Anika Bandele was certain she was being haunted. It was about time, she supposed.
The first time she saw the ghost, she was daydreaming in the rooftop conservatory. Sulphuric rain had been beating down on south Accra for four days straight, keeping her within the confines of her family home. The rust-colored clouds hung lazy and low and carried a soft luminescence of their own. They threw long, moving shadows through the layers of ferns and vines such that when Anika saw motion across the room, she couldn’t truly be sure of what she saw.
But what she thought she saw was a brown-skinned woman around her own age, who seemed startled to find herself a ghost.
The woman looked around blinking and bewildered. She finally noticed Anika and froze. Then the apparition wavered and disappeared altogether.
Since then Anika had passed the ghost in the hallway (the ghost-woman stepping out of one wall with her nose in a book, an honest-to-god, paper and binding book! She crossed Anika’s path and disappeared into the opposite wall without ever noticing her). She had seen her spooning breakfast into her mouth (the woman startled so much when she noticed Anika that her spoon fell from her hand and clattered into the bowl). And Anika had seen her sleeping. It was an image so tender, it clutched at her heart. She could see the ghost’s chest rise and fall with each breath, the fanning of lashes across apple cheeks, lips parted in sleep, braids tied up in a colorful scarf. Simply put, the ghost was lovely. Anika realized she was staring, and her cheeks heated in embarrassment. She shouldn’t be watching a person, a stranger, sleep. Even if she was a dead stranger.
Anika had no practical experience with the spirit world, which was a shame considering the family business. In fact, that was the only connection to the dead stranger she could imagine at all. Anika had never even heard of a Bandele being haunted by a displeased spirit. If the ghost-woman was unhappy with her coffin, there was likely little Anika could do about it now. Still, she made a mental note to ask Talin about it when they were finally back in the workshops.
The next morning Anika savored her first cup of coffee while watching the neighborhood wake through her wide kitchen window. Last night, she’d heard the climate-crisis missiles firing. Several of the long thin projectiles whistled upwards to dissolve before they crossed through the stratosphere, breaking up the sulphuric rainstorm. The morning sun shone through a thin haze; it would still be days before the air cleared completely, but already she could see people leaving their homes in full atmospheric protection suits, desperate to be about their normal routine. As was she.
Her home was set behind the workshops, the two connected by a long courtyard, near the outskirts of the city. The cement floors of the workshop were no longer dusted with curls of Ghanian hardwood, but bio-plastics planed just the same.
From Accra to São Paulo the Bandele name was known for their abebuu adekai. For seven generations the family had crafted individualized coffins to carry their occupants from this life to the next. When her father passed away, she inherited both the home and the family business. Talin often joked that ‘legacy’ was her middle name.
Anika’s fingers itched for her tools left on her workshop bench. She pressed a thumbnail into a callus in the opposite palm. it would take more than a few days of disuse to soften them.
Anika raised her steaming mug of coffee to her lips when suddenly the ghost filled the seat across from her. Her feet were tucked under her legs, and she was wholly absorbed in another book. The woman looked so perfect, so natural there Anika could hardly believe she was a ghost at all. Without thinking Anika reached out to touch her.
Anika’s hand swam through the image. The air between them was dense and warm. The woman yelped and Anika pulled her hand back in alarm, sending her mug of coffee crashing onto the floor.
“Stars!” Real coffee was an indulgence and Anika spent more than she’d admit out loud for beans that were harvested from plants grown in soil, with leaves that had seen the sun.
“Sorry, sorry!” Anika was torn between trying to calm the alarmed spirit and scrambling to clean up the mess she had made.
The ghost woman was standing now, invisible from the knees down as if she’d sunk into the bench seat. She held her hands in front of her in a placating gesture.
“What do you want?”
“What do I want?” What a strange thing to ask. “You’re supposed to be the one with unfinished business and whatnot.”
“Unfinished…what?” The ghost-woman’s face scrunched in confusion. It was an adorable expression for a spirit.
“Is that not why spirits haunt? Unfinished business? You don’t seem particularly dangerous, so I figured this wasn’t a vengeance haunting…”
“Haunting you? You’ve been showing up out of nowhere for days!” The woman was pacing now. “Oh my god. I’m being gaslit by a ghost.”
“Well, this is awkward, because I am very much alive.” Anika sat back down and stared at the specter. Besides that embarrassingly voyeuristic moment when she’d seen her sleeping, Anika hadn’t gotten a good look at her.
Her face was heart-shaped and her skin was the color of the wet clay and just as smooth. She had several small fitted golden hoops climbing the shells of her ears, and another ring, more ornate, sat snug under her nose. Her eyes were wide and dark, and Anika supposed if it weren’t for all the metal jewelry, they’d dominate her face entirely. Belatedly, Anika realized she was being studied as well.
