Nunu, our girl prodigy, who was studying finance and business administration under Firanza, a special tutoress from the University of Mecnita, had amazed both Zevanardia and me, as well as Firanza, when she announced that she was drawing up a “business plan” to turn our little trio into a genuine music company that would give recitals before paying audiences and make recordings to offer for sale in music stores. We three, with Nunu at the harpsichord, Zevanardia on the soprano recorder and me singing, had given a couple of informal recitals in
“What are you going to do for funds to start the company?” I asked Nunu indulgently the day after I talked to Firanza.
“I don’t think I will need very much. I was planning to borrow a drachma from you.” That would be about $1000.
“Do you have any collateral?” I asked teasingly.
“No, but don’t you recall that it was my idea that you should open a supermarket in
“Very well, sweetheart, I will lend you the money, but you’ll have to write a promissory note.”
Nunu called Usha immediately and Usha arranged for Nunu to see Dwembi, an officer is New Accounts in the Bank of Ung, who would help Nunu start a checking account. The appointment would take place the following day during Nunu’s lunch break.
The following evening around 8 Ungi, Nunu came skipping in so merrily that I could almost hear her giggling under her breath. Tossing her tote bag on the easy chair, she opened her little purse and took out a booklet of blank checks in a vinyl wallet and a plastic card marked DEBIT. She explained that she could now withdraw cash from any automatic teller in Ung. She said that her security code was SUZI. She had chosen the name of our cockatoo so that she'd never forget it. I explained that she must reveal the code to no one else at all.
As she took her bag and started for her room, she said that she was going to design a handout or flyer for the new company. At this point, she said, she could not afford glossy brochures, but that she could create a page herself and get photocopies. For five dirhams she could get 100 copies. She wanted us to get dressed in our white satin gowns, the ones with purple velvet fretwork around the necklines, cuffs and hems, and pose at the harpsichord, with the soprano recorder and our scores, so that Ezmeraudia could photograph us. The photo would be the centerpiece of her flyer. Within a couple of days, she had a stack of about 100 copies, along with the sales slip from the purchase, which she filed in a small metal box.
Nunu was very eager to stage recitals at once, but I told her that Gvagma's second annual beauty contest was to be held on day 100 and that the trial of the villainous King Kohono would begin on day 110 and run perhaps 30 days. These events would certainly command the attention of the majority of Ungians. This might very well diminish the impact of Nunu's presentations. I recommended that she go ahead and make appointments with Ajinblambia, Udi and Zhvizhvi, since she was bent on doing it herself, but that she delay any actual performances until day 150 or so. When she realized that I was not just trying to spoil her fun, she could see the wisdom of my suggestions and agreed to follow them. In the meantime, I told her, she should not lose sight of the fact that she had other studies to attend to. Maybe she could save her business planning for days 8 and 9 of each day-decade and concentrate on school the other 8 days.
Around day 80, I received an electronic letter from Queen Shandra in which she included some sketchy notes about the efforts of a team of explorers she had sent to Uvankafer, a country bordering on Ufzu. Apparently Uvankafer stood upon the threshold of civilization. The hardy Uvankaferans subsisted on foodstuffs produced by farming, hunting and fishing. Their industries included manufacture of soap and tar and refining of salt. They also produced honey and wax. Their roads were tamped but not paved and their conveyances were carriages and wagons. The people were open and friendly and welcomed diplomatic contacts with Ufzu, but were incredulous of the Ufzuans’ accounts of Ung. Their queen, Queen Truni, was invited to visit Ufzu later in the year. At the particular season during which the exchange took place, Truni and her people were very busy with the harvest.
A couple of days later, I gave copies of the correspondence to Ajinblambia, who said, with a note of resignation, "Well, it's a start anyway." She called in Bumazhna, one of her secretaries, and briefed her, instructing her to start organizing some files for the country studies and explorations we would be monitoring. She kept me standing there idly for about ten minutes, but apologized later.
Ajinblambia mentioned also that she had spoken to Nunu on the phone and, hearing about her plan to form a company, she had made an appointment to interview the prodigy in her office. I filled her in on everything that had happened so far, stressing the fact that Firanza felt the plan might work. We agreed that I should not be present at the interview, with Ajinblambia promising to tell me all about it afterwards.
