Backlight chapter 4

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CHAPTER 4: MEETING A PSYCHIC

After the street fight, it took a week until Nigel contacted me again.

xxEndOfAnEraxx: Remember the psychic I mentioned last week?

LightEnvelopingDark: I think so, yes.

xxEndOfAnEraxx: Her reading is tonight. You free?

LightEnvelopingDark: Yeah, sure. When?

xxEndOfAnEraxx: 7PM. I’ll send the address. Once I find it.

Sure enough, within five minutes my phone dings with a message with the address. It’s in the nice side of the town.

LightEnvelopingDark: Sounds interesting. I’ll be there.

xxEndOfAnEraxx: You better.

xxEndOfAnEraxx: Don’t use drugs or drink today. Dress as boring as you can. I want to test her ability.

LightEnvelopingDark: Right. Anything else?

xxEndOfAnEraxx: Idfk. Do whatever until then.

LightenvelopingDark: Got it, boss.

Right now it’s 5 PM, so I have two hours to kill. I spend about half of it browsing hot dudes on Instagram, the other watching cat vids.

At 6:30 I realize I should start getting ready or I’ll be late.

Nigel told me to dress “boring”. I have to get into his mindset to figure out what that means…

> Button up and slacks > My normal clothes
I guess that means a button-up and slacks. What I would wear when I have to go to a home visit for my job. Formal, but not too formal. I mean, my style isn’t as distinctive as Nigel’s.

I choose to leave my hair as it is and not do anything to my face either.

My phone pings. It’s Nigel, telling me a place where we’ll meet up before we head to the psychic’s place. Good timing since I’m right about to head off.

I arrive at the meeting place and find a tall, thin white man dressed in a collared button-up shirt and pressed trousers already there. He has his hair combed back and he’s wearing wire-frame glasses. He gives me a look.

> If button-up and slacks > If normal clothes
Man: Good evening. Man: Didn’t I tell you to dress boring?

Holy shit, that’s Nigel.

Valo: N-Nigel…?!

The man grins, winks and pushes his glasses up.

Nigel: You got me. What do you think about my disguise?

It is Nigel, just without his coat. I’m speechless.

Valo: I… I had no idea you had glasses.

Nigel’s grin shrinks and he shifts.

Nigel: I wear contacts usually. I’m near-sighted.

He practically mutters the last part.

Valo: Oh…

Valo: I-I mean, it doesn’t look bad! It’s just that wire-frames aren’t really flattering on anyone.

Valo: I think you’d look good with the right frames.

Nigel blinks, looking surprised. I swear his cheeks turn a little pink as he turns away.

Nigel: Th…thank you. No one ever told me that before.

Is he… bashful? Oh my god, that’s so cute.

Nigel clears his throat and pulls at the collar of his shirt. He starts walking and I follow.

Nigel: Jesus it’s hot. This is exactly why I don’t go out without my coat.

Nigel: I have no idea how you can take this heat every day.

Valo: I guess you get used to it.

Nigel lets out a noncommittal hum and we walk in silence until we reach the psychic’s house.

Nigel: Right. Here we are.

Valo: What’s the plan?

Nigel: For you? Nothing, unless you really want to. But I’m now the IT support guy for some company. I’m straight edge and I like to collect stamps as a hobby.

Valo: You really thought this through, huh?

Nigel chuckles.

Nigel: I just want to see if she’s legit.

Nigel: Go on, knock.

I nod and go knock on the door. Not even a minute passes before a pale, short woman opens the door. Her face is obscured by her long fringe, but I do get a glimpse of round cheeks and a cluster of… freckles? They are a little too big to be freckles though. And oddly coloured.

Valo: Uh… Good evening? There was a psychic reading here tonight?

Pale woman: Yes. Come in.

Her voice is soft and slightly monotone. She disappears into the house and I follow her in, Nigel behind me. The woman waits for me and Nigel to take our shoes off before leading us to the living room.

The house smells sweet, like the fresh smell of Christmas pastries.

The smell… it reminds me… Mom used to bake a lot. She especially loved Christmas pastries with plum jam…

Nigel collides against my back, jostling me from my reverie.

Nigel: What the hell, mate?

Valo: Sorry.

We arrive to the living room where a dark-skinned woman with a pastel-pink frohawk. Her features are distinctly African, with a broad nose and plump lips. Her eyelashes are really thick and long and she has five magenta stars tattooed below her left eye. Her eyes are very gentle, but they have a very piercing look to them, like she has known you for years and seen you in your weakest and still doesn’t judge.

It’s… kind of intense. I have to look down and I notice that her legs are prosthetics.

She glances at Nigel and smiles.

Dark-skinned woman: Welcome.

She speaks English. Maybe she doesn’t know Finnish or she overheard Nigel speak English just a few seconds ago.

