“Let me see your watch?” The young woman says beckoning for his left arm.
“Nice right, I replaced the original dial with my own,” the young man in a hoodie answers and put his arm on the round table, careful not to spill his drink.
“Is this one of those prints you had drawn on your book? By the way, what were they for?” She asks, holding his hand, eyeing his watch.
“It’s just a habit I picked up while working with my dad,” he answers, not knowing how else to describe it without saying too much.
“Wow, it’s beautiful. Can you make one for me?” She asks her eyes glittering, cheeks dimpled.
“If I can find the time,” he answers, pretending not to notice how pretty she looks.
“Speaking of time, what does it say?” The bearded silent observer breaks in, annoyed at being ignored.
She looks at the arms of the watch, “It’s one… fifty.”
“What did you tell me to remind you?”
Julia thinks for a second and then gets surprised.
“Oh! I need to be in class in ten minutes.”
She gives them both shallow hugs and shuffles off.
“Bye!” She calls back.
“Bye!” The two men chorus.
They sit there for a while in the silence of the city, that of indistinct chatter and distant cars honking.
“Have you been to my place?” Brian asks his empty cup.
“Your royal palace? Jolly no. You probably even have a gaming system.”
“Is it a sin to have a gaming system?”
“You actually have a gaming console, I was joking when I asked.”
“What do I look like, some rich boy who doesn’t have a gaming console?”
“No, you do not.”
Matthew stands up.
“If you had told me you had a gaming console, we wouldn’t have been sitting here all the time talking like peasants. Hurry up, my fingers are itching.”
Brian takes out his wallet and pays the waiter, “I swear you haven’t changed one bit.”
Each step they take changes the environment around them. The grass gets greener, the roads are smoother, the air cleaner. Eventually, Matthew can’t see the beggars that are always at the corner of your eye when strolling through this city and by the time they come to the high-end building that Brian points to and declares to be his residence, Matthew isn’t sure that he is in the same city anymore.
Matthew looks at the building and then at his friend and then at the building again.
“Of course you live here.”
They go into the building and the elevator takes them to the penthouse.
Brian swipes his card and the door opens, “Welcome,” he says and ushers him in.
Matthew walks into his friend’s enormous apartment.
“Julia and I are barely surviving, but you are already living the American dream.”
He walks around almost as if in a dream. He wasn’t poor, witchcraft and eventually his father’s residential houses paid very well but this was on an entirely different level.
Brian is rich, filthy rich, richer than he expected.
“So your father pays for all this-”
“No, it’s mine. It’s all mine,” Brian interrupts with a tone that makes Matthew shy away from prodding any further.
Matthew decides to change the subject, “all these things are great but something’s missing.”
“What?” Brian looks at his friend wondering what he could mean.
“A bunch of children to complete this family set up. What kind of bachelor lives in a fully furnished house, a huge tv and a plastic chair are all we need.”
Brian chuckles, “I don’t know, ask Julia. Everything that’s not in that tv cabinet was her idea.”
Matthew laughs and looks around, “She has great taste though.”
“Yeah, she does. Maybe she’s planning on moving in.”
They stand in true silence, the city soundscape having been snuffed out a few streets prior, one of them contemplating a possible happy future the other feeling guilty for entertaining emotions that might be a threat to it.
He walks past Brian back to the living room and opens a cabinet.
He pulls out a controller, “Both a PlayStation and an Xbox.”
Brian raises his hands in a gesture of surrender.
“I have literally become immune to being amazed, this is too much for me, if I keep getting surprised, I’ll get a heart attack.”
He turns on a machine.
“Dude, most of these games haven’t even been played yet, I was hoping to pulverize your high scores, like the old days.”
Brian sits on the other side of the sofa as Matthew starts playing.
“I’m sure by now you have heard about the demon from someone else other than Julia.”
“Of course, the invincible protector of the city, the Guardian Demon,” Matthew says with a hint of pride in his voice.
“I heard someone on the radio say it’s more powerful than an army.”
“An army, huh? Is it like a force of nature or something? Seriously though, is it?”
“Why are you so interested in it?”
“Because I have a friend whose father used to be a witch doctor, and I want to use that to show off to my other friends.”
“Oh, you just want to look smart?”
“Yeah man, give me something juicy, but real so someone won’t say I lied to them in the future.”
“Something juicy… well for one if supernatural powers do exist-”
“You’re still insisting they don’t?”
“Do you want the juicy fact or not?”
“Fine, fine, tell me.”
“If supernatural powers do exist, then it is highly unlikely that that thing flying around is an actual demon.”
“Because one, demons don’t exist, “he reels from something on the screen.
