It took a minute for the portal to open. The elevator stopped. Bastian walked through a maze of cooks shouting, servers running, pots boiling, sinks full of vessels. At the end of the kitchen, he opened the door leading him to the restaurant of Wild Florals. It felt like immersing oneself into a classical anachronism- violins and harps playing in symphony while guests dressed in elegant attire tinked their glasses lightly, enjoying small mouthfuls of their dish. The entirety was carpeted in rich maroon red with floral motifs. He walked towards the reception and greeted Felicia Piscine, the owner who was also the stationed Drapha in Canada.
“Bastian. What are you doing here?! I thought you just finished your assignment..” she asked, bobbing her head in surprise causing her pearl drop earrings to slightly sway to her light movements.
“I sure did, Felicia. Then, I missed a meeting. Orfer wants me doing another assignment..so...”
“Well, I suppose you must be a regular delinquent then, mister. Here you go,” she said, placing his keys on the counter.
“Thanks. And one more thing: I’ve been assigned a different country. Lessa. I would like to know whom I should contact..”
“Just a second,” she replied and pulled out a map, spreading it across the counter while she murmured to herself, “Lessa, Lessa, Lessa...Ah! There it is!”
She circled a small island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, far from any continent but the nearest country was New Zealand.
Frowning, she said “There’s an accessory shop. Interesting. It’s run by a twenty-eight year old woman named Haruhi Pierre. Click button ninety on the portal elevator to get to Lessa.”
“That young? Don’t we all start when we are twenty human years old? Draphas can retire soon?”
“There has to be a cause for her inactive status. You should ask when you reach there...” She sighed. “Looks like you are gone for good, Bastian..”
“I miss Canada, already. Don’t worry, Miss Felicia Piscine. I’ll pop by to say hello!” Bastian replied, giggling.
“Ohhh, stop saying ‘Piscine’. It sounds so ridiculous. No offence to Mike but I had no choice in choosing my surname. I grabbed this spot as soon as it was offered. Hard to find something to do when you retire and I like staying with the Draphas. When you retire - station yourself in a country where the previous Drapha has a trendier surname.”
Bastian did a two-finger salute and replied, “Don’t worry. I’m gonna earn loads and settle for a villa overlooking the sea, away from all the clamour and specifically, Quincy.”
“Dear me, I forgot. I’m sure both of you get into trouble together. What’s he up to?” she asked with a chuckle.
“Banned until the next assignment.”
“Serves the boy right. Can’t have him chasing girls in my restaurant. One time, I had to hand him over to the police myself to please my guests,” she said as she began setting her desk after she folded the map.
“Bye, Felicia. Give me a hug,” he said, stretching his arms wide open.
Felicia smiling, leaned forward, and patted him. “See ya soon, Bastian. Don’t forget me when you’re rich.”
“I’ll serenade you,” Bastian replied as he began jogging towards the kitchen once more. Instead of going straight, he turned right swiftly towards the employee lockers. Behind the curtains, there was a scanner and Bastian placed his Draphacon against it. A white door materialized on the white hall and he entered it.
More lockers but specifically for Draphas. Every country had a Drapha station and a storage base. Bastian had worked most of his assignments in Canada. Few in Greece, Brazil. Hence, most of his belongings were at Wild Florals. Belongings pertaining to his life as a human.
He grabbed his mobile phone, his suitcase of clothes and other accessories- always ready for any mission. Then, he made his way towards the portal elevator.
“Perhaps, you’d like something like this? I think this would suit your look a lot,” she said as she brought out a tray containing carefully placed white stones on silver earring moulds. Her customer leaned forward and picked a dragonfly shaped one, trying it on her ear. Instantly, the shopkeeper placed a mirror before her. The customer admired her reflection on the mirror, pulling her flowing hair into a temporary ponytail when she got scared by sudden rumbling sounds emerging from the shop’s storage.
Pressing her hand against her heart, she said, “I’m so sorry. I thought you were the only one in the shop..”
The shopkeeper’s eyes looked calm while her fingers tapped nervously. “Haha.. yeah… give me a minute..” she said, walking towards the storage as she opened the door cautiously.