Or…

Dark-skinned woman: Please sit. You’re the first to arrive today.

Nigel and I sit down on the soft couch and Nigel crosses his legs, appearing smaller than I’m used to seeing him.

The woman sits on another couch.

Dark-skinned woman: My name is Shán.

Shán: I will be your psychic tonight.

The pale woman appears with a tray with cups and a huge jug of some kind of amber-coloured juice, I’m assuming. She sets it on the sofa table and the ice inside clinks gently. She sets out two cups and pours fills them, before giving them to me and Nigel.

Valo: Thank you.

There is a hint of a smile on her lips before she disappears back into the kitchen.

Shán: This is your first time meeting a psychic, yes?

Her voice is smooth and deep. Calming.

Valo: You could say that… Why are we speaking English?

Shán: Nigel does not know Finnish, does he?

Nigel twitches next to me.

Nigel: How did you know my name?

The woman smiles.

Shán: I know everything that I need.

Nigel opens his mouth, but the woman continues speaking.

Shán: I already know who have plans of coming here tonight. We shall see who will go through and show up.

She closes her eyes.

Shán: I know the possibilities, all the routes this evening can go.

Nigel shifts and crosses his arms. The woman smiles.

Shán: You’re still skeptical.

Nigel: You’ve just used my name and said something cryptic. For all I know, you could have overheard Valo calling me that.

Valo: She also knew you don’t know Finnish.

Nigel rolls his eyes.

Nigel: And that. Whatever.

Shán: Well. I hope I have managed to convince you by the end of the night.

Nigel: We shall see.

Silence falls in the living room and I sip the juice. It’s sweet and peachy. There is a floral aftertaste, which surprises me. It’s delicious. I wonder if the drink is home-made. I could ask for the recipe.

Shán: Peach-hibiscus ice tea. It is store-bought.

I twitch. Did she read my mind?

Valo: Oh.

Shán: Ask Dix which brand it is, if you want.

Valo: Alright.

Shán: Dix is my partner. She was the one opening the door for you.

Nigel: Ah.

Shán: The pastries are fully home-made, however.

Shán: Dix is a masterful chef and equally amazing patisserie.

As if on cue, the pale woman (Dix?) returns with another tray, this time piled with sweet-smelling pastries.

Dix: Please, have some.

Nigel: Don’t mind if I do.

They look like puff pastry rolled up in tiny logs. Some of the rolls have little what I assume is chocolate leaking out of them.

Mom might have baked something like this once or twice. But I try to not think about it. I don’t want the psychic to read my mind on this too.

… Assuming she hasn’t already.

I take one of the rolls and find that it’s still warm from the oven. I blow on it before taking a bite. Sweet chocolate paste fills my mouth. Paired with the tiny hint of saltiness of the crust is delicious.

Man, I have to ask for the recipe.

Shán: Dix, dear, there will be Tatu and Irantu arrive soon.

Dix: M-hm.

Tatu? Isn’t that…?

Shán: I believe you’ve met them already.

Nigel: You know Tatu?

Shán: I do. He is like a brother to me.

Nigel: Did he tell you about us?

Shán: No. Should he have?

Shán smiles. The doorbell rings.

Dix goes to the door and soon I hear Tatu’s voice greet her. When the man himself arrives to the living room, followed by Irantu, he does a double-take at me.

Tatu: Eyyyy! If it isn’t my man Valo!

Irantu: Hi, Valo.

I wave meekly to the two.

Valo: Hi.

Tatu’s eyes land on Nigel.

Tatu: …Wait, aren’t you… What’s-his-face. Ivy’s friend-with-benefits.

Nigel: Nigel.

Tatu: Yeah, Nigel.

Tatu: Wait, what are you wearing?

Tatu looks like he’s holding back laughter.

Nigel cringes.

Nigel: I came from work.

Tatu and Shán exchange a look. Shán hides a smile behind her hand and Tatu visibly bites the inside of his cheek. There is a tiny hint of a smile on Irantu’s lips too.

Tatu sits down next to me, Irantu following him and sitting down beside him.

Tatu: What brings you to Shán’s?

Valo: Nigel wanted to come. I’m just here for curiosity.

Nigel shifts next to me and I realize that I maybe shouldn’t have said that.

Valo: What about you?

Tatu: I usually come to Shán’s readings in case someone starts trouble.

Tatu: All I need to do is to stand up and frown and people calm down immediately.

He laughs.

Irantu: Which proves how blind people are. Tatu is as scary as a bowl of marshmallows.

Irantu: They see a big muscular black man frowning and they get scared.

Tatu’s smile shrinks a little and he sighs.

Tatu: Hey, I mean… If it works.

Shán sighs.

Shán: I keep telling Eins I’ll be fine. I will know beforehand if a troublesome person will come by and I will avoid setting them off.

