Written by Nada Hemida
Blood drips from his mouth as he approaches me… left fist covering half his face and the right one ready to throw a punch. The sun is blazing on my face, almost blinding me.
“You have the advantage, Fadel,” I remind him, nodding at the sun then glancing down at my impractical clothing.
“Then why am I the one getting my ass kicked?”
I smile proudly, and then find him on the grass with a swift attack to the knees. “Never get distracted,” I order, putting a hand on his chest, that I know he can’t move beneath, and give him a mocking wink.
He groans, not getting up even after I step away. “Agh, I freaking hate practice with you,” he says breathlessly. An obnoxious laugh escapes me and I stretch my hand out for him; he takes it and I pull him up.
Fadel turns to stone, and I realize this is probably the first time he noticed the man who has been watching us for a while. I turn to him, flipping my braid from one side of my neck to the other subconsciously.
“Ms. Enawi,” the man says firmly, stepping out of the building’s shade.
“God,” Fadel mutters, “I get that you won’t hire security, but seriously, Nour? Do you even lock the gates?” I can’t help but laugh. “I’ll leave you two to it,” Fadel says and walks away, but I don’t miss the warning glare he gives the stranger.
Black-Suit takes his time to admire my vast garden, and then looks back at my mansion. It really is a big place; so many rooms, some of them I haven’t even been to in months. I have a wing of my own, with a bathroom and a living room; so does Fadel. Still, I deserve to live in a place with this luxury, I believe, after living in filth.
After a moment, the man turns to me with a grin and says, “Well, you certainly don’t live in hiding.”
“Masks have fallen off a long time ago,” I reply. “Client?”
He clears his throat. “My employer,” he answers, “would like to discuss a deal with you.”
“Time and place?” I demand.
“Tonight, ten o’clock at Pervigilium,” he answers instantly. “I believe you’re familiar with that bar?”
I nod once and walk away.
By the time my feet meet the back-doorstep, Black-Suit is out of sight. Fadel is waiting for me inside, watching from across the room; in the kitchen as he makes us lunch. “New client?” he asks, throwing a strawberry at me. I catch it with my mouth, and savor the taste of food after long hours of practice. Food is what’s important now; I can shower after that.
“Yup,” I say as I stand by the kitchen counter.
“What’s the job?” he inquires casually, putting a turkey sandwich in front of me. I attack it right away.
“Dunno,” I say between bites, shrugging, “I’ll find out tonight.”
He nods then takes his own sandwich to leave, my eyes trailing after what’s between his hands. “You took the leftover kofta?”
He smiles playfully. “Maybe you would have gotten it if you were the one to make lunch,” he teases.
“That’s not fair!” I scream and follow him to the terrace. He only laughs wickedly in response.
As we eat, we watch one of those ridiculous shows that have become famous over the years.
“If this theory is proven to be true, then not only Madach, but the whole world would just turn into one of the fictional worlds we only find in books and movies!” says the talk-show host in awe.
I can’t help but scoff. As if our country isn’t already from a horrifying fantasy novel.
The entire world has changed over the past century or two, in the most unpredictable of ways; at least that’s what I’ve learned from the history books our monarchy had banned so long ago. Back then, corruption, cruelty, and criminality remained a secret. Now, they are living, breathing things that everyone fears. Threats to one’s life are no longer, well, threats. They became a part of citizens’ routine. Only thieves, prostitutes, and killers occupy the streets while the innocent stay in hiding, which is their only hope to remain safe. Every monster you could imagine became real, but they aren’t the scale-skinned or hybrid creatures we once saw in movies. They are humans. But what that guy is saying, immortality? That’s the dumbest theory I’ve ever heard.
“What do you think?” I ask Fadel, my eyes still on the screen.
He shrugs. “I think this might as well be true. What isn’t nowadays?”
I shrug. He has a point.
My finger circles the glass in my hand as I wait. The bar is loud as usual, but not loud enough that I can’t hear what people are saying. To my right, a couple is arguing over how they don’t have a grand party planned for New Year’s Eve. To my left, a lone man in glasses sits, drinking his third beer. Other than that, there are groups of teenagers that should know better than to be out at this hour, at this place.
A waiter comes over, failing to hide how hard he is shaking. “Would you like anything else, Miss?” he asks. I smile. He knows who I am; after all, I’ve been here more than once.
“No, thanks,” I say dismissively, and it only takes him a second to shuffle away.
A moment later, the same guy I met this morning comes in. Yasser Sarwat, 32-year-old; lives alone in one of the most prestigious neighborhoods of the Capitol. A lot of his money goes to alcohol and pizza, as though he’s your average college student. I did my homework.
He’s walking next to someone, trying to make it look casual, but I know from his vigilant eyes that he’s guarding the other man. I look him up and down, and immediately learn he isn’t the employer.
“Hello, Yasser,” I greet as they approach me. He looks surprised at first, and then he smiles, approving the choice of hiring me.
Yasser pulls the man a chair, then waits for the bartender to grab him a chair while watching our surroundings. Meanwhile, I frown at the stranger and say, sitting back, “I thought I was meeting with The Big Guy.”
He chuckles. “I will be the one you discuss any matters with,” he states. I raise an eyebrow, but not in confusion. I calculate as he orders a drink. Someone who pays his right-hand’s guard enough money that he lives in luxury… Someone who won’t meet in person… Someone who chooses a local bar where no one would be brave enough to eavesdrop… Who would that be?
“I’m Karim Saleh,” he introduces, “and I work for ‘Science and Tech’.” Science and Tech, the only company still standing with little to no dirty work on their hands.
“And what can I do for you, Karim?” I say in pretended boredom.
“Simple,” he says with a shrug, “I want you to bring us the Vial of Immortality.”