A young man in a hoodie walks in slow, tired steps. He abruptly stops and sighs. A person’s shadow elongated by the evening sun stops just short of touching his feet just as soon as he stops walking.
“I thought I told you to leave me alone,” he says.
“Are you Matthew Mugo?” a woman’s voice comes from behind him.
He doesn’t recognize the voice. He turns around. It’s not Julia.
“What do you want,” he says.
The woman just looks at him with surprise on her face.
He is sure he has seen her before. The aesthetic of the black locks on her head, pouring like thick ropes of tar from her scalp around her heart-shaped face that has a delicious golden-brown complexion isn’t strange to him. Her nose like a rounded tetrahedron, slightly upturned, and her duck lips dark with black lipstick also seem to scratch a familiar itch in his head, so do her big brown eyes that seem to pour into her pupils as if they’ve been stirred into a spinning hollow vortex, but they weren’t looking at him with the surprised curiosity that he sees in them right now, they were looking at him in… terror. He remembers.
“Are you just trying to waste my time?” he says, annoyed at her staring.
“I know who you are,” she says.
“Of course you do, you just said my name ten seconds ago.”
“No, I mean who you really are.”
She comes close to him and whispers, “You’re the Guardian Demon.”
Matthew’s indifferent expression doesn’t change.
“I have evidence,” she says thinking that maybe he thinks that she’s joking or making baseless accusations.
“I don’t care,” he says and turns around and starts walking.
“You saved me from some rapists and I just wanted to know what you’re like in real life.”
He stops and turns around.
“Oh, I remember you, you were the girl on TV, at the interview. Margaret, right?”
“Yes, and I meant every word I said.”
“Except, I don’t accept your thanks. Apparently, you are a prostitute- “
“I have never slept with any of them,” she quickly interrupts.
“Because you drug them and then you rob them while they are unconscious. I should have beaten you along with the rest of them that night.”
“So you admit to being the demon?”
“I told you, I don’t care.”
“I’m not in the mood to talk to people right now.”
He turns around and continues walking.
“I know,” she says, “I saw how you yelled at that lady back there.”
“I almost didn’t approach you because of how much of a jerk you were to her.”
“Can’t you just leave me alone?” he says getting more annoyed by the second.
“Aren’t you afraid I might spill your secret?”
“Because it doesn’t matter anymore.”
“Jesus! Why, why, why, you’re like a child!”
“And like a child, I will nag you until I’m satisfied.”
He walks towards her and gets so close that she can feel his breath on her face.
“What if I attacked you right now and ripped your jaw off your face to make sure you never uttered another word in your life?”
She looks up into his vicious black eyes.
“OK, first, wow that’s graphic, second, what are you waiting for? I’m just a young lady and you are a transcendental divine being who could probably dismember me faster than I can blink. If you were going to do anything to me, you would have done it the moment I revealed I knew your secret. So stop trying to get rid of me, I will leave whenever I feel like it.”
They glare at each other for a few seconds, then Matthew turns around and walks away. She follows him.
“So this is where you live? What’s with all the drawings on the walls?”
She remarks as she enters his apartment. Her wonder turns into worry when she turns her eyes to the floor and sees blood-stained clothes, she turns her eyes to the left and sees a bin spilt over and buried under trash, she takes off her sandals and feels gravel under her feet.
“What… happened here?”
He takes his arm out of his pocket.
“Oh my god!” She stops him as he mindlessly drones around and holds his arm to look at it. “Have you been to a hospital? I can help. What happened?”
He just looks at her.
“You can’t ignore me forever.”
“I don’t want your help.”
“Well, clearly you need it.”
He pulls his hand away from her.
He opens a tap and starts washing some tomatoes one by one with his good hand. She takes the tomatoes from his hand and washes them for him. He fumbles around for a knife, puts it somewhere and then produces some onions.
“Please, I can’t let you do this while I’m here,” She says with eyes full of sympathy.
