In the dystopian world of Mafinga, Jasmin must contend with a dictator’s sorcerer to cleanse the socialist state of its deadly pollution.
Mafinga’s malevolent king dislikes books and, together with his sorcerer Atari, has collapsed the environment to almost uninhabitable. The sun has killed all the able men, including Jasmin’s husband Godi. But Jasmin has Godi’s secret story machine that tells of a better world, far different from the wastelands of Mafinga. Jasmin’s crime for possessing the machine and its forbidden literature filled with subversive text is punishable by death. Fate grants a cruel reprieve in the service of a childless queen who claims Jasmin’s children as her own. Jasmin is powerless—until she discovers secrets behind the king and his sorcerer.
It happens in slow motion. Jasmin runs inside the castle that stands atop a hill. She races up the winding staircase, hands moving along its mahogany rail shimmering with sheen. The Heidi dress she’s wearing, a flowing thing that plunges down her waist and touches just above her knees, rises and falls with her running. No belt, just front buttons going down, down. She lights up a flight, up another, up, up. She rises with such thrill, such rush, all the way to the nursery in the northeast tower of the marble-coated monolith.
She flings herself into the rotary room—it slowly moves, revolves: a sundial or a snail-paced merry-go-round. It’s a tavern with faint music in the background, an odd melody. The hiss of a snake, a soft clash of cymbals. Arched doorways, pillars rimmed with gold. Bracelets of orange-flamed candles at half-mast. Along the walls, dimly lit paintings inside veils of cloud, each with a version of the Garden of Eden: Eve leaning toward a behemoth serpent. Eve offering a glowing red apple to Adam. Eve and Adam running naked from an ash-haired god—a voluptuous woman full of breasts.
Jasmin catches sight of the children and her heart swells. Two-year-old Mia in her unicorn pajama set, tiny shorts and a T-shirt. Four-year-old Omar in his all-over flying dragon jammies. They lie on the floor, head-to-head, as the nursery spins.
Mia puckers up at the sight of Jasmin. Omar’s eyes fill with reproach. Days and days of their mother’s absence. She drops to her knees, throws her arms wide. The children yank out of their moment, soar within reach, fall into her breast.
. . . Pause.
Pause for a moment because that’s not the beginning of the story. Rewind, back, back down the stairs. Jasmin tearing backward, down a flight, down another, down, down. Her rush, her thrill ebbing, as she moves away from the nursery, out of the castle with its white walls and white doors, mirrors everywhere. She walks backward along light-splashed lawns and their gardens full of bloodred flowers. She moves, not at a furious pace—just faster than slow. Back, back beyond the Ujamaa monuments of togetherness, sculpted hands of a village holding aloft a naked, black toddler with fat legs and plump cheeks. Back past the courthouse and its long windows, golden drapes in hourglass shapes, bound at the waist by melancholy ribbons. The courthouse splashed with lights from a trail of monster eyes hanging off the ceiling. A dais where the royals sit to give judgment. People go through the entryway peaked with spikes, they never walk out.
Rewind all the way to the egg shuttle—it has no wings—where you enter coordinates into the console and the vessel takes you for an intergalactic ride. The same shuttle that once saw the Neutral Zone, where you gazed at planets like Peridot and Tourmaline and they blinked brighter than jewelry. The shuttle that once lived in the land of Exomoon that had no shortage of xeriscape plants. Its wild blooms, cacti and succulents. Its sky of gargantuan rings by day, tiny moons by night. There, citizens changed color in more spectrum than chameleons.
Same shuttle that airlifts Jasmin to her execution.
Granite enters Jasmin’s stomach as the vessel glides to height, then bullets forward. As the starlit night stretches into the horizon, Jasmin is a prisoner in a silent egg in the sky. She looks down and sees the people of Ujamaa Village in a gather. They gaze up at the egg flickering with incandescent lights as it climbs higher into the skyline with its cargo. Jasmin wonders if, on the face of it, despite the crowd’s helplessness, some question what dies, what lives, and the power of a crowd. She wonders if, one day, a turning point will swing without warning in Mafinga. And when that happens if the same mob—that now stands with limp hands and gazes with bleak eyes at dusk and the egg soaring up the sky toward its scatter of stars—will reach the edge of its stupor, finally tremble and come to life in a murmur that lights to a roar.
Thank you, Eugen Bacon and Meerkat Press
About the author
Eugen Bacon is African Australian, a computer scientist mentally re-engineered into creative writing. She’s the author of Claiming T-Mo (Meerkat Press) and Writing Speculative Fiction (Macmillan). Her work has won, been shortlisted, longlisted or commended in national and international awards, including the Bridport Prize, Copyright Agency Prize, Australian Shadows Awards, Ditmar Awards and Nommo Award for Speculative Fiction by Africans.
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