“Let’s start over, shall we? My name is Anika Ren Bandele of Bandele Workshops. Seventh generation coffin-makers and the very first of fantasy coffins. I live in Accra, Ghana, United African Nations and I am very much alive. And you are?”
“Rose. Rose Kimani Turner. Pasadena, California, USA. Also, very much alive.”
“Well then what in heaven are you doing here?” Wonder threaded through Anika’s every word. She leaned forward towards Rose. She couldn’t help herself. Anika reached towards her again. Tentatively, Rose also lifted a trembling hand. Anika’s hand was surrounded by warmth again and the image distorted at her wrist. Their fingertips met and they stayed that way for a breath and then two. Slowly Anika pulled her hand back to her own world. Reality.
“California?” Anika wrinkled her nose. She wasn’t exactly diligent about following world affairs, but something seemed off. “And what, are you one of those anti-separatists? I thought you all had long gotten over seceding from the States.”
Rose blinked in confusion.
“California seceded?” Rose seemed to be trying the words on. Then abruptly decided they didn’t fit. She shook her head. “No. It’s not a bad idea though.”
“You’re not the first to think it.” It was then that an idea—a wondrous, impossible idea— slowly spread through Anika. Her eyes flicked as she did a quick search of the NetCast. “California did in fact secede. In 2102.”
“I need to sit down.” The words came out of Rose breathless.
“Oh stars.” Anika had always been whimsical. All she needed was a nudge and she was ready to believe in things that had no right to be so. “What year is it, Rose? If you don’t mind.”
“You’re sitting now, yeah?”
“For you it’s 2015, for me, it’s the year 2140.”
A short bark of a laugh escaped Rose. She clamped a hand over her mouth.
Anika could not explain what she was experiencing, and its novelty and impossibility bubbled over inside her. Rose laughed as well, a light and effervescent thing. Before she knew it, she was clutching her sides and Rose had tears forming in the corners of her eyes.
“I’m looking into the future,” Rose said as if she scarcely believed it. Anika didn’t blame her. Rose lifted her hand as if to reach out again, then drew back as if she’d thought better of it. “Shit, I guess I am dead.”
It was a sobering thought, that there was no Rose Turner in Anika’s world. Not in 2140. Her descendants maybe. Anika decided then that she wouldn’t look them up.
“Yes and no. Right here? Right now we’re both very much alive. Tell me,” Anika trailed off as she thought a moment. “Tell me the strangest thing on the internet right now.”
A smile broke across Rose’s face. “Well, there’s this dress and personally, I think it’s white and gold, but…”
Question after question tumbled from Anika’s lips. And everything Rose said was thoughtful and witty. Anika couldn’t remember enjoying another person’s company this much since, well, maybe ever.
TERRA, her home assistant unit, pinged twice before announcing the time, letting Anika know that she had fifteen minutes to complete the rest of her morning routine before heading to the shop. Everything she’d been itching to do suddenly felt like it could wait another four days without suffering any consequences. What was in front of her was surreal.
The thought made Anika a little dizzy.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but unfortunately I have to get going.”
“Of course. I understand. Um, any idea how to get rid of this portal thing?”
“Not in the slightest. It’s come and gone at whim on my end.”
Rose laughed. It was a musical sound that filled Anika’s chest.
“I guess I’ll just go back to reading. And trying not to stare too hard into your futuristic kitchen.”
Anika chuckled “You can look as much as you’d like. Good to finally meet you, Rose.”
“You too, Anika.” Though it was the last thing she could imagine doing, she walked away from the tiny miracle in her kitchen.
Anika crossed the workshop floor, weaving around projects in various states of completeness as quickly as possible. The lights on the main floor were on, so Talin was here somewhere. She took the stairs two at a time to her office in the back of the building.
Anika threw her bag across her desk and quickly slid into her apron and respirator and grabbed a satchel near the doorway containing her tools. If she was lucky, she could squeeze in some floor time before things got busy.
Bandele workshops produced, on average, eight coffins a month. It was a growth she was proud of in spite of the fact that this was a fraction of the workshop’s production at the height of their success. She could probably double that number if they stopped crafting coffins by hand. Transitioning from traditional wood coffins to reclaimed bio-plastics was both a practical and an ethical choice, but she had no desire to replace her team of carpenters with a digitized process as her competitors had.
On the main floor there was a coffin shaped like a 20th century Kodak film camera ready for the family to pick up, there was a block glittering with crushed glass that was slowly gaining the sleek curves of a vintage Cadillac, a menacing-looking octopus with six of its eight tentacles and then there was her favorite project in recent memory. The hippopotamus. A land dweller with the audacity to hold its breath and walk along the bottom of rivers. Absurd. She’d spent days and days researching the creature fashioned for a zoologist famed for her conservation efforts.
No sooner had she accessed updates and the day’s project schedule from a nearby console than she heard her name from behind her.