“Dude, that’s just tiptoeing around the issue.”
“No, I’m serious, even in the realm of uchawi, spirits and ancestors, spiritual beings whose default setting is evil do not exist.”
“Yeah, like us, all those beings can do whatever they want, there are no evil spirits, there are just spirits.”
“And two, spiritual beings cannot exist in this world without a body for more than a few seconds after which they get spontaneously transported to the spirit realm.”
“So, if they acquire bodies, they can continue existing here.”
“Yes, but the body has to be alive, and the thing with live bodies is they usually already have a spirit inside them.”
“So, can they live inside an already occupied body, or do they have to go to those brain-dead people in the hospitals?”
“They can live inside already occupied bodies but usually as observers. They can see and feel what the host body is doing but cannot control anything. With enough willpower, the spirit can suggest actions to the legitimate spirit of that body like one of those voices that are usually in someone’s head. And in even rarer situations a spirit may have so much willpower that it takes complete control of its host body relegating the original occupant spirit to being an observer.”
“Wow, so a spirit can completely take over. My friends will go crazy over this.”
“Well, you asked for juicy, didn’t you?”
The sound of explosions and clicking buttons are all that can be heard for a few minutes.
“There’s something I need to tell you that’s been nagging me for a while,” Brian then says.
“What is it?”
“It’s about my dad.”
“Your dad? I know next to nothing about him, what’s up with him.”
“My Dad was the founder of the gang.”
Matthew freezes, a large explosion accompanied by big red words, ‘Game Over’ appear on the screen.
“For about ten years my dad had been running a drug cartel in this area, he had seen it as a business opportunity due to the university students that flock here from all over the country.”
“That’s the business you used to tell us he had in the city when we were kids?”
“Yeah, but back then I didn’t even know what a business was so… “
“So, he’s the leader of the gang?”
“I thought you said he was the founder?”
“He was but this is not the same hang he founded, they only started controlling crime and the businesses around here and named themselves the Uroboros about two years ago.”
“They could’ve just expanded their ways of getting money.”
“Even so he can’t be their leader”
“Are you defending him because he’s your father?”
Brian gives Matthew an irked disgusted look that almost makes him jump.
“Defend him? I hate that man.”
Matthew observes his friend, he doesn’t need the emotion rune to know that he truly does hate his father.
“So why are you saying that he can’t be their leader?”
“Because he’s dead. He was shot by a police officer three years ago, a so-called vigilante killing.”
“Don’t be, so many people died because of him and he wasn’t exactly the best father in the universe.”
*But he was still your father.
The silence feels as if they are stuck inside a block of ice.
“How did your family take it?”
“My mom cut all ties to him, she even dropped his surname, she devotes herself fully to the church these days.”
“What about your brother?”
Brian looks at him with eyes full of bitter resignation and then looks away.
“Joe is dead too.”
“He was killed three years ago when, “he pauses and then continues, “he got caught in the crossfire of my dad’s gang-related activities.”
Matthew almost can’t believe what he is hearing, he’d been out there helping strangers while his best friend needed him more.
Brian gets up and walks to the window.
“How are you coping with all this… or how did you cope… Are you okay?” Matthew asks, ashamed of thinking that he had been the only one with issues and never asking his friend how he was.
“If you were in my shoes, what would you have done.”
“… Try to get justice, for both my brother and my father.”
He turns around sharply, “I told you I don’t give a damn about that man.”
“But you don’t know for sure whether he truly deserved it, next time they might kill someone innocent and pin crimes on them.”
“Stop trying to save everyone. Some people are rotten to the core and it’s better for everyone if they are not around.”
*What has life done to you?
The cold silence feels warmer this time.
“I’m sorry these things had to happen to you. Life isn’t fair…” Matthew starts but is interrupted.
“Imposing the concept of fairness onto the general thing that is life is what is unfair actually.”
“What?” He had yet to be introduced to the philosopher inside Brian.
“Life isn’t a person who can consider her actions and their consequences, life cannot be fair because life does not have the capacity to understand fairness, let alone practice it. That’s why people who understand fairness and justice should guide life in that direction. People should be the masters of their own destinies.”
“I’m guessing that means you made peace with their deaths?”
“If you had the power to correct some of the injustices of society, would you?”
*I already am.
“I probably would, yeah.”
“Because if you have the power to do something, then doing it becomes your responsibility.”
“Doing it becomes your responsibility, exactly.”
He excitedly goes back to the sofa.
“I was able to get justice for my brother.”
Matthew looks at him with an angry puzzled look.
“You went back to them? I thought you blamed them for your brother’s death?”
