17. Candies

2055, November 7th
Collapse + 6 years

By the time Josephine returned Naema home, the sun had nearly set.

“Thanks for trusting me today.” Josephine handed over a bag of food she’d procured from a CivMan building on the way back.

“Yea, it’s fine. I had fun.”

Josephine smiled.

“But where’s it go from here?” asked Naema. “You want me to join you, right? You travel around the world. I’ve got my family here.”

“I understand. The choice is yours.”

“But you think I should?”

“I do. I’m sorry. I know I’m biased.”

“You don’t think you can make it without me?”

“It’d be harder without you, but we’d survive. I’m worried about what the Lakirans would do to you. Maybe they won’t find you anytime soon, but eventually. Tan and I moved here because this city is one of the last places left where the exemplars are stretched thin, but it won’t be for long. Sooner or later they’ll notice you.”

“Maybe my power will protect me.”

“Maybe it will. Or maybe it’ll do nothing against exemplars. Or maybe it’ll cause them to find you sooner. I don’t know. All I know is that there are more exemplars every day. At first they were just military, but now they work with the police. I’ve even seen them at border checks. And now they’re bearing down on Nigeria. That citadel is proof of that. Do you want to bet whether you’ll make it through?”

Naema shrugged.

Josephine continued. “You might be a Godsend, Naema. If your power does what I hope, we wouldn’t have to hide. Not even their high exemplars could catch us. Better yet, there’s nothing stopping us from marching right up to the queen and making her forget we exist at all. We’d be safe.”

“What about my family?”

“The safest thing to do would be to leave them here without knowing anything about your powers. The Lakirans wouldn’t care about them. But maybe they could come with us. Tan and I talked it over and we agreed that as long as the three of us are together, we could keep a few extra people safe too. It would be your call.”

“So we would all be on the run together.”

“It’s not great, I know, but food wouldn’t be a problem for you anymore. Tan and I live pretty well.”

“Stealing?”

“And doing odd jobs. What does your mother do?”

“Uh… she’s a whore.

“Oh. What’d she do before the bombing?”

“She was one then too, and my brother is in a street gang.”

“Oh wow.”

“Yea.”

There was silence. Naema wondered if Josephine would ask how such a family survived six years of nuclear winter. She’d have to explain how if Josephine had found her five years ago, they’d be talking about saving a family of five, not three. Her father might still be out there somewhere, but her baby sister would still be under the same unmarked patch of earth by a fence near Remoudara Forest. Mama couldn’t bring herself to give her baby to the funeral services, who’d just bury the child in a mass grave. Naema was glad Josephine didn’t ask.

“Listen,” Josephine said, “We’ll figure something out. We wouldn’t leave your family in a bad situation.”

“That’s if I come with you.”

“Right. If you agree.”

They reached Naema’s home and stopped before the flap. “Think about it,” Josephine said. “Tan and I will be here… until we’re found. If we have to leave, we’ll make sure to see you before we go. In the meantime, let’s play it by ear. I’d love to spend more time with you.”

“Okay.”

“Great. I’ll be by tomorrow at ten. I’ve got some place special to take you.”

They said their goodbyes, and Josephine left. Naema had spent all day with that woman, and she came back home safe and sound. She had more food and a better understanding what Josephine wanted from her. It was comforting, yet Naema couldn’t shake that Something for Nothing sense she had. Maybe six years of hard survival had stopped her from accepting a good thing when it finally came. Life could get better, but it could also get a hell of a lot worse if Josephine wasn’t exactly what she seemed. Countless teenagers like herself had disappeared over the years for trusting the wrong person.

“Naema?”

She looked up. A neighbor had emerged from a nearby shack.

“Hello, Sonna,” Naema said. She became aware that she still held a bag of food.

“Your Mama done tell me about de men who attack you. Bad bad thing that dey do that to a kind girl like you.”

“Thank you, Sonna. I’m okay though.” She held up her splinted hand as evidence, then turned to duck into her home.

“Wetin you have there, girl?”

“It’s nothing, Sonna.”

Sonna scurried over and peered into the bag. Her speed was not subtle. “Where you get this food?”

Naema should not have dawdled outside her home. “It’s just… I got a courier job for CivMan. They let me take things from their pantry.”

“Oh! You dey lucky. How you get a job like that?”

“Right place at the right time I guess.”

“You no say a good word for my boy, Henri? He dey hard worker—honest boy.”

“I’m sorry, Sonna. It was a one time job. I’m not going back tomorrow.”

“A one time job? You no have job yesterday?”

Naema swore internally. Sonna saw something, maybe wrappers in the trash, or maybe Oni stuffing his face with those cakes.

“Here.” Naema took out a package of sliced sausage. “Take this.”

“Oh, you sweet girl, you.” Sonna snagged the package and clutched it to her bosom. “Thank you. Thank you. You have a kind heart.”

“It’s okay, Sonna. Maybe if I ever get the job again. I’ll get something extra for you.”

“Thank you. God dey smile on you.” Sonna hugged Naema. When she pulled back, she was beaming, but her eyes kept drifting back to the bag. “Maybe you have something sweet?” She caught the look in Naema’s eye. “I dey sorry,” she pleaded, “you dey kind already, but it no for me. Henry dey go a long time wit nothing but cassava paste.”

Her request sounded urgent enough, but it wasn’t really a request at all. Naema tried to smile as she fetched a small bag of red candies. She’d gotten a pack of them yesterday too, but Oni didn’t like those as well.

“Okay, here you go.”

Sonna hugged her all over again. “Thank you. I dey pray for you, Naema, and your family.”

“Okay,” Naema said, “but we keep this to ourselves, yea?”

“Oh, yes.” Sonna nodded soberly. “I na say anything. You show me kindness.”

“Good,” said Naema. “See you later, Sonna.”

“God bless you, girl.” Sonna kissed Naema’s cheek and hurried back to her hovel with her newfound luxuries.

This time, Naema didn’t hesitate to get into her home. It had been stupid to linger while holding a bag of illegally obtained food. Now Naema would have to regularly bribe her for her silence. Perhaps Josephine could make her forget.

Either way, if Naema was going to keep seeing Josephine, she needed to be more careful.

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