“Damn it! Ughhh!” exclaimed the stranger whose voice was interrupted consecutively by his coughing. He was carrying a brown suitcase, waving his hands frantically to do away with the small whirlpools of dust at his proximity. The storage normally contained boxes of jewellery that were excess, out of fashion or never sold. She planned on giving it away but never got the time to do so. Now, someone has risen literally from dust. As he neared her, he shook his face violently before offering his hand out of greeting.
“Excuse me?” she asked. “Should I call the police?”
His eyebrows twitched in horror. “Police? I’m Bastian. I’ve been assigned to Lessa on an assignment. I was previously stationed in Canada.”
Her face swirled in frowns before going, “Oh Oh Ohhh...Nice to meet you indeed, I’m Haruhi and this is my accessory store, Solitarie.”
He looked at the partially lit room, large brown boxes piled up with dust arranged one over the other. “This?”
“This is the storage room. The store is the other way,” she gestured. “I’m sorry for this inappropriate welcome. Very rarely do Draphas come here. I wasn’t expecting anyone.”
“And the reason why your elevator is ..like underground?” asked Bastian, the short, black-haired woman. She had a slight yellow tinge to her pale complexion. Her tropical green leaf printed top was tucked in over loose denim pants and black stilettos. What captured his or anyone’s attention would be the bright reddish eyeshadow around her eyes, matching her lipstick and large gold hoops. Her eyeshadow seemed like it was a part of her, gathering around her eyes to bring out her black irises. Seemingly innocent but take the eyes alone and there is no end to the fierceness.
“The previously stationed Drapha did not exactly pass away. I took it over. He owned a winery. So, that meant loads of storage and a small, quaint area for those who enjoy the drink. It wasn’t exactly my forte. So, I turned it into an accessory store...” she explained as she went towards the door.
“Madam, I’ll take this earring. Can you pack this-” The customer began but the sight of Bastian caught her eyes.
“I’ll surely do that,” Haruhi said as she picked the earrings the customer held in her hands, mid-air. Haruhi wondered if the newly assigned Drapha was really handsome considering the ridiculously lovestruck reaction of her customer. She billed the earring, placed it in a customized earring pouch made out of soft black velvet which had the name ‘Solitarie’ embossed in silver on it.
“Thanks. Have a great day,” she smiled as she gave it to the customer who was still fixated on Bastian’s appearance so badly that she ran straight into the glass door. She giggled like a teenage girl and ran out in embarrassment.
“Well, as long as I have you around, it seems my business is going to have that happen a lot,” Haruhi commented.
Bastian scratched his head awkwardly. “Don’t worry. I’m simply planning to
finish my assignment as fast as possible.”
“Firstly, I’m going to check with the Drapha headquarters to confirm your stationing here. This is just my habit,” she added in case he got offended and proceeded to dial on her Draphacon while Bastian sat before a jewellery counter, placing his suitcase down. Looking around, he found that the shop gave off a minimalist vibe overall. Abstract paintings adorned the bluish walls. There were six neatly arranged counters containing small earrings to large drop ones, chains, pendants, bracelets, cuffs and other similar ones in gold, silver, platinum.
“Okay. Seems like you are in some sort of detention,” she said, half smirking.
“I-I. Never mind. Yes, I am in detention,” he said, tired of explaining his ‘situation’ to every passing person only to get judged.
“Let’s talk over coffee? Would you like that?” she asked.
“Totally. I’m hungry,” Bastian replied, holding onto his stomach.
“Okay. I’m closing shop then..” she said as she grabbed her coat and keys.
“What? No. No. I don’t want to disturb your profession..” he said.
“Don’t worry. Most people book before coming.”
Confusion was visible on Bastian’s face as she led him outside while she locked the door. Haruhi looked at him and laughed. She said, “This is kind of like customized or should I say specialized? I design them all by myself and it is kinda pricier than usual. Therefore, the so-called high society or those who want to plunge their wallets once or twice flock by my store..”
“Woaaah!!” exclaimed Bastian like a child. “You sound so cool!!” He began swinging his suitcase up and down.
Haruhi led him to the next door cafe. A plaque hung on top. Carved jaggedly on the sheet of wood was ‘Mint & Spice’. On entering, light country music played. In the middle of the ceiling, hung a small chandelier emitting yellow light. Walls were made of wood, similar to the ornately designed stools and round tables present there. On the white-clothed table, porcelain vases were placed containing hibiscus flowers of rich red and pretty pink. It was occupied by a handful of people - enjoying their food, chatting or just holding hands.