He looks at her in an angry surrendered expression.
“You can prepare the ingredients but I’ll cook,” he grumbles.
“I’ll cook,” he shouts over her voice.
The continuous shrill of crickets is sprinkled with the sound of cutlery tapping on plates.
“Wow, this is so good, you cook like this every day?”
Matthew just continues stuffing his face.
Later, Matthew is standing at his desk. Margaret is doing the dishes. He turns on his spirit runes and hovers his hand over his untidy desk until the animal rune, just the dial because he had removed it from the watch, emerges from underneath the books and clothes and gravitates into his hand.
“When you’re done, lock the door and throw the keys back in through the window.”
He doesn’t notice the look of fascination on her face.
He takes off his shirt and with the animal rune in his hand, climbs into the bed to goes to sleep with his spirit runes still on.
After she’s done doing the dishes, she dries her hands and approaches his bed. She kneels to look at the runes on his face.
‘He’s so beautiful.’
She slowly raises her hand and attempts to touch him but he stirs and groans, still asleep. She smiles and puts her hand down. She looks around.
‘I can’t leave this place like this.’
Matthew lifts his right hand through the sheets and opens his eyes to look at it. His spirit runes turn off.
*Still a stump, why is this not working?
He puts his hand down. He notices that there is something in front of him, the soft light of the morning giving it a mild amber glow. As his eyes continue inspecting it, they slowly focus on the features of a woman’s face. Margaret is in bed with him. His eyebrows arc.
*What’s she doing in my bed?
His spirit runes turn on. He moves slowly so as not to wake her. He uses the lizard to walk on the wall, overheard on the ceiling to the other side of the room. On landing, he looks around, everything is spotless and neatly put away.
He looks at the lady sleeping in his bed.
She opens her eyes, sluggishly.
‘Where am I?’
She looks around and sees the drawings on the walls.
She smells the air.
“What smells so good?” She asks as if expecting the air itself to give her an answer.
“Breakfast,” a man’s voice says from across the room.
She gets from the bed to where Matthew is cooking.
“I hope you didn’t do some funny things to me while I was asleep,” she teases.
“Says the girl who put herself in bed with a stranger.”
“Have a seat, it’s ready,” he says.
He tries to push the tray onto his good hand with his injured arm.
“May I?” she says after noticing his struggle.
He goes to the bed. She follows him with the tray. He sits at the foot of the bed facing the head, she sits at the head facing the foot with the tray in between them.
“You didn’t have to do all this,” he says, referring to his apartment.
“You saved my life, it’s the very least I could do.”
She takes a bite into the food.
“Oh my god! How do you cook like this? You must give your recipes.”
“It’s not about the recipe.”
“What is it then, you have to tell me.”
He looks at her thoughtfully as she devours the food.
“I’m not a demon or an angel or anything divine like that, I’m a witch doctor.”
“Part of my powers is that I can see every living thing around me regardless of whether I am looking or not. Actually, it’s not seeing per se, it’s more like sensing, that is, I know it’s there and where it is in space, but it’s not fine-tuned enough to recognize individuals and it’s not even sensing the living thing itself, it is sensing its spirit, its ‘life force’. So, when I cook, I can see the spirits or the ‘life force’ of the ingredients, that way I can tell when they have become soft but still retain most of their nutrients and taste. I usually use this ability when making potions but it works just as well when I’m cooking. I don’t use any spices though. Since those are dried and crushed, I can’t use my powers on them.”
She beckons for a drink and Matthew gets her some juice.
“Wow, that’s a lot to drop on a girl on the first day, considering yesterday you were treating me like a fly on the wall.”
“I’m sorry about that. I didn’t know why you were hanging around but now I feel like I can trust you.”
“Why? I don’t think I’ve done anything particularly noteworthy.”
“Because only fear can make people do some things, and you…”
He turns on his spirit runes and puts his hand on her chest close to her neck so he can feel her heartbeat.
She gazes at his face. He studies hers.
