FROM THE LIBRARY CAFÉ, Amara glanced outside the window. In Khana, the weather changed as if it had moods. The cold winds breathed the world anew, forcing nature to rest her rainbow palette. A curtain on rain beat down from the heavens upon the heart of the city, pounding on the rooftops and turning the cobbled streets into a warren of slick stones and muddy waters.

The Sprout Café was in Blus neighbourhood in Forest Hill. A leafy up-market suburban area with picket fences as white as the faces living behind them. One of the fastest-growing and richest places in Khana. It boarded two neighbourhoods separated by the Canal highway. On one side, there stood gated housing complexes and green golf courses. On the other side, there stood hundreds of depleted apartments, flats and shacks made with scrap metal, sticks and mud. Where, according to a released study, six in ten children lived in poverty. People referred to the area as an island of deprivation in a sea of affluence.

During the Canal highway construction, the slum dwellers watched as bulldozers tore through their neighbourhood, mowing down homes, schools, and businesses to reduce the traffic on the road. Two hundred families were forcibly evicted in the demolition with no plan of resettlement. Capitalism at its finest.

Inside the café, pictures of old sceneries were hung up in rust frames each detailed with gold writings. Jazz filled the café with a nice winter mood. It was Blus favourite place. She was obsessed with anything vintage, especially 70s Jazz music.

Ten minutes in, she ambled through the doors in a purple coat, a black beret, and heeled boots. The flimsy coat hid everything she wore underneath. She winded her way through the tables and slipped into the chair across.

”I almost didn notice you. It must be the hair. ”

Amara touched her hair involuntarily; cherry-red braids. The side-parted locks fell along her face, working well to frame it. She had it done a few days ago and loved it. ”You like? ”

”Its stunning. ”

”Thank you. ”

Blu was born in the days of blue eyeliner, blue eye contacts, straight ironed hair, bootleg jeans, and hooped earrings. The days were women abhorred being ordinary. Her mother named her Blu so she would stand out.

Everything about her screamed confidence and class. Her brown skin was rich like forbidden soil. It was as if angels rubbed coconut oil on her skin and harmonized with songs of her ancestors radiating from her bones. Her eye had flecks of gold and brown, aflame even in the blizzard cold.

”How are you? How have you been since we last saw each other? Ive been trying to get in touch with you for a week now. ”

”Busy. Omg… ” Blu threw her left hand in the air. ”Eric whisked me away with him to Tahiti. It was so last minute. He worked for three days and then we spend the remaining days just enjoying ourselves, lazing in a lavish overwater bungalow. ”

”Sounds romantic. ”

”It was. We should visit Tahiti together sometime. ”

She ordered tea. It filled the brim of her mug. She swore it was packed with texture and flavour, a thousand layers of cardamom and cloves.

Amara took a sip of her hot chocolate and offered Blu some of her pancakes. ”You want some? ”

”Gluten-free pancakes? No, thank you. ”

”Its good for your health. ”

”When will you stop counting the calories in every food you eat? We
e not twelve anymore, Amara. Thats not healthy. Live a little. ”

Amara looked at her cousins thin waist. Envy flitted through her veins. Four inches. That was how far she was from a corset that cinched. Now, she was on a gluten-free diet. Soon, she would be able to fit into her corset and in no time have Blus waist. All it required was discipline.

”I can afford to gain weight. ”

”How is the new apartment? ” Blu asked. ”Are you settling in fine? ”

”Its great. Although its a small place, I think Ill love it once I finish the decoration. ”

Quietly, they enjoyed their drinks. A flash of forked lightning and a great clap of thunder came close upon each other. The rain picked up speed, but they were unbothered because they brought umbrellas.

”So, guess what? ”

”What? ”

”Eric has this friend coming in from … ”

”No, ” Amara interjected. She was very aware of where the conversation was headed and before it took flight, she had to make sure it was clear that she was not interested.