Shán: And I have Dix with me.

Irantu: You know how Eins is. She worries. Especially when you let strangers in your house.

Nigel: Who’s Eins?

Tatu twitches like he had already forgotten that Nigel is present.

Shán: A friend. She tends to worry about our well-being.

Irantu: A mom friend, like Jahid.

Tatu: Speaking of!

Tatu turns to me and grins widely.

Tatu: Have you been talking to Jahid lately?

Valo: …?

Valo: Not since the night at the club.

Tatu’s smile disappears.

Tatu: Hm.

Valo: …Why? Should I have?

Nigel: Jahid? Wasn’t that the Arabian guy you were grinding on at the club?

Tatu lets out a long “snrk”.

Tatu: You were grinding on Jahid?!

Valo: I… I was not! W-we were just dancing!!

Tatu grins and nods.

Tatu: I’m sure you were.

Valo: …

What is this? Where is this coming from?

Shán: Tatu, sweetie, stop bullying Valo and go get the door.

Tatu: Hahaha! I’m not bullying!

He stood up anyway and went to the door.

Nigel: But there’s nobo-

Ding dong!

Nigel: Ah.

Tatu returns with a pair of women. One has dreadlocks and the other is wearing a tie-dye t-shirt. They have a hippie-like feel to them and a one-with-the-nature wibe. They seem slightly nervous and excited.

Shán stands up to greet them.

Shán: Welcome.

Girl 1: Are we late?

Shán: Not at all. Everyone else has been early.

The women sit down and Dix appears to serve ice tea to Tatu, Irantu and the women too.

Shán: We’re almost all here.

Irantu: How many people are we expecting tonight?

Shán: Including Valo and Nigel, five.

The newly-arrived women exchange an excited look.

Girl 2: What kind of people are coming?

Shán: The last one to arrive will be an older woman.

Girl 1: How long have you… Um… When did you start doing this?

Shán: My ability manifested when I was around nineteen.

Shán’s face darkened.

Shán: It was… not a good time in my life.

Shán: But, ah, enough of that. How my ability manifested was… Hm, how should I explain it?

Shán: At first, it was just dreams. I would have a dream and the dream would repeat in real life.

Shán: Then I would start getting visions while I’m awake. Then I would start getting “flashes” of other people’s thoughts.

Shán: Dix, dearie, the door.

Dix nods and goes to get it.

Shán: What would really cement it, however, is how often it happened. Once or twice, it’s a coincidence. Three, six times, it’s uncanny.

Shán: But when it keeps happening dozens, hundreds of times… I had to accept it.

Girl 1: I see…

Dix returns and a sweet-looking old woman follows her. The old woman sits and Dix goes to get her a glass too.

Shán: Welcome.

Shán: Now that we’re gathered here, we can start.

Shán stands up.

Shán: Thank you all for coming here tonight. I am Shán. I will be your psychic tonight.

Shán: I can help you find a missing person or give an estimation of what your future holds or other such things.

Shán: I, unfortunately, cannot talk to the dead, though.

She quickly repeats what she said in English for Nigel.

Shán: Who wants to go first?

A silence falls into the living room, which I understand. No one would want to be the first one to expose their vulnerability and tell why they’re here.

Not to mention that I have no missing people in my life and I’ve been actively avoiding thinking about the future as of late.

Irantu: Well. I have this creepy guy at work. And I want to know if he’s really creepy or if he’s just awkward.

Shán: I see.

Shán makes a hand motion and Irantu gives their hands to her. Shán closes her eyes and everyone is quiet for a moment.

Shán: He has… a wife. But they are separated. He is lonely.

Shán: He is interested in one of your co-workers.

Irantu: Oh-hoh.

Shán: He is working up the courage to ask you what she likes.

Irantu: So he’s just awkward.

Shán: Yes.

Irantu: Good to know.

Shán lets go of Irantu’s hand and Irantu settles back onto the sofa.

Shán: Who wants to be next?

After a moment of hesitation, one of the young women speaks up.

Girl 2: I’ll go.

She shifts so Shán can take her hands.

Shán: What can I help you with?

Girl 2: Okay so. Um, my friend’s dog disappeared a few days ago. Can you tell me where he is? Is he safe?

Shán nods and closes her eyes.

Shán: Tell me about the dog.

Girl 2: Uhh… He’s a mixed breed. Two years old, male. His name is Ressu and he loves macaroni, especially when you throw it at him, so he can snatch it from the air.

Girl 1: Ressu is a good dog.

Shán: Ressu is… currently lost. But you’ve done well to leave his favourite blanket out. He will find the smell and come back home.

Shán: I would go check on the blanket tomorrow around afternoon.

The woman’s eyes widen.

Girl 2: Is Ressu okay?

Shán: He has some scratches and he’s hungry, but he’ll be fine after a flea treatment.