“Anika! Anika Bandele! When did you slip in here?” The lyrical accent was unmistakable. Talin, Anika’s cousin by marriage, had spent most of his life in New Barbados and moved back to Ghana as an adult, taking on the role of project manager under her father. They were partners in this family business, and he was perhaps her only true friend.
“Good morning to you too, Talin. And how are you today, dear cousin?
He eyed her apron and tool set. “You’re awfully cheery. You must not have seen the schedule yet.”
“Of course I have, I just—” Talin leaned over Anika’s shoulder and with a few clicks of the screen switched from the various project timelines to her own personal schedule.
“There we are. Consultations–”
“Back-to-back until the early afternoon.” Anika finished for him. “I know.”
Talin’s surprise was visible. “Anika, is that a smile? About spending an entire afternoon peopling?”
“What’s going on with the octopus?” Anika asked, ignoring him.
“I noticed you didn’t answer me.” Talin nodded towards the workshop floor. “Reginald snapped another tentacle. He’s funny when he’s frustrated. I don’t know why we didn’t talk them out of such an outrageous creature anyway.”
“Because we can do it. Plus you agreed with me, all those little suction cups sounded fun.” They were walking now, back towards the office. She’d sneak in some craft time in between consultations.
“For you, I said they sounded fun for you.”
“At least it’s for an exhibit, not for someone’s Nan.” She paused, looking up at her cousin, “Are those new glasses, Talin?”
“They were three months ago. Thank you for noticing. Seriously, what’s gotten into you?”
“They look good. What else?”
“Reginald is fed up. I take it you want to have a go at the tentacles?”
“Of course I do. Your husband and the baby are well, I trust?”
“Who are you and what have you done with my cousin?”
“I can’t ask after my own family?”
“No, no you cannot.”
“Nonsense. I do so all the time, and you know it. You make me sound like a self-absorbed monster.”
“Not self-absorbed. Just…distracted.” Anika scoffed, yet he continued. “You know, a little day-dreamy.” He had her there. “You haven’t been in a mood like this since…”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Anika said, cutting him off.
“You’ve met someone, haven’t you? Is it love already?”
“Absurd.” Wasn’t it? “That’s it for the schedule, then?”
“Well, it’s infatuation at least. You can keep your secrets for now, Anika. And no, that’s not all, we’ve got two missed notices from the city. Why they can never show up during open hours I’ll never know.”
“Did you listen to them yet?”
Talin shot her a look of pure annoyance. “Of course not.”
“I’ll get back to them. I don’t have the patience for city officials today.”
Talin snorted in response.
Anika opened her office door and gestured for Talin to enter first. “Let’s review the family’s profile before they arrive, shall we?”
“I thought you’d never suggest it.”
Many hours later, Anika was collapsed in a pile of cushions across the end of her bed. Depleted, as Talin had expected, from an afternoon of peopling. But somehow, when Rose appeared across from her, she didn’t mind the intrusion at all. It was possible she even welcomed it.
“You look exhausted.”
“I spent most of the day in consultations.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
Anika opened one eye. “You didn’t spend forty-five minutes trying to convince a woman not to bury her husband in a rooster.”
“What’s wrong with a rooster?”
“Nothing’s wrong with a rooster. He ran illegal cockfights. It was his rooster that killed him.”
“I wish I was.” Anika sat up, fully taking in Rose’s floral-patterned dress and long beaded earrings. “You look lovely.”
Her skin may have hidden a blush, but her body language didn’t. Anika loved being able to give her that compliment and loved receiving that shy smile in return.
“Thank you!” She said, giving a twirl that caused the skirt of the dress to fan out then settle. “I was just headed out, actually.”
“Oh! By all means; I don’t want to keep you from your date.”
“No, no,” Rose insisted, “it can wait. I’d rather talk to you.” And there it was, that full body blush again. “And I’m not dating anyone either.”
“You look all dressed up, I just assumed— I can’t imagine why you’re not dating anyone.”
Rose was quiet for a moment before she asked, “Anika? Do you ever wonder why we were connected like this?”
“Almost all the time. Is there some grand question we’re meant to answer through this exchange? Or is this just the universe being capricious? And what if…” Anika trailed off, hesitant to voice what’d begun to be an obsession for her.
“What if what?” Rose pressed.
“What if it ends? What if this is the last time I see you? We’d walk away never knowing it was the end.”
“Well, then we’ll just have to end each conversation as if it were the last. So there’s closure. No matter what.”
Anika smiled at that. It was a practical answer, yet it made her insides flutter. “I think I can do that.”
Anika wished the beeping would stop. She rolled over in her bed, burying her head under a pillow. The damned sound continued. “I’m up! TERRA, stop alarm. I’m up, I’m up!” The AI unit ignored her, and Anika swatted at the control panel recessed in the wall to the right of the bed.
