Beelo awoke when he felt someone pull on his ear. He had not intended to sleep but he was still quite exhausted and sleep had taken over anyways. Beelo lifted his head from the back of the couch. His neck was sore and he rubbed it a bit.
Keelo stood on the couch next to Beelo, propped up with one hand on the back of the couch. The child smiled proudly at his father. Beelo realized that his son must have climbed up on his own. Beelo smiled when he remembered the tug on his ear. Beelo wasn’t sure if the boy had intended to wake him up or if Keelo had used his father’s ear in a moment of unsteady footing on the couch cushion.
Beelo took Keelo in his arms and held him close. He kissed the boy on the forehead and breathed deep the scent of his hair. The baby laughed and squealed. Beelo put the child down on the floor and Keelo tried to walk from the couch to the rocking chair. He made it halfway before falling on his hands and knees. Beelo smiled as he watched.
“Are you hungry,” Kintu asked from the kitchen. “Breakfast is ready.”
“I helped,” exclaimed Batu.
“I bet you did,” replied Beelo. “You’re a very good helper.”
Beelo rose from the couch. He stretched and yawned. He then walked into the kitchen to help carry the breakfast to the rug in the living room. Everyone sat on the rug, except for Tara. She always sat in the rocking chair.
Kintu handed out small plates. She reached for a tray covered with a towel. She pulled the towel back to reveal four short, ceramic bowls. The bowls held a bright pink souffle, colored and flavored by the berries of a plant with razor-sharp leaves. Each person got a small bowl. The children began eating the souffle with abandon. It was one of their favorite dishes and Kintu usually made it for dessert on a special day. This was quite a treat to eat it for breakfast. Kintu placed a few slices of cured sausage on each of the small plates as well as apple slices and a few pieces of cheese.
Beelo placed a piece of cheese on an apple slice and popped them both in his mouth.
“Eeew,” said Batu.
“Ew,” imitated Keelo.
Beelo winked at his kids and chewed with melodramatic pleasure.
Kintu stood from the rug to bring food to Tara. Tara took her eyes off of the fireplace long enough to take the plate of food in her hands but her gaze returned to the flame and the food remained uneaten on her plate. Kintu brushed the woman’s face with the back of her hand and returned to the rug.
Batu had finished her souffle, the apples, and the cheese. Keelo had eaten most of his souffle. Some of it was smeared all over his face and the rest was on the floor. The boy was busy gnawing on a slice of apple and a slice of cheese at the same time but his lack of teeth made it difficult.
Beelo finished his plate of food and started to eat the souffle. He had eaten half of it when he saw Batu. She watched him take each delicious bite. When she licked her lips, Beelo couldn’t take it anymore. He cut the remainder of his souffle in half with his spoon. He dropped half into Keelo’s bowl and handed what remained to his daughter. Beelo smiled at the look of delight on Batu’s face. Keelo looked at the pink treat and then at the mushy cheese and apple in his hands. He contemplated the half-eaten slices for a moment, then tossed them roughly to his plate, and picked up the berry souffle. He growled like a hungry wolf pup as he shoved the pink confection into his mouth.
Beelo laughed and looked at Kintu. She smiled at him and winked. Then, she pointed to the tray. There was one more souffle hidden beneath the towel. She held a finger to her mouth and her lips mimed a shushing sound. She smiled again and her eyes shone as she did.
Beelo could not help feeling overwhelmed when Kintu looked at him like that. He never understood why Kintu loved him. Beelo was not the fastest or strongest. He had never been very social and spent more time studying or taking care of his little brother than at play like most of his peers. What Beelo didn’t know was that those were some of the reasons Kintu fell in love with him.
Beelo and Baro were made orphans when Beelo was too young for a proper Téchni to live on his own and much too young to take care of a younger sibling. The elders suggested the two move in with another family but there were none with room for two boys. Beelo insisted that he could take care of his brother and their doma. He made a passionate plea before the council and the entire village. The elders reluctantly agreed.
Kintu lived in a doma not far from Beelo. She watched every day as Beelo walked his brother to the center of the village, sometimes carrying the smaller boy on his back. Beelo attended lessons with his peer group, but left halfway through the day to work with the adults to learn the skills he would need to support his little family. Beelo learned quickly and nearly everyone was amazed to watch as he was received into adulthood a full two years early. Everyone but Kintu.
Kintu saw the look in Beelo’s eyes when he pleaded with the council to stay in his family’s doma. She saw the patience and tenderness he had with Baro, even when the younger boy was willful and difficult. She saw the determination on his face when he learned from the adults and ignored the taunts from his peers. She knew then that he would be a good father and a good husband.
Beelo knew Kintu his whole life. They attended lessons together and Beelo was particularly close to Kintu’s grandmother, Maya, who taught the children cooking and nutrition. Beelo paid extra close attention to Maya’s classes, not only because he found he enjoyed cooking, but also because he had to learn how to prepare food for his little brother. Baro had so much more growing to do and Beelo wanted to make sure his little brother’s body and brain were well fed.
Towards the end of one summer, Maya fell ill. Beelo spent what little extra time he had at Kintu’s doma. Beelo and Kintu took turns caring for Maya and during that time, they talked. Beelo found he could talk to Kintu about anything. This was new to Beelo. He had no problem discussing with his peers any of the topics of their lessons, but he was never comfortable talking about his thoughts and feelings.
Maya overcame her illness and Beelo no longer had an excuse to come to Kintu’s doma. However, Beelo continued to spend his spare time with her. Kintu made him feel comfortable and listened to him. She chastised him when he was pigheaded and encouraged him when he was unsure. She made him a better person.
Beelo realized he was in love with Kintu one afternoon the following summer. He was working late at the glazing forge in the village center. She interrupted his work and he took off his leather work gloves. She took the gloves and ran. She was faster then him but somehow he caught up.
Kintu held the gloves behind her and walked backwards until she was stopped by the trunk of a tree. Beelo approached cautiously. He expected her to run off again. She stayed where she was and Beelo got close enough to reach behind her to get his gloves. He was so close he could smell her hair. Her breath came fast and Beelo swore he could hear her heart as it thumped in her chest. Kintu gave him a sly smile and Beelo forgot about his gloves. All he could think about was kissing her lips. So he did.
“Beelo,” Kintu said and broke him from his reverie. “Will you help me take the dishes to the sink?”
Beelo nodded and collected the dishes. They walked together to the kitchen. After they set the dishes on the counter, Kintu reached under the towel and retrieved the extra souffle. She held it out to her husband. The pastry looked amazing but all Beelo wanted in that moment was to kiss his wife. So he did.