Within that office Namdi lingered. Outside the windows the lights disappeared, the city plunged into darkness. It now mirrored what lay within Namdi's office and heart. Still, he saw not the path to which he should tread. In that dimly lit office he remained, staring out into the darkened city, looking for answers.
Above, the universe shined brighter, hovering over the blackened city, remaining silent to Namdi's prodding questions; finding them insignificant. It did not take long for much of the city to come back to life, alternate sources of power kicking in. A rare occurrence this was not, barely bringing a pause to the night. His phone buzzed. It was the Uber he ordered, passing along its impatience.
Standing in front of the elevator, he changed his mind upon hearing the ding, heading for the stairs. A single bulb hung at each floor, the doors requiring a key card to access. Having never taken the effort to ask why the elevator required no key card but the stair entrances did, Namdi did not give it a second thought today. Looking down, he could see the steps winding their way to the hard ground. “There are two ways down,” he thought. A thin film of dust coated the railing, dirtying his palm as he made his way from floor to floor.
With a hum, the door swung open to the swipe of his ID card. The cool night air was brisk and fresh; in stark contrast to the recycled artificially controlled climate he had been in for the better part of the day. In front of the building was a black Camry, the engine still running. Reaching the front passenger door, Namdi looked once more at the Shagari name on top the building before setting foot into the car.
Settling himself in the padded seat, Namdi hoped this would not be one of those talkative Uber drivers. He was far from the mood required for conversation, only hoping to take the chance to brood. With a single knuckle he began to tap a slow rhythm against the car window.
"It's okay, you can laugh, I can see you need it."
Namdi's eyes closed, hoping his lack of a response would deter the driver from pursuing further conversation.
"I won't be angry, all my other passengers have laughed."
At this point Namdi couldn't hide a puzzled expression creeping unto his features. Giving in, he critically appraised his driver but nothing came to mind.
"Do you have any cigarettes?"
"You can check the glove box."
Opening the glove box, Namdi found an unopened pack of White London. Turning to the center console, he primed the cigarette lighter.
"You don't look like a smoker."
"Neither do you."
"Why then the pack of smokes?"
"Just in case... Do you feel free enough to laugh now?"
"Pray tell, why should I laugh?"
"You don't recognise me?"
"Should I? You don't look handsome enough to be a movie star."
The driver laughed.
"Maybe that's why she said no. You really haven't seen the video?"
"Tired of going in circles. What video?"
"I proposed to my girlfriend at the mall a few days ago."
His words struck a chord with Namdi.
"Wait, did she walk away?"
"So you have seen the video."
"Aren't you rich? What are you doing, driving Uber?"
"I know it might seem strange but it's to meet people."
"There are easier ways to meet people; normal ways."
"Maybe, but it is not quite the same."
"Does that mean you won't be charging me for this ride."
He took his eyes off the road to look at Namdi and laughed. It was infectious, sending Namdi into a light chortle. The burden he carried lightened a little.
"How are you able to laugh like this when your life was turned upside down only a few days ago?"
"Wish I could say it was easy. A little piece of me died that day as I watched her back get farther and farther away..."
"It's okay, you don't have to relive it."
"I use to think like that. Forget it ever happen, block it from my mind, forget her. That was all my friends knew to say."
It grew quiet in the car. Namdi turned back to the window, tapping out a soft rhythm. The cigarette lighter popped out.
"I can't forget her... Even now I see her, hear the tinkle of her voice, feel the heat of her touch... Have you ever loved someone so deeply you would...?"
The question hung still in the air unanswered, the world outside moving on regardless. With a nail Namdi tore into the cigarette pack, freeing a stick from its cage. Pressing the lighter against the end he took a deep drag, the nicotine coating his lungs. Out came the smoke, tumbling and swirling in the artificially maintained air. His hand reached out, his eyes seeing Zainab within the tendrils of smoke.
Continued on next page...
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