She swiped down automatically. Immediately after she completed the motion, she realized it was not an alarm she’d cancelled, but a call.
Despite what they’d said about closure, the last thing Anika remembered was lying across her bed watching over Rose’s shoulder as she drew. And then she’d woken up to find a square piece of paper on the pillow next to her. Anika hadn’t handled actual paper since she was a child. She ran her fingers along the soft ragged edges, careful to avoid the ink drawing in the center. It was a small bird with a brilliant magenta patch that concentrated at its throat and spread up to its crown. Its wings were a deep iridescent, verdant green. The feathers blended to bronze around the chest. Anika had never seen a real one before, but the long straight bill was a giveaway. It was a wondrous, impossible creature. She blinked twice to access NetCast and performed a visual search.
Calypte anna. Order: Caprimulgiformes. Family: Trochilidae
A medium-sized bird species of the family Hummingbird.
Named after French Duchess Anna Debelle.
Last seen in the wild in 2090.
Current Status: Presumed Extinct.
Anika’s whole life had been confined to one city. Never once had she thought she was missing out. But she could see the light in Rose’s eyes last night as she talked about her grandmother’s garden and the pollinators that visited. About summer trips to the beach and learning to bodyboard on the waves of the Pacific.
Anika was not used to such longing, and it threatened to make her bitter. Her Gold Coast was far from suitable for ocean frolicking, the butterflies were long gone, and the bees almost were too. But Rose, Rose could draw a hummingbird from memory. She wondered what the coast of Rose’s Ghana was like. She supposed she could look it up, but imagining it through Rose’s eyes, or even with her was better.
And then Anika saw the time. “Blazing stars,” she swore under her breath.
If she skipped her morning coffee rituals, Anika might make it to the workshop in time to be debriefed before her first meeting of the day.
Anika walked across the workshop floor in long strides shouting ‘Good morning!’ as she went. She raced up the back stairway, swung open her office door and stopped short.
She had a visitor.
The crisply pressed edges of the man’s uniform gave him away. The uniform was an austere navy and cut to resemble the western business suits of the early part of the century. Under no circumstances would anybody other than a government employee be caught wearing anything so oppressive or archaic in this heat.
Anika swallowed her surprise and drew up from the base of her spine until her neck was long and her chin steady.
“Anika Bandele?” The suit asked.
“Yes. And with whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?”
“David, the Communications Warden for sector 1803 including the greater Accra metropolis. Do you have a moment?”
Worry twisted in Anika’s stomach. She took a breath and waved him on, taking care that her words sounded light and indifferent. “I suppose I must make one for you. This visit is terribly inconvenient, you know. Has it ever occurred to you people to call ahead?”
“Ma’am, Communications Wardens are only sent into the field after several unsuccessful attempts at communications. In your case there were—” a pause, as David glanced up and to his right, presumably checking his records, “—five missed or ignored contacts between your domicile and your place of work.”
Inside Anika winced at the emphasis he placed on ‘ignored’. Outwardly, she never dropped her chin.
“I see. Would you like to take a seat?” she said, gesturing at the chair he stood beside as she made her way to her desk.
“No, thank you. Your hospitality is noted, however.” David extended his hand towards her, revealing a crimson message card. “This is your final notice, Miss Bandele.” With that and a respectful nod of his head, David was gone.
Anika sank into her desk chair.
Talin knocked quietly and entered. “This isn’t good, is it?”
Dread coiled in the pit of her stomach. And Talin could sense it too.
“Do you want me to stay?”
“Please.” She looked at the message card again, and pressed play.
Dear Citizen of Sector 1803 of Accra Metropolis. Your sector has been acquired by the state as the future Pro-Hydro Energy Site. This acquisition has been approved by the United African Nations Energy council under the Vital Resource Compulsory Acquisition Act 12-C.
The premises of Bati Bandele and domicile of one, Anika Bandele, must be vacated by April 12th 2140, 0800h. Any person or being remaining on the premises after this time will be considered a trespasser and subject to the maximum penalty under the law. Any possessions left on the premises after this time will be considered forfeit. Monetary compensation in the denomination of international chit will be credited to your account at the end of this message. Thank you for your cooperation and contribution to the future of our glorious nation. End.
“That’s it? Just like that? We’re over?” Anika fought frustration and anger and the tears they threatened to produce. This land, this place, was her life and her legacy. And without care or consideration it was gone from her. Her input, her thoughts, simply hadn’t mattered. A ping on her office console alerted her to the deposit the message spoke of. She looked at the number and laughed.
“Is it that bad?”
“No, it seems they might actually be paying me what this land is worth.” On paper anyway. The money was an abstraction to her. It could not replace her home and her family’s work. She looked up at Talin. “What will you do?”
He sighed. “Jacob and