The Argo — The Shallow Tales Review
Do you believe in magic?
For a brief second, the sky resembled a slumbering monster rudely awakened. Its grey teeth, our ashen sky. Its hulking mass, our darkest afternoon, feeding on our fear and misery till all hope visible through the clouds was snuffed out.
As my loosely laced tennis shoes kicked up dirt behind my shaven head, I couldn’t resist the urge to turn back and take one last glance at the now-fallen empire of Ibadan. Once, her towering buildings overlooked the badlands of Iseyin. Now, those same barren grounds were the only refuge for me and my friends.
The ground beneath us shook as we hurried past smouldering debris entangled with the decapitated bodies of slain men and children. My stomach lurched as my gaze fell on the barbaric, disfigured corpse of a clean-shaven man. Another escapee like us, I thought. Only he wasn’t as lucky.
All we heard was a whistle before the ground split open like the lore of judgment day, the impact knocking us back with the force of a dozen bulldozers. I thought I saw my mother’s face when my head hit the dirt. Her gentle eyes oozed terror and anguish. I was equally scared but grateful to see her. It had been too long since I allowed myself picture it.
The next few seconds were hazy. We had survived the blast, albeit with a few cuts and bruises. But Feranmi wasn’t as lucky. On standing up, I found his impaled body lazily staring at me against a piece of metal from a dislodged vending cart. By the explosion’s intensity, I could tell the raiders had taken over the command base, crippling the city’s last chance of retaliating. Now, it was only a matter of time before the grand terrain of Ibadan fell, transformed into a wasteland of rubble and charred flesh. And yet, I would always remember its lands how my mother saw them. A resplendent city of hope. Her hope…for us.
It became increasingly arduous to keep sand out of my eyes as we hastened toward our only means of escaping the bloodbath. The Argo ship was evacuating residents of Ibadan to a safe zone, days away. As we approached it, my thoughts went back to Feranmi, and how he only had a month left on his sentence.
Beyond the soft and vibrant fields of Ibadan dwelled Iseyin — its barren and chalky outskirts was home to some of the most vicious predators like the cunning Kleibo and slippery Jure, that left deep, twisted trails across the land’s surface.
From afar, the Argo appeared as nothing more than a hovering, chrome saucer. But up close, the details in its ingenious construction shone. It was supposed to be the first of its kind, or maybe just the first a previously incarcerated criminal like myself had seen on the outside.
Somehow, my fear of the raiders was surpassed by something greater as Badejo screamed, “Hurry! It’s about to take off!” Sure enough, the enormous ship began to ascend even further away from the ground. And suddenly, as if happening in slow motion, I watched Badejo stumble to the floor. My attempt to help him up was thwarted by Remi, who jerked me forward by the sleeve of my tattered prison uniform, keeping my legs moving.
“We can’t stop now,” Remi yelled over the sound of the ship’s ignited jet propellers. I soon found out Remi had saved me from meeting an equally grim demise as my cellmate’s leg had been seized by a Kleibo and two more were hungrily tearing through his abdominal flesh.
The minute we’d begun to lose hope of ever catching up to the ship, its golden lights began to flicker. Not long after, it started its descent. The front hatch opened up, and there stood a man, yelling above the propellers’ rumble.
“Get in!” He waved us over. “We can’t completely take her to the ground. The raiders are almost here,” he pointed behind us.
I didn’t dare look back this time. When barely inches away, the man in the ship pulled a lever that dropped a ladder down to us. The only problem was we each had to jump and make a grab for it. Remi went first, successfully taking hold of a lower rung before the mysterious man helped him up.
“Jump now!” Remi called out to me when he was finally aboard.
With barely a second to decide, I closed my eyes and leapt. A decision I realised mid-air was nothing short of suicidal. Yet, somehow, I managed to grab hold of something. At first, I thought it was Remi who caught me. But when I opened my eyes, I found myself peering into the chestnut orbs of an enchanting stranger. And right next to that face was her arm that appeared to be the only thing holding me in place.
“Hold on,” she said with a strained breath. Behind her, I could see Remi and the mysterious man holding on to her posterior firmly. Almost as if dropping her would ascertain a death sentence for them.
With great caution and effort, they succeeded in pulling me aboard the ship. As soon as I was entirely within the ship’s confines, the hatch closed, and the ship’s propellers hurtled us away in hyper speed.
In that moment, my sight latched on to a beauty death’s shores could surely never possess — the riveting length of my rescuer. Deeply enthralled, I took in her overly radiant, ebony skin. Unlike my dull shade, hers gracefully shimmered. My gaze settled a little too long on her distinctly angular face.
“Thank you,” I finally said as I helped her to her feet.
“A little advice,” she responded, standing. “Next time you jump, leave your eyes open.”
