The alarm bells in my head should have started going off when she asked me to drive her to the sporting-goods store, but I had no idea what she had in mind so I gladly obliged.
It was a lovely day in September (the sky was brilliant blue and there was a crisp, clean feeling in the air), and I wondered if I should ask Twapa to go to the park with me after we got done at the store, but she seemed preoccupied and so I didn’t ask, but simply did my duty of chauffeuring her to her destination.
This was the sum of our relationship, of course. She knew that I loved her and therefore I would do just about anything she asked short of jumping off a bridge. She took advantage of the fact by getting me to do all kinds of menial tasks for her. Mostly I didn’t mind, of course, since my goal was to make her happy.
I knew Twapa liked outdoor activities, so I wasn’t surprised by her request to visit this store, but then she started picking stuff out and I started to feel more and more uncomfortable. She started with sunglasses, then a pair of those little backpacks with the built-in hydration bladder, and then she moved on to wide-brimmed hats. She clearly had something in mind, and I knew right then that I wasn’t going to like it.
Twapa kept me in the dark for the rest of the day. I had to go to work that afternoon and I spent the entire shift wondering what sort of harrowing adventure she had planned. I had the next day off, and I had the feeling that Twapa was going to commandeer my time. I’d say that the thought kept me awake that night, but thankfully I was able to put it from my mind and get a decent night’s sleep.
My trepidation proved not to be unwarranted. I was awakened bright and early by Twapa, who was already suited up for some kind of expedition. I almost laughed when I opened my bedroom door and saw her, because she was wearing khakis, hiking boots, and had fitted her stylishly retro goggles with darkened lenses.
“Off to the Serengeti, are we?” I asked, trying to stifle my grin.
“Not quite” said Twapa, seriously. “Come on, get ready. We need to go while it’s still early. I recommend light-colored clothes and long sleeves!”
Sighing I did as I was told. If I opted out of the trip she’d just leave without me and who knew what kind of trouble she’d get into. Luckily I happened to own a pair of tan cargo pants and a lightweight button-up jacket. I had an old pair of hiking boots which I hadn’t worn in about five years but were still serviceable. I hoped it would be good enough.
I appeared in the living room feeling vaguely embarrassed and apprehensive, but Twapa seemed to accept my apparel and handed me a boonie hat. She was busy prepping her inter-dimensional traveling device.
“I don’t suppose you’d mind telling me where we’re going?” I asked, “And more importantly, do they serve breakfast there?”
“Better grab a granola bar,” she answered, “we’re going to a place I discovered kind of by accident the other day.”
I sighed. That was that. I took her suggestion and scarfed down a granola bar and a cup of yoghurt. I had no idea whether we’d be back in time for lunch, so I grabbed a few more bars to stuff into my pockets. We always had our emergency supplies when we went out, but one never knew when extra food might come in handy.
I returned to Twapa, who was waiting for me. She picked up a backpack off of the (hideous, orange) couch and handed it to me. I hoisted it on and then donned the hat she had given me. I felt dorky but prepared for just about anything.
Twapa grabbed my hand (causing my heart to flutter as it always did), and flicked the switch on her device. There was a momentary bright flash as we passed between the worlds…
I looked around, anxiously. We were, it seemed, in the middle of a vast desert. Not the rocky, cactus-spawning kind like where I come from, but the really desolate, sandy kind - like the Sahara. I turned to Twapa, somewhat dismayed.
“This is it?” I asked.
“Yes this is ‘it’” she replied, sounding annoyed. But look.”
Twapa handed me a small pair of binoculars and had me gaze towards a distant cliff.
“See the green?” she asked.
“Yeah. So what?”
“Where there’s green there’s water. We’re gonna go check it out” she announced matter-of-factly. Without another word she set off tromping across the somewhat unstable surface of the sand.
I had to admire Twapa’s sheer brashness, sometimes. She had no regard for anything. I kept telling her to be careful, but as far as she was concerned she was untouchable and there couldn’t possibly be anything more dangerous in any of the worlds we visited than she was.
Maybe she was right. But I still hurried after her, keeping my eyes open for danger. At all costs I was determined to protect her – that was part of our deal.
It was still early, but already the sun was starting to bake the landscape, turning it into a searing furnace. Apart from the cliffs ahead of us there were not many features in this parched land. Just the occasional dune or rocky outcrop in an ocean of pale golden sand.
