I’ve got my hair fixed to a point where my own reflection doesn’t scare me. I drive my parents’ sedan and in my head make notes to stop calling it that. It’s mine now. I’ve got the steering wheel wrapped closely around my fingers and the wheels screech when the vehicle make sharp turns. I had always imagined this process to be a little more glamorous than what it’s turning out to be. I park the car in the little parking lot behind the café. I pull the hem of my shirt a lot when nervous, and right now I’ve got the edge almost ripped apart. I have been to this place a million times, but the purpose of my visit seems to change the set up. Everything feels foreign, and it makes sense. It’s 5:45 when I get there. I order two smoothies but it really bothers me to have not taken Nikki’s consent before asking her to gulp down the drink, so I ask the owner cum manager to cancel it out.
Nikki gets in at around 6:10, she looks around and finds me in the corner. Sitting there I had about ten different ways I imagined her reacting to the changes in me. But she glanced and lunged at me for a hug like we’d been best friends that have met and known each other all their lives. We sit down and I feel good when Nikitha says she liked the smoothie. It helps me feel less bad about my anxiety over a glass of liquid. I’ve done the talking so far and she’s asked questions, just the regular ones about school, friends, career. Now it’s my chance to get down to the business, but every time Nikitha pauses to take a sip, I zone out worrying, wondering what I should call her. Nikki sounds too comfortable, Nikitha seems like I’m trying to push her away. To hell with being an introvert.
“Nikki, about my parents.”
“Yeah, what about them? Oh yeah. Okay. So I’ve practiced talking about this all the way and it might be a little too harsh, it was for me anyway.”
“I don’t think so. I’ll be fine I guess.”
“Alright. Brooke did tell me about this. Not everything, but the part about her leaving. Yes, we’ve been meeting all these years. So, a few years back I got into a fight with Andrew regarding reports about suicide bombings in some parts of the world. I couldn’t believe in the amount of filters a piece of news goes through before being put together for public. Of course I left the job. Since then, I’ve been busy forming this little association. I mean we’re not a great deal but we are half way through. I’ll be having my own filter-free newspaper in the market soon.”
It might have come off as a little bit fake, because she got back to talking about ‘the problem’ again. But I was honestly proud and happy for her. I mean all my life I’ve wondered what she was up to.
“Of course. So anyway, as soon as you messaged me in the morning I went back to Andrew’s office. He was shocked to see me of course. I got him talking about regular stuff before sending him to get me coffee. The coffee has worsened since I left they’ve brought back the cheap stuff again. Anyway I knew there would be something on his laptop. Your parents are on an official trip, you know that at least, don’t you darling?”
“No. No I don’t.”
“Of course. Oh God, sweetie. This could take a toll on you. I broke into Andrew’s office as soon as he got out of sight. The laptop was lying on his table unattended. I don’t know if he’s forwarded you the mail, but your dad wished you a happy birthday.”
Then she got up and hugged me again from across the table, “Happy belated birthday, Zara.”
“Thank you, Nikki. And no, he hasn’t forwarded me any mail. I don’t know why my dad wouldn’t just directly send across messages to me. Goddamnit I don’t know why my dad wouldn’t just come back and explain everything to me himself. But anyway I went to Andy as soon as this, all this started happening. He did let me take a look at the mail in front of him and snatched his laptop right out of my hand after I was done reading the message. Hanna and Luke were with me too. We all went down to take a look at my gift and party after that.”
I almost feel sad about sounding so helplessly exasperated.
“Of course, he didn’t. Zara, your parents are on an official trip.”
Nikki is fumbling with the straw now. The end of it is reduced to such a small size that even the liquid seems to have difficulty passing through. Some lose hairs have started falling on her face because her head is bent so low. Her red cardigan and ears are almost the same shade. I have an urge to walk out right now, never turn back and wait for everything to get back to normal. The intuition in me is inevitably large.
“Zara, Brooke and Kevin are in Syria.”
I look away and within a second my eyes are wet. It’s also then that I find out the name of owner of the café- Adel. I’ve been staring at his badge through blurry motions of the water casting my iris for so long that he’s obliged to snap his fingers at my face and sternly sprint to his desk with a scrutinized face.