In the first installment of my most popular short story, Aarn struggles with the task his father has set him. He is to evict a family from a piece of land they have been farming for his family.
“They are deadbeats Aarn, and we cannot afford to have deadbeats. You will evict them today.”
“Father, their oldest son just left for the military to defend us. Without him to help, the crops failed. But they have another son who is nearly old enough to help. If we could just be patient, in another year or so, they will be back to full production.”
“And what will we do for income during that period? No, get rid of them. I have already posted the availability. We can bring in some people who are succeeding on a smaller scale and let them succeed for us.”
“And what will these people do?”
“Not that it matters to me, nor should it matter to you. But, they can take the place vacated by whomever we choose to take this one. With a smaller place, the parents and that girl can probably make a profit.
Now go tell them to get out. I want them out in time to get someone else in for the spring plowing. I know you know the girl, so you can give them until the end of the month if you want to be generous. If I have to go down there and evict them, they will be out by the end of the week.”
“Okay, father. I will tell them.”
Aarn shook his head and walked away, trying to figure out how he would tell this family that was just months from having lost their oldest son to the military that they would now be without a farm.
He did know their oldest daughter Shia, but not that well. She was a couple years younger than he was and as a farmer had no time for any extracurricular activities. Aarn wouldn’t even know who she was except that the farm in question was on the road to town and he had seen her walking home from school for the last couple of years. She was cute though.
Well, I had best put on my suite so they know it is an official visit. Damn! This is just not fair, one down year and they are going to be put out. After 10 years of good production including three bumper crop years. Father is heartless.
And he is trying to make me become heartless too. We have 52 farm leases, we could afford to have one just break even for a year or two while they recover. Renegotiate the contract, make them pay a higher percentage for a few years after they recover. But no. We can’t set a precedence. Evict them, don’t let people think we are human.
Aarn slipped on his jacket and looked in the mirror to make sure his tie was straight. He paused for a second noticing that he had another solar burn. He looked just like his father, with the sharp angular face, pointed nose and pointed chin. But instead of the brown hair and nice tan, he had his mother’s red hair and pasty white skin that did poorly in the heat of the day. He would not be able to survive as a farmer on his father’s land, so he had best learn to manage the property.
If I don’t do this eviction, he will turn over management of the property to one of his assistants and give me a piece of land to farm for a living. I have no choice.
Since he was old enough to ride along and pay attention, he had been forced to make the rounds with his father to ensure that the farmers holding the leases on their land were attending to the crops that would pay their leases. His father had always told him that these visits ensured that those leasing from them knew that they cared and kept them conscious of the need to deliver a good crop.
He had noticed just as early as his father that the farm in question was not being tended at the same level as it had always been. But he knew the oldest son had gone off to the military and felt that a slight change was to be expected. In Aarn’s mind, it would have made more sense to hire some help to assist them for a couple months than to watch as the crop failed and then evict them. But his father would not hear that argument.
Aarn went down and got into the waiting traveler. The driver already had it running, and likely knew where they were going and why, but Aarn spoke anyway.
“Plot 16. I will need you to wait for me while I visit with the family.”
Aarn felt the traveler surge and they were off. But his mind would not stop running, condemning him.
Today I become my father. After this, I will no longer be looked at as the nice son. I will be feared the way my father is. These people will begin looking at the ground when I am around, and will go out of their way to avoid being noticed by me. How can father stand it? How will I be able to live like that?
By the time the traveler pulled up and stopped in front of the farm house, Aarn was convinced that this was the wrong thing to do, but that he had no choice.
“Sir, we are here.”
“Yes, I see that. Give me a minute.”
“Sir, your father has ordered me to report to him on how you handle the task. It will be better for everyone if you just get it over with.”
Aarn wanted to scream that it was the wrong thing to do, but the poor driver was afraid of losing his job too, and was just trying to help.
“Thank you. I was just working out how to approach it.”
Aarn got out of the traveler and headed for the door. He could see Shia peeking out the windows around the curtain, and nearly lost his nerve seeing the tears in her eyes. They knew why he was here.
He stepped up to the door in front of the view plate and heard the announcement of his arrival. Seconds later the door opened and an older version of Shia greeted him with obvious signs of tears in her eyes as well.
“Welcome Master Aarn. Won’t you please come in? May I offer you some caf?”
“Thank you ma’am, some caf would be nice.”
He could not believe how calm his voice sounded or that he had asked from some caf from a woman he was about to make homeless.
“Shia! Get Master Aarn a cup of caf.”
He saw Shia jump out of the corner of his eye and then she disappeared into the kitchen.
“Please have a seat. My husband is in the field this morning, but I paged him and he will be here momentarily. Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable while you wait?”
“No, ma’am, thank you.”
Aarn sat down and looked around the room, trying desperately to think of a way out of what he had been sent to do. He scanned the simple room, with the worn furniture that had probably been in the family for generations. There was a fireplace with a vid unit that was scrolling through family pictures showing the children as they grew up. On the other wall was an old fashioned comp unit that had the farm production quota and current yields displayed. His mind automatically calculated the yield rate and he knew that they knew they would come in quite a bit short of the quota.
Looking around the room, he could not imagine that they had enough savings to overcome such a shortfall. Of course, he knew his father would not have sent him if they did have such resources.
“Here is your caf, master Aarn. I hope you choke on it.”
“Shia! Apologize immediately!”
“Why? He is here to kick us out of our home. What difference will it make if he doesn’t like me?”
“Shia! I raised you better than that. You apologize to master Aarn right now.”
“Yes ma’am. I’m sorry master Aarn.”
“There is no reason to apologize, ma’am. I should not have asked for the caf in the first place. And she is right, it would be better for all of us if I choked on it.”
“Please, master Aarn, don’t say such things. If you did choke on it, or if it were perceived that we tried to hurt you in any way, we would be blocked from all current or future land leases. Please sir, just wait for my husband to arrive.”
Aarn felt even worse seeing the fear and pain in the woman’s eyes as she waited for the axe to fall. But she was kind to him even knowing what he was here for.
“Shia, sit down and be civil. You know he is just here to enforce the terms of the lease. It is not his fault, it is ours.”
Shia sat down directly across from him the tears flowing freely now, but she tried to wipe them away and smile at him.
He could not look into those beautiful haunting eyes knowing that he was about to make her homeless. Instead he looked above her head at the vid unit showing family pictures. It was showing her parent’s wedding ceremony, then it transitioned to a picture of her brother in uniform with a young woman wearing a pin of mastery. And their hands were being wrapped with ribbon signifying an engagement.