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My head was spinning, and everything appeared in flashes. I squinted for clarity: The world was perpendicular and her face was the point of origin. Her Vantablack hair flowed nape-ward into a clip, from which it burst forth in wild curls, akin to a fire breather’s plume. Her eyes were dense and supermassive, and not even light escaped her gaze. Noticing that I’d partially restored my vision, she brought her hand up, revealing a micro-conflagration caught in between her fore and middle fingers.
“Do you mind?” she asked, as wisps of smoke wrapped about her.
“I didn’t even notice, manah.”
She studied me with a raised brow then took a slow, final drag and threw it backwards into the bonfire. “You’re a bad liar,” she said, her formality beginning to slacken, a change I was certainly not used to. She exhaled up and away from my face, with a simultaneous yawn that betrayed her fatigue. “And don’t call me that, at least for tonight. It’s the new millennium. We’re off duty. You have no obligation to me.” Something about that didn’t feel quite sincere.
“Then you have no obligation to me as well, manah. I’ll be okay.”
She looked at me, half-agape, like no one had ever the nerve to tell her what she could and couldn’t do. She looked like she was about to reply when a voice returned and momentarily ruptured my observable universe. The blurry image of a colleague handed her a basin, which she plopped onto the grass between us.
“Thank you. I can handle this; you may return to the celebration,” she told the blur, briefly reconstructing her rigid demeanor. “And try not to trick any more neophytes. I’m watching you.” The blur bowed in respect and headed back to throng with a larger blur on the other size of the bonfire. Her shoulders slumped back down.
“Just in case you need it,” she said, pushing the basin a little more in my direction. Then, silence, if silence was at all possible in a place like this.