“I blame my father for Joe’s death. The gang isn’t as bad as you think. After my father died, they changed into an organization looking to do good. You both share in the belief that power is responsibility and they are trying to do what the government isn’t.”
“So, killing innocent people for not paying their “taxes”, facilitating people’s anger and pain by handing out revenge in the name of justice, harbouring the very same criminals they are supposedly trying to eradicate, sounds like something I would do, does it even sound like something a government would do?”
“They live by rules, those who do anything contrary to the rules are met with the very same brutality they show others. Crime rates have dropped to an impossible low since they started operating. They have made this city a better place. People can’t see it because they always prefer to see the worst in everything as they did with your father all those years ago.”
“Crime rates have dropped? By whose perspective are you looking at this? For the people crime rates haven’t dropped they are at an all-time high. You do realize that collecting those security fees is a criminal act in itself. Every moment anyone is alive they are hoping that one silly mistake they did in the past doesn’t get twisted by a person with a personal vendetta against them into an offence punishable by death as judged by bloodthirsty murderers and thieves.”
“But it’s the leader who makes those life and death decisions. The people only have to do what they would do under any other government, pay taxes and follow the rules. The criminals, on the other hand, are basically walking around with nooses around their necks, one wrong move and they die. They are being given a second chance at redemption, that is mercy.”
“So, there is someone out there pretending to be god and you think that is okay?”
“You don’t even know who they are and you are already doubting his judgment without even considering his decisions.”
“It’s not about what kind of person he is, it’s not even about what kind of decisions he makes, it’s about him being a person, and their victims being people and the mothers of their victims being people. Why are his wishes carrying more weight than all of the other people involved?”
“But someone has to make those tough decisions that people won’t make, someone has to do what they can’t either out of hypocritical modesty or just plain fear. You said it yourself, if you can do something about injustice, then it becomes your responsibility.”
“So, he gets power from the very same people he wishes to punish? If he had that much passion to right wrongs, he should have used the right way, he could have just as easily gone into politics and brought irresponsible leaders to book, he would have found a way to make the police more responsible. Do you think having a strong sense of justice elevates him to the level of a god? He acts like someone who was hurt before, confusing revenge for justice. He is just looking for reasons to kill people who he thinks are bad, stocking up criminals for when he will be in a bad mood. No amount of revenge is ever enough, hate perpetuates hate.”
Brian goes silent, he suddenly can’t recognize the man he is talking to.
“So what would you rather I had done, filed a police report and then live the rest of my life knowing that I could have avenged my brother but I chose to do the equivalent of absolutely nothing?”
“I don’t know what you should have done but I don’t think getting someone else killed was the right thing to do.”
“I don’t know whether they killed him, but he got what he deserved.”
“Whatever it is that they did to him, you are partly to blame.”
“Even if the justice system actually worked and he got convicted for the offence, wouldn’t I still be to blame for his misery?”
“That would be different, that would be justice.”
“So justice is defined by how many people are okay with it? A hangman killing a convicted murderer is okay but a person killing an acquitted murderer is wrong? Even if both are guilty?”
Matthew doesn’t answer, he just looks at Brian wondering how he didn’t notice how different he was.
“The Matthew I remember wasn’t this naïve,” Brian says.
“Maybe you’re the one who changed,” Matthew answers.
Brian looks at him. Their eyes meet.
“Brian, answer me honestly, did you join the gang?”
Brian looks at him, disgusted.
“Yes Matthew, I’m even their King. Do you think I’m an idiot?”
“Sorry, I had to ask.”
“Does Julia know about your family?” Matthew asks after a spell.
“She knows, she was with me through it all.”
The silence has now become a brick wall separating the two men that becomes thicker with every passing second.
Matthew stands up, “I think I have played enough for today. I’ll be going.”
“Yeah, that’s fine.”
They greet each other with a handshake, cold and impersonal, instead of the shoulder bump they usually do.
Matthew walks towards the door.
The boy he used to know was not the man whose house he was leaving and the man who was leaving his house was not the boy he remembered playing with.
They had become strangers with familiar names.
Matthew closes the door behind him while Brian is still seated on the couch.
#Pretending to be god.
Brian stands up.
#More weight than the people involved? It’s because he bears the weight of all the things they want to do but are too afraid to.
He walks towards another room in the house and opens the door.
#What was I thinking consulting him or anyone else for that matter.
He reaches down and gets a briefcase.
#I’m the only one who understands, the only one who is willing to do what has to be done.
He enters the code for the briefcase’s combination lock.
#The only one who is strong enough to bear all their guilt.
He opens the case and glares at what’s inside.
#And the only one who has the power to do something about it.
A golden lion’s head glares back.