29,709 words. Getting very close to the end of part II; I need to write a new chapter, with a few new scenes, and I think I’d better pause and eat first, because my grumbling stomach is distracting me from writing. Not sure if I’ll finish this section tonight — I slept badly last night, just three hours, for no good reason, so I’m sort of expecting that I’ll crash sometime soon. But it would be awfully satisfying to finish — we’ll see.
Another character bit. (Yes, there are a lot of characters. I like people. What can I say? )
When you were the biggest kid in class, the teacher assumed you were stupid. The other kids did too, and mostly, it was easier to go along with them all, than try to prove them wrong. Neelan didn’t mind so much, except the teacher also assumed that Neelan was at fault every time someone spit a spitball at Sir, or let out a loud fart in the middle of lecture.
Neelan was big for a ten-year-old, but Sir was bigger, and didn’t hesitate to drag him to the front of the room and force him to sit in the dunce chair. Neelan would have preferred a beating, he honestly thought, than to be stuck there with the whole class staring at him, laughing, mocking. That was the first lesson – nothing in life was fair.
By the time he was twelve, he’d mostly stopped going to school at all, and his parents were too busy to track him down and force him. Neelan hung around the fishmarket most days, offering to help with the work in exchange for a rupee or two. Some of the men would take his help, but they inevitably refused to pay him as much as they would an adult, even when Neelan worked just as hard, and accomplished just as much. That was the second lesson – people would take as much as they could from you. Everything you wanted, you’d have to fight for.
By fourteen, Neelan had full-time work in the market. By sixteen, he’d saved enough to buy his own boat. By eighteen, he was working long days at sea, and making a nice profit. He dreamed of opening a small shop someday, where he could sell fish, and coconut shell spoons for cooking, and maybe even jewelry made of seashells, the kind his sister Chayla had liked when they were small.
At twenty, Neelan was accused of a crime he hadn’t committed, and sentenced to death.
Everything after that was a blur.