As they settled down near the glass window, Bastian was able to see a person emerging from the counter to take their order. The freckled lanky teenage dude looked at Bastian suspiciously as he pulled out his notepad.
“Who is this, Haruhi? Your date?” he asked, looking horrified.
“Yup. If that’s what you want,” she replied.
“Stop joking around! Answer me!” he exclaimed, stomping. Before he could whine more, a lady came out of nowhere and grabbed him by the ear, scolding him.
“That’s it, Thomas! Stop harassing her!!”
“Harassing, ma? This dude looked like he would do that!” he said, pointing towards Bastian who was already overwhelmed by the exchanges of the ongoing conversation.
“That’s my cousin. What the hell, Thomas!” replied Haruhi, laughing as she looked at Bastian who was not pleased with how everything was turning out to be. She immediately stopped. “Can we have our order taken, Mrs. Delaney? I’d like to sleep early today..”
“My pleasure, dear. Excuse my son. Now, you go back to the kitchen!” she said, almost screaming at his face. Thomas looked flushed, his eyes seemingly watery as he looked at Haruhi. Instantly, he stomped off like a little kid.
“ I’d like my usual..and what about you, Bastian?” she asked, looking at him.
He looked at the menu, undecided. Seeing that he was making people wait, he glanced consecutively at them and finally said in a bold tone, “I’ll have umm whatever she’s having..”
“Alright. Just a few minutes.” And Mrs. Delaney marched off briskly to whip up some goodies.
Haruhi partially rolled her eyes. She asked, “Is there any help you require from my side, as you know, the stationed Drapha of Lessa?”
“Umm..well, I think I must begin by searching where my assignment is located. Her address is at Knoxville. Should go there the first thing tomorrow morning.”
Haruhi’s eyes widened. “Knoxville? That’s like elite neighbourhood! I’m sure I could point the person you are looking for...”
“Her name’s Erska Saphine...she’s a writer. Ring any bells?” he asked as he passed on the Erska’s file. “Here’s my assignment, I forgot that I’m supposed to submit.”
“Erska Saphine?!” exclaimed Haruhi as she glanced inside. “A pity, really. Yup. Everyone knows her here. Upcoming writer actually...”
Plates of sandwiches and cups of coffee were set by Thomas who growled lowly at Bastian before he ran away.
“What’s she like?” Bastian asked, sipping coffee. “Like easy-going? Hard to handle?”
“I’m not sure about that but from what I’ve heard, she’s a really nice girl. High profile parents. Richard and Alice Saphine. They are into fisheries. Exporting and stuff, I suppose,” Haruhi replied, biting into her sandwich carefully, not to spill the arrangement of the dish.
“Nice. Yea, right,” he dragged, sarcastically.
“How are your assignments usually? I’m sure it all follows the same pattern...”
Bastian began coughing like it was a coincidence. Clearing his throat, he said, “They are all hopelessly romantic….sometimes a bit touchy..”
Haruhi cried in wonder. “Woah! That’s not the way how I’d imagine Erska to be!”
“People are not what they seem to be from the outside, I tell ya. I have a lot of experience..” he said.
Haruhi looked into the assignment once again. “Heart attack?! Poor girl. Gone too soon...”
Bastian sighed. “But she ought to be like healthy considering the rich enjoy a lavish lifestyle? And if she has a celebrity status over here, don’t you think everyone would know?”
“Yup. I think her death is going to be a major shock for everyone. Once, I passed by her at the mall. She had her fan signing there. All smiles, really..” Haruhi explained.
“I’ll have to judge that for myself. I just want to get this over with. I fricking miss vacation..” Bastian said, looking out the window. It felt different, being in Lessa. From one of the most well-known country to an unknown island that looked like it’s natural cover was hidden from the rest of the world on purpose. Feeling of an entire universe existing on its own, detached from the interconnected countries on Earth. From little wooden cottage structures, brightly coloured vintage looking shops to bigger retro castles as you look up the pinkish-blue horizon with a sprinkle of yellow, it seemed like a scenario for an endless fairy tale. But what this ‘fairy tale’ held for him, Bastian was unsure.