and I don't know the first thing about them."
"We'll hire an expert orchid grower to come to Mecnita and indoctrinate your groundskeepers for a few months. Surely Mecnita has the right kind of climate, perpetual summer, adequate rainfall without torrents of rain or monsoons. If laid out artistically and tended painstakingly, an orchid arbor with a flagstone-paved 'corridor' might be a charming addition to your village."
"Sounds like a splendid idea."
"I'm sure Zevanardia will let me borrow you for a couple of days, Sissy."
Zevanardia looked at Vinja with mock jealousy and wagged her index finger at me as if warning me to behave myself. Of course, this was her little joke.
Just then Barti, Dhabbi, Mlechi and Usha cane bursting enthusiastically in. In minutes they joined us at the breakfast table. They all offered suggestions, some excellent, others less so. I wondered if I had gained anything by appealing to their genius. This was not so much a question of administrative ability and intelligence, as of artistry and imagination.
On one point, everyone present was agreed, and that was that on the northeast or southwest swath, that is, behind Cissi's or the Rose Verandah, I should lay out a street or two devoted to galleries. I should feature galleries for sculpture and paintings, ceramics, china, castings in bronze and pewter, fine bindings, coins, stamps, tapestries, embroidery, lace, dolls, leatherwork, woodwork, cameos, jewelry, tiles, art supplies and other sumptuous wares of the kind. My approach should be to have Amponia and Lidia prepare some architectural drafts, and to bind them with pictures of objets d'art, artefacts and curios of the kinds I meant to offer for sale. With this presentation brochure, I should be able to interest potential investors, especially with the help that Ajinblambia and they could give.
We talked for two or three hours. Then Vinja asked me, "Can you be ready fo fly to Vingolilo tomorrow at four?" Vingolilo is an island in Ungonesia, with its capital at Molonolo. This is south of Mecnita, four hours by mini-jet, in the Southern Ocean. Maxi-jets are reserved for major cities, and there are no major cities in the archipelago.
Vinja, about one foot taller than I, had a lustrous complexion the color of polished sandalwood, with long black hair, down to her waist and below. Her limbs were perfectly fashioned, and she had a full shapely bosom and a slender waist, with broad hips that swayed gracefully as she walked. Her fragrance was musky and narcotic.
Moreover, she was an accomplished lady, the Ministress of Land, with oversight of agriculture, extraction of petroleum and minerals, construction and maintenance of highways and railroads, and other spheres of activity.
She was a genius of the first rank, with an I. Q. well over 200, according to the University of Mecnita's Department of Neurosciences, where she had been observed and tested extensively a couple of years previously.
So I was just a little diffident and self-conscious as Clixbong chauffeured us down to Jezgroid Airport. Once aboard the plane though, I felt comfortable enough, leaning my head against Vinja's bosom and arm so that I might revel in her fragrance. She was wearing fitted shorts to above mid-thigh, and I could not resist the temptation to fondle her lovely, smooth legs. This was an interlude of pure ecstasy. It ended when we landed at Ekotani Airport in Molonolo.
"Let's get a horse. I think we can ride together. You sit in front of me, and I'll put my left arm around you, guiding the horse with my right. It will be most convenient if you ride sidesaddle, with your buttocks against my right thigh, and your legs hanging over my left thigh, so that you can cling to me by putting your arms around my waist. I know that riding scares you, so I want you to feel secure," said Vinja, as we exited the airport and saw a stable nearby.
In the stable, however, in addition to horses, there were small carts, sulkies, baby carriages and other such devices. I saw Vinja walk over to the baby carriages and select a very large one. It was made of wicker. "Or would you prefer to ride in a baby carriage?" she asked with a big smile.
Thinking she was joking, I replied, "Why, yes, of course. That would be much easier, don't you think?"
