The third day after the toxin dispersal, Adam had watched Nadi snatch up her clothes, a sheen of sweat on her forehead, her eyes squinty as she moved about the apartment picking up her things. Adam watched, marveling at how incredibly graceful she looked while doing it, hating the way at the same time she kicked against the partitions hunting for this belt or that boot. He wasn’t going to beg her to stay even if she begged him.
Nadin stumbled into her clothes and then stab a finger at the pad beside the door. The door hadn’t moved and she pounded the pad with her wrist instead. That was shen he got up, pretending he didn’t notice how she flinched when he tried to touch her and tapped the buttons.
“You need to rest,” he’d called after her staggering frame, but she didn’t turn back. Even though she’d been puking her guts out for the past day and a half, and he’d spent all his own time holding her hair back, folding a wet napkin on her forehead, gagging on the toxins that breathed out of her skin while he spoon-fed her the gelatinous mass that would keep her alive. Now she was snapping at him, like he’d dragged her here.
He looked behind him and saw her leather boots lying limp against his stove. He sighed and walked back to his bed and laid down, his hands linked behind him. He closed his eyes.
Looking back on that moment hours later, he decided that this was the exact time he came to his decision. That he realized, that he knew exactly what he had to do. When he was lying there wishing Nadi was still there, lying down next to him, her loosely, coiled hair swept back against her back, some of it corkscrewing over her shoulders as she swiped a finger across her tablet, making soft cooing sounds when she saw a dress she liked or a piece of jewelry. Her hair color actually matching the amber of her skin this time.
That was when he remembered that Friday was the day of National Celebration, the day when Miss Halima Ousman and the other Udoka Mining executives were going for their annual trip to some unknown destination that nobody cared about, but had something to do with everyone’s paychecks. The day when security was lowest in that huge complex, when things would be at their most lax.
He’d decided right there and then how his life was going to change.
A few hours later, when his alarm had screeched another wake-up call, he’d flung on some clothes. A black shirt with jeans that were ripped at the knees. Then he’d scooped the remaining stamps into his pockets and left his flat.
It took him ten minutes to escape from the elevators with its screeching doors, pushing his way out through the sea of bodies crammed in the elevator. Now, he was out into the lobby, a rectangular space of mammoth proportions crammed from pockmarked wall to pockmarked wall with people, the same cadaverous group that stared out at him through haggard eyes every day. Fluorescent lights sputtered overhead. Like the ones in the elevator. All he had to do was minimize contact, push through the stream of people; pretend he didn’t notice the smell or the increasing blur of voices.
Adam finally made it to the other end of the hall squeezed his way through one of the five narrow opening s that led outside. Again he wondered why they were so narrow, probably built so the people couldn’t get out in case of an emergency. But of course they didn’t.
He rubbed his eyes, and pushed his way through the narrow doorway away from the stench of urine and almost stumbled out into the open air.
New Garki wailed its welcome through the darkness
Adam blinked out through the fog, the curls of mist that hung thick in front of him, the remnants of the toxin-dispersal. Thick mist covered the ground the streets, the narrow piece of sidewalk that separated his building from the main hub of the street. He could feel the buses laboring past, the vibrations that thundered beneath him, he could feel the movements of people braver than him, moving forward. But Adam held back, waited till he could see better, hear better, till he got used to the grainy sunlight struggling through the fog.
Soon he could make out the outline of the buses better, their huge rectangular shaoes hurtling through the fog. Some of them had flipped on their headlights, and the silvery-white glow fanned out , exposing in wide sweeps the asphalt, the backs of the other buses that hurtled in front, iron-grilled storefronts that ran the length of his neighborhood. And the occasional homeless man that sat in puddles of their own vomit. Adam looked up at the sky heard the wheezing sounds of the airpods in the air. But they didn’t stop in this part of New Garki. The only way out of here was the bus.
