Ujana was starting to feel very awkward.
For one thing, Yazid was snoring loudly and drooling over the seat. For another, he was clutching a bottle of wine in his arms that he hadn’t offered her a sip from. And for a third, the train car was so packed that many people were shooting him murderous looks for taking up three of the train seats with his long body.
She was tempted to wake him, but didn’t want him badgering her with questions in front of so many people-- the answers were going to be too strange for public places. Plus, if she was honest, she didn’t need strangers knowing she was with the weirdo in the crumpled brown suit.
It took a few hours for their compartment to empty completely, and by that time it was around two A.M., where the only people out were hookers and drug dealers anyway. (Or so she thought. Ujana didn’t know much about people out at two A.M. besides what came on the TV).
“Oh, you’re finally awake!” she said, trying to make her voice sound bright and friendly.
He twitched in his seat.
“Toothbrush,” he mumbled.
“No toothbrush here,” Ujana said breezily. “We’re still a couple stops away. I’ve just had us riding the train around in circles until you woke up. You must have been exhausted!”
Yazid raised himself up halfway and gazed at her blearily. “I smell butts.”
He groaned again and rubbed his eyes so the wine bottle clattered to the floor. “Who’re you? Where-- what?”
“Oh…” said Ujana. “You… don’t remember anything?” She tried not to let the worry leak into her voice.
“What’s your name?”
“Klrehhtch.” He rubbed his forehead, then squinted at her. “You look like Glinda from the Wizard of Oz. Except small.”
From Yazid’s perspective, the encounter was an entirely strange one. Sitting in front of him, her feet swinging above the ground, was a girl who couldn’t have been more than ten years old, with very dark skin, cornrows over her shoulders, and a voluminous pink-and-white dress with lacy stockings and shiny black shoes. Clattering around her ears were two small gold rings woven into her hair. He wondered if they tugged on her skull.
He searched for a memory of her or why he was here, but his mind felt empty, stretching out in front of him like a desert of shifting sand. His dreams had been odd-- a little boy with black hair played in a sandbox, smiling to himself. Then a blond woman threw rocks at him from the top of a building, yelling something about watching out for a grunny. Or a matha. Same thing.
“Where’re we going?”
“The airport,” said the girl. “That’s where I've been told to take you.”
“The air-- oh. The place where death cans fly around.”
Ujana looked relieved. “At least you remember that much.”
“Why’re we going to the airport? I don’t even have a passport.”
“You sure? Check your bag.”
It occurred to him that he was holding a brown grocery bag in one hand. He reached inside and found a dark blue passport, a sandwich, and a golden lamp. Yazid looked down at himself and saw that he was dressed in a suit that was stained and far too big for him. He stared at Ujana.
“You’ve got some explaining to do.”
Ujana sighed. “I suppose you’re not meant to remember much, but maybe you need some basic memories. So you know I’m not, like, kidnapping you or anything.”
“That would be nice.”
Before he could stop her, she reached over and pressed both hands against the side of his head.
The newly named Yazid flinched, gasped, and threw his head back as he saw the grains of sand begin to swirl around him.
Six years ago
Kano’s brother Yamamoto had been talking for, like, a billion years now, but Kano couldn’t bring himself to listen. He knew it was a very important speech and the end of a very important meeting-- the whole board of directors had turned out, after all-- but he was finding it difficult to turn his gaze away from the man floating in the corner.
When the man saw him looking, he stuck out his tongue and turned himself upside down so that a curtain of brown hair fell over his eyes. He winked. Kano had to suppress a snort.
Yamamoto sent him a death glare from the front of the room and Kano tried to straighten out his expression.
“So in conclusion…” Yamamoto said.
In the corner, Eugene yawned very widely and obviously, still hovering upside down. He looked at Kano and widened his eyes. Kano watched.
“...and with accordance to…”
They kept growing wider and wider until they had stretched nearly to his ears. Kano tried not to let a smile creep onto his face. Illusion was a favorite trick of Eugene’s.
The people around the room started getting up and stretching, some covering yawns with their hands. Kano hid his smile as he stood to pack up his briefcase and heard a soft laugh from the corner as Eugene, presumably, shrunk his eyes back to normal.
At the front of the room, Yamamoto was all smiles and shaking hands, his burly shoulders stretching the edges of his suit, but the look he cut Kano told him that he was in for it. He couldn’t be bothered to care, honestly.
The man from the corner sauntered over and sat down on the table, legs swinging beneath it. “Do you think he was trying to be that dull?”
“Wouldn’t put it past him trying to annoy us,” said Kano, speaking quietly and trying to move his lips as little as possible so he wouldn’t look like he was talking to himself.
