Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Star Talker: Part 35: Rohan

Khan El Khalili

Zeinab dragged me enthusiastically down the promenade, my short legs struggling to keep up with her. Rha’han strode casually after us, smiling slightly at my frantic glances back at him. Soon enough, I was pulled through a curiously familiar archway into the depths of the Khan el Khalili restaurant. Much like its proprietor, the interior was a colorful assault on the eyes. Colored glass lanterns hung from the ceiling, filling the room with warm red and green and blue light. The walls were seemingly made of polished limestone bricks. Intricately carved archways characteristic of ancient Islamic architecture separated the various dining rooms. The tables were low to the ground, set with shining, golden plates on runners of rich fabrics. Lining the walls were bits and baubles one might see at such a market. Egyptian tent fabric, tapestries, arrays of glittering jewelry, and swathes of delicately woven scarves hung in artfully arranged stalls. I half wondered if they were actually for sale.

Zeinab brought us to a smaller table near an open space in the floor and bid us sit on the poofy cushions arranged around the table. The centerpiece was a simple polished metal plate filled with sand with three lit pillar candles sitting in the center. I peered at the flickering flames with fascination, waving my fingers over them to feel the ambient heat. I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen a real candle, open flames having been forbidden on the Centauri stations. 

“A front row seat for the show!” Zeinab said, waving at the table enthusiastically. “You are lucky,” she said, looking down at me. “I have had all the traditional spices brought from Al-Gizah Al-Jadida. It is not quite the same, perhaps, but it is a taste of home.” She clasped her hands together with excitement and jingled away in a swirl of colorful silk.

I continued to idly play with the candlelight as I looked around, taking in all the details of the room around me. Rha’han stared at me with his intense golden gaze, an unreadable look on his face. 

“You’ll burn yourself if you’re not careful,” he said, a slight smile tugging at his lips. 

I lowered my fingers closer to the fire and wiggled my fingers through the flame, arching an eyebrow. 

“Like fire, do you?”

I shrugged, pulling my hand back into my lap, the light burn seeping into my skin. “Maybe.”

His eyes flashed with heat. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

A server in a royal blue galabeya approached the table with a pitcher and cups on a tray. She knelt down on a narrow cushion and placed a cup in front of each of us. She took the pitcher and poured each of us a drink before setting it between us and floating away. 

I picked up the cup and held it up to my nose. The crisp scent of mint hit me with surprise. I took a sip, nearly moaning at the taste of sweet mint tea. It tasted as if someone had dropped a sweet peppermint into the tea. I almost inhaled the first glass before carefully pouring another. 

Rha’han chuckled, looking at me with amusement over the rim of his cup. “Thirsty?”

“Yes, actually,” I said, suddenly feeling parched. “I did argue with your uncle for a few hours.”

His smile faded and his brow furrowed. “Yes. I will say, I am not a fan of your plan.” 

I took a long gulp of tea. “You’ll be less of a fan tomorrow, I expect. But let’s not worry about it right now.” 

His eyes narrowed with suspicion. “Should I be concerned?”

“I suppose you’ll have to find out tomorrow. Oh look! Food.” I took another nervous gulp as the same server approached with a bowl of hummus and a plate of triangles of pita bread and a selection of julienned Lo’Rahni vegetables.  

I plucked an unfamiliar purplish vegetable from the plate, examining it briefly before dipping it in the hummus and taking an experimental bite. It was crisp and slightly sweet, an unfamiliar but not entirely unpleasant flavor. I peered at it again.

“What is this?”

“Chariin. It’s a root vegetable. I prefer it cooked, personally.” He looked over the plate. “These are all root vegetables, actually. Chariin is the purple. This pale one is gudeshi, and the yellow is drakh. I don’t know what this orange one is.”

I picked up one of the orange sticks and took a bite. “Oh! It’s a carrot. We were growing these in Bassir.”

The bite of carrot turned sour in my mouth as I thought of the facility and Guillaume, the botanist, whose dead body I’d seen on the cameras not yet three days ago. I put the carrot down, and spit the partially chewed bite into a napkin. Swallowing down a rush of bile in the back of my throat, I took a few deep breaths and a sip of the mint tea, to force back the sudden nausea.

Rha’han wordlessly scooped up the pile of carrots and stashed them away somewhere out of sight. “My mother was Terran, you know,” he said quickly, but in a casual tone. 

“What?” I said, taking another long gulp of tea. 

“I’m half Terran. My mother’s name was Radhika. My father was...well, is, a promiscuous sort. He had many women of various races over the years. When he married Ta’riima, he wasn’t prepared to give that up. I imagine he still hasn’t. My mother was a servant of one of the other diplomats, not well off, by any means, but well-provided for by her employer.” He set the plate of pita bread in front of me and refilled my glass of tea. I took a piece and nibbled on it, trying to calm my stomach. 

“Being of a lower caste, she thought the attentions of a Fahim would eventually elevate her, but my father was already married when they met. She didn’t know that, of course. He always kept Ta’riima fairly isolated when she was with him on the ship. Ta’riima eventually found out about the affair and made a huge fuss about it. She got her entire family involved. My father was recalled, and my mother was left pregnant with me.” 

“So you weren’t born on Lo’Rah?”

Rha’han chuckled a bit. “No. I didn’t even learn to speak Klotharan until I was about nine. I was born in some hovel on a planet called Sudarshan somewhere in the Terran Expansion. Her employer had dismissed her when he found out she was pregnant and unwed. She named me Rohan.”

Wicked Wednesday


  1. That's an interesting twist, him being born on another planet. And I wonder what she has up her sleeve...
    ~ Marie

  2. So glad u are continuing this series - nice to see you back
    May x

    1. I go through bits of writer's block with this one on occasion, but I eventually come back to it.

  3. So we learned about the origin of Rohan.