In a minute, she had lowered the canvas bonnet of the carriage, lifted me and seated me inside. She fastened the strap around my waist, with the buckle in back, behind the body of the carriage, where I could not reach it. Then she started walking down the sidewalk adjacent to the bridle path that leads to the nearest orchid plantation. She pushed me the whole mile. I enjoyed the ride, but I was very embarrassed. Vinja was in raptures of mirth. She just loved harmless practical jokes.
"There's no need for you to get out. Just stay in the carriage and I'll roll you all around," she said when we arrived at our destination. We were at the plantation for a couple of hours, selecting scores of orchids to be shipped to Mecnita, and engaging one of the most expert orchid growers in Molonolo to come to Mecnita and teach us what she knew. Her name was Inokali.
Seeing me in the baby carriage, Inokali looked at Vinja quizzically, as if to ask if I always went about in that fashion. Vinja smiled and shrugged explanatorily.
When our business was done, Vinja rolled me in the carriage to Ekotani Airport, returned the carriage to the stable and came back to join me. Before we knew it, we were ascending a boarding ramp. Presently, we were in Mecnita. Clixbong had come in the limousine to collect us at the airport. He dropped me off at Gvagma Village, as I requested, and continued to Eldor Palace with Vinja.
I was still somewhat befuddled and amazed at Vinja's little stunt of escorting me in the baby carriage, but I guess even a great goddess is entitled to a little fun now and then.
About a week later, while I was seated in my office in Cissi's in Ramdonia, suddenly Vinja appeared unannounced. I loved Vinja and was delighted that she had come.
"Why don't you and I go for a walk around Gvagma Village? You can show me exactly what you already have and apprise me of any plans you have made. Perhaps together we can come up with some fresh ideas. Do you have the time?"
"Why, yes, of course. For you I always have time."
I rose and followed Vinja as she led me out the main entrance of Cissi's. Taking me by the wrist, she led me to what appeared to be another wicker baby carriage, somewhat larger than the one we had rented in Molonolo, but essentially of the same design.
"I've had a wicker carriage made especially for you. The carriage that you rode in Molonolo was just a bit cramped, so I've gotten a bigger one. Here, just let me lift you in, and then we'll stroll the grounds of Gvagma Village together leisurely."
"But Vinja, I can walk. Do we really need a carriage?"
"I think that once you get used to it, you will probably enjoy it quite a bit."
"But everyone here knows me. This will be so embarrassing!"
"It'll be all right. There's no need to be self-conscious."
"I don't know, Vinja. This is going too far," I said as I began to walk away.
Vinja rushed over, took hold of me with her hands in my underarms, lifted me effortlessly into the air, seated me in the carriage, looped the strap about my midriff, and buckled it on the outside of the carriage, in back. There was no way I could reach the buckle.
Then she began to push the carriage nonchalantly along one of the sidewalks. Dozens of visitors to Gvagma Village, mostly ladies and girls, formed a circle around Vinja and me immediately, goggling and gaping in amazement. They must have surmised that some sort of charade was in progress, for, suddenly, I heard a long, protracted, "Oooooh!" Then, "Oooooh-la-la!" Girls squealed with delight and a round of applause ensued.
The crowd dispersed in a short while, and Vinja and I continued along the sidewalk. Another crowd gathered just minutes afterwards, and it was as if the whole scene were being repeated. Again and again, throughout the day, I found myself in the eye of a whirlwind of laughter and hilarity. My face was red with embarrassment, but Vinja would not return me to Cissi's until sunset.
The next day, Vinja came again at 4 Ungi (9:36 AM), insisting that I go on another stroll with her. The novelty had worn off somewhat towards evening of the previous day, but, of course, there were always throngs of new people, come to ride the Gvagma Wheel or see ballet, skating or volleyball in Rosebush Stadium. These newcomers would goggle and gape like all the others, but the ladies and girls who frequented Gvagma Village, as, for example, employees of the various enterprises, merely raised their eyebrows, smiling faintly, as if to say they'd seen it already.
This game lasted for two or three days. Then one morning Vinja said, "Today we'll go out and stroll Ramdonia Circle."
