The other girl moving into the shared college dorm room surveyed Riggi in surprise. “You are not,” she said frankly, “what I was expecting.”
“How so?” Riggi suspected that she knew the answer but was trying not to make assumptions.
“You’re white.” There, it was said. “You could have gone anywhere, so why did you come here? Everyone knows this is a minorities’ college and university.”
“I won a Lotharian-Cambrook scholarship,” answered Riggi, “so I get bonuses for not going to State. Miskanovy has a very good Arts program, and it’s so far from anywhere else that I doubt that any of my family will make the trip up here. “I’m Riggi Baird by the way.” She said her given name with two short, hard ‘g’ sounds in the middle of it.
“And I’m Althea Anderson Arrowsmith,” repled the dark skinned girl with the high cheek bones and beautiful, blade sharp nose. “Is Riggi a Norvik name?”
“No,” Riggi gave a small laugh. “My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Riggi,” this time there was an extended ‘g’ sound from ‘ridge’ in the middle of the word, “but my Godfather Thorbjorn convinced everyone to say it the way he would.”
Althea asked, “Shouldn’t there be a given name in front of Riggi then?”
Riggi shrugged. “My parents didn’t get around to it.”
Althea blinked , then said, “So, do you want the right hand side or the left hand side?”
“You were here first,” replied Riggi, “you should get to choose.”
By evening both girls had set up their own sides of the room. Althea had the wall on the left of her bed and Riggi had the wall on her right, while both beds had the foot nearest the door of the room. Althea had put up a plethora of family pictures showing both Native and Zanji relatives. Riggi had only a picture of her fair skinned, dark haired parents and another of her and her fair haired godfather. Both girls had started filling the bookshelves on their side of the room.
“So,” Althea was unpinning the tight braids that confined her long, black hair from the back of her head now that she no longer had to keep them up out of the way, “want to come and get some dinner? The dining hall opened half an hour ago and we don’t want to miss out.”
“Will there be that corn chip thing with beans again, do you think?” Riggi rubbed her lower back as she stretched.
“Could be,” Althea stretched as well, “but you do know that you’re supposed to eat a variety of things, don’t you?”
“Yes, but the variety here in the dining hall is completely different to anything at home.” Riggi sighed. “I’m used to only having only meat and three veg of some description. My Mom doesn’t make anything else, neither does her Mom.”
The dining hall dinner menu that night may not have included the corn chip and bean dish that Riggi had eaten for her first meal there, but she soon discovered that it turned up on the menu about every four days. She also discovered that dinners, like lunches, always had at least one option each of fish, meat, poultry and vegetarian. Their fried chicken was the best she’d ever had and there were vegetables she’d never even seen before. Pork, ham, bacon, offal, salmon, cod and stews were all foods she rarely, if ever, saw at home and was now seeing at almost every meal. It even occurred to her to wonder why the only fish her mother ever cooked was tuna noodle casserole.
Orientation Week was full of other little adjustments to her new surroundings, not all of them from her required seminars.
She thought she was the only pinkish-beige face in the first year crowd, until she ran into Anastasia Papandreou whose family had a Greek cake shop in town and who was coming in from home every day, and Mary Lamb who was at Miskanovy because of ‘reasons’ she didn’t want to discuss. Everyone else was brown or black, often with with copper, bronze and ochre highlights and undertones, or combinations thereof. Then she ran into the students of Tang-jian descent with their cool gold-beige tones and got thoroughly confused for a day.
The group and association stalls on market day were interesting, but the Native tribal associations were obviously not interested in Riggi. The political parties, not that she was interested in joining one, weren’t looking to recruit white Western European Descendants on this campus. The French Association turned out to be a tribal association for Métis and two black power groups just ignored her until she went away. She was surprised to find that the local Tribal Council had a stand that was completely separate to the related student association, and devoted to welcoming everyone to the tribal lands and providing information on the area outside the campus and the surrounding town.
She had just picked up a brochure on dangerous local flora and fauna when the raven caught her eye. He was sitting on the top of the stand’s backdrop; smaller than a common raven with a slightly different sheen to his feathers as well as a fringe of feathers on his throat. The bird looked as if he thought he owned the stand, just the way he perched up high on it and watched at everyone. “Excuse me,” Riggi spoke to the tall, brown skinned man behind the counter, the one with his long hair in two greying braids who was wearing a blue plaid flannel shirt open over a blue tee shirt above a pair of jeans, “is the raven with you?”
The man glanced from Riggi, up to the bird and back again, “Yes, he is,” he agreed with a smile.
“He’s a very handsome bird,” she offered, “and he looks like he thinks he owns the place. He’s not like the ravens I’m used to though – is there a different species up here?”
“He’d agree with both your statements,” the man nodded his head. “He’s very vain and he does think he owns everything he sees. His species comes from an island off the east coast of Tang-ji. He and I joined up a few years ago under fairly unbelievable circumstances, and now he likes coming along to these things to meet people and see what’s going on.” He looked at her and asked, “May I ask if you have a tribal affiliation?”
Riggi felt suddenly uncomfortable. “I’m afraid I’m exactly what I look like. If these pamphlets are only for tribe members, I can put them back.” She went to put the flora and fauna pamphlet in her hand back on the stack.
“No, it’s not that at all.” The man made a soothing hand gesture. “Please, take one of everything. Take more and give them to your friends. The more people who know not to do stupid things out in the woods, the fewer times we have to turn out the search and rescue teams.” He paused and added, “I know that the university has counsellors and just about every sort of pastor with a congregation in the state, but if you find yourself in need of guidance or advice and none of them suit you, please contact me.” He handed her a white business card from a case he kept in his rear pocket. “I know one or two people.”
The white card in Riggi’s hand had printed on it, “John Deer, Tribal Council Member, Miskanovy Valley Native Federation,” followed by a local phone number.
“Thank you, sir.” Riggi didn’t understand why she’d been given the card but she wasn’t going to be rude to someone who was not only important, a tribal Council Member had to be at least as important as a City Councillor she thought, but was apparently trying to be kind or helpful. “I’ll keep your number in a safe place in case I need it.” He nodded at her in a friendly manner, and then went to speak to a pair of boys who were talking loudly about rock climbing at the other end of the table. Riggi wandered off to the next stand.
Later, about the time Riggi was looking at the display on the stand being run by a Voudon house, and hoping that would give an overly persistent, white, Evangelical Pentecostal spruiker, who had an oversupply of smarm, the message that she was not interested in his message, John Deer was being relieved over on the Tribal Council’s stand. “Anything I should know about?” Daniel Longseer surveyed the crowd of milling students and added, “Anyone I should know about?”
“There was a girl earlier,” admitted John Deer. “She could see the raven.”
“You asked her about it?” Daniel looked at his old friend, surprised.
“No,” John replied calmly. “She asked me.”
“Has she had any training?” Daniel tidied the stacks of pamphlets on the hiking trails that snaked through the lower, western ridges.
“I don’t believe so.” John made sure he had everything he needed before heading off to get some lunch. “She’s a WED. Probably Protestant, if I’m any judge.”
“That’s a whole beehive waiting to explode in someone’s face, isn’t it?” Daniel grimaced. “At least it won’t be our problem.”
“I gave her my card,” said John quietly. “She liked the raven and he didn’t try to drive her off or peck her eyes out, so I said I knew some people. I didn’t actually have you in mind when I said that.”