The beauty contest of year ’407 was just as magnificent as the contest of ’406. We managed to deliver two complete buggy trains full of gorgeous young ladies the full length of the Avenue of Ung, from the great gates of Eldor Palace to 2 Ramdonia Circle and then to the Palace of Beauty in Gvagma Village. Attendees and spectators must have numbered in the millions. There were masses of flowers, balloons, streamers and banners all along the avenue. Musicians were everywhere with their trumpets and viols, flutes and oboes. Over 50,000 contestants took part, all so lovely that any one of them might reasonably have besn called a queen.
The ladies themselves made the selection by voting again and again in a series of eliminations, almost as if they had been bees swarming to select a queen. The voting was done by typing on electronic keypads and results were calculated and displayed instantaneously. After dozens of ballots, a lady named Vicrenda was chosen as Miss Gvagma ’407. By the time Vicrenda had been chosen, almost all of the ladies who had cast their votes seemed to be spellbound, in a manner of speaking, as if each had selected Vicrenda all by herself. Rivalry was absent, and affectionate sorority reigned.
Vicrenda lived in fashionable Rilwangz, the northwesternmost district of the city of
At Vicrenda’s receptions, stylishly-attired young ladies with keen intellects discussed literature, theater and the arts. Sometimes they just conversed informally. At other times, there were debates or lectures on specified topics. Ladies also read their own poems or excerpts from their longer works, as well as selections from the classics. Usually someone played piano or violin for a few minutes, and small dramatic productions were staged from time to time. After the beauty contest, we asked Vicrenda to invite Ezmeraudia to one of her receptions. Ezmeraudia loved the atmosphere there and would eventually become one of the regulars, usually going by herself, but sometimes taking Jina with her. We felt that it was time for Ezmeraudia to have an independent social life.
IImmediately after her first visit to Vicrenda’s salon, Ezmeraudia set about composing a humorous autobiographical sketch entitled “A Day in the Life of a Prodigy’s Nanny”, which she read to the guests during her second visit two or three days later. The little tale brought home to the girls that Ezmeraudia was indeed from Bo House and well-acquainted with Nunu, to say the least. This enhanced Ezmeraudia’s popularity in that circle, as many of the visitors would have liked to be given the opportunity to meet Nunu. So it would happen that we began to receive elegant young ladies come to admire our daughter.
We feted Vicrenda in Bo House and she was received in
In approximately the same time-frame, I decided to write ten more songs to add to the repertory of The Three Sissies, but, whereas I myself had composed the melodies of the songs in my first song cycle, and Zevanardia had composed only the overtures and finales, to be played on the recorder, this time Zevanardia insisted on composing all the music and leaving just the lyrics to me. I honored her wishes and the results were very fine. The names of the songs were: ‘The Prodigy’; ‘Sissies in the Palace’; ‘Kolomena’s Revenge’; ‘Miss Gvagma’; ‘Along the Avenue of Ung’; ‘How Well I Remember’; ‘The Ladies of Ilocanga’; ‘Midnight’; ‘It Happened in Qizilot’; and ‘Seas of Red Bougainvilleas’. Zevanardia and I were pleased with our mutual efforts, but the important thing was that Nunu liked our songs and would be adding the sheet music to her “files”.
I asked Nunu about the harpsichord accompaniment, and she said that she would use a computer application that reduced played music to a printed score or sheet music. She would play extemporaneously on our harpsichord at Bo House, and then edit the printed music as many times as she had to in order to get it as she wanted it. This was all over my head, so I decided just to leave Numu in charge of everything.
On day 110, King Kohono’s trial began. By this time, he looked neat and clean and was decently attired in a presentable robe. His incredibly muscular body, brown and sleek, shone like a brass ox, where it was visible at the vee-neck and elbow-length sleeves.
He had been charged with numerous counts of slavery, battery and rape, and most of the 2000 women of his former harem—his victims and plaintiffs—were present in Monopeo, where the trial was being conducted. He knew that he would be sentenced to a lengthy term of imprisonment, but he was his old genial, riant self as he sat in the witness box to be interrogated by the prosecuting attorneys.
Basically, his defense was that he did not appreciate that he had broken any laws. He hadn’t understood that the ladies of his harem had considered themselves enslaved. He explained that he hadn’t meant to beat or rape anyone. He thought that the ladies admired him for his great virility, and liked to be handled roughly and masterfully, as a matter of sexual preference. It had been rugged “foreplay”, he explained with a big, innocent-looking smile.
