11th March 2129 — Before the War
“Hey, gorgeous.” From her booth in the corner of the cafe, Meera saw Daria stiffen as a sleazy blonde stepped forward. God, did this guy even know what personal space was? And was he staring at her arse? She hoped, for his sake, that he wasn’t.
Daria turned around slowly, a stiff smile painted on her face. “Hi.”
“You have beautiful skin. Where are you from?”
“London,” she shrugged. “I’m actually meeting a friend right now, so it was nice sp—”
“Sure, sure. But where are you actually from?”
“Um, I was born in London. So were my parents. What do you mean?”
“Like, where did your family originate from? It surely wasn’t England. We don’t get exotic ladies like you around here.” Meera resisted the urge to walk up to this guy and slap that stupid grin right off his face.
“Oh. Well, my grandparents are all from Ghana, if that’s what you mean. But I’ve never been there.” Daria’s attempt at a smile looked much more like a grimace or a wince of pain. Should Meera get involved? She knew that Daria was more than capable of taking care of herself, but this was just getting painful. And surely she could smell this loser’s breath by now? Could he get any closer?
“Ghana, huh? Like Africa? That would explain your hair.” He ran his fingers along her long braids and winked. “I would love to taste some of that chocolate.”
That was it. Too far. Meera jumped from her seat and half-walked, half-ran over to the blonde as Daria pressed herself against the countertop behind her. “Is there anything wrong here, Dari? Is this guy bothering you?”
“Meera,” Daria sighed in relief, “I got your coffee!”
“Thanks.” Meera kept her eyes firmly on the blonde. He shifted awkwardly. “I don’t think my friend is interested. Sorry.”
“I don’t think anyone asked for your opinion. I was speaking to your friend Dari, over here. Take your coffee and go.”
Meera raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms. The guy’s sure smile faltered slightly. An awkward moment passed. Finally, he let out an irritated sigh.
“Bloody Pakkis,” he muttered to himself, “don’t you have a corner shop to run or something?”
“Ah. Because I’m Indian, huh? What a brilliant insult. My feelings are so hurt.” Meera couldn’t help but roll her eyes. If she had a pound for every time she’d heard that one…
“That’s all your lot are bloody good for. Taking our money.”
“Keep it up,” Meera smiled sweetly, “because we all know that there’s nothing a girl loves more than a little spot of racism.”
Shooting Daria a pained look, the blonde guy threw his stupid denim jacket over his shoulder and skulked out of the cafe.
“Why are there so many guys like that around lately? It’s the twenty-second century and they’re pulling the same old shit my grandparents used to complain about.” Meera sighed, watching him get into his dumb, unnecessarily flashy convertible.
“Guys like him are harmless. I hope. I can’t even imagine what Archie and Maia have to deal with. Being black or Indian is one thing, but at least we’re human. Have you seen the news lately? Apparently, Huntley’s calling for a Faerie registry. Could you imagine?” Dari’s eyes were filled with so much worry that Meera wished she could throw her arms around her and squeeze all the stress away. But that would be weird, right? It wasn’t what friends did, was it? At least, they hadn’t been touchy-feely like that for years. Not since they were kids. Did adults even hug their friends? Would that be too obvious? Because if Daria guessed and she didn’t… things would definitely be weird, then.
So she settled for avoiding eye contact and stared at her favourite booth. Damn. Someone else had stolen it. And it was the best place to sit! Right underneath the air con!
“Who even voted for Huntley, anyway?” Daria continued, “We’re supposed to be one of the most diverse cities in the world, and we somehow vote in a magiphobe as our mayor. And what does hating Faeries have to do with race? Why are so many of his fans also raging racists? Isn’t being disgusting in one way enough for them? Meera?”
“Hmm? Well, they can dream, but nothing’s going to happen. I mean, the minute they try to legally oppress the Faeries, people will be screaming in the streets. You watch.”
Daria frowned for a second, then shrugged. “I don’t see why people aren’t helping now.”
“I guess they just need to be shocked into action. Let’s go outside. There’s nowhere good to sit in here.”
Letting out an exasperated sigh, Daria set her half cold coffee cup down on the nearest table. “You don’t care, do you?”
