Sandeep had lost count. He rubbed his tired eyes and stared at the scattered beans on the red tile floor. Was it 37 or 38? He had been thinking about the second person optative, and wondering whether the minor differences between the conjugations in Púkharaji and Andhi could be explained by the preponderance of amphibian speakers of the former. He thought he might make it the topic of his next advanced studies lecture. But the beans…
He looked at the pot that held the beans he’d already picked up. 37. He was almost positive it was 37. But what if it was 38? With a sigh, he dumped the beans onto the floor and began again. This time, instead of putting them into the pot, he left them on the floor in piles of ten. When he was done, he had seven piles of ten and eight left over. 78. An even number! That was good.
Pile by pile, he scooped up the beans and dropped them back into the pot. It would have been easier with a broom and dustpan, but of course that was impossible. Sweeping in the evening was sure to bring bad luck. Much too risky.
He rinsed the beans and set them on the cooking stove to boil. While he waited, he sipped black tea flavored with asivam syrup and gazed contentedly around the cozy kitchen. The passive optative was of course derived from a different form of the verb’s root, with the addition of the passive suffix. This had an effect on the stem vowel in many cases, but never in the dual form. Was this because the dual form was dying out, and thus not subject to assimilation? Or was there some other reason? Lost in thought, he absently swallowed a large gulp of very hot tea, and began to hiccup. Ah! he thought delightedly. Someone must be thinking of me!
Once the beans were boiling nicely, he added a few spices, enjoying the savory smells that soon filled the room. He began to cut up raw vegetables for a salad, reflecting once again on the elegant parallels between the active and middle dual forms of the optative. It was pleasant when grammatical rules followed logical patterns, although the irregular forms sometimes gave more insight into a language’s history. Take, for instance, the periphrastic perfect of the root “to be” in Visedi, which did not differentiate between strong and weak stems, using the same preformative element throughout. This was clearly an indication that the original Visedi speakers had migrated from — With a sudden cry, he dropped the paring knife. He had been cutting a long root vegetable into thin slices, and had been so distracted that he had sliced his left forefinger as well. He stuck the bleeding finger into his mouth and gazed unhappily at the cutting board. Not only had he sliced his finger, he had cut off a portion of the nail! Oh, this was very bad. Everyone knew that cutting one’s nails at night was practically an open invitation to demons. He clutched the symbol of Kiráh that always hung around his neck, and quickly murmured a prayer to turn aside evil.
He threw away all the bits of vegetable that had blood on them, and then examined all the slices carefully to make sure none of them were still connected to each other. It wouldn’t do to compound his mistake by eating something so unlucky. When everything was ready, he sat down at his small dining table, using only his right hand to eat. When he was done, he cleaned his dishes and the pot, which he hung on a hook to dry, since inverting it would cause his good fortune to drain from it like the rinse water. He made another cup of tea, which he took into his library.
His copy of the map of the trade routes surrounding the ancient Sarpah city of Sisupal was spread out on his desk, which faced east to inspire wisdom and ensure good health. The map’s notations were fascinating! The characters themselves were drawn with an eye to clarity as opposed to the more elaborate forms of Visedi calligraphy that were used in poetry and scroll art. Since it was a map meant for traders, this made perfect sense. Time lost due to an incorrectly interpreted artistic flourish could mean lost dalán as well. He imagined the Sarpah who had made the annotations, brush in hand, working by jugánu-light. Perhaps he had copied the distances from his own journal, or perhaps this map was a refinement of one made by previous travelers. Whichever it might be, Sandeep admired the long-dead Sarpah’s careful strokes.
It had certainly been an eventful day. To think he’d had three sir’hibasi in his office at one time! He didn’t know if he’d ever spoken with more than two together before. And now that he considered it, there’d been one Paksin, one Sarpah, and one Vajrah. That must be an incredibly good omen, although he wasn’t sure what it might mean. And two of them were flyers. If only the sea turtle had been one of those flying lizards! He frowned. Flying lizards didn’t actually fly, they were more gliders, like flying squirrels. So perhaps it wouldn’t count. Still, three sir’hibasi! And they were going to explore the ruins of Sisupal! Who knew what treasures they might bring back? He rubbed his hands together eagerly. It would be wonderful to see some examples of some of the more obscure grammatical constructs of Old High Visedi. Perhaps the root aorist! Of course all of the aorist forms had merged with the preterite in modern Visedi, with the exception of the injunctive mood, which was primarily used for prohibitions…
There was a noise outside his window. He held still and listened intently. After a moment he identified the sound as a kelléndu, howling at the moons. He shivered. Another bad omen! Perhaps one of the sir’hibasi or the jánah they traveled with would die in the ancient city. Or perhaps it foretold his own death! He was not a young mockingbird, by any means.
The howling of the kelléndu was suddenly silenced, and the voice of his neighbor, a female bonobo, could be heard scolding the beast. The kelléndu whined, and then a door shut, and all was quiet once more. Sandeep shook his head ruefully. Just his luck to live next door to a kelléndu! That was the fifth time this month he’d heard the suthra’s mournful cry, and he was running low on date sugar. But he went back to the kitchen, removing his shoes before he entered the room, and dutifully consumed a small spoonful. That should do it.
The day’s excitement had drained him, and he decided that a good night’s sleep was what he needed. Before he got into bed he made sure that his painting of the devah Kiráh was positioned so that it would be the first thing he saw when he woke up. Just to be safe, his mother’s painting was right next to it. He always covered his eyes when he slept, so that even if he tossed and turned he could orient himself correctly before he removed the blindfold. He said a few sutras that guaranteed auspicious dreams, and then he lay in bed, thinking of all the interesting things the sir’hibasi might bring him on their return. Such pleasant thoughts were not conducive to sleep, however, so after a time he began running through the forms of the second conjugation in Old High Visedi. By the time he had reached the Class VI plural imperative he was fast asleep.