Mina Shi sold seafood from all over the galaxy. The price depended on the distance an item had traveled and its availability. Mina specialized in the exotic, but she sold everything from the small purple barnacles found on every shore of Ee-ha, to rare earthen Tuna. She rose early each evening to unload her wares, carefully positioning her more flashy specimens so their scales or shells reflected the bright white light of Ee-ha’s extraordinary moon.
As she waited for the market to fill up, the silent heat of twilight would dissipate and the desert flowers would unfurl, soaking up the moonlight. The evening was slow, but as the ground cooled, her customers would arrive in droves, crowding the market with their bright clothes and rhythmic, breathy voices.
After deciding to start her import business on the newly booming planet of Ee-ha, Mina had done extensive market research to figure out what would sell best. She had settled on seafood because it was immensely popular with Ee-ha’s native race, the La-ha-ma. It had traditionally been sourced locally, but Mina thought the La-ha-ma would appreciate the novelty of supplementing their diet with seafood from other planets. She loved to watch the graceful, translucent La-ha-ma as they swayed through the market. When they stopped at her stall, they would buy any creature with an exoskeleton. The bones strengthened the clear shell in which their jelly-like bodies were encased. During a transaction, the nerve conglomerates in their heads would light up in dynamic patterns. These patterns flashed, matching the rhythm of their voices. The rhythm in which they spoke indicated their emotions. She hadn't quite learned the art of it yet, but from what she could tell, as a whole, the La-ha-ma seemed polite and gentle.
Mina had been living on Ee-ha for two standards now. She mostly stuck with the alien community. She had a few close human friends and there were some other aliens, mainly Bogogo and Leki, with whom she shyly exchanged pleasantries. Mina had grown up in a small, purely human colony only a few light-years away from the solar system. At times she found the diversity of thought, speech, and movement here on Ee-ha utterly overwhelming. She felt as if she were floating, as if she had nothing to latch onto. She had visited Earth a few times when she was younger and though the human capital was far more cosmopolitan, it was grounded in her culture. She could read the faces, follow the patterns.
Every night when the Moon reached its zenith, the La-ha-ma would dance. Spinning in throbbing, undulating circles, their nerves would synchronize to the same intricate beat. Foreigners would watch, entranced. But the music was far too complicated, too intrinsically La-ha-ma for them to join
With a small tired smile, Mina watched the La-ha-ma dance from behind her counter. She made a game of trying to track the beat, imagining how it could be recorded in human musical notation. She stirred up dust with her tapping, but her toes soon got confused.
A human man approached her counter. She looked up from her dusty sandals. “Tim!” Her smile widened. “What can I do for you tonight?” The English felt good in her mouth.
“Hi, Mina, do you mind if I join you under there? I need a break from this moon."
“Come on in. But aren't there less stinky places to shelter?”
“I’ll tolerate the stink if it comes with your company.”
She gestured to the chair pushed up against the back wall of her stall. It was a family heirloom: small, oak, and painted red with little blue and yellow flowers. It was one of the only things her great-grandmother had brought with her from Earth after the cost of living had gotten too high for her to remain on her homeworld.
“That’s a nice chair."
“It was my grandmother’s.”
“Are you sure you're okay with my fat ass squashing it?”
“I sit back there when I am feeling lonely.” She laughed softly, pushing him into the chair.
“Told you, I barely fit.”
“It’s a bit snug,” she conceded, crouching beside him. She traced patterns in the dust with her broken fingernails as she sat in companionable silence, listening to the throbbing music.
Tim’s long hair brushed her arm, the one that was drawing in the dust. “You used to sing.” She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, you did! The first night I met you, remember? At that dingy little bar where all the humans used to congregate before it closed? You did the most brilliant rendition of “Here Comes the Sun”.You looked radiant. Sure, you were blasted. So was I, but I couldn’t forget something like that.”
She gestured to the shimmering spectacle in front of them. “It's so exquisite, so full… What do you even call this—a symphony?” She chuckled. “An orgy?”
“It's nothing like the Beatles, that's for sure.” He stood up. “I just had an idea! Why don’t we go get something to eat, wait for them to finish, then start a little dance party of our own.”
“Who would want to listen to a couple of humans screech after that?” The music had reached a crescendo, distilling itself into single excruciating harmony with the big glaring moon.
“They impress the hell out of the moon every night. I think some human screeching would be refreshing.” He smiled, taking her hand. “Maybe we can give the moon a break.”
“I’ll think about it over lunch.”
“Great! Will you consider my proposition more favorably if I buy?”
She grinned. “It’s worth a try.”
“What do you feel like eating?”
“We could go to my bakery. I just got a new shipment of sourdough starter from Earth. You know the best bread is made with human air."
She snorted. “You're so cheap.”
“Shipping sourdough starter all the way from Earth was definitely not cheap!”
“A sandwich actually sounds delicious. Do you have any rye?”
“Let’s go see if I still have some left. My rye is a best seller.”