“He is mad at me,” said Eugene thoughtfully, “for telling him that wearing that suit doesn’t make him look like Dwayne Johnson, which, let’s face it, is the look he’s clearly going for.”
“Who’d you tell him he looks like?”
Eugene flipped a hand. “The male ego is a powerful and tenuous thing…”
“...and Yamamoto’s ego is even more so.” Kano glanced at his brother. “I think the seams at the arms are going to make a break for it.”
They were fighting giggles when Yamamoto strode over, a frown creasing his face and making his deep-set eyes become caverns under the cliffs of his forehead. A favorite pastime of Kano and Eugene was coming up with descriptions of Yamamoto’s frown-- “a crab looking out from under a rock” “twenty layers of Botox scrunching outwards” “Zeus’s forehead when Athena was camping in his brain if she had a twelve-inch flat-screen TV.”
He might’ve felt worse about it if his brother wasn’t such a prick.
Yamamoto kept his voice low. “You weren’t paying attention.” His breath was hot and he brought a strong, musty smell that most large men seemed to carry with them.
“I was paying attention for the rest of the meeting, but I keep telling you that you need to shorten your closing speech.”
“I’m the boss. You don’t tell me what to do. You show up and do your job properly.”
“A job I could’ve been doing an hour ago, if not for the melodious sound of your voice.” Kano shut his briefcase and turned to his brother with a sigh. Yamamoto’s black eyes were sparking with anger. Sometimes, if he got riled up enough, one greased-back hair from his black ponytail would come out of place, and that was when Kano knew he was really in for it.
Eugene’s silver eyes were going back and forth between them, and he didn’t even bother to hide his smile.
Yamamoto sneered down at him. “Just because you’re jealous that I’m the CEO--”
“I have never said that to you in my life--”
“--doesn’t mean that you get to be petty and act out. See you tonight at dinner.” He glowered at Eugene. “I suggest for your sake that you get out of here.”
Eugene sniffed. “And what if I want to observe the corporate machinations of a multi-million dollar company instead?” He liked being impertinent.
Yamamoto grunted. “I don’t care what you do. Just be back by Monday.” He disappeared out the door, ponytailed head held high. Kano sighed.
“He’s going to be all over me at dinner tonight.”
Eugene shrugged. “You’ve faced worse.” He shot Kano a crooked smile. “I seem to recall you stealing his date once in high school.”
Kano’s face went beet red. “I didn’t steal her! I just drove her home from a party because she got so drunk she couldn’t stand. Wasn’t my fault she attacked me with- with her mouth.”
Eugene laughed. “You’re so serious all the time. I wonder if anyone ever suspects you’re this much of a shy, nervous idiot.”
“I don’t think I could say the same thing for you.” Kano looked him over. He never looked as though he lost any of his confidence or easy banter. With brown hair framing high cheekbones, very light silvery eyes and a lean frame, he looked like the sort of person who could cut you with a knife and laugh about it. Per Yamamoto’s expensive tastes-- which required the best outfits from his servants-- he almost always wore a silky red shirt that had a few too many buttons open over a pale chest, tucked into gray pants with a plaid pattern under a black belt. He accessorized with several necklaces layering on top of each other, a collection of rings on his long fingers, and shiny black shoes.
He never looked quite, entirely, human. Some days his silver eyes were just a little too bright, and some days the necklaces never moved on his neck, and every day, his skin stayed unblemished and far too smooth-looking to be real. And he always smelled faintly of jasmine.
One of the benefits of the job, Kano supposed.
He couldn’t say all that aloud, though. Instead he said, “It was a good idea to request a weekend off.”
“I agree.” Eugene swung his legs back and forth underneath the table. “I’m going to take off and do something fun.”
“You’re not going to hang around the office?” Kano felt a little disappointed. It would’ve been much more fun with him there, and Kano barely saw him during the week as it was-- Yamamoto and the rest of the family tended to keep him on a very tight leash.
“Nah,” he said. “I don’t want your brother glowering at me. I can feel him itching to give me orders.”
“Yes, but that’s how he looks at most people. Myself included.”
“He can have me for the rest of the week,” grumbled Eugene. “I deserve some time to myself.” He smiled at Kano wearily. “At least as far as I can go.”
Today, his sign of power was pupils shaped like crescent moons, which flashed in his eyes every time he turned his head and made Kano feel a little guilty with how much he liked them.
“See you around, then,” Kano said, keeping that thought bottled up too.
Eugene touched his hand, the pressure light and bringing a flush to his cheeks, then left the room without a backward glance. Kano watched him go and reminded himself that some things, like the moon, were too far away to reach for no matter how badly you tried.
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https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/32l3oj/ link to part 2