“…You’re not afraid of me.”
His spirit runes dim and disappear but his hand stays on her chest. He feels her heartbeat start to rise and her breath becomes shallow. She blushes. He withdraws his hand.
“Sorry, that was a weird thing to do,” he says.
“No, no, it’s fine.”
“I would never have guessed that it was a witch doctor flying around saving people. The rest of them are busy using their abilities for selfish gain,” she says resuming her meal.
“That’s just the thing, I’m the only one. All the others are fakes.”
“My father went from one witch doctor to another when I was younger looking for answers, but it turns out that I’m the only one who has actual powers.”
“Where did the powers come from?”
“I was born with them. My mother died during childbirth because of it.”
“I am so sorry”
He grumbles something she can’t fully make out.
She decides to try to lighten his mood, “What about the writings on your face, are they a message from the gods?” she tries her best Morgan Freeman impression, “This is my dear beloved son with whom I am well pleased.”
He smiles and chuckles a little.
“My spirit runes? I don’t know. I don’t know anything about the theory of how my abilities work. I only know what I can do. My father and I had a lot of fun figuring it out.”
“Can you read minds?”
“Before you start asking me if I can do random things let me just answer you, yes.”
“Yes to all.”
“You mean you can do anything?”
“With enough time to make the runes, yes, and the runes themselves have to be of a manageable size. The one I use to control the wind took me eighteen consecutive hours just to draw it on paper and it is seven meters long, that’s why I wrote it on a scarf, on both sides of the scarf actually.”
“Yeah, I saw it. You know everyone thinks they’re wings.”
“But if you can do anything why isn’t your hand healing?”
“I don’t know, I have been eating like a pig these past few days and I always sleep while I have summoned the lizard or some other animal with regenerative abilities.”
“Summoned the lizard?”
“Yeah, this rune allows me to use the abilities of animals as weapons. You know the green things that I stab people with?” She nods. “They’re porcupine quills. But you’re the one taking medicine, lizards and octopuses can regenerate whole limbs, right? Because I have tried both and more and none have worked. But the bullet wounds healed on the first night so I don’t know… “
“I had a scuffle with the gang I think a week ago? I’m not sure how long it’s been, but I barely made it out with my life.”
“So that’s why your hand is… and also why you quit,” she says and puts away her plate.
“I quit because he was right about me, the King, he read me like a book.”
“What did he tell you?”
He pauses with a poignant look on his face.
“Why do you think I went out there to beat up criminals?”
“You didn’t go out to beat up criminals, you went out there to save lives because you are a kind man who just wants to help people.”
He turns his head slightly towards her before he turns away and continues.
“My mother died during childbirth because the doctors were afraid to touch her. Nine years ago my father was lynched by a mob because he was working under the guise of a witch doctor. Although I managed to bring him back, it doesn’t change the fact that I had already lost him. I have lost so much to this thing that I don’t know what to do with that the moment something hinted at a purpose for it all I clung to it with my entire being. When I punched those gangsters that first day, I felt like that was it. I felt that the purpose of all these terrible things that had happened was some sort of training so that I could pass judgement on criminals and evil as some sort of almighty agent of justice and fairness. The more fights I won, the more ingrained I became in that belief. It was satisfying to think it was all meant to be, you know, the grand finale of my sad story. That was until the King showed up and knocked me off my pedestal. Nothing sets your mind straight like mortal danger. He made me realize that I was just a confused child chasing after fairy tales. I was just sharing my pain and rationalizing the things that had been done to me by thinking that they were to toughen me up for an ultimate purpose. I never really cared about justice or fairness; you can see how quickly I dropped all that once I was reminded just how human I am. I was never a hero or a kind man, I was an idiot projecting his own problems to the rest of the world… I’m sorry I made you believe in a facade.”
She observes him for a moment.
“I disagree,” she then announces.
“You disagree with my first-hand account of my own actions?”
“I disagree with your interpretation of them,” she says.
