The Diplomat Complains about Rice
by Kat Beyer
The Diplomat didn't like rice. He told me why in the first village we stopped at, the first village that didn't know my village had exiled me, and that didn't call him "Gaia rat,"--the first village that feasted us instead.
He said that rice reminded him of growing up in the monastery back on Gaia. He was adopted into the monastery like many other hungry boys. There was little else to eat but rice.
"Earth was having some population problems," he said, which was odd, because by now I knew that he called each thing what it was, and what had happened on Gaia had been a disaster. Maybe my village had feared that he brought the disaster with him.
"The rice was never very good. It always had maggots in it."
I love rice, one of the few foods from Gaia that we like here. It's an honor-food. But I hate maggots. Now I could understand.
"We were desperate for the protein, so that was not so bad."
I didn't understand again.
"Except for the boiling," he went on. "I hated taking those little lives. It wasn't their fault that they looked exactly like rice grains."
He turned his bowl round in his hands.
"They reminded me of the soldiers always marching through. Soldiers like those little lives, caught up in a rice bag that wasn't their fault."
"My metaphor is not good. Of course rice is a living thing as well. But for me eating rice is like eating grief."
He had never complained about anything before. At last I ventured, "Then why, Elder, are you eating it now?"
Together we looked down the rice in our bowls, the honor-food of the feast.
"Surely they would make you another dish if they understood?" I pressed.
"On the other hand," he said, "Maybe I need to learn to eat grief. Maybe I could do with more patience. Besides, they are only trying to be thoughtful. I wish to be a good guest."
I wish to be a good guest. I have spun those words around and around in my mind many times since. Sometimes I wonder if I was exiled for being a bad guest in my own home, perhaps being ungrateful when I was fed something I didn't like.
"The maggots and the memories aren't their fault," he added.