Tin Tin Ban Sunia
Hannibal’s Elephant Girl, Book One
On the way to Bostar’s tent, I came upon the slave girl from the day before. She sat on a small stool outside the black tent, with a basket of cotton next to her. I stopped to watch her take up a tapered stick no longer than her forearm. A clay whorl, like a small wheel, was fitted near one end of the stick. She gave me a bright smile and took a boll of cotton from the basket, picked away some seeds, teased out a few strands of fiber, and joined them to the length of yarn already wrapped around the shaft of her tool. She then spun the heavy whorl and began feeding fibers from the boll of cotton as new yarn wrapped itself around the spinning shaft.
The girl was so expert at her task, and her fingers so quick and agile, the yarn seemed to grow longer of its own accord. She took more cotton from the basket, removed the seeds, teased out the fibers, and worked them into the string of yarn, all the while keeping the whorl spinning.
When the tool spun faster toward the ground, she stood up and fed more cotton to the end of the yarn. Soon she stopped the spinning stick, which had grown fat in the middle from the yarn wrapping around the shaft, then tied the end of the new yarn to a strand already rolled into a ball and began to unwind the yarn from the shaft and add it to the growing ball.
“Tin tin ban sunia,” she said and handed the shaft to me.
The slavemaster’s brand marred her pretty face. The slave of Lotaz also had a brand, but his was a different symbol and had scarred over long ago. This girl’s brand looked like an arrow with three points, and it had two twisting snakes writhing around the shaft. The ugly burn appeared to be recent and not yet completely healed.
“What?” I asked.
“Tin tin ban sunia.” She tugged at the yarn still wrapped around the shaft.
“Tin bim suny?”
“Tin tin ban sunia.”
“Tin tin ban sunia,” I said and held the ends of the shaft loose in my hands so it rotated freely.
The slave girl nodded and went to work winding the yarn onto the ball while I held the shaft of the tool.
“I don’t understand what that means.”
When the last of the yarn came off the shaft, she took it from me and began spinning a new string.
“Do you know of the woman called Lotaz?” I asked.
The slave girl spun the whorl and worked the thread longer and longer, seeming to ignore me.
“Lotaz has long, curly hair,” I said. “And she makes colors on her lips and cheeks.”
I took a boll of cotton from the basket, removed the seeds, and teased out a few fibers as I’d seen the girl do. She took the cotton from me and quickly worked it into her growing length of yarn. I picked up another boll, and we went on working, but she never reacted to any of my words.