“If it was not your intention to enslave the ladies of your harem,” asked one of the prosecuting attorneys at one point during the proceedings, “why did you keep them in locked cages?”
“I didn’t keep them in 'cages'. They weren’t 'cages'. They were full-sized rooms, about ten by ten. The partitions were made of bamboo stems, but the rooms were not 'cages'. Each room had a bed with satin sheets, an easy chair and a dresser. The ladies were fed wholesome meals of rice, beans, beef, fish and bread, and had access to baths. I kept the rooms locked for their own security. There are roughnecks in town who may have sought to molest them otherwise. If the ladies felt enslaved, why didn’t they speak up?”
“They were afraid. They say you have a horrendous temper.”
“I find that hard to believe,” said Kohono.
The prosecution described to the jury the lengths the harem had had to go to in order to extricate themselves from the clutches of the overbearing king. Using wires from twist ties, they patiently sawed through nodes in the bamboo stems in their partitions. When two nodes a couple of feet apart had been sawn, so that the internode could be removed, they glued it back in place with a paste they made out of rice and sugar from their food. So it would not be obvious that the internode was removable. One night, hearing that Kohono was dead drunk, they were able to exit their cells en masse and mob the king, who fled for his life to Toa, a neighboring island. Nothing was heard of him thereafter till Shandra, Mer Elicsi and I discovered him at
At another point, the attorney asked Kohono, “Can you imagine yourself in the position of one of your harem ladies. Suppose you are a typical island woman who weighs 125 or 130 pounds, and suddenly this enormous ox of a man, weighing 550 pounds, with arms like the legs of a rhinoceros and as erect as a stallion, seizes you, flings you on the bed, climbs on top of you, holding your arms so that you cannot resist, and copulates with you immediately, wouldn’t you feel yourself battered and raped?”
“Maybe I would like it.”
“Please. King Kohono, be realistic.”
“Did you ask any of the ladies whether or not they liked it?”
“Of course we did. The fact that they are here as plaintiffs should tell you whether they liked it or not.”
“I see. In that case, let me apologize. If I had known they felt aggrieved, I probably would have taken a different approach.”
“Oh please, King Kohono.”
Several times in the course of the hearings, the gallery broke out in laughter at the king’s pretense of innocent intentions towards his harem and benevolent treatment of them.
The prosecution’s understanding of the gravity of the charges was not lessened by this merriment, and finally on day 130, Kohono was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. The following day, he was transported to Mecnita and then to Slanchgav Prison. Queen Kolomena, who had attended the trial, and her subjects were delighted with the outcome.
At the instance of Ajinblambia, Okia, the lady judge who had presided the trial, agreed to a special plan: Kohono would be taken on escorted exhibition tours in which he would perform feats of strength before audiences. The proceeds would be awarded as compensatory damages to his victims. Doing this, he would earn good time, and could conceivably reduce his term to 15 or 16 years.
Reflecting upon King Kohono’s trial and his pious denial of the seriousness of the charges against him, which, in any case, was probably a joke rather than an earnest protestation, Ajinblambia began to do some soul-searching. She herself maintained a harem of 20,000 beautiful young women enclosed in a vast seraglio occupying floors 16 through 20 of the northern oval of
Conditions were far different than those of Kohono’s bamboo cells back in Monopeo. For one thing, the ladies had all the gorgeous apparel they could ever want—satin, velvet, brocade, chiffon, lace, cloth-of-gold and more. They enjoyed a diet of the choicest foods—steaks, pork, venison, grouse, pheasant, lobsters, crabs, fish, rice, potatoes, yams, eggplant, mushrooms, cheese, chocolate, ice cream and others. There were elegant entertainments--skating, dancing, music, plays, cinema and beauty comtests. They could dally with one another, if they liked, or opt out of romance, if that was their preference. Being an odalisque was an honor accorded to a girl and her geographic region—province, state or city. Ajinblambia visited the harem often, and any young lady who won her attentions for an hour or two was flattered, nay, ecstatic.
Still they were enclosed, behind locked doors, and could wander freely only in their special quarter.