“I don’t think you can call it an interpretation since I’m the one who did what I did.”
“True, but you’re not the only one your actions touched.”
She sees that she has his attention so she continues.
“When I was out there that night waiting for my fate and then you arrived do you know what was the first thought I had?”
“This thing will eat my soul and I’ll die twice?”
“You can eat people’s souls? But that’s not the issue here. I thought that you were an angel that had come to rescue me, and as it turns out, you were. At that moment you were the embodiment of hope for me as you were to each and every person you have saved. That pure moment is when you made most of your impact both on others and on yourself. You can’t tell me that you haven’t been injured while trying to save someone… “
“...but that didn’t make you quit, did it? You didn’t punch those first gangsters because justice had to be upheld. Someone was probably in danger and you helped them. Fairness, justice and the greater good are concepts created to console those that are powerless at the critical moment, but you, you don’t need them. It might not be your divine purpose to save people, but that’s not something to worry about since nobody really knows what their purpose is. You don’t need a higher purpose to help people, you never did, you were just being kind and that was enough.”
*Maybe it’s enough for you but I need something more.
“It really didn’t feel like kindness though.” He says eventually, “Most of what I did was punching and stabbing people.”
“But was that the only thing you did? With a backstory like yours having some pent-up anger was inevitable. At least you got a relatively healthy way to vent it. There’s nothing wrong with getting something out of helping people. And also, the people who were on the receiving end kind of deserved it.”
“Not all of them. Someone who was just trying to help got caught in the crossfire.”
“You mean that girl at the stall? Yeah, you were an A-class asshole to her. Do you like her?”
Matthew turns his body such that he’s facing the wall across the room with both his feet on the floor.
“She’s my best friend and my other best friend’s girlfriend.”
“That’s not what I asked…”
His eyes fall for a second and then he looks at her.
“If you’re this knowledgeable on what is right or wrong, why were you out there robbing perverts?”
She shifts her body to match his posture.
“My mom doesn’t make enough money to keep me and my brother in school so I have to provide for myself. Normal Jobs don’t pay enough and helb can’t cut it, so I thought I could make some extra cash by… you know. But I stopped doing it that night you saved me, as I said, you gave me a second chance at life and I’m not going to waste it.”
His eyes linger on her, she pretends not to notice.
“Thank you for helping me out. I feel better knowing that there’s someone who thinks that I was doing something useful. It seems that all I needed to do was talk to someone who understands. But I guess I will have to live my life without a right hand as penance for my stupidity.”
“It doesn’t look that bad, maybe if you grow a quill on it, it’ll look as if you have a sword for a hand.”
“Good idea, and then they’ll change my name to guardian pirate, that sounds great.”
Margaret’s petite frame vibrates in laughter.
“So, you’ll stop wallowing in self-pity and be the demon again?”
“Going back is another story altogether, but for now I have bigger issues to deal with, like getting used to having a sword for a hand.”
“…but I’ll leave after we’ve had dinner. I missed a whole day’s worth of classes, you don’t know how much work that is.”
Margaret says as she enters Matthew’s apartment carrying a paper bag full of groceries. It’s at night.
“I’m doing engineering, I understand.”
Matthew says following behind her with another bag.
“I know, but I still hold my opinion. Medicine is much more demanding than engineering.”
They start putting the things away.
“Why do you doctors in training always think you are geniuses of some sort?... And how do you even know that I’m doing engineering, I don’t think I’ve told you about that before.”
“It’s how I found out who you are, there was a paper in the pocket of the hoodie you gave me with your registration number. So I went around the university departments until I found yours. I wasn’t even sure if it was yours or one of your ‘victims’ as they were saying but, either way, I would have found out what I needed to know.”
“And here I thought that you went full Sherlock Holmes and discovered my identity from minute details like my shoe size at the scene of the crime. I guess you’re not as smart as you think you are.”