Gvagma Village was behind, that is, southeast of, the 1000-story tower, 7 Ramdonia Circle, one of eight towers at 45 degree intervals on the perimeter of a circle two miles in diameter that is Mecnita's downtown. Since each tower is itself 2000 feet in diameter, the anteroposterior corridor traversing it amounts to a good long walk. The corridor's lofty vaulted ceilings give it the look of a nave, and there are exclusive shops along either side.
Emerging at the front of any of the towers, and continuing straight ahead, one comes to the sidewalk concentric with Ramdonia Circle, a twelve-lane avenue laid out on a diameter of a mile and a half. Ramdonia Circle is divided into octants by four radial avenues, each leading from one tower to the tower opposite. The octants are all carpeted with green, green grass and shaded with flowering trees--royal poinciana, yellow flamboyant, golden rain, redbud, jacaranda, floss silk trees, crape myrtle and others. Among the trees, one finds pergolas, ramadas and belvederes of various designs, and these make Ramdonia Circle a magnet for people who like to relax in the open air.
A year ot two previously, I had had my confrontation with Lady Impacta. This was at a time when Ajinblambia would not let me ride a horse by myself. Instead, I was enclosed in a drum-like cylinder girded on a horse, with Ivandra, a talented athlete and horsewoman, seated behind me, with the reins in her hand. Only my head, hands, and lower legs protruded from the brass-and-horsehide cylinder.
When, at that time, I saw Lady Impacta, who had just celebrated her 100th birthday, come riding all by herself down Shnuvi Woods Bridle Path, on a massive stallion, which she guided with her tiny gloved right hand, I was filled with envy, anger and resentment. It was annoying to me that she was free to ride all by herself, despite her years, while I required special treatment. I made an impertinent remark, and she replied that at least she was not such a pantywaist that she had to ride her horse in a cylinder steadied between the legs of a babysitter. Then I made another sullen remark, calling her a "daffy, old crone", whereupon she socked me in the mouth, breaking my teeth. Since then, however, we had effected a peace of sorts.
Vinja pushed me in my carriage through the corridor in 7 Ramdonia Circle, and she advanced a few feet farther until we were near the concentric sidewalk. A pedestrian underpass, with ramps rather than stairs, connects the tower side of Ramdonia Circle to the octants with the flowering trees and pergolas. Vinja guided the carriage down the outer ramp, under the avenue, and up the inner ramp, so that I found myself being rolled along the sidewalk adjacent to the radial avenue that connects 7 Ramdonia Circle to 3 Ramdonia Circle.
"Let's go on to 3 Ramdonia Circle. There we can negotiate another underpass, and then make the semicircular walk back along Ramdonia Circle. Or, if you prefer, we can go by metro to Eldor Palace."
Just as Vinja was meditating aloud where we should go next, I almost gagged with embarrassment, for who should come walking up briskly, with a face sculptured with self-reliance and determination, but Lady Impacta?
Seeing me in the carriage, she burst into laughter and said, "That's more like it. You have no business on a horse." She didn't realize that since our confrontation, I had learned to ride a horse well enough. She saw me in the baby carriage and took it for granted that I had finally found the mode of transport best suited to my needs.
"But, Lady Impacta, listen..." I started to say, but she was gone, apparently with an indelible impression in her mind.
Vinja and I continued along the radial avenue till we reached the other side. There was a metro station at 3 Ramdonia Circle--just as there was one at 7 Ramdonia Circle--and this was where we would descend in the elevator to the level of the trains, Vinja said, as if I had no voice or choice in the matter. Apparently we had gone to the more distant metro station for no better reason than that Vinja wanted to show me off in Ramdonia Circle, with its numerous visitors. The carriage rolled easily into one of the cars of the first northbound train that came, and we sped away like a bolt of lightning, reaching Eldor Palace, five miles north, just a couple of minutes later. We detrained in the station directly beneath the palace, and Vinja, calling Ajinblambia on her wristphone, asked whether she would receive us unannounced at that moment. Getting an affirmative answer, Vinja rolled me into an elevator with stainless steel doors ornamented with a broad horizontal bronze band at waist height. Next, we found ourselves in the so-called "regal corridor" and saw that Ajinblambia's door stood invitingly open.