Ajinblambia now wondered if, unbeknownst to her, some of her harem girls entertained resentments or felt aggrieved with her captivity. Surely the Vrikshaya did not want to feel as if she weighed on anyone, so to speak. She would have felt exceedingly guilty if she had learned that any of the girls harbored unspoken animosities towards her.
To expiate her growing inner malaise on this account, Ajinblambia ordained an “Emancipation”. She posted notices in the harem, saying that, on day 140, any young lady who wished to retire from the harem altogether could do so with no hard feelings. Any girl who wanted a half-year or full-year furlough would be allowed to absent herself for the specified period. On the appointed day, about 100 girls petitioned furloughs, which were granted, and only 15 sought to retire altogether. The great majority felt that enclosure in Ajinblambia’s harem was the next thing to being in
So our lady king’s anxieties were laid to rest.
Truk, Shansa, Poinavoinen and Gurgen, four countries in southwestern Ub, had organized a few volleyball teams two or three years earlier, but their effort had been lackadaisical and ineffectual. So I chose a number of girls, led by Cygnia, of the Piljandar Swans, to undertake another goodwill expedition. Perhaps they could stoke up some interest yet. As an incentive, I had Cissi’s in New Ozgingd design and sew a dozen sets of volleyball uniforms for six players each. Seeing the bright, cheerful scarlets, emerald greens, royal blues and canary yellows, and trying on the titillating tights and leotards, maybe the Ubbic lasses would get in the spirit of things. The clothes would cost us about a florin ($100) per ensemble, so the whole wardrobe would come to 7 or 8 drachmas ($7000 or $8000). This would be a pittance in the long run if we could launch a shining new league.
When the uniforms were ready, I went by metro to Cissi’s in New Ozgingd to look them over. I picked up one of the bright red miniskirts, made of a blend of cotton and polyester, and held it to my nose to smell the freshness and newness of the garment. A tear came to my eye, when I thought of the days when I was a messenger for the Courier Service and the years of my membership on the Eldor Geese. I had a couple of my old uniforms at home, but they were not so bright and attractive. They showed signs of wear and the crispness of the fabric had been laundered away. In a capricious moment, I decided to have the girls make a new outfit for me just like my old one, for which they had a pattern on file. This took them only an hour or so. When the uniform was ready, I changed, putting the clothes that I doffed in a shopping bag. Then I took the metro back home, deboarding at
Now that the beauty contest and the trial were over, Nunu kept reminding me that she was ready to start staging recitals. She had already had interviews with Ajinblambia, Udi and Zhvizhvi on the subject of using their facilities as venues. Ajinblambia’s private recital hall and Udi’s study, which had harpsichords that Nunu wanted to use, were inside the northern oval of the palace, and this would pose a problem if the general public were to have access. The interior of the oval was vast and labyrinthine, and there were a number of security checkpoints. These were not insurmountable obstacles, of course. Ushers and guides could meet guests in the lobby and escort them in a body.
Zhvizhvi and Nunu agreed to plan to seat 200 and to charge 20 dirhams (about $20) admission apiece. Nunu would have to pay 200 dirhams in advance to rent the necessary chairs, as the
Nunu immediately bought a roll of 1000 tickets from the local stationer, and, recording the serial numbers, she gave 200 to Juni, the receptionist at the
Next Nunu posted her flyers around
Our first song at the harpsichord recital would be ‘Seas of Red Bougainvilleas’:
Seas of red bougainvilleas spill down
From lofty walls resplendent in the sun.
They tumble over bo trees like a gown
And trail along the ground all bare and dun.
Sweet calla lilies, white with spikes of gold,
Spread their indented leaves of glossy green,
And with their placid beauty, where we strolled,
Remind us of our Ungia’s fair queen.
Afar the peacocks make their proud display
While geese with hoods of black and barbes of white
Fly underneath the canopy of day,
And egrets pose like angels in our sight.
This is Mecnita, fairest city found
On all the continents and isles around.
When I read the poem at Bo House before Zevanardia, Ezmeraudia and Nunu, the first to comment was Nunu. “That’s a beautiful poem, Sissy, very sweet.” I could hear the affectionate, almost patronizing, note in her voice, as if she had been the proud mother and I the precocious daughter. Nunu is growing up, I thought to myself, with an inner smile, indulging her in her momentary “motherly” attitude,
Lately, Nunu, dear young prodigy, had begun to ask more difficult questions. Right after our first recital, she said to me, “Sissy, is there a supreme being?”