It took us an hour of walking before we neared the base of the cliffs, by which time I was quite glad of the dorky hat I was wearing.
Twapa had been right about the greenery. Although said vegetation at first took the form of thorny bushes, it soon gave way to a sort of small oasis with greener plants - and what appeared to be deliberately planted rows of some kind of crop.
“This place is inhabited” I exclaimed.
“You think?” Twapa said, sarcastically.
I gazed up at the cliffs. The “fields” led up to a wide opening in the rock face – some kind of cleft or canyon. I now began to notice the other signs of civilization. There was what looked like some kind of primitive irrigation system, as well as a pair of rudimentary windmills situated atop the cliff - one on either side of the crevice. There appeared to be other constructions within the canyon, as well, though I could not make them out clearly just yet.
We approached with caution. Twapa had her notebook out and was scribbling things down without looking at what she was writing, her gaze fixed on the cleft. I followed her closely, tense and nervous. Twapa always had me carry a handgun, and I hoped dearly that I would not have to use it.
We hadn’t seen anyone yet by the time we reached the mouth of the canyon. It was much wider inside than I had at first supposed it to be. I gazed upwards at the sky above – the red stone walls towered hundreds of feet above us. I could feel a pleasantly cool breeze emanating from within.
There were plenty of man-made objects in sight, now: carts, gardening tools, barrels and crates and wooden troughs and footprints in the dust, but still no people. We listened hard. There were faint sounds coming from somewhere, but we couldn’t see the source as there was a rock formation blocking a large portion of our view.
Twapa cleared her throat, then called out. “Hello?” Her voice echoed hollowly off the rock wall.
Suddenly we heard a loud whistling sound coming from somewhere up above us, and within moments people were swarming everywhere. What’s more, we quickly realized, they were heading straight for us.
I drew my pistol and held it tightly as the mob grew, babbling excitedly. I wasn’t sure whether they sounded pleased or enraged.
“Twapa,” I muttered, “we can’t take all these guys on! Maybe we should think about…”
“I’m way ahead of you,” Twapa said, under her breath. She had whipped out her device and was already fiddling with the controls.
I moved closer to her and grabbed her arm, ready to go. I kept my eyes on the crowd as Twapa flicked the switch.
A series of loud popping noises rang out, startling the crowd which was now practically on top of us. They backed away for a moment, looking alarmed and confused, but when it became apparent that nothing bad had happened, they began to advance again.
I tried to ask “What happened?” but my question was drowned out by a string of loud curses which Twapa was busy uttering as she whacked the side of the metal box with her hand angrily.
“Stupid, stupid Taiwanese capacitors!” I heard her yell.
By this time it had become apparent, however, that the intentions of the people flooding out of the canyon were not aggressive in nature. They stared at us with curiosity, talking animatedly amongst themselves. They gave Twapa a wide berth, but approached me eagerly.
“Can it be?” “Is it him?” “I cannot believe it!”
Hands reached out to touch my clothes and face, and they all seemed to be regarding me with awe. These people were mostly clad in light-colored, loose-fitting clothes, sandals, and any number of different sorts of hats and head coverings to protect against the sun. I caught flashes of jewelry here and there, as well, but did not see anyone clutching weapons. Feeling that I was not in any immediate danger from the crowd, I hastily put the gun away lest anyone should be accidentally injured.
“Khair, is it really you?” One middle-aged gentleman had pushed through the crowd with an air of authority and confronted me, looking skeptical but nonetheless amazed.
“Uh, my name’s Ciaran-” I began, rather dumbfounded that he appeared to have somehow
guessed my name, albeit a slightly garbled version thereof. He wore some sort of loose, turban-like headdress and a long beige-colored coat fastened with decorative clasps down the front.
I was unable to finish my introduction, however, as upon hearing my name a fantastic clamor arose. I looked around, noticing something rather strange about these people. I grabbed Twapa’s sleeve and practically yelled in her ear.
“Twapa, have you noticed something funny, here?”
“Besides the fact that we are SCREWED?” She growled.
“No I mean about the people. They’re-”
Twapa glanced up momentarily, then looked at me with a sharply arched eyebrow.
“They’re all kangaroo rats!” she said.
“Huh? No I mean-” I started to explain, but then I realized that she was right.
They were all kangaroo rats, like us. Well, like me, to be more precise. They all had dark eyes and brown or black hair, which meant that Twapa kind of stuck out like a sore thumb with her fiery bangs and icy blue eyes.
The one who had addressed me as “Khair” had succeeded in calming the crowd and turned his attention back to me.
“We had almost given you up for dead, dear boy. How joyous it is that you have at last returned home!” He shook my hand vigorously. “Tonight we will hold a celebration in your honor, and you can tell us of your adventures!”
I blinked, unsure how to answer. “W-what?” I asked.
“But he looks tired” a lady near my left side put her hand on my shoulder. “Khair, we’ll give you a place to rest and refresh yourself until then.” She pushed me gently forward into the midst of the crowd.
I tried to fight back, albeit feebly. I could tell from Twapa’s consternation that something was wrong with the device and we were at least temporarily stuck here, so I thought that it would be in my best interest to be polite, but I was in over my head now and I needed Twapa to help me out.
“Twapa!” I called.
She looked up.
I gave her a helpless “what-on-earth-am-I-supposed-to-do?” sort of look, and she seemed to get the message. Returning the box to its carrying case she pushed her way through the crowd to my side. This was not difficult as when people saw her coming they seemed to naturally want to get out of her way.
“Just play along, Keer” she hissed into my ear. “We’re kind of stuck right now, in case you haven’t noticed.”
I nodded before being swept away by the torrent of people who were clustered around me.
I heard Twapa yell “hey!” from somewhere behind me, but the force of so many bodies was inexorable and I soon found myself escorted into the depths of the canyon.
The kangaroo rat lady who had suggested that I might need some rest came to my aid, ensuring that I was safely deposited on the doorstep of a house which was built right into the side of the cliff. She deftly ushered me inside and shooed away my hangers-on, closing the door (which appeared to be made of something like wicker) behind us.
Inside it was dim and cool, but light came in from small windows and from lamps. I was in the
entryway of a dwelling which was cut right into the rock. There was minimal décor here, just a rug and a small table with an earthenware basin.
I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. “Thank you” I said.
The lady smiled kindly. She was about my mother’s age, I guessed, since she was not yet old or gray-haired, but had some lines around her eyes. She was dressed in a simple white and yellow linen dress and beneath the edge of the flowing white scarf she had wrapped around her head and shoulders I caught glimpses of earrings and a necklace made of small metal links of some sort.
“You remember me, I hope?” She must have seen me staring and gave me kind of a funny look.
“Um…” I remembered Twapa telling me to play along, but that was pretty much it. “Sure, of course, Mrs…” I winced at my own clumsiness. “Well, to be honest I’ve been through a lot and my memory’s a bit confused right now. I’m sure wandering across the desert hasn’t helped, either” I tried to bluff.
The lady grinned and shook her head. “I understand. Seven years is a long time, and much has changed since you left to seek your fortune. I will cover for you until you’ve sorted everything out. I’m Adiya, I was a friend of your parents. I watched you grow up, but it’s not surprising if you didn’t recognize me, at first. We were both much younger when you left.” She chuckled.
I felt suddenly and immensely relieved.
“Oh! Aaaadiya,” I exclaimed, feigning recognition. “Of course, gosh, I feel like an idiot. I must be completely addled from the sun.”
“I’ve a spare room, don’t worry. Why don’t you lie down for a while” Adiya suggested.
“Yes, that would be good. Only – I meant to say something sooner- my friend, Twapalena, we’ve left her outside!”
Adiya looked cautious. “You’ve a friend… outside? I didn’t see anyone with you…”
“Yes, she was standing right there beside me. She’s the one with the red hair and blue eyes.
You really can’t miss her.” I made for the door, though I was still afraid of being overrun by my new “fans” if I went outside.
Adiya ran over to the door and opened it a crack, peering out. A number of people were still milling about, but most had dispersed already.
“I don’t see anyone like that out there…” Said Adiya.
“Oh dear. Perhaps she’s gone exploring,” I said, frowning. “We’ve got to find her-”
“I will find her, Khair dear” Adiya interrupted. “I think that you should rest. Do not worry about anything, you’re home now.”
She shooed me down a narrow hallway and into a small, penultimate room and then left quickly, presumably to go and look for Twapa. I heard the front door swish as she closed it on her way out.
I looked around the little room. It was furnished comfortably enough, with a small, low bed, a large rug on the floor, and a number of baskets, blankets, and cushions stacked in various corners. Seeing as I didn’t have much else to do at the moment, I figured I had better heed Adiya’s advice and lie down for a bit. I felt funny doing so, but I had no desire to displease anybody as long as I was stuck here, so I removed my boots, placing them near the door, dropped my backpack and hat on a cushion, and lay down on the bed.
I stared at the ceiling, which had been painted some time ago and now appeared to be flaking a bit. I wondered how long I would have to stay here. I was dreadfully uncomfortable with the whole situation, but was rather pleased that I had thus far been able to remain so calm and collected.
All that I knew at the moment was that we had a case of mistaken identity on a grand scale, here. The people who lived in the canyon apparently believed that I was some guy who had left here years ago and had now returned. He must have been pretty popular, too, from the look of things.
I was going to need Twapa’s help if I was going to adequately fool everybody until the device was fixed. I had no idea how long it was going to take, but if Twapa’s swearing had been any indication it could prove to be quite some time.
Some time later, I heard the door open again, but I stayed put, hands folded atop my chest. I could hear people moving and voices mumbling, but I could not make out what was being said. I shifted my position, feeling antsy.
Several minutes passed, and Adiya finally poked her head through the thin curtain which served as the door to “my” room.
“I found your strange friend, Khair. Do not worry. You just relax until evening.” And with that she vanished again.
I sighed. I was not tired and now I was starting to feel rather bored. Eventually I determined that I was going to get up, and if Adiya was angry, then I would just have to explain that I didn’t feel tired.
I moved slowly out into the dim hallway and back to the entry room. There was another passage heading off in a different direction, and I took it, tiptoeing softly. At the end of a short corridor I found what must be some kind of common room. There were no chairs, anywhere, but plenty of cushions, so I guessed people must usually sit on the floor here. There was a low, rough-hewn table, however, and kneeling at that table was Twapa. Predictably, she had her tools spread across the work surface and was busy taking her device apart. She ignored me as I entered the room.
Adiya was there, too, sitting cross-legged and working on some kind of embroidery while simultaneously keeping a suspicious eye on Twapa. When I walked in she looked up at me in consternation.
“You should be resting, Khair.”
“I’m not feeling tired at the moment, I’m sorry” I insisted, taking a seat on a plain, well-worn pillow.
Adiya sighed and shrugged. “Very well. I’m only thinking of your health.”
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry” I assured her.
“If you don’t mind my saying so, you seem to have picked up some very strange modes and manners in your travels” Adiya commented.
“How so?” I asked.
“You use strange phrases,” she said, “and your clothes are very peculiar. Are those some kind of spectacles you’re wearing?”
“Yes, they are. My eyes aren’t as good as they used to be” I told her.
“Pity about that” said Adiya, looking sincere when she said it “But still, where did you get those clothes?”
I looked over at Twapa, who was muttering something about capacitors to herself. I couldn’t tell whether she was following my conversation or not.
“Well, where she is from everyone dresses like this” I said. I was rather pleased with myself for not having to lie about things very much so far.
“And where is she from?” Adiya regarded Twapa with thinly-veiled distaste.
“A far-away country in the west” I half-fibbed. I actually had no idea whether there was any geographical correlation between our two worlds. As far as I knew, this desert overlapped the same relative physical space as the town we lived in. Twapa had built into her device a control which could make minor adjustments to the spatial orientation of the user so that one didn’t materialize in a wall or something, but I wasn’t sure whether it could actually move one across great distances or anything. The technology was pretty much comprised of pure magic, as far as I was concerned.
“I’m going to tell you right now, people do not trust her” said Adiya, leaning forward and looking right at me.
“Why not?” I asked, a little surprised.
“You should know well enough, but in case you’ve forgotten, only devils have their hair on fire! I know better, but some people will call her a demon-child or worse…”
I blinked hard, rather shocked by this tidbit of information, although I suppose it was par for the course at this point.
“Look, there’s nothing devilish about her!” I said, forcefully, “She can be temperamental, but I promise you she’s not evil. She’s my friend, and she’s no different from you or me.”
I heard an exasperated sigh come from Twapa’s direction.
Adiya waved her hand, indicating that I should be calm. “Do not worry. I know this. I am only warning you that people like to gossip and do not be surprised if you overhear such things. I don’t think anyone will think less of you because of it. We’re all far too pleased to have you back!” She smiled again.
I smiled back, awkwardly. “I can see that. I’m glad to be home. I think I’ve forgotten why I ever wanted to leave in the first place.”
Adiya took the bait. “You were a youth wishing to prove himself, of course. After your mother died you just up and decided you wanted to see the world. We had no idea where you had ended up or if you would ever come back…” she looked wistful, letting her embroidery work fall still in her lap.
“I guess I was troubled over losing my mother,” I speculated, feeling awkward.
Adiya nodded emphatically. “You were indeed, I remember. And when you left your father-” Her eyes suddenly grew wide in alarm. “Oh! You… you haven’t heard yet…” she stammered, clearly recalling some very bothersome fact.
“What? What is it?” I asked.
Adiya hung her head, sadly. “Your father is dead, Minzar Khair. He passed away a few years ago. He… never really got over losing both your mother and you.”
I sat back, digesting the information while trying to appear shocked and troubled on the outside.
The fact that this “Khair” guy seemed to have no close family remaining worked greatly in my favor, both from a practical and moral standpoint. I could handle fooling friends and neighbors, but I had been dreading the idea of being reunited with a tearful parent or anything like that. So far, so good.
I passed the remainder of the afternoon chatting with Adiya as she went about her daily tasks and preparations for the impromptu party which was to be held that evening. It actually seemed to me that her job at the moment consisted largely of keeping me out of the way, so she was only too glad to fill me in on things which had changed in my absence. This was great for me, of course, since it meant that I was getting enough backstory to hopefully be able to fake my way through my inevitable interactions with the rest of the community.
Here’s what I was able to learn: It seemed that the kangaroo rats here were part of a great clan who had inhabited this area for many, many generations. Technologically speaking (based on what I had seen and what I had gleaned from Adiya), they were not a terribly advanced society, possessing only the more basic machines (such as the windmills I had seen from outside) and tools. The “town” got its water from underground springs which fed the oasis, and the very rare occasional bit of rainfall. They did not fear flooding, for whatever ancient stream had carved this canyon had long ago changed its course or dried up completely. It did not rain very often at all, and they collected all the water they possibly could when it did. Most of the newer homes in the canyon were build of mud bricks, but older residences, like Adiya’s, had taken advantage of natural fissures in the cliff-sides.
The town was guarded by sentries positioned on the cliffs who alerted the townspeople to anything out of the ordinary – such as the arrival of Twapa and myself.
I learned about the changes to the leadership which had occurred since the demise of Khair’s father – it seems that the fellow who shook my hand earlier was the new leader, having served as the previous chief’s main advisor and deputy. His name was Rabeen. There was also a council of elders who voted on matters of greatest importance, and a few other officials whose names I would doubtless have to memorize quickly.
Most of Khair’s childhood friends had long since married and started families of their own. Thankfully Adiya knew just about everybody in the clan well enough to supply me with names and relationships.
One revelation really startled me, though - it was sort of an offhanded comment that Adiya made while I stood watching her fold a stack of several small linen towels.
“Oh, and I’m sure Ajul will be quite interested to meet you, as well.”
“Ajul… Ajul…” I murmured as though trying to recall a face to match the name.
Adiya winked. “Oh you won’t recognize her! You didn’t care much for her company when you were younger, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you see her tonight.”
My uneasy feeling multiplied tenfold. Let’s face it: people only talk like that when they’re trying to set you up with their niece or something.
Evening came all too soon and Adiya finally announced that it was time to go to the celebration.
She invited Twapa along, but Twapa was too engrossed in trying to fix the device. I explained that this was simply her way, and she didn’t do well at parties, anyway.
Outside dusk was falling, and torches had been lit along the length of the canyon and lamps hung outside the houses. We walked deeper into the interior and were joined by many others until we reached an area where the rock walls were much farther apart, forming a large open space. This had been decorated with lights of various sorts, and the perimeter was marked off with boxes and baskets. There was a low table piled with enough food (I still wasn’t sure where on earth they were getting all of this stuff, as they were, after all, living in the middle of a desert) to feed the whole town.
As soon as I arrived the festivities commenced and there was a lot of dancing, singing, banging on drums and tooting of flutes, and, of course, eating. I actually didn’t have to do much for most of the time except sit and watch and occasionally make small talk with people I was supposed to know but didn’t. Adiya brooded over me like a mother hen, which I actually didn’t mind because it meant that I had a lifeline in case I really screwed up and called somebody by the wrong name or something.
I had been rehearsing my story in my head all day, and had it pretty much down. I had really just taken a lot of elements from my own life and translated or elaborated on them. If it wasn’t convincing, at least I tried to make it sound exciting.
Most people avoided asking about Twapa, and the ones who did ask did so with an almost macabre fascination. They wanted to know where I could have possibly met somebody like that, and why did I keep her around, anyway, since surely she must be bad luck.
I really wanted to say “You have no idea”, but I felt that I should do my best to cast Twapa in a favorable light.
Finally, it was my turn to be thrust into the spotlight- er, so to speak, anyway. The call went out for me to publicly recite my adventures.
I stood atop a box which had been provided for me as a podium and did my best not to screw up all the details I had invented. I tried to use lots of gestures, too, just to enhance the effect.
Everyone seemed duly impressed by my tales of battling an entire army of red-haired kangaroo rat girls, and were astounded and perplexed by my descriptions of strange creatures who were not kangaroo rats. There was plenty of other stuff that I just plain made up or borrowed from stories I had read or seen in movies. They especially seemed to like the part where I told them about how I discovered an ancient holy relic and prevented it from falling into the hands of some bad guys called "Nazis". All in all it was a great success.
After finishing my story I was practically mobbed by people with burning questions or comments, to the extent that most people rather ignored the fact that there was more singing and dancing on the agenda. I soon grew rather fatigued and shot a glance at Adiya which she picked up on immediately, telling everybody in no uncertain terms that I was quite exhausted and they should give me some space.
Grateful, I slipped away a short distance from the crowd to hide behind a boulder and catch my breath.
I jumped and let out a rather-too-high-pitched yelp. I regained my composure quickly, however, and whirled to face the person who had snuck up behind me.
She was a young girl, probably in her late teens, with big, dark eyes and a mischievous smile. She wore the typical linen dress that most of the girls favored, but over that she had a long sort of jacket or robe. Her headdress was mostly what looked like a broad headband decorated with a sort of “key” pattern. Her ears were covered, but I could see two long braids of jet-black hair extending from underneath the covering.
“You scared the living daylights out of me” I told the girl.
She grinned up at me. “Sorry, I tend to do that to people” she said, giggling.
There was a bit of an awkward (for me, anyway) silence as she stared at me and I stared at her.
At last I couldn’t take it anymore and broke the silence. “You must be Ajul.”
She seemed pleased. “You do remember me!” she exclaimed, clasping her hands together, “I
knew you would. You used to pretend you didn’t like me, but I always knew you secretly did.”
“Um, well, I…” I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. “It’s good to see you again, anyway” I said, hoping to slip away and disappear back into the crowd. Being hounded with pointless questions seemed preferable at this point to letting the girl think the feeling was mutual.
It was too late, though. Ajul was determined not to let me get away.
“Now that you’re back we can get married” she continued.
I had to suppress the urge to slap my forehead. “M-married?” I choked.
“Yes, I mean… if you want to…” Ajul must have detected my urge to run away screaming.
“I… This is the first I’ve heard of it! I mean, we haven’t seen each other in years. Did I promise you I would, or something?”
“Well no, but we’re, you know, betrothed and all… I never thought it was such a bad idea” Ajul seemed mildly disappointed, but she was doing her best to act casual.
“Oh, right. That” I scratched the back of my head feeling like a heel. “But, you know, we don’t have to get married just because our parents or whoever said so, right?”
Ajul tilted her head, and I had to admit she looked kind of cute. “Well, it’s only because you’re the son of a chieftain, really. It’s tradition, I guess.”
“I know, but… But my parents are dead, now. Maybe we should just… wait a while and see how we feel about it in a few months. Or years, even.” Gosh, I sounded like a jerk.
Ajul put her hands on her hips and gave me a pointed look, but not one without humor. “I’m not stupid, Khair, I can take a hint.”
“Look, I didn’t mean-”
But before I could finish Ajul had grabbed me by the arm and was dragging me back towards the crowd. “Let’s just forget about all that serious stuff for now, okay? We’re here to have fun!”
Ajul showed me how the traditional dances went, and she was a very good dancer. I had no idea how it happened, but after a little while I actually found that I was enjoying myself. People left me alone when they saw that I was hanging around with Ajul, and that definitely took a lot off my mind.
The party eventually began to wind down and finally we all said goodnight. Adiya took me back to her house and I fell into bed quite tired, now, and was asleep within minutes.