Vinja peered in for a minute, Ajinblambia smiled and waved us in, and we entered, though Ajinblambia did not yet appreciate exactly what was before her eyes. When she finally saw that I was seated in an outsize wicker baby carriage, with a strap like a safety belt holding me in place, she laughed mirthfully and asked, "What in the world is this?"
"Sissy and I have a new way of strolling about. How do you like it?"
"I think it's just wonderful! Oh yes indeed! Perfectly adorable!"
Ajinblambia came over, inspected the carriage, patted me on the head, and said, "Here, let me try it too." Next thing, we were back in the regal corridor, strolling back and forth.
Later, the other Geese came to Ajinblambia's office to see this new amusement, and, naturally, they all had to try it out. This was an occasion of such merriment and glee that, in spite of myself, I was enjoying it immensely.
A day or two later, the whole episode ended. Vinja rolled me onto a train in the metro station at Eldor Palace that would take us to Hozhgranga Station in Frifna. There she rolled me to Shayvurddhi Circle, stopping the carriage just before the steps leading up to the front entrance of Cissi's Intimates. Zevanardia, whom I had not apprised of this latest adventure of mine, was in absolute raptures when she saw me in the carriage. She and Vinja lifted me onto the landing and rolled me into the showroom, where there were a few patrons. They seemed not to notice.
Vinja told the whole tale to Zevanardia, and then said that she had had her fun, and would not be strolling me around town any longer. She gave the wicker carriage to Zevanardia, who promised to use it often. So that was that. Zevanardia did walk me around the neighborhood in the carriage two or three times, but this had been Vinja's little joke, not hers, so within a week or so, the carriage was retired entirely.
In the meantime, several hundred orchids of a great number of species had been transported by mini-jet from Molonolo to Mecnita, and Inokali, the lady orchid-growing expert, had taken up residence in Mecnita too, in an apartment not far from Ramdonia Circle. But Inokali expressed a desire to have a cottage built right in Gvagma Village, where she would live and oversee the planting and care of the masses of orchids that we expected to grow. She would also train some of our gardener girls to tend the flowers.
Vanda, vanilla, calypso, angraecum, epidendrum, cymbidium, oncidium, cattleya, orchis, brassavola and dendrobium orchids were just a few genera among the gorgeous array of flowers selected by Inokali for Gvagma Village. Several species of vines and climbers were grown upon a trellis of thin white slats forming an inverted-U-shaped corridor. This trellis, ten feet high and six feet wide, was surrounded left, right and overhead by blossoming orchids, through which rays of sunshine danced and played, generating mellow light and making the green leaves translucent. Orchids of lower growth lined the base of the trellis and formed a waving sea of color outside. Here and there, a window in the trellis, which was about 300 feet long, gave onto the sea of petals, which, of course, could be seen from outside as well. Midway along the corridor, the trellis widened into a domed rotunda of white slats, and there were benches of rattan where one could pause to sit a moment.
Instead of building a cottage for Inokali, we dismantled three stone houses in Molonolo, carefully indexing the carved stones that formed the walls. Shipping the stones to Mecnita by sea, we rebuilt the three stone houses in Gvagma Village, laying over the palm-trunk rafters the original thatch. Inokali and two young assistants, Loapuna and Mingotani, lived in two of the stone houses, while the third was used as a nursery and gift shop. There, visitors could buy orchids to grow indoors or outdoors, receiving instructions from the Vingoliloans. Inokali and her girls also expressed essence from the most fragrant orchids, distilled perfume and pressed petals for sachets. Later we would engage artists and photographers to make pictures of the loveliest of the flowers. Reproductions of these would be made available singly and also in books.
