All is not well in Nobody-land. A grave, terrible injustice has been done to me. I can understand why Panda would like to change our identities as often as possible while we travel north across China; we always wear a mask of sorts from town to town. Since we were traveling on the west side, the dialect was completely different, and only Panda knows their language. But really, did he actually find it necessary that I pretend to be a girl? I was forced to wear the name Mingmei and dress appropriately as a female. Either Panda truly hates me, or he just has a sick sense of humour. He gave me strict guidelines not to speak to people (not that I could,) and to stay close.
On this occasion, we were all hustle-bustle through a busy marketplace. Panda never told me the name of it, but I remember it well because it smelled strongly of cattle. The vendors were mostly selling their harvests, there were some herb sellers here and there, and some were even flogging foreign goods they must have smuggled in. I asked him what he was looking for, because Panda never walks into a marketplace just to look around.
"You will see, if it's here." Was his answer.
Suddenly, in all the cluttered noise came a voice I was able to understand.
"There you are," said an old man. I found myself very surprised that I could hear it among every other sound. But somehow, his voice stood out. He was a taller fellow, a foreigner, no doubt. He was carrying what looked to be a canvas of sorts.
"Old friend," Panda greeted him. Okay, I was surprised. Bookmen didn't have "friends", did they? Him and Panda shook hands. Then the man was looking at me.
"And who is this little lady?" he asked, looking at me. I knew he meant well with his gentle-looking smile, but something about him was really giving me the creeps. Panda answered him in French, which must have been the other man's primary language, because he responded quite fluently. This sort of had me in a nark. I couldn't speak French, so I didn't know what they were talking about at all. It was then I noticed somebody else there, standing next to the man.
As the two prattled on, the girl was standing silently next to him, arms crossed. She looked to be about my same age. I could easily tell she was irritated and didn't like being here any one bit. I could see where she was coming from, but at least she didn't have to crossdress. When she noticed me, there was an immediate scowl and a hand placed on a katana I hadn't seen before (it was tucked into her robes). I found myself backing away a couple of steps.
"Anyway, let us not linger too long. I must deliver this little one to headquarters, you see," the man said, no longer in French. He placed a hand gently on the girl's black hair, which was tied up into a ponytail that trailed down to her shoulders. Maybe it was just me, but I could have sworn I heard her growl something in Japanese. Panda nodded, giving the man his hand again. After a quick shake, the two parted, and I found myself following Panda out of the market.
When we finally made it into the countryside, Panda allowed me to ditch the girl name and clothes and become a boy again. As I changed my clothes, I spotted something tucked into his bag. It looked like a slim little box, bound in leather and bearing no special insignia. But I did know that Panda did not have this before today.
"What is that?" I asked him, pointing to the box.
"Tools." He answered cryptically.
I have a feeling they're more than just tools.