The woman nods, relaxing visibly.

Girl 2: What a relief… Thank you so much!

Shán smiles and the woman sits back.

Girl 2: Now I just have to convince Mikko to go check on the blanket tomorrow…

Shán: Alright. Another reading. Who wants to go next?

In true Finnish fashion, there is another pause. Finally, the old woman speaks up.

Old woman: Ah, my husband…

Old woman: I, uh… I’m going to the hospital in a few days.

Old woman: And I know I won’t come back.

Old woman: And I just… I just wanted to know if my husband will be fine without me.

A heavy silence settles.

Old woman: My children will be fine, they fled the nest ages ago. But I… I’m worried about Heikki.

Shán nods and takes the old woman’s hands.

Shán: Tell me about him.

Old woman: He’s a sensitive soul, but he doesn’t show it.

Old woman: Even to this day, he denies being as gentle as he is.

Old woman: But I know him. We’ve been married for forty years. I know him.

Old woman: I know he won’t take it well.

Shán hums.

Shán: I want to say he’ll be fine…

The old woman’s shoulders slump.

Shán: Talk to your husband. Tell him to call your children if he gets lonely or sad. Try to get him to live with one of your children, so he won’t be alone.

Shán: Talk to your children too. Tell them to take care of him. They might not have you in the future, but they will have each other.

Shán: But also, cherish the time you still have with him. Make it so the last memories he has of you are happy ones.

The old woman blinks rapidly and nods.

Old woman: I-I will… Th-thank you…

Shán smiles sadly and pats her hands.

Shán: I’m sorry I can’t give you an easy and happy answer. All you can do now is to make sure your family stays together when you eventually leave.

Old woman: It’s not your fault. Thank you for being honest.

The old woman digs a handkerchief from her bag and dabs her eyes. I feel myself getting misty-eyed too.

She’s so lucky, to have time to say goodbye to everyone.

Mom was torn so quickly from me and my family that we…

I shake my head. Better think about something else.

One of the hippie women is crying.

Shán: Who’s next?

I sip my ice tea. I don’t have anything to ask her.

Shán: Nigel?

Nigel: Hm?

Shán: You have a project you’re working on, correct?

Nigel: You could say that.

Shán: Do you want to know how that is going to play out?

Nigel purses his lips before shrugging.

Nigel: Sure, why not.

He gives his hands to Shán and closes his eyes.

Nigel: So, did you read my mind? To find out about my side project?

Shán smiles.

Shán: Indeed I did.

Shán: But, to my defence, you were thinking about it a lot.

Nigel: Well, what can I say? It’s a big project. Lots of work.

Shán: I bet.

Shán closes her eyes and her smile slowly shrinks.

Nigel: What? What is it?

Shán:

Shán: Nothing.

Shán smiles, but it doesn’t reach her eyes.

Shán: There are… quite a lot of… routes this could go.

Nigel: What do you mean?

Shán: I see all the ways any given situation can go.

Shán: And your project with the android…

Shán: Is complicated.

Nigel: You mean in practise or…?

Shán opens her eyes and they are so, so deep.

Shán: I mean cosmically.

Nigel: … Uh-huh.

Nigel: Will I succeed in building it, though?

Shán:

Shán: Most of the routes I can see end with the android working.

Nigel grins.

Nigel: Awesome. Thank you.

Shán smiles too, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. There’s something she’s not telling.

After that, nothing very interesting happened. We chat a bit, until Nigel starts making his leave. I have no point staying without Nigel so I excuse myself with him.

Shán sees us to the door.

Shán: Valo…

Valo: …?

Shán: …

Shán: There is nothing I can say that someone else will say or has said. I cannot change the future, but you can.

Shán: Just…

Shán: Try to do the right choices.

Shán: Can you promise me that?

Valo: Uh…

What the fuck is she talking about?

Valo: I… I’ll try?

Shán nods and turns to Nigel.

Shán: Nigel, call your mother. She misses you.

Nigel: …!

Nigel: … Right. I’ll… I’ll do that.

With the final handshakes, Nigel and I leave. As we wait for the bus, I give Nigel a quick rundown of what we talked about in Finnish earlier. The bus arrives and we get in.

Nigel: God, it’s so hot in here.

Valo: So… Did she convince you?

Nigel: … I’m still on the fence, to be honest.

Nigel: But I am not as sceptic as I was.

Nigel leans back and smiles.

Nigel: To be honest, I wanted to be convinced all along.

Valo: What do you mean?

Nigel: I have this… hypothesis. It’s still in the developing stages so I… prooooobably shouldn’t talk about it quite yet.

Nigel: But her being legit confirms what I suspect.

Valo: That’s cryptic.

Nigel chuckles.

Nigel: Well, yeah. That’s how it goes.

We spend the rest of the bus ride in silence.

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