The Orchid Walk, as we called the new addition, proved successful too, particularly since orchids had never been very common in Mecnita. This was by chance rather than by choice. The Orchid Walk took up about 2 acres just right of the Gvagma Wheel as you approached it from the front.
Amponia and Lidia went to work again, creating design drawings, room finish schedules and specifications governing details of construction as soon as a firm agreement was reached concerning the first gallery we expected to build on a 20-acre area that I reserved for the Art Colony. This plot measured 1320 feet in the northwest-southeast direction and 660 feet crosswise. It would be directly behind Cissi's in Ramdonia, which, as part of the project, we would remodel, adding an entrance in back as elegant as the entrance in front, lest it look as if the galleries were behind and secondary to the apparel store. Two parallel 50-foot wide pedestrian malls extending in the long direction, the centerline of each pedestrian mall lying 165 feet from one of the edges of the rectangle, would allow us room for lots 140 feet deep on either side of each mall. The galleries that would be built there wouldn't need to be equal in width or style. Rather a quaint, even bohemian, appearance would be welcome.
The first gallery was devoted to statuary and paintings of size, with statues to 20 feet in height and paintings 10 by 10. Pedestals, corbels, dadoes and aedicules for statues would be sold too, and there would be a department for framing paintings. The owner could not raise the requisite down payment to buy the lot and the building envisioned, but I was able to negotiate a special dispensation with Usha at the Bank of Ung, vouching for the owner myself and making myself a cosigner. The gallery's owner was named Caronna, and the gallery was named Caronna's at the Wheel.
Once that project got under way, a number of others followed in rapid succession. Next door to Caronna's at the Wheel, a weaving establishment was planned. Tapestries and carpets would be woven by hand for collectors, and they, of course, would be costly. The polished mahogany and black walnut looms would be on display, so that patronesses could watch the weavers as they passed their shuttles back and forth. Less expensive, machine-woven rugs and tapestries would be offered too, though the sophisticated but less sightly electrical and electronic looms would be kept discreetly in the basement. The store would be called Sofina's Tapestries, after its proprietress, Sofina.
On the other side of Caronna's at the Wheel, seashells would be sold. The store would be called the Nautilus Chamber. Not only would there be a vast array of molluscan shells, but shells of seahorses, urchins, starfish, coral, crustaceans and other aquatic animals would be available. The Nautilus Chamber planned to stock a variety of live tropical fish as well.
Embroidered pictures for mounting, along with gowns, stoles and scarves of black, burgundy and navy silk with outlines of flowers in gold and silver thread, clocked stockings, needlework miniatures and other irresistible creations were made and sold at an establishment called Danifra's, after the name of its proprietress. Eventually, Danifra's, expanding its facility, would employ over 100 women and girls with needles in their fingers. Danifra's was on the same street as Coronna's at the Wheel, Sofina's Tapestries and the Nautilus Chamber.
Still, considering the length of that street, one-quarter mile, it would take some time to turn it into the trodden path we hoped to make it. Throughout the year '395, construction went on and goods flowed in. Bookstores popped up. Theatrical supplies, costumes, masks and special effects could be bought in any of several outlets. Coins, medallions, stamps and seals became popular collectors' items with the appearance of little shops that sold them along Gallery Way, as the street was called. During the year, no one opted to build on the second street, which remained vacant. We foresaw that it would take several years for Gallery Way to fill with shops, and only then would we see activity on the second street, which was still nameless.
None of this was lost on Ajinblambia. That lady, our great lady king, was always well informed on everything that went on in the capital, Mecnita, as well as in Ung generally. Several times that year she visited Gvagma Village, alone or with the Geese, always appearing unheralded and unannounced so that she could get a spontaneous and unrehearsed glimpse of the burgeoning art colony.
After each visit, she would summon me to her office, spending an hour or so discussing what she had seen. Sometimes she had criticisms. Often she had suggestions. A few times she made grants. Ostensibly, she allowed me to act according to my own lights, but actually somehow governed from the shadows, so to speak. But this was beneficial. This was comforting. I knew that, under her tutelage, I could not go wrong.