She turns to face him and leans on the sink behind her with both hands and with her head slightly tilted she says:
“I’m smarter than you…”
He straightens his posture to his full height, turns towards her and with his face angled downwards he says:
“Is that what you think… “
He swims in her eyes. She falls in his.
“Have you heard of the Florence Nightingale effect?” She asks her voice sultry.
“Is that the one which governs the motion of rotating particles?” He asks, oblivious.
“Not even close… “
Matthew looks around.
“I think the power went out, or did my tokens run out.”
He makes his face glow, and then the runes on the wall next to him seem to catch a spark and the glow spreads around the room like a fire.
“Let there be light. I’ve just activated them, to use all these spells at once…”
She starts walking towards him.
“... would… be… suicide.”
Her face is close to his. He can smell her hair, her skin, her breath. Just as he is about to talk, she kisses him.
His spirit vision is blinded by her. She is so close, so bright. Blood rushes to his head, he feels faint. He is weightless. All his senses merge and all he knows is her. It feels strange but good. He is afraid. He withdraws.
“What are you doing?” he asks, breathless.
“I know you want this. You long to be with someone. You’re lonely. I can hear it in your voice.”
She looks straight into his glowing eyes and feels his gaze burn her soul.
The silhouette of her hand, against the runes glowing behind her, reaches to her neck and pulls down the shoulder strap of her dress. The other hand reaches up and does the same, and with a few more movements, her silhouette is a sharp outline of her naked body.
*Is this what I want?
She touches the hem of his shirt and starts pulling it upwards. He cooperates and lifts his arms. He is shirtless. She unties the lace of his sweatpants. A minute passes. He is naked. Goosebumps travel in waves on their exposed skin. She embraces him. She feels like velvet, like water, like fire. She takes him by the hand and leads him to his bed.
He is on top of her.
“It’s okay Matthew.”
She cranes her neck upwards and kisses him. She falls back on the bed as if suddenly become too tired to raise herself upwards.
“Maggie… I’m not sure…”
Her eyelids open and close slowly as if she is falling asleep. They then close completely and her head slumps to one side.
She doesn’t open her eyes.
*What have I done to her?
There is a green glow to his right. He lifts his arm and sees green tendrils tearing through the bandage tied around the stump of his wrist.
“What the f…”
Margaret slowly blinks her eyes open and looks around, the familiar patterns on the walls now illuminated by sunshine rather than an eerie spiritual glow remind her of where she is. She sits on the bed. Her head feels heavy.
“So you have finally woken up.”
He is seated across the room on the chair at his desk.
Her stomach growls.
“I’m so hungry.”
He brings her food and she starts wolfing it down at the instant it is placed on her lap.
“You fell asleep… for two days.”
She forgets her hunger for a moment.
“Two days! How?”
“I kind of accidentally drained you of your spirit energy.”
“Spirit energy? Does that happen a lot?”
“No, it’s never happened before but I think it was because of this.”
He shows her his right arm. It doesn’t end at the wrist.
“Your hand is back.”
“Yeah, I was probably low on spiritual energy myself due to being depressed, that’s why I couldn’t regenerate. But after we…” He trails off.
“After we made out and got naked? You can say it, we’re not kids,” she giggles.
He smiles, “After you fell asleep, it just grew back.”
“Well, I’m happy to have helped you.”
“Yeah, but now you will have to catch up on three days of schoolwork.”
She scrambles from the bed. She realizes that she is fully clothed.
“Did you dress me?”
“I couldn’t just leave you naked in my bed for two days, ”Matthew says as he looks away and scratches his head.
She looks at the embarrassed boy and smiles.
“Sorry for inconveniencing you so much,” he says as he watches her wear her shoes.
“You don’t apologize for needing help. Most people help because they want to. You of all people should know that.”
He opens the door for her.
“Don’t run too fast, you might fall down the stairs.”
“I won’t… “she stands in the doorway facing him, “you’ll catch me.”
She pecks him on the cheek and scampers away.