As they walked through the market, Mina could feel the music swell inside her. She wished it would burst, shaking the desert, the moon, and her feet. The market was a mess of ingenuity, necessity, and beauty. They passed shops selling every sort of material: tangled wires and scratched computer chips, cheap clothes, vast arrays of vibrant spices, pots and pans, useless antiques. It all started to look the same after a while, just stuff, just atoms. But Mina never tired of the smell. It was an amalgamation of each person’s own delicate passion. The force of it was staggering, but if she concentrated individual details would reveal themselves, blossoming into something extraordinary. That is, in part, why she chose to sell fish; she wanted to contribute something pungent.
They arrived at Tim’s bakery. It was lit with cheery yellow light and was devoid of any decoration except a couple pixel drawings his five-year-old son had scribbled. He bounded into the tiny kitchen. “Haha! I found some rye! What do you want on it?”
“Do you have any of that paste made from fermented Toga Beans that Bogogo put on everything?”
“Togeeamo? Sure, I love that stuff! It reminds me a little of miso.” Tim slathered a slice of rye with a dark green paste. He passed the bread to Mina, collapsing onto a stool. “God, I miss Earth!”
Mina sighed, nibbling the crust of her bread. “Let’s throw a dance party.”
“Yeah, my only condition is that you bring Liam.”
“Of course, we need someone to teach us how to dance. He’s napping now, but I’ll wake him up before we go.”
“This...”—Mina waved her arms, attempting to articulate her praise through a mouthful of bread— “...is delicious.”
After they had finished their bread, they walked into the kitchen and up the narrow set of stairs that led to Tim’s apartment. It was small, but comfortable, with thick walls that kept out the burning daytime heat.
“Soren!” Tim called. “I am home.”
A gangly man in his mid-thirties exited the bedroom. “Shh! You will wake him up.” Soren whispered. Catching sight of Mina, he paused his scolding. “Hi, Mina, I didn’t see you there.” He turned back to Tim. “What’s going on? I didn’t expect you back up here till dawn.”
“I actually came to wake Liam up. We are going to have a dance party and we thought he would want to join.”
“A dance party? I am so confused.”
“I am still a bit confused myself. “ Mina laughed. “I think Tim was inspired by the La-ha-ma’s midnight ritual, and thought we could do our own human version in the market square. I agreed to sing. I don't know what possessed him to suggest it, or me to agree. But we are both feeling lonely and thought some familiar music would be nice.”
Soren sighed, chucking softly. “It’s a sweet idea. I am feeling a bit lonely today as well. But I just got Liam to sleep!”
“Come on! We need someone to break the ice. Five year olds have no inhibitions.”
“Alright, but it’s your fault if he starts screaming later.”
“I wouldn’t blame him. I feel like screaming all the time these days. That’s why we need this.” Tim and Soren entered the bedroom where a small boy with bushy black hair and freckles was crashed on the mattress. “Hey, buddy. We are going to have a dance party. Want to come?”
The little boy jumped out of bed, regarding his parents with curiosity. “A party?”
“Yeah, out in the square. Aunty Mina is going to sing and we’re going to dance. Maybe we can even get some other people to dance with us!”
“Can I bring Mo?” Liam asked, clutching a scraggly stuffed tiger.
“Yeah! I bet Mo is a very dignified dancer, look at those stripes.”
“What does dignified mean?”
“Hmm… let's see… it's used to describe someone who looks put together no matter what they are doing. Hey Soren, do you remember the La-ha-ma word for dignified?”
“I think it’s See-hey”
Liam started laughing. “You sound silly.”
Soren whispered to Mina. “He says that everytime I try to speak La-ha-ma. I think my rhythm must be grossly off or something, but I can never get him to elaborate.”
Tim threw the little boy on his shoulders. “Let's go!”
They walked down the stairs, out through the bakery, and into the square. The La-ha-ma had already finished their dance and the crowds had dissipated and bit, but there were still plenty of people milling about.
“I’ll be back in a sec.” Tim caught sight of something, bounding off.
“Shall we look for a suitable place?” Soren asked Mina.
“I have no idea what to look for.” She stared down at her hands. “I can't believe we are doing this. What if we offend some sacred law and they start throwing things? Or what if everyone just laughs.”
“I think the laughing is a given, but I can never tell when other species are laughing anyway. As for breaking some sacred law? I have seen plenty of other people sing in the square. I don’t think anyone will be offended.”
“Alright. How about over there?” Mina pointed to the out-of-the-way corner sandwiched between an abandoned retailer and a fruit stand.
“If we are going to do this, we might as well go for it.” He gestured to an empty patch of ground right beside the packed clay parapet surrounding the square’s central garden.
“What the hell was I thinking?” Mina groaned.
Tim returned, carrying a small package. “For you.” He grinned, tossing the package to Mina.
With trepidation, Mina opened the plastic box. Inside was an old-fashioned handheld microphone. “Where did you find one of these!”
“I spotted one lying on top of a junk heap back there. I couldn’t believe it!”
“Weirdly perfect.” She muttered.
Tim threw back his head and arms, addressing the moon, and yelled “Serendipity!”
Mina clutched the microphone. Sighing, she stepped up onto the garden parapet. She bit her lip, savoring a secret smile, and sang, “Here comes the sun, do, dun, do, do…”
Liam threw his stuffed tiger into the air and started to bounce.