They knew how to survive the dark two days post toxin-rain. First, the haze was tackled with the bright headlights , bright white lights that emanated from everywhere. Those that still clung to the ancient art of road travel, huddled in the buses, only their silhouettes visible through windows, large bus-cars tumbling through the fog , the air-pods , only slightly bigger than the buscars hovered over head,(headlamps) the buildings-the residential pillars that stood side by side for miles and miles pulsed out there own light in response. Some the conventional yellow, others large, neon signs that flashed in bursts washing the streets, the iron-grilled storefronts, that lined the streets, the towering billboards telling you which beer would make you the most alive, the sidewalks jammed full of the desperate, the homeless that lay on the floor in puddles of their own vomit. This part of town the fumes were the thickest, and sat thick. There was nowhere you could hide in this wailing city, the lights got you.
It only took a few minutes for Adam to get to the next bus-stop, hop on a bus that hurtled to a stop just in time. He jogged up the steps, squeezed through the open doors. The bus driver , stared at him, a heavily jowled man with his hand on the big stick shift. Adam slipped his hands in his pockets and slipped a gold card into the slit space on the dashboard beside the driver. There is a beeping sound, and the doors closed shut behind him.
Adam scanned the empty seat, scanned the space above the windows for the hidden cameras he knew were there and walked to the back and lowered himself into the hard seat. As the bus jerked forward, he folded his arms and closed his eyes. Months from now when the security forces are looking back at this footage, he wanted them to be confused, and wonder how normal he looked, how calm, like some one taking a ride home. What happened to Adam? How did they miss him? He was right under their noses.
He opened his eyes and peered outside the window. The fog had lifted and more of the sun’s rays pushing its way through. The streets were wider and the homeless hid away, dragging their diseased bodies into the gutters. In this part of New Garki the roads were wider and traffic didn’t snarl its way down the roads, it crawled at a leisurely pace. The landscape wasn’t cluttered, but made up of low bungalows with low-pitched roofs , wide verandas and shuttered windows. This was where you lived when you sold out and the buildings here weren’t the clump of peeled hi-rise superstructures he called home. These were the homes of the sub-middle class . That meant clean air, sidewalks distinct from the asphalt streets that didn’t tangle. The people here moved at a slow, measured pace, in groups of two, three. Most of them were families.
All of them wore gasmasks The bus lurched to a stop and Adma got up slowly from his seat. He swallowed had and made its way out of the bus. As the bus drove away behind him, he took a deep breath. Breathing in the toxin-filled air, he slid his hands into his pockets and looked around him. Stared at the quiet street, at the groups of people walking down the street , the hideous sound of their breathing through the metallic snout grating his ears. A few turned to look at him, then turned away. He knew what they were thinking. He was probably too poor to afford the masks, which meant he came from the poor side of New Garki which meant he was going to die sooner rather than later anyway.
He cleared his throat and slowed his pace to theirs. Quick and easy steps. He focused on his left, on the mud-brown bingalows that sat in a stiff line, separated from each other by iron fences, ensuring its neighbors a form of privacy, a square foot of space around its perimeter, yet also forcing a claustrophobic conformity. They all looked alike, the low-pitched roofs, the two shuttered windows on either side of a conventional door. No panels, no fancy markings on its surface. Four cement steps led to its front door and a knee high front gate with scrolling metalwork.
Adam stopped at the fourth house, the fourth clone, walked up to the gate and pushed it back with a screech. He hesitated and looked back at the street. Nobody cared; they had already started pulling off their masks. The fused look of tension lifting, a general air of relief. The streets looked brighter, the clouds more stark, shifting across the sky. Of course, the fog was lifting.
He stood in front of the door, took in its blankness and pressed the chipped metallic button beside the door. Nothing happened. He wiped the beads of sweat off his face, and pressed the buzzer again.
He heard the faint sound of shuffling footsteps and pulled back from the door, slid his hands into his pockets and took a step back from the door, swallowing hard as the door swung open.
slipping not even once slipping. Adam looked up, they had stopped at the second door to their left. Another almost oblong shape that was missing a door. Ray gestured with his chin and swaggered in.
This room was probably the same as all the others, the broken floor, a sofa pushed to the side, a two-seater slapped with clothes. The ceiling was covered with broken plaster and walls that were coated with a chalky crust. There was a table in the middle of the room, revealed a table, scratched and distressed under all that fabric. Two chairs sat on either ends of it, and there was a single-spiral bound notebook on its surface. The distressing thing was, the horrible thing was this room was still twice the size of his flat.
