Beelo sat cross-legged on the rug and watched his family finish their evening meal. A delicious stew filled his stomach and warmed him from the inside out. A brass stove on the other side of the room filled the air with a glowing warmth. The combined effect of the food and the heat made Beelo drowsy and he smiled sleepily at his son and watched as his youngest child tipped his soup cup and set it on his head. Kintu took the bowl away from the young boy and wiped the soup out of his orange, curly hair.
Beelo haltingly rose to his feet and bent over to collect the other dishes from the rug. He had to step carefully around his sister-in-law to get the dishes to the kitchen. The woman had hardly touched her soup, but Beelo was not surprised. Tara had spent most of the autumn in a daze. She would eat only a few bites at every meal and sat in the rocking chair all day while she rocked and stared at the stove. She only ever left her chair to relieve herself or to open the door when Kintu was not able to.
Beelo put the dishes in the wash basin and started cleaning them. Kintu walked up behind Beelo, wrapped her arms around his waist, and laid her head against the space between his shoulder blades. He felt her lean to one side and soon they were swaying to a song that that must have been playing in his wife’s head. Beelo rinsed off the last dish, set it on a wooden rack to dry, and turned in Kintu’s arms until they faced each other. He wrapped his arms around his wife and held her close. He rested his chin on top of her head and breathed the scent of her hair deep into his lungs.
“You must be exhausted,” Kintu said.
“I am a bit tired.”
Exhausted was a better word for how he felt. A long day spent preparing the tree for the winter and a cold evening spent watching the tree had depleted him.
“Go and get ready for bed, I’ll tuck in the kids and fetch a blanket for Tara.”
Beelo nodded and kissed Kintu’s forehead. They let go of each other and Beelo made his way to the rug. He got down to his hands and knees to kiss his children. Batu, their daughter, laughed and playfully tried to escape from her father’s affection. Keelo, their son, gurgled and waved his chubby hands in the air. Beelo somehow got to his feet again and walked up the spiral staircase to the bedroom.
The doma tree in which Beelo’s family lived was in fact four trees that grew together, intertwined and wrapped around each other. The people of Beelo’s tribe all lived in similar trees. Most doma trees held two or three generations of family members and some were large enough for multiple families.
Beelo’s tree had belonged to his family for six generations. The first ancestor to make a home in this tree made use of natural gaps between the individual trunks, sealing off the space from the weather and making it air tight. Back in those days, there was one room with an open fireplace. In the time since, Beelo’s family expanded up into more and more empty spaces, building a system of staircases and passageways between each area. A brass stove, built by Beelo’s grandfather and great uncle, warmed the system of rooms and created a draft that drew fresh air from a series of small openings in a lower chamber and allowed the warm air to escape high in the branches of the tree. The exhaust from the stove and the cooking oven was also vented way up in the tree, which gave the smoke time to cool before it joined the outside air. Another recent addition was a cistern that provided running water in the kitchen and washroom with basins plumbed to drain down to the roots of the tree to mask the smell and warmth.
Controlling heat was of the utmost importance. If heat from a stove poured directly out of the house, it would be visible for miles. There were many animals in the forest and hills with the ability to see heat the way Beelo’s people see light and color. Even the coats worn while on watch were designed to retain and camouflage body heat. Each hood was fitted a mask that circulated exhalations into the coat to keep outgoing breath from fogging the air and glowing brightly in cold autumn air to any animal with the eyes to see it.
Beelo reached the top of the spiral staircase. There was landing at the top and three passageways. The first passageway lead to the chamber shared by Beelo and Kintu, the second belonged to the children, and the third was supposed to be used by Tara and her husband. However Tara now spent her nights in the same rocking chair she occupied during the day. Occasionally, when Beelo rose early, he would find Tara curled up on the rug in front of the stove.
Beelo entered his bed chamber, took off his outer garments and climbed into the bed. He was asleep in seconds, long before Kintu was done tucking in the kids.