Thinking back to year '390, I could not help marveling at the tremendous irony of my being Prime Minister of Ung while Ajinblambia remained a mere guest in Eldor Palace, with no special title or role. She seemed to foreknow that she could sweep Queen Udi off her feet, crown herself King and enroll me in the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita in one fell swoop. My original resentment turned to resignation, and, when, through a series of absurd episodes, I became commissioner of the association, it turned to gratitude and finally to joy and delight.
Seeing Ajinblambia's supernatural governance of the Kingdom of Ung, I was embarrassed to think that, at one time, I thought to pose as her rival. Now that I saw her as she was, gorgeous, glamorous and glorious, magnificent and majestic, I adored her. I was electrified, enthralled, enchanted. I was honored to be an embroidered flower on her fan of lace.
I'd decided that I'd no need of power or authority. Let the great Vrikshaya attend to the welfare of the realm. Let the Geese worry themselves about spaceships, reclamation, railroads, highways, universities and hospitals. I would be happy to be in Gvagma Village, among my flowers, gowns and curios, in the shadow of my ferris wheel, or dining on lobster and filets mignons at the Rose Verandah.
I chose the 400th day of the year for an annual holiday, called King Ajinblambia Day, I would institute at Gvagma Village. On that day, I'd give free rides on the Gvagma Wheel all day long. The Rose Verandah would sell meals at 50% their usual price. Cissi's in Ramdonia would raffle peignoirs, chemises and negligees. Ballet would be performed in Rosebush Stadium. Later, beautiful volleyball games would be played by slender, shapely athletic girls. Each of the galleries on Gallery Way would present gifts snd favors to visitors.
Of course, the first time the holiday was celebrated, in year '395, Ajinblambia herself appeared, strolling the malls and sidewalks, and greeting the worshipful multitudes that came thronging about her. Usha, Vinja, Barti, Mlechi and Dhabbi were there too, chatting with passers-by, smiling amiably, and writing autographs in their excellent Ungi cursive. And I was there as well, ebullient, exultant, excited. I was proud of Ajinblambia and the Geese, and delighted to be one of them, howbeit marginal my station.
Ajinblambia could see that I was completely engrossed in my several activities--the commissionership of the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita, the direction of Cissi's various locations and the oversight of Gvagma Village. She knew that, under no circumstances, would I even consider relinquishing them.
Now that she and Udi, married in the cathedral in Comargash See, ruled Ung as king and queen, Ajinblambia realized I no longer aspired to undo their romance or retrieve the reginal hand. Therefore, she lifted the ban she had decreed whereby I was not to look upon or address the queen or be found within 50 feet of her presence. She repealed her decree on the occasion of the first observance of King Ajinblambia Day.
Queen Udi sought me out. I was still wearing my red leotard and red cheerleader skirt with the self-panties and my white shoes and knee socks. But over my leotard and skirt, I had donned a white peignoir with bridal pink hybrid tea roses embroidered on the yokes, front and back. This was elegant and discreet enough that it could be worn outdoors as well as indoors. I had it open in the front, nonchalantly, daringly, with the ends of the sash merely folded lightly about each other, without being knotted.
Queen Udi rushed over, hugged me, and kissed me on each cheek. "You look so beautiful!" she exclaimed.
"I do?" I asked with amazement, "What about you? Now that's what I call beauty." I knelt before her, took her hand and kissed it, fearing to do more.
Ajinblambia came. She smiled affably. Then she and Udi walked off, arm in arm.
Festivities and merry-making continued till sunset and after. Around 9 Ungi, the crowds began to thin, and finally Gvagma Village fell silent. The ladies of Mecnita are so delicate and tidy that the park was as clean that night as it had been that morning.
The next day, we returned to our regular program, beautiful, lovely and fulfilling. Galleries were still being opened. Gvagma Village was becoming a landmark in Mecnita.