“Of course I care! I just don’t want to be standing right in front of the counter and getting in everyone’s way. Can we save our political discussion for when we’ve found some seats?” With that, Meera took off, weaving her way between tables and chairs, with Daria on tow.
“I guess so. I’m sorry. I know it might seem like I’m obsessed. I just… you should see what it’s like at the hospital. I had to deal with six stab victims just yesterday. All Faeries. Completely unrelated incidences. They were all just minding their own business, going to work or school or walking a dog or something. Then just like that, someone goes and does that to them. They didn’t do anything wrong.”
“They probably didn’t do themselves any favours, though. They must have been waving their wings about like peacocks. I mean, how else would some random stranger know what they are?” Oops. She’d done it, now. Reaching the cafe entrance, Meera drew in a deep breath and waited. There was no escaping an hour-long rant about equal treatment and being yourself.
Sure, she understood exactly where Daria was coming from. In a lot of ways, she was right. Faeries shouldn’t have to hide who they were, but that was just the way the world was at the moment. It was ugly and the people in it were nasty and cruel. Only the most naive idiots would struggle to see that. And she didn’t doubt that the faeries fluttering their wings at all those damned protests could see it. They just had their priorities all screwed up.
That didn’t mean that she didn’t care about Faerie welfare. Of course, she did! She had Faerie friends, after all, and she wanted Archie and Maia to be able to go out on the streets and parade their wings with pride. If it were up to her, all this nonsense tension wouldn’t exist. But it wasn’t up to her. She couldn’t do anything about the awful criminals causing the problems. The people doing all that violence hated Faerie equality. They weren’t going to change their mind over a little bit of picketing. If they had their way, they’d eradicate the whole of the Faerie race, so safety needed to come first. What good would it do for the cause to end up dead in a ditch somewhere?
But still. That didn’t make it okay. It didn’t make it right that they had to go through all of this shit. Meera sighed. As much as she had the Faeries’ best interests at heart, she knew what she was saying was no consolation. Not for someone who had been fired and ousted from their community for something they couldn’t control. Definitely not for someone who couldn’t even access their own money because some magiphobe at the bank had frozen their account. What good was life if you had to spend it in hiding, fearing for your life? Blaming the abuse on the Faeries wasn’t just insensitive to all the struggles they went through. It was plain victim-blaming.
It’s police officers with her attitude who allow the anti-Faerie violence to continue. They were too busy finding ways to tell the Faeries that they weren’t being safe enough. They were practically enabling the violence to keep happening. So she deserved the rant she was going to get.
But no lecture followed. Instead, Meera was met only by the sound of passing cars, pigeons and people chatting happily. Meera turned; concern flooding through her. Daria’s eyes stared ahead, unseeing. Her beautiful face looked so, so sad. It was like she had the weight of the whole world on her shoulders and she was just about ready to collapse from exhaustion. Shit. A rant she could deal with. She deserved it! But this? This was heartbreaking.
“Dari? Are you ok?”
A bird cooed high up in some tree somewhere.
“Look, Dari. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said it. It’s just — I don’t know how you do it. I want to care as much as you do. I really do! You know I used to.”
“I know.” Daria replied absent-mindedly.
“Don’t you ever feel like there’s only so much you can care? Like, it’s exhausting. Logically, it matters to me. Emotionally, though? Well, I just can’t make myself feel the anger anymore. I’m just so tired.”
“It’s all over the news all the time. I think I’d explode if I let it get to me all the time.”
“I get that.”
“Then why do you look so sad?”
“Because…” Daria heaved a deep sigh. “How did we get to the point where they need to pretend they aren’t them to survive? Since when did assimilation mean you have to ignore everything that makes you special? And once the magiphobes are done with the Faeries, who are they going to come for next?”
“I wish I knew. I really do.”
“I’m scared, Meera.”
“So am I. But what can we really do? The law is on our side. It’s just a bunch of morons taking matters into their own hands. Pretty soon, the police will be forced to do something about them. You watch.”
“I sure hope you’re right.”
Meera smiled reassuringly. Things would get better, wouldn’t they? They were so bad now that there was no way to go but up. Despite her beliefs, though, Meera found herself balling up her fists and swallowing against the huge lump that had formed in her throat. She sure hoped she was right, too.