I bit into the skewered dumpling.
There was some hesitation over possible rudeness with the first bite, but then I noticed that such hesitation would result in the syrup running down my mouth and making my face filthy. The second bite was bolder, as I swallowed the whole thing. After that, I had mastered the technique and finished eating the last bite.
As I enjoyed this most memorable first item, Leon, who had finished much quicker than I, asked for my review.
“How was it?”
“It lacks subtlety.”
I said honestly, as I chewed on the dumpling that was still in my mouth.
There was something sloppy about the sweetness of the brown sugar syrup. The texture of the dumpling itself was rough. In the first place, it was most annoying to eat a chewy dumpling off a skewer. I think I would have preferred it on a platter with toothpicks in every single piece.
“I suppose it was a compromise of less time and effort and also being decent enough for people to eat. That’s what it is. It is so thoughtless and flawed in both taste and presentation. But, I see. So this is what commoner food tastes like.”
“Hey, are you mocking me?”
I ignored Leon as he squinted upon hearing my review. I needed to do something about this syrup that was on my hands and mouth. I couldn’t possibly wipe it on my clothes or sleeves. As I was thinking this, a towel was presented to me from the side.
“That is basically what stall food tastes like.”
“Hmph. I suppose so.”
Mariwa said it with a knowledgeable air, but she herself had not even eaten it.
She probably did not want to dirty her hands and mouth with syrup either. I accepted the towel gratefully and wiped myself.
One person who was not happy about our conversation was Leon, who had guided us to that stall.
“As a friend of Christina, you probably eat very well too, but…”
Mariwa shrugged as Leon narrowed his eyebrows.
“It is fine though. It is not as if we have come here to evaluate the best delicacies. Isn’t that right, my lady? Never mind the taste, isn’t this so much fun?”
“Yes, it’s so fun!”
The taste was third-rate indeed, but the very act of shopping was most enjoyable. Using money for the first time, eating foods I had never seen before, the freedom of not having to be so polite.
I was swayed by the joy that all of those things brought, and hurried Leon on.
“Now, Leon. Let’s go to the next one. To the next!”
I ordered him in the way I would usually order a servant. He smiled wryly as if he had no choice but to obey.
“Is there anything in particular that you want to eat?”
“Anything that’s not sweet.”
“Hmm… Okay, then let’s go over to the street then.”
I had just experienced the crudest sweetness. I wanted to enjoy a different flavor now. Having heard this thought of mine, Leon began to lead the way.
“The street? Is there none in the plaza?”
“There are drinks and sweets sold at the stalls here, but there isn’t much proper food. Now that I think of it, I wonder why.”
“It is because you can not get a permit to have a stall that uses fire in such a crowded area as the plaza. It would be quite the disaster if there happened to be an outbreak in so dense a place. Stalls that use fire to cook are only allowed on the larger streets and they must maintain a certain distance from other stalls.”
Leon had apparently not known the reason, so he was interested as much as I was.
“Well, I’m sure there are plenty of successful stalls that don’t use fire either way. But we might as well go down a street that has more variety.”
“Yes. That’s true. Let’s do that! You sure know a lot, Mariwa.”
“I suppose so. I don’t have any personal interest in it… But there have been several occasions where I had to accompany someone here who was much like a combination of you and Mishuli and then multiplied by two. So I learned about this place, naturally.”
“I and Mishuli combined and multiplied… What? Was this person a goddess or something?”
“You must keep your ego in check, my lady.”
It was clear as day that combing a genius like myself with an angel like Mishuli and multiplying it would result in a Goddess. But Mariwa used her free hand to flick me on the forehead.
It hurt a little.
As I glared at Mariwa with hatred, Leon, who was staring at our little interaction, butted in.
“Nobles have wet nurses do they not? Is that what Mariwa is to you?”
What an irrelevant question. My wet nurse had secretly sold my late mother’s possessions and had her family and house destroyed as a result. Such were my memories of when I was two, and as far as I was aware, it was the angriest my father had ever been in his life.
“Does it look that way to you?”
“It does… But I guess I was wrong.”
Now that I think of it, it’s not that odd an assumption given our difference in age. However, there was a reason that she would not be hired as a wet nurse.
“No, she’s my private teacher. Mariwa’s never been married, so I don’t think it’s possible for her to be a wet nurse.”
Usually, people who have experienced raising a child were hired as wet nurses. Mariwa was Miss Toinette, not Mrs. Toinette and would never be hired as a wet nurse.
That was the reason I said what I said, but I was immediately interrupted.
“I will have you know, that it was not as if I could not get married. It is only that I did not get married.”
I felt a mysterious pressure from Mariwa’s declaration and I ended up nodding a lot more good-naturedly than I had intended.
There was no ulterior motive behind it, to begin with, but clearly, this subject was dangerous. I knew this by instinct, and so I quickly turned to Leon in order to change the subject.
Leon too seemed to have caught the danger signal, but he looked away from me as if to avoid any further attention.
…He had some nerve considering he was the one who brought it up.
I would implicate him thoroughly.
“Mariwa. Leon is asking in his heart, why you never got married. It’s for future reference.”
He shouts and looks towards me, but it is too late for him. At my false accusation, Mariwa turned a gaze towards Leon, that was much too diabolical for a nine-year-old to experience.
“…Very well then. I will tell you in detail, why I did not marry, why this thing called love is so foolish and why this thing called marriage is of no use to me.”
It worked. I was quite satisfied with how shaken Leon was, but Mariwa’s breast was burning with a much bigger fire than I had imagined.
“You must listen as well, my lady. I shall tell you just how much the current institution of marriage limits women regardless of status. I will explain all of this to you along with an academic viewpoint that will be worth listening to.”
It was too late for me when I realized that the spark I had lit were now falling down on my own head.
Mariwa’s eyes stared at me so steadily that it looked as if she had been drinking. Of course, this meant it was not exactly the kind of atmosphere where I could easily blurt something like ‘well, I have a fiance’, which Mariwa already knew about anyway.