Ray gave him a crooked smile and pulled up a chair, indicating to his guest to do the same. Adam pulled in his breath, and planted himself in the chair, leaning back against the slats. He heard the creak and leaned forward again.
Ray sat down on the other chair and pulled out the notebook, brought out a pen from his pocket and flipped the notebook open. “And the job?” he said, his voice very matter-of-fact.
Adam swallowed hard. “I’ve left that one now. I’m doing something else.”
Ray leaned forward, scribbling something across the ruled lines. Then he stopped, sliding it carefully across the table. Adam glanced at black inked scrawl.
So golden boy came. I knew you would.
Adam looked at him. “I’m a firefighter now.”
He took the pen and wrote on the pad. You were right and I was wrong. Get the gloating over with. I need a location.
He slid it back, and the other man caught it with both hands. A smirk spread across his face. “Firefighting. That’s noble work.” He scribbled something. Slid it back. Before we talk details. What do you have to trade?
“Dangerous too,” Adam said. Scribbled madly. Black silver.
Ray caught the pad. “Of course it is.” You came back smarter. How many loads are we talking here?
“I like it. Makes me feel like I have purposee.” Ten. Twelve loads.
“Purpose is good.” So you’re back in the game.
“Purpose is everything.” No, I’m looking to retire.
Ray pulled the notebook back toward him, stared at the paper. Laughed, then hunched over and wrote something. Pushed it back. You’ve gone soft. Or stupid. You need at least ten trips to do that.
Adam sighed. “What can I say? I love fighting fires.” Not stupid. I’m crossing the border. For good.
Ray blinked up at him. “Fires get you killed.” You need more than ten trips.
“I’m not dead yet..” I have something your friends need.
“You’ve got a hero complex and a God complex too.” Like what?
“I’m a complicated man.” WT-43.
Ray blinked up at him, his eyes widening in disbelief, and then narrowing. Adam swallowed hard. Ray didn’t believe him.
WT-43 were had to get, hard to lift. Fifty feet long, twenty-something feet broad. A smooth, mercury metal whale with the fighting arsenal of ten fighter jets enough to take out cities, its secret being able to flit in between the skies, camouflaging itself, blending in the landscape, with earth and sky. It was the fastest jet in the sky and the most destructive. It would be gold to any enemy of the government. Three sat in the pyramidal tower like structure with winding terraces of Udoka mining, where it sat with its silvery skin glittering under fluorescent lights in the midst of all the other ships and airpods and copters and choppers with the smell of oil and grease thick in the air.
The other man leaned back in his chair, all the all-to-cheery countenance gone. He opened his mouth like he wanted to say something, but he didn’t. Instead he tossed back the pad. How?
Adam looked at the writing . Scribbled. Wrong question.
Three days from now.
National celebration day.
Fitting don’t you think?
Ray’s gaze hardened and there and then. Adam decided he would no longer be flippant. This was serious now. Stealing a WT-43 got you killed. It was a Capital offence. This here could get him killed. He was risking everything, his life, his world-
“You;ll never make it.”
Adam looked up at him in surprise. The other man had said it out loud, breaking his golden rule.
Adam rubbed his face with both hands and then came up for air. Well, he might as well. “I have to try.”
Ray grabbed the pad, scribbled, and slid it back. Adam turned it over, staring at the jagged lines. Tomorrow. 5.pm.
Before Adam could do anything, suddenly Ray tugged the pad out of his reach. He tore off pages they had written on and tore them into further strips. He then rolled them into a ball and fumbled for something in his pocket. He then looked up at Adam. “Lighter?”
Adam shook his head. With all the poison in the air, he didn’t need any more in his lungs.
Ray shrugged, dug his hand deeper in his other pocket, his face lighting up as he extracted a box of matches. He lit one and soon the ball of paper turned into a smouldering ball of black smoke and ash, the smoke on the air tickling the back of Adam’s throat. Adam immediately understood where the black streaks across the table’s surface came from. “Nice seeing you.” His face was like granite, his eyes slits. It was time to go.
