16 February 2009


It was October, YC 91.

I still remember Eram on my skin, sunlight warm and nice, a big green garden full of grass and trees and a pergola in the back. I was born there.

It was dad's first senior diplomatic assignment as an expert-technical-advisor-whatever-attaché to the Fed consulate to the Sebiestor tribe. We used to live in the expat district among so many foreigners and well-to-do Matari. My first memories are of stuff so alien to most that, well, it is just funny. Like people driving everywhere - sure, you can walk around at ground level but, it is so warm and things so far apart that by the time you get there, you need bug-bite cream and a clothes change. Airco rules. Or, playing with Paul in the mud, actual mud, in our garden without grownups yelling at us. Or, iguanas on the roof basking in the sun - mom once asked what could be done about those and was given a stew recipe, ew.

Totally alien, I tell you.

Anyhow, Paul and I attended this school nearby, the International School of Eram, where all the snobby kids like us would go wearing our little uniforms, learn boring stuff like reading and would go play out once in a while. I met my first friends back there, most of them Matari like Taro and Reba and Fred, and some expats like myself. On days off we would get together, sometimes at my place, sometimes at theirs.

By age four I had noticed something funny. Not a single one of the local kids was coming to my place. There was nothing wrong with the place, mind you. We had a room full of toys and dolls and holos and stuff, and my big brother even had that cool Capitaine Chasseur and the Fed Patrol set. But other than my Gallentean friends, no one else would ever show up. The strangest thing was, everything was nice and happy when I went to their places.

"Maman, why won't they visit with us?" I asked mom once.

She smiled. Did she suppress a giggle? Kids do notice, even if you do not think so "Oh, Catherine, do not worry about that, it is just a silly thing. You can always go play with them at theirs, if you want."

"But, I want to show them my stuff! Like this here my doll Anne and her friends, she never gets to play with my friends. And Taro has always wanted to see Paul's toys, but he will not come over and..."

She frowned a bit "Look, sweetie, there is this little thing called gossip. Do you know what it is?" I shook my head. "Gossip is when one talks to friends and then one's friends go and talk to their friends about the same thing."

I understood at once. "Okay, so the gossip lets us all stay in touch!" :D I had just found a new and very powerful means of communication. I wondered whose friends I could reach with this and all the new people I would meet, cool! I just needed to get myself a gossip and I'd be set.

Mom rolled her eyes. "Well yes and no."

She was being shifty, I knew, she wanted to hide this from me becausethegossipisagrownupthing or youarenotoldenoughforasubscription or something. I put my best face, smiled but stood my ground. "How so? Why? Can I have a gossip too? Please? Please?"

"A gossip is not something you have, it is something you do Cathi," -nobody called me Quin, yet- "You go and gossip with friends of yours, and they will go and gossip with theirs. It is fun but sometimes... it is not as fun."

So that was the problem. Mom then told me how she had learned from her friends, who in turn had learned from their daughters, that Reba had heard a story that went something like this:

They put something weird in the water supply at Gallente homes, so kids grow up to be dopeheads just like their parents.

And Reba was in a position to know. Her father, a chief at the waterworks, sometimes mentioned a mysterious Gallentean-sounding substance called 'Fleury' that went into the water. Our water.

Mom explained that it was called fluoride, silly, and it prevented your teeth from falling out when you grow up; that if parents sometimes acted funny, it was normal. As for the dopehead thing, our great nation is a free nation and people grow up to be dopeheads on their own, if they want to.

"So is Reba right? Is there something in our water?"

"No no, Cathi! There can only be good stuff in the water."

"Then why is Reba lying?"

"She is not really lying, she is just... mistaken. People make mistakes sometimes. She just does not know any better."

Now I know all these things, but back then it was heartbreaking. My friends would keep distance because of something I just knew not to be true. Reba never asked me directly before spreading the story, nor did any of the other kids. I wanted to scream my lungs out at her -I am not a dopehead!- but then screaming is not the most un-dopey thing there is. So instead of screaming, I talked to her the next time, to dispel her fears. Big mistake. She just took it as further confirmation that there was 'good stuff' in the water. How do you talk to people that do not want to hear? Anyhow, although we continued to be friends, she never visited chez moi.

That is how I became acquainted with The Gossip Monster. It bit me and hurt me, and there was nothing I could do but watch. But I would learn to tame it in years to come, oh yes I would. Gossip would never become an obedient pet, nor have I given to every one of Gossip's whim. But we have learned to respect each other.

I hope Reba is OK. It has been ages since I left Eram and we have not kept in touch. I hope she marries a dentist. ;)

Stay tuned. Q.

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