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Red Pineapple, Blue Mango

by Jide Okonjo 2 years ago in science fiction
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Right now, the second worst person you can be in this city is me.

Right now, the second worst person you can be in this city is me.

Mama always tells me you make your own luck in life. You work hard, make the right choices, and stick to ‘em. You study your enchantments every night, you choose the right mentors, you make the right connections, and boom…you’re always lit. People do right by you and life is a smooth float right to the end, til you’re descending six feet under purple roses lovingly tended to by an Enchantor.

Mama also tells me that who you are is the sum of your choices.

I guess who I am is a person straight outta luck because I’ve lowkey made the wrong ones, especially tonight.

A tiny vibration on my wrist forces my gaze down at my band and the dot on the tiny screen makes my heartbeat suddenly sound like the bass to a rap song and more sweat drench my already soaked dress. He’s here.

I should’ve gone straight home after lessons. Straight back to the large house I occupy with Mama and her man, Tyrell, and his daughter Imani who’s actually pretty cool and has these long burgundy locs. When Mama first introduced Imani and I to each other and said we’d be the best of friends because we were both “capable and gorgeous teenage girls”, I’ll admit I was skeptical. While her description was highkey accurate, surely you needed a foundation stronger than that to build a friendship? Apparently I was wrong though. Imani’s my second closest friend.

My first is why I’m in this current situation.

The sound of tiny steps pattering behind me draws my attention and I spin around just in time to see a rat enter a small hole in the wall of the apartment building behind me. Okay, ew.

At least, according to my band, he just floated into this sector of the city. My only relief is that if he floated—instead of teleporting right in—then he’s not actually sure where I am and is just checking sector by sector. I don’t smell his distinct scent of enchantment—pineapples and somehow the color red—yet so he must not be that close. Not wanting to give him the opportunity to get close, I swipe my hand through the air in a narrow arc, not wanting my portal to draw too much attention.

He lowkey found me much quicker than I thought he would. Which means I underestimated him and I definitely can’t afford to make that mistake again. I should’ve just accepted Imani’s offer to help me take my braids out tonight. Or I should’ve agreed to watch a movie with Mama and Tyrell.

I should’ve done a lot of things differently.

When I step through the portal, I find myself in the parking lot of a shopping center. Row upon row of cars are still lined up like soldiers awaiting their instructions. If I were in Sector 5 or 2, this would be surprising at one in the morning but for Sector 7, this is pretty on brand. He knows how much I hate coming here, with its constant onslaught of loud voices and laughter and music pouring out of shady-looking clubs. And the intermingling smells of Enchantors and civilians, (which don’t go that well together, by the way). Using a portal was risky, but what choice did I have? Mama would say there’s always a different choice to be made.

Derwin knows like everything about me. Knows the mango scent of my enchantments, how to cut me deep if he really wanted to. Which I guess is only fair since I know almost everything about him.

I don’t know when or how that happened.

Turning, I spot a diner across the lot, snug between a bar and a strip club. Its neon sign is giving off a dull pink in some places and is completely off in others, as if clocked out for the night. Looking at it, my chest tightens. I can barely even read the name. There are a lot of people inside it. I don’t see them but their scents drift over to me, the spicy and salty civilian fragrances and the fruity Enchantor-related ones, each person’s somehow having a distinct signature. The twisting in my stomach has nothing to do with those scents. Or the greasy and fried foods smells coming from it. I count fifty-three people in there. A lot for a space as small as that one but that’s no longer my concern, is it?

The color red, one of the most intense smells over, suddenly pours into my nose. I turn toward the source in alarm, stomach churning even more.

“I was wondering when you’d notice me, Aliyah.” A quiet voice says. It’s really dark, so I have to squint to place where the owner is. As if aware of this, he mutters a few words and his outline grows stronger and stronger until I can see him in full, bright blood-colored durag, clean white sneaks, red hoodie, and all.

I gulp.