I chuckled in embarrassment as she walked out of the room. “I’m Ayo,” I said, before she crossed over the door’s threshold.
“Tomi,” she replied with a melodic strain, barely into the next room.
“Ogbeni,” Remi grabbed hold of my shoulders. “Do you even know who that is? Do you want to end up dead?!”
He slapped the back of his hand against my chest when he noticed the empty and confused look on my face. “That’s Tomi Ajibade, Prime Minister Abayomi’s daughter.”
I stood mortified as the realization trickled in slowly. The glowing, smooth skin. Regal gait. Melodic strain of her voice. She was a capital girl, born and raised. And I had just broken our most sacred rule by allowing her to save my life.
The ship’s insides were a lot grander and more luxurious than its outsides conveyed. Upon arriving into the main entryway, a magnificent, grand mahogany staircase with twin overarching landings spiralled into a broad set of treads greeted us.
“We dock in 5 days,” the mysterious man from before said to Remi and me. “Until then, everyone has a position on this ship. Everyone earns their keep.”
“We have to work? Even while the world is literally falling apart?” Remi asked.
“Considering your…” the man, I suddenly realised had a lighter and shinier pigmentation than we did, tried to explain as he gestured.
“What do we have to do?” I spoke up after a moment of uncomfortable silence.
“We could use a couple of waiters at the restaurant and baristas at the cafe. Your choice.”
“And payment?” Remi asked.
“You get paid in food and accommodation.”
I wanted to let him know just how ridiculous this all was. But I thought better of it. “We’ll take them,” I answered instead.
“Great,” Remi grumbled beside me as the man walked up the stairs. “We’re back in prison.”
I turned to look at him incredulously as I gestured to the fantastic architecture and murals all around us. “When did you ever see such a view in prison?”
On my way back to the lower compartments after a disastrous first shift, I thought about Tomi. Why had she risked her life just to end up dooming mine? If anyone ever finds out we touched …I dispelled the terrifying thought from my head.
My people had strict rules against the lower class interacting with diplomats. Once, a man of my tribe, the Yorubas, grabbed in public the hand of a diplomat’s daughter. They were secret lovers, but on seeing her standing a few feet away at the grand square, he had taken her hand in his by reflex to say hello. He was immediately tackled to the ground by by-standers and executed a few hours later.
By the large charcoal painting of Mide Fowora — the Argo ship’s highly decorated and revered Lead Engineer, came the odd scent of perfumed smoke spilling from the adjacent door. Recalling the familiar allure, I headed in.
I wasn’t exactly sure what I expected to find when I walked in, but it wasn’t supposed to be a pool. Neither was I supposed to find the prime minister’s daughter staring at her unmoving reflection in the water.
“This area is off-limits,” she said without turning around.
Somehow the knowledge of who she was didn’t seem so intimidating being so close to her. “Is this another one of those diplomat-only spots?” I enquired.
She shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe.”
I took off my woven shoes and slipped right next to her, dipping my feet into the lukewarm water.
We sat together in silence for a few moments. She stretched out slowly her pack of low-nicotine cigarettes to me, her lips sealed and eyes focused on an imaginary image in the far end of the water. I took a stick from her pack, muttered a “thank you,” and proceeded to light it. Our silence continued.
Suddenly, the pool door opened. It only took a few seconds, but Tomi’s hand was over my mouth before I could utter a single word to the guard who wandered in. He looked around curiously, his brows furrowed.
“There’s no one here,” he called before turning around.
“But I heard voices,” a second guard said.
“You’re probably still hearing the explosion in Ibadan ringing in your ears,” the guard chortled.
Tomi’s hand didn’t leave my mouth until several minutes after.
“What just happened?” I turned around to face her, my eyes betraying my confusion.
At the look of terror on her face and the realisation of what she’d just done, my grandmother’s stories surged forth from the archives of my memories. All her tales of the mythical women of the ancient days blessed by gods, which my people no longer believed in, became as vivid as the temperate evenings she told them. Only a few people still believed in magic, but here I was in the presence of it.
My eyes widened in realization. “You’re a wielder.”
“Don’t call me that,” she pleaded as she turned away from me.
We sat in silence once again. “So, you’re aware of who you are,” I said after a while.
“Of what I am,” she corrected. “Yes, I’m aware.”
My brows furrowed in confusion. “You’re not happy about that?”
She turned around, revealing inflamed, scarlet veins across her neck. They certainly looked like they hurt.
“What I am comes with consequences.”
(To read the rest of this short story, head on over to this site)
Faridah Giwa is an African-futuristic writer. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria, and works as the Content Strategist of a health technology startup. Before officially embarking on a creative writing journey, she was a spoken word poet and continues to document her recent poetry works on her Instagram page @phynickz.
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