This week’s I’ll base on one of my more recent (as in, posted only last year) writing exercises, giving a picture of a social dynamic between two characters through a characteristic picture of the time they’d spend together (together being at best a relative term). When I went fishing for prompts, I ended up with one that under the original prompt probably shouldn’t work, just because I can think of two events at which these two were both present (one was before one of them was technically introduced, and neither involved them running into each other, despite this they manage to have a decently fraught history, and I don’t recall if they’ve ever so much as spoken: Olathe and Rukan.
It was difficult enough agreeing on the meeting place. Rukan’s ‘home territory’, such that it was, was out of the question; Olathe was not going there, and that was final. Olathe’s preferred offices weren’t places that Rukan had clearance for. Various neutral territories were chosen, and discarded for reasons of protocol, until finally they ended up at the universal neutral territory: the teahouse. And now, there is tea, and only tea; the orders have not been taken, and the snacks have yet to arrive.
This doesn’t bother Olathe. She sits at her side of their little table as if she were at a meeting—probably with the coworkers she has had to personally train to take these meetings seriously. Wooden floor under her? Doesn’t matter; she seems to be pointedly ignoring the bamboo mats available to those who need them. She is facing Rukan directly—in a situation such as this, to do otherwise would both be unconscionably rude and invite attack, and Olathe is willing to do neither.
Rukan, on the other hand, is the very model of the dignified young teamaster, save for the fact that she is not actually responsible for the tea—that would be the servers, and they are following policy for the back rooms and staying out unless specifically required. A close observer might, in fact, note that she has to refrain from offering to refill Olathe’s cup—but she stifles that inclination, and instead fills the void with the tentative births of conversations. The traffic. The weather (or rather, the inclinations of the sky). The behavior of their mutual acquaintances who seem entirely too fond of world-changing heroics with awkward repercussions. Most of these topics are met by one-word (or sometimes one-sentence) responses—affirmatives, negatives, vague adjectives—and no more. The closest they come to a decent conversation is when Rukan puts forth the inevitable “Do you happen to recall whose idea this meeting was? I’m afraid I cannot.” This creates a conversation—because Olathe cannot recall either, and to her mind someone needs to pay for this.