The Customer Justine staggered from the kitchen, balancing four plates at once, anxious not to trip over in front of everyone. Bernard, her uncle who also owned the café, had withheld her pay the last time it happened. He wasn't unkind out of habit, but mistakes were simply not tolerated. On nights like tonight, when business was in full swing, his mood always seemed cheerful. Only when they closed up for the evening would he line everyone up and point out any mistakes with much shouting and hand waving.
Weaving between tables in the bright little café, Justine smiled as she deposited each plate of steaming food in front of the customers. They appreciated her smile, which was wide and full of laughter and perfect teeth. Since her eighteenth birthday she had been permitted to wear makeup at work, and now, almost a year on, still loved to experiment. Tonight she had darkened her lashes with even more care than usual, for tonight was a Tuesday, and their r
An Angel in The Darkness: Part 9
Epilogue - Two years later
A thick drizzle dotted the windows as I lay in bed, contemplating the wonderful softness of my cotton sheets and the feeling of peace glowing deep inside me. There was a knock on my bedroom door. Winston appeared with a breakfast tray. The smell of freshly-made toast and coffee wafted towards me, mingling with the scent of the orchids on my nightstand.
“Thank you, Winston. You’re most kind.”
He dipped his head in his customary bow. The initial shock and subsequent fuss my reappearance had caused had long since worn off. I had almost collapsed from Winston’s bear-hug as I got off the plane, before he remembered himself and decorously led the way to a waiting car. Hordes of photographers from all the major newspapers were left standing in the rain as I climbed inside, ignoring their bribes and demands for interviews.
He handed me the morning paper. “Will you require an
An Angel in The Darkness: Part 8
I smelled smoke.
My eyes opened, and gazed up at the night sky. Stars were scattered like shards of crystal. An owl hooted softly.
I rolled over. Putai smiled back at me from across the campfire.
“How do you feel?”
I sat up. My ribs were unbroken, my tears dried.
“I feel… changed,” I whispered. “Softer… calmer.”
“He has drained the poison from your heart, Lara. You carried it for so long you had forgotten it was there. Please, try to eat something.”
I accepted the flask of water and bread – simple fare to welcome the spirit back into the body. Ahmak and the other camels stood nearby, lumpy shadows stoically chewing the cud.
When I had finished, Putai reverently took back the many amulets I had worn, placing each with care into its own little cloth bag. She offered me damp rags, and I gratefully wiped the sacred markings from my face and arms. My ski
An Angel in The Darkness: Pt 7
A little before first light, Putai and I set out across the desert.
I had arrived at the well to find her fully prepared and packed for a long trek. Ahmak was loaded down with supplies of food, water and fuel, and two more camels would be our primary transport. I donned the white turban and desert robe she offered; her own clothing was dyed a dark violet-blue that appeared almost black. I did not ask where we were headed, and she did not volunteer any information.
In silence, she led the way out through the village and into the emptiness beyond. Ahmak grumbled to himself the whole time, but fortunately my own mount proved to be docile, and far less inclined to casual violence.
After nearly two days of trekking across the sands, we crossed into the foothills of the mountains. Hot desert wind – the famous harmattan capable of scouring flesh from bone – howled up and down the narrow valleys, forcing our pace down to a crawl. I pulled
An Angel in The Darkness: Part 6
Although the eating area was crowded, no one else spoke or even looked at me – a small blessing, but a welcome one. The last thing I wanted was to fend off further conversation.
Once the meal was over, I was left pretty much to myself. Fields needed tending and animals had to be fed. No one noticed me slip casually behind the beehive-shaped bakery and along the south wall.
“Lara! Over here.” Salieah appeared from behind a stack of barrels and gestured for me to follow.
We worked our way down a narrow, half-blocked passageway, keeping the perimeter wall to our right. I kept my eyes focused on Salieah’s billowing headscarf. At last she halted, and drew my head close to hers as she whispered.
“Please stay quiet, or you’ll startle her.”
The mystery was solved when we rounded the next corner. We had come to a small cul-de-sac between the wall and one of the granaries, that was shaded from the midday
An Angel in The Darkness: Part 5
Werner’s hand stretched out towards me, his body shrouded by dust and falling rubble.
“Hurry Lara! Give me your hand! Quickly girl!”
“You’re back, Werner? No more Seth?”
My voice sounded faint, as if it was coming from very far away…
“No time! Your hand, Lara! Give me your hand!”
I tried to swing up to reach him, but my strength had drained. My grip - already tenuous - started to fail.
“Good to see you again Werner…”
“I couldn’t leave you!”
But he did.
Above the Pyramid’s angry thunder, I heard his limping footsteps retreating. For a moment I was too stunned to feel afraid.
But then the darkness swelled up, eager to devour me. My fingers scrabbled uselessly, hope giving way to all-consuming terror.
I fell, screaming, with Seth’s mocking laughter in my ears.
An Angel in The Darkness: Part 4
We arrived at the village just as light began to stain the eastern sky. The cold was ferocious – one of the many contradictions people often forget about deserts – and I was freezing even with the extra layers I had thrown on during the walk.
People milled about us. I was so drunk with fatigue I barely noticed them. I was also resentful of Putai who had ignored me throughout the entire journey. She was a puzzle; one minute she was attentive and nurturing, the next nothing but an arrogant old bag with the power to make me feel ten years old again.
Now she slipped down from the camel’s back, chatting and joking with the men who came to assist her. In the dimness they were no more than heavily-obscured shadows moving back and forth. Others hung back and herded children and animals away from the twitchy Ahmak, who had realised his work was over and was determined to be left alone to rest.
A figure was leading me towards a stone and mud-
An Angel in The Darkness: Part 3
My previous journeys on camel-back were a paradise compared to the trip we now embarked upon.
Despite Putai’s miraculous healing, my ankle continued to ache and grew steadily worse as the day wore on, hour after tedious, brain-numbing hour. I rode side-saddle most of the way, while Putai preferred to lead Ahmak on foot. Almost from the start, the animal had taken an offensive dislike to me, and I to him. He deliberately tilted forward too fast while I was still in the process of mounting, which left me hanging onto his jogging saddle like grim death until Putai managed to get him to slow down.
I could swear he was sniggering as I lashed myself to the saddle with bad grace, annoyed and already stifling in the heat. Putai seemed oblivious to any discomfort, so I forced myself to relax and assume my normal aspect of inner calm. It worked well for another few hours, but near noon my mask was beginning to wilt – along with the rest of me.