”He has this friend coming in from the Island of Lusher for business for a few months, ” Blu ignored her. ”Hed like to meet a beautiful girl who isn looking for something serious. ”

Amara looked at her, taken aback. ”Who says Im not looking for something serious? ”

For whatever reason, Blu had made it her life mission to help Amara in her love life. Amara guessed it was a hobby most married people surrounded by single people had. She had other priorities in life, and she made that clear, but Blu never stopped sending her on dates with eligible bachelors.

Finding a potential suitor wasn hard for Blu since her husband, Eric, was a wealthy businessman whose only hobbies included golfing and lounging with friends over a cigar. He had a group of wealthy, single friends interested in settling down.

”I have hooked you up with more guys than I can count, and you always brush them off. Something serious isn what you
e looking for. ”

”I don brush them off. You keep hooking me up with men who are smitten by you, Blu. The last guy you introduced me to, Saint, couldn even hide his frustration when he met me and realized that I look nothing like you. ”

”Forget Saint, ” she waved her off. ”He was an ass. You didn deserve that. ”

”Im not you. You have to stop telling these men that we look alike. ”

Years ago, Amara came to terms with the fact that she would never be Blu, the perfect woman with the perfect hair. One who could code switch depending on the crowd she accompanied. Skinny, poised, sophisticated, impeccable. Every mans wet dream. She was Amara; a single, full-figured thirty-year-old, working a shitty job and living in a studio apartment.

”You
e beautiful and charming, ” Blu complimented. ”You might not look exactly like me, Amara, but we have the same genetic disposition. We are the same. ”

Amara laughed at the ridiculousness. Blu tended to exaggerate. ”We look nothing alike. Im not the ideal type for these bachelors in your social circle who have these preconceived notions of what beauty is. ”

”The same notions that you apparently have yourself? ”

”I guess its also been imprinted in my head. Like someone took a thin, prickly needle and carved into very soft parts of my brain to make sure I never forget this bitter truth. ”

When they were little their mothers put them in several ballet classes in hopes to bring some grace to their stumbling gait. Blu moved like water; boundless beauty laced in every movement. Amara didn quite master the art. She grew up walking on eggshells, wobbling to keep her balance on a tightrope that never really ended.

Blu was the standard every normal woman in the world was expected to meet. For years, she had tried to meet that standard. Moulding herself. Starving herself. Changing herself. Carving herself. But never even near to this perfection.

”I met Zach the other day, ” she changed the topic.

”Zach? Your ex? The douchebag who broke up with you because you added weight after your mother passed? ”

”That one. ”

Blu sat straight and scratched her scalp under the beret, a few strands of her golden curls slipped out. ”Where? What is he doing here? ”

”At the flea market. He said he got a promotion and his company moved him to Khana. He lives here now. ”

”That ass. ”

They shared a few sips of their drink in silence. Blu seemed tense and Amara figured it was because she was tired from her vacation. Still, something was captivating about her.

”This is why you should go on a date with Erics partner. ” Blu caught a strand of hair and tucked it behind her ear. ”If you
e seeing someone else, the chances of falling back into old habits reduce significantly. ”

”Im not that fragile and pathetic to go back to Zach. Give me a little credit. ”

”Its not like Ive not met him, ” Blu said. ”You
e like butter on a hot piece of toast when around him. While hes in town, you need a distraction. ”

Amaras eyes darted around to see if anyone listened in on their conversation. ”Don insist. ”

”Its just dinner. ”

”Just dinner? ”

”Of course. ”

”Im sorry, but… ”

”You promised. ” Blu stopped her. ”When you moved here, you promised to try and fit in. You
e my cousin, Amara. I love you but you
e your own worst enemy. Your self-depreciation gets tiring sometimes. ”

”Im not interested, ” Amara stressed. ”Ill never go on any other blind date youve arranged. Never. Thats not self-deprecating. Thats me knowing my worth and protecting my space. Blu, youll have to be okay with that. You have to respect me. ”

Reluctantly, Blu nodded, ”fine. Whatever makes you happy. Thats all I care about. I won push anymore. I promise. ”

”Thank you. ”

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