“That's a useless question,” I answered.
“Why? Many people say that there is a supreme being.”
“The may say, but they have no conclusive evidence to offer.”
“Then there is no supreme being?”
“I didn’t say that. Many deny a supreme being too, but they have no conclusive evidence either.”
“So how do we know?”
“We don’t know.”
“We don’t know? That’s confusing.”
“There’s no problem. We don’t know. We can’t know. And we don’t need to know. We have more important things to think about.”
“We have to provide a livelihood for ourselves and our loved ones. We must constantly think about tomorrow, study, work, earn, save, buy insurance and plan our pension, forgetting all about cosmology and theology.”
“Cosmology and theology?”
“Yes, we should just forget about a supreme being and all that. We won’t get answers anyway.”
After a pause, I asked her, “Would you like a slice of hot apple-cinnamon pie with a scoop of ice cream, and a cup of hot chocolate.”
“Oh yes,” she said.
Setting the pie, the ice cream and the hot chocolate before her, I surmised correctly that by the time she had eaten it, she would have forgotten the supreme being.
“Oh well!” I said to myself, “She’s only seven. By the time she’s ten, she’ll have it all figured out.”
A few minutes later, I heard her playing the harpsichord again. All was back to normal.
As day 159 approached, I started getting enthusiastic myself. We had regular rehearsals at Bo House in the evenings, but, of course, there was no need for dress rehearsals. Now and then, Nunu would comment on our performance, with praise or criticism, and I did notice a gradual improvement. Often Ezmeraudia sat in with a wistful look, and I wondered whether she herself would have liked to be an active member of our group, but I did not broach the subject at this time. I thought that perhaps later I could talk it over with the other Sissies. Jina attended some of our rehearsals too, but had said that she herself was disinclined to sing.
The recital would begin at 8.25 Ungi (7:48 PM) on the appointed day, but Zevanardia, Nunu and I were at the
As it started getting dark, an automatic dimmer switch began to turn up the lights ever so gently, and we glowed mellowly in our white gowns. When the audience began to appear and seat themselves, Zhvizhvi entered and introduced us, as we bowed, taking our places on the platform that served as our stage.
Nunu began to play, and I could hear the hush that settled over the audience, punctuated with a few almost inaudible sighs.
Then Zevanardia and I joined in with ‘Seas of Red Bougainvilleas’. We did the ten songs of my second cycle, paused for an intermission, and then continued, with a couple of songs from my first cycle and a long impromptu harpsichord extravaganza by Nunu. We finished at 9 Ungi, after three encores and a chat with some of the audience. Then we five residents of Bo House strolled home tiredly. It was very late for us.
Chinca, one of the music critics for Cissi’s Newsletter, had attended. I asked her not to be overly laudatory in the review she would write, since everyone knew that we directed the newsletter, and, so, it would look as if we were glorifying ourselves through her. Of course, she understood this without my explanation, and limited herself to factual reportage, with only a slight dose of cheering.
The outcome of the endeavor was that Nunu had grossed almost 4 drachmas ($4000), out of which she paid Zhvizhvi one drachma in all, for chair-rental and her commission. Nunu had spent one florin ($100) on odds and ends, and another florin in gratuities she gave to the receptionist and usherettes from the
She offered to pay me the whole drachma she had borrowed to start her business. We had no definite repayment schedule, but I told her just to give 3 florins for the time being, so that she would have more working capital at her disposal. She wrote me the check, and I really beamed at this turn of events. The next day, Nunu deposited 2.5 drachmas in her account at the Bank of Ung, and kept a florin and a few dirhams ($140 or so) in her metal box as "petty cash".
Nunu’s summer vacation from the branch of the
Nunu had not forgotten that we agreed to discuss the possibility of her accompanying Queen Kolomena on her lingerie yacht as she made a circuit of the islands around Kralatimu. The only problem was that each circuit made by the island beauty took about two weeks, which would have been too great a part of Nunu’s brief vacation. So the queen and I discussed it at length, and we found a solution. Kolomena would route this circuit so that they would be at sea only 5 days until they arrived at Badako, where there was an airport. Nunu could fly home at that point, while Kolomena continued on her voyage without her. So our girl would be gone only 5 or 6 days. Needless to say, Nunu was absolutely thrilled, especially at the prospect of flying home all by herself.