Jiri Village, Bijaz Complex, United Republic of Provinces
Nasai, White Moon 3303 – November
Hijaz groped along the dark alley between an old tenement building and the Dewdrop Night Club trying to make out the shapes littered upon the ground in front of him so that he wouldn’t trip. In spite of the time that he had spent working within the Republic, he could not come to terms with how the Urnahi exiles were corralled and restricted to these slums beyond the city and was nearly overcome by the stench of garbage and feces emanating from behind an overflowing dumpster. He prided himself for having a strong stomach but had to hold his breath as he passed. The things we do for family, he thought.
A light turned on from inside an apartment window above him and he was able to see more clearly as he maneuvered his way to the end of the alleyway. He pushed open the basement door to the Dewdrop Club at his right and entered the darkness to wait. Raucous laughter and bawdy talk drifted down to him from the bar room overhead and for the third time this evening he reminded himself to request more pay from Sekel. Working the long hours that were required was one thing, but trips like this were becoming increasingly difficult to arrange without the URP knowing.
It angered him to witness the deterioration of so many people from such a noble tribe and he could smell the stale, bitter stench of boona sap as it wafted down through the creaky floor boards; and he could only imagine what was going on upstairs. He walked over to the lone table and solitary lamp at the back of the wide, wall-less room and switched the lamp on; the outdated bulb cast a dim circle of orange light about the dusty space as he removed his cloak, draped it over his lap and sat down in one of the two chairs to await his contact. It was not long before the little man arrived and the basement door at the top of the stairwell let in a brief flash of orange light and a blast of loud music before closing. Hijaz could hear Tajji creaking down the narrow stairway before he appeared.
“Greetings and many blessings to you, Mr. Hijaz,” the little round man stuttered haltingly in Urnahi. “I hope that you have not been waiting long.”
Tajji Alam was a second generation laborer, short and thick of waist with a heavy mustache and a balding head that always gleamed with the sheen of sufa oil and Hijaz’s informant from within the Complex. Tajji had been a taxi driver when Hijaz and Sekel had first arrived at the Republic and he had gone out of his way to show them their way around the cities and townships. When Tajji had lost his taxi because he could not afford the transport fees he had turned to Sekel and Hijaz for help and had shared with them the extent of all that he had learned about the inner workings of the cities over the years. Tajji was now Hijaz’s primary means of gaining information that would otherwise be inaccessible to him about city clerks, council members, prominent laborers in the compounds and recently the boona sap peddlers.
Tajji insisted on speaking to Hijaz in native Urnahi despite the fact that Hijaz was from Am’maah and that Tajji had been born and raised within the Republican Provinces and spoke a dialect of English as his first language. He could not have be more than forty or forty one moons but looked much older.
“And also with you Tajji. I’ve only just arrived,” Hijaz replied as he stood and greeted Tajji with a respectful bow of his head; Tajji was his elder and the Am’maahni were sticklers to honoring their elders.
Tajji handed Hijaz a large envelope and smiled, displaying the front rows of his stained teeth.
“Here it is. Mr. Hijaz,” Tajji said excitedly. “You will see, you will see.”
Hijaz returned the smile respectfully and removed a smaller envelope from a pocket inside of his cloak containing Tajji’s payment. The little man accepted it eagerly and bowed at the waist in gratitude before he tucked it into one of the hidden pockets within his tattered overcoat while Hijaz sat back down into the wobbly chair and opened the envelope to look over the photographs inside.
“Has there been much activity?” Hijaz asked him as looked at each photo carefully: the stern features of Ahmed Ku’sai holding a stun pistol pointed at what appeared to be a boona peddler, several photos of clerks leaving a council meeting, another of a clerk exchanging a bag of coins with the same boona peddler in the photo with Ahmed Ku’sai . . .
“No, not much, sirrah,” Tajji replied apologetically. “At least not by anyone tied to the rebels from the Ward. The people come to the meetings, complain and fight with one another, and then they return home. There have been no rebels there for many weeks now. Other than that officer in the photo and he came only once.”