Adam took a deep breath, pushed himself out of the chair and hurried back through the awkward opening, then back through the short corridor, down the steps, through into the New Garki sunshine.
Adam wheeled back, his heart pumping against his chest. What happened? Had he changed his mind?
Ray stood in the doorway of his house, arms folded, his familiar smirk back. “Good luck.”
Adam exhaled a sharp relieving breath and raised a hand in farewell, then he walked away quickly, his whole weight on a forward tilt. Old habits die hard.
He felt a familiar tingling sensation in his pocket. He stopped in his tracks and picked his cellie from his pocket. The flat rectangular screen pulsed with red and green. He bit back a hiss and pressed a thumb into its center. A message icon came on the screen.
It was from Miss Halima Ousman.
He froze even as the words formed unbidden across the screen, a failsafe to make sure that regardless Udoka Mining employees always received their messages, whether wanted to or not.
You are the designated driver for Miss Halima Ousman on National Celebrations day. As usual, inebriation would not be tolerated. Arrive at the take off terminal at 0400h. Lateness will result in your termination and possible incarceration.
Adam stared at the message a few more times, hoping it would change, hoping for an error message, hoping this was all a bad dream. But nothing happened.
It was all over before it had even begun.
I had a dream yesterday.
A terrible dream.
I was dressed all in white, long white sleeves that ended in white frills and trimmings. My dress was smooth and satiny, at least that’s how it felt against my skin, and a long dress that was slimming at the top, a bodice that was embroidered at its edge with silver spirals. The rest of my dress ballooned out into white chiffon. I felt around my head and felt the netted piece of material attached to my hair with tiny combs. I touched it. It was a veil. My veil.
My wedding dress.
I looked around me, startled at first by the cavernous space that I hadn’t noticed at first. Tall, narrow pointed -arch windows with stained glass windows flooded the space with a purplish-blue light, exposing the pews, a central aisle strewn with a red roses, big, red flowers adorning the end of each pew, the air filled with the smell of burning candles, walls of exposed stone covered with columns, pilasters and decorative artwork.
Oladunni stood at the end of the aisle, dressed in a nice tuxedo, a white flower on his lapel, his smile the most beautiful I have ever seen.
I was getting married. I was getting married in a church. But there weren’t any churches anymore.
The pews were suddenly filled with
Somebody nudged me from the side and I looked to my left. There he was, Old Father, my father and he was smiling too. I held my breath and watch as he hooked his arm in mine and gestured forward with his chin. I looked back at Oladunni and he was smiling , and just as suddenly the pwes were filled with people, lots and lots of people. The people of Mount Kai. I searched for Mary, but she wasn’t among the sea of faces. I felt a tightening in my chest as I hunted some more.
“Ini….” My father whispered in my ear and gave me a hard nudge. I swallowed hard and allowed my father to lead me forward and with slow, unhurried steps I walked toward my husband. I reminded myself how gorgeous he was, how incredible lucky I was. How he was going to set me free from this mountain prison.
I reached the end of the aisle and my father let go off my hand. I hold my breath as Oladunni took mine in his. I hold on tight and walk forward and stood by his side. He smiled. I love him so much. I could feel that rib-cracking pain in my chest as I looked forward.
There was no-one in front of us. No officiating minster. No priest-there should be some kind of priest-no-one.
I swallowed and look back at Oladunni. But he’s looking at me still, his smile still unbelievably wonderful, and his eyes wide and brimming with love. I want to tell him something’s wrong, that he should stop looking at me. There was no-one here to marry us.
I looked behind me, the cold fear clutching me, grabbing me. I turned back and nobody was there, nobody was there. No-one. Everyone was gone. Old Father. The good people of Mount Kai.
I looked back at Oladunni. But it wasn’t Oladunni anymore. It was the General.
And he was reaching for me.
I woke up screaming.
Later that morning, when I’d been trying on my dress for the National Celebrations, deciding between the green floral number that made me look too young, or the coral-colored dress with the short sleeves that made me look too old, I remembered something . Something that suddenly popped in my head.
I had screamed something when I woke up. A name.