“You can mask your scent?” I just barely manage to get the words out of my suddenly constricted throat.

“This is the last place I’d have expected you to teleport to.” Derwin looks across the lot, looks behind me at the dinky little diner. I can’t handle looking back at it.

“Yet here you are.”

“The last place I expected was exactly the first place to look.”

“Except you didn’t look here first.” As I speak, I give a subtle sniff. There’s no one around us, at least no one too close. Still, this is probably not the best place for this.

“Because you were in Sector 2 before.” He steps closer and I force myself to hold my ground, look him square in his brown eyes. “Why did you come here, Aliyah?” His voice is soft, but still I shiver, wanting badly to step back. Again, he looks across the lot, looks at that place.

“You can mask your scent?” I repeat. The potent aroma of pineapples and red is making me lightheaded. How did I not notice it sooner? At least it distracts me from that diner behind me. That squat little building that belonged to my father, then belonged to me for all of five minutes after he died. Mama thinks it was foolish of me to have sold it, urged me to choose differently. But it carries too many memories, too many choices that shouldn’t have been made. What was one more?

“Convenient little enchantment isn’t it?”

“That shouldn’t be possible.”

“Yet here I am.” He takes another step in my direction. But somehow, instead of getting stronger, his scent disappears altogether. Somehow, that’s worse than when it was filling my nostrils. “Want to see what else I can do, Aliy—oof.” He doubles over in pain, dark brown eyes glaring now.

“You’re such a peacock, always trying to show something off. That’s one of your flaws.” I flex my fingers, daring him to retaliate.

“You’re seriously about to regret that.”

“There you go again, just yapping on and o—” The burning that suddenly spreads across the left side of my body makes it too hard to finish my sentence. I want to scream. So badly. I can barely concentrate long enough to press my right hand to my arm and do a quick healing enchantment. It soothes my skin but I can still feel some of the warmth from whatever he did.

When did he get this skilled?

We continue like that, taking turns at offense and defense like a chaotic dance. I restrict the oxygen around him, he manages to restore it. He binds my hands with invisible ties, I burn through them. At first, I’m extra cautious to avoid causing permanent damage to the area around us. Mama will definitely not like it if I’m brought home by an Enforcer or by a civilian cop. Soon even that is put out of my mind, as I focus on staying whole, on breaking him apart. Even his breaths become shallow.

We always were closely matched.

Derwin lifts one of his hands slowly, eyes focused on my own. By now, my braids have left their bun, dancing around me with every shake of my head. We both have bruises on our arms, but none on our faces, which is always off limits, though never verbally agreed on. I have to take satisfaction in the fact that his sneakers are not looking quite as fresh anymore. As I feel myself rising into the air, the panic in my chest blossoms, roots in my ankles, leaves in my brain.

Why had I not mastered levitation?

Probably because I hadn’t made the choice to.

His hand stops lifting and I remain suspended in the air. He stares at me for a moment, eyebrows furrowed, lips a hard line.

And then he closes his hand and draws me towards him, as if I’m attached to some thin string only he could see. Twisting his fist causes me to spin in every direction. None of my enchantments or thrashing seems to have an effect, not even on him directly.

Once I’m a few feet away from him, he turns me so that I can no longer see his face, no longer take in his deep frown. And then I’m plummeting, but in slow motion.

When I end up on my back, his hand formed lightly around my throat and a stone digging into my elbow, I make even more decisions.

I decide to smile. I decide to touch my chest with my thumb.

Mama always tells me you make your own luck in life. You work hard, make the right choices, and stick to ‘em.

She forgot to tell me that other people make their own luck too. And sometimes, theirs is stronger.

“You win, babe.” I say. Derwin grins in triumph and removes his large hand from my throat. Before he can move any further, I put a hand on his shoulder and bring my lips to his.

science fiction

About the author

Jide Okonjo

Your one stop spot for everything Nigerian on VOCAL

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