Hijaz knew that Tajji called the MFDT rebels out of fear that Hijaz might think that he sided with them but Tajji did not have to house such a fear where Hijaz was concerned; Hijaz was glad that someone of the tribe was resisting, even if it was the MFDT.
“And the night patrollers, I see here?” Hijaz questioned and turned one of the photographs towards Tajji and pointed.
It was a photo of a night patroller addressing a laborer.
“Have they detained anyone lately?” Hijaz asked.
“No, sirrah. Not since the last meeting, but they enjoy giving everyone a scare now and then. I have given you those photos, yes, from the last arrest?” Tajji asked.
“Yes. Yes, you have. That’s fine. Thank you for your efforts,” Hijaz replied as he slid the photos back into the envelope.
He stood and lifted his cloak from the chair to drape it over his shoulders.
“I am sorry that I have not been able to gather more about the MFDT, but I have heard much about the aliens,” Tajji stated urgently, delaying Hijaz.
Hijaz paused and turned to face him, Tajji’s eyes glistened intently as he spoke.
“People are becoming sick with a mind illness. It is feared that the aliens are putting something into the drinking water. Plot farmers are harassed and prohibited from planting. We can no longer grow our own food without it being taxed or taken away from us, and more and more they force us to buy our food from their markets and from the clerks. I can taste the bitterness. They are planning something. And I have seen the Governor Qasim from the reservations going in and out of the central clerk’s office on many occasions,” Tajji explained.
As troubled as Hijaz was by this revelation, he did not let on to Tajji and instead asked, “Have you any knowledge as to the Governor’s business there?”
“No, sirrah, but Tajji has ways of finding out,” Tajji replied, his smile sly and almost sinister.
Hijaz was reminded of why he trusted and relied upon him. Tajji had lost many relatives over the years and had suffered much at the hands of the Clerks and City Patrollers and although he may look ragged and feeble, he was tough.
“That would be greatly appreciated and generously rewarded,” Hijaz responded. “If you discover any more information that you think I may find useful, you can make contact me through our regular channels immediately, otherwise we shall meet hear again in one moon’s time. Please send the greeting of peace and blessings to your family, insha’Allah.”
“Thank you, sirrah. I will. Please send my warm regards to Mr. Sekel and many blessings to you and your family as well. May the Creator watch over you this night,” Tajji replied before turning and quickly ascending the creaky stairs.
Hijaz mentally noted that Tajji had not sat at all during the meeting and seemed in a hurry to leave, but Hijaz trusted that he would be well, he always was. Tajji could find his way out of almost any situation but Hijaz offered a prayer for him anyway as he turned off the lamp, fastened his cloak at his throat and lifted the hood over his head before crossing the small room and stepping back out into the dark night. The temperature had dropped at least five degrees in the short time he was inside and the wind had picked up as well. Winter would be upon them soon and he sensed a wind storm brewing as he made his way down the alley.
The flashing lights of patrol cars illuminated the mouth of the alleyway and Hijaz berated himself for having parked his land rover so many blocks away when he reached the street and spotted several Republican night patrol officers mulling about the pavement. A detective hovered over someone lying on the sidewalk and a unit of guards held back the crowd that was quickly growing around them. Hijaz eased his way through the throng and paused momentarily to peer over someone’s shoulder so as not to seem suspicious, but was shocked by the sight of the dead body of an exile in a pool of his own blood from a gaping head injury. Another exile, wild and angry with his hands bound by stun- restraints, was pinned against the hood of a patrol rover by the hands of two Republican guards a few feet away.
Hijaz turned and walked towards the road where he had parked his transport but did not have to feign the look of sadness and disgust that washed across his face; another murder within Republican walls and this time in the slums. People are becoming sick with the mind illness, Tajji had said. Hijaz would have more to tell Sekel than he had originally anticipated.
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