This sort of thing has happened numerous times in cases of national conflict: a spouse disappears in the fog of war and is assumed dead. The spouse waiting at home finds love with another, only to be informed later that the lost one is alive. This is part of Jakob History’s conflict in our futuristic, dystopian novel, We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile, from which the first-person segment below was drawn.
“Jakob,” said Takira, “you seen the gloom. A ghost, yah?”
She’d always claimed that ghosts were a big deal in the Jamaica Isle where she was born, as much a part of life as she and I but having no faith in what I can’t see, I didn’t know how to provide a tender reply. Besides, my thoughts wouldn’t leave Abraham. While we Citadelians have always bent to doing whatever necessary to preserve our culture, believing that in the end it would somehow spread, that the Outliers would slowly see our way of life as the better one, Abraham seemed as insistently sure as a bluejay’s song that the Outliers’ primitive state was humanity’s future. For the first time ever, his boasting infected me and I felt our way of life truly threatened. I looked down, hands trembling. I tried to reply to Takira, but my mindfever-constricted voice wouldn’t allow words.
Takira has a way of sensing mindplague, the state our pre-Debacle ancestors called depression, or its twin, anxiety—our word for that: mindfever—and so she hugged me to her. She blocked the wind’s sharpness from me and her warmth began to penetrate. Her pulse, her breathing, began to circumscribe mine, to calm the fever that had invaded me
“You got to talk to me, Jakob,” she said, “you got to tell me what you feel.”
Feelings. This was what she always wanted from me, something from my depths, but being who and what I am, I had no way to put words to that. I could only reply in blunt fashion, tell her about the woman, and maybe we could go on from there. Coughing my throat clear, I said, “Did you see the woman standing by the third vehicle?”
She pushed away a bit, her arms on my shoulders, and gave me an odd look. She nodded.
“That was my first mate, Diana.”
Now she pushed away altogether, her feet tapping against the floorboard to some anxious inner rhythm. Were we back home, this would have launched her into minutes of freeform body movements. She was forever telling me her feelings about this and that, but it amazed me how, when words managed to elude her, bodily expression took over, pressing her into some whirlwind dance. Finally she steeled herself enough to swallow and say, “Oh, mon, no. Diana be dead. You tell me so, long ago.”
I nodded, and for the first time since we’d been together I couldn’t look her in the eye. “I thought she was,” I said, eyes to the vehicle’s floor. “She disappeared during an Outlier attack. We found bodies, decapitated, mutilated men and women with parts missing. I walked among them, picked out what I thought was her remains.”
“Then this woman, Jakob, she be a mistake. She not your mate.”
Looking up, I said, “I’m sorry, but it really was Diana.”
She edged to the far side of the seat, the wind luffing her dreadlocks as if they were frizzy clumps of windstormed grasses. Tears fluttered into waves on her angular cheekbones. “If that woman be your mate, then what am I?” Her eyes flitted, made her seem as desperate as a mouse in the presence of a hawk. She began to cry, moaning loudly enough for Harald to turn and frown. I reached, hugged her to me. She was alien to Citadel, an immigrant still fumbling with our ways, and I was sure she’d become unmoored if she were to feel our mateship had failed her. I’d find out some morning that she’d gone, had climbed aboard a refugee plane for some distant place, and that was the last thing I wanted.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, Takira was born on a faraway isle she calls Jamaica. She’d come to the mainland as an orphaned teen, had been enslaved by a fruit picking consortium, had escaped and stowed away on a ship bound for Africaland, which was her place of milk and honey, as the Book of Ancient History refers to paradisiacal places. She’d gone to school there, somewhere in coastal Africaland, where she could commune with the sea. She’d learned to read, write, and cipher there, and had made a lot of currency as a barterer of gems, gold, and other metals the Africaners deemed valuable. She’s a trusting one, too trusting by our standards, and she lost all her gains to a man of scurrilous practices, the man from a place she calls China. Still, she managed to successfully sue him and collected enough to return to Jamaica Isle. There she learned a form of magic and dance she called religion: suppositions of invisible and superior beings, something we forsook after the Great Debacle.
She tried to explain her odd belief in such unseen things to me many times, but I simply don’t understand the need of some minds to wander beyond rigorous physical and mental examinations of reality. Too much imagination at play there, that’s my take on it. At any rate, Jamaica represented her past, her poverty, so after another year she left again for mainland America, spent her currency purchasing a certificate of freedom and trying to establish a business similar to the one she’d had in Africaland. But she quickly realized the mainland no longer contained enough mineral resources to support such a business. Impoverished once again, she caught a refugee flight, ended up somewhere called Pacific, and then two years ago she disembarked at Citadel Field, on our southwest border. After a week of her wandering about in our city, we encountered one another at a midday meal. We talked, and that was the beginning of our mutual history.
So I held her close, luxuriating in her tenderness and warmth, I confess, and whispered that she was my mate, my only mate, that I would rather have her as my mate than any woman I’d ever met.
Her crying stilled, she sniffed, pushed away, and nodded. Then she swallowed, said, “Jakob, what be this about? Why she there this day?”
“I wish I knew.” Then something hit me. I tapped Harald’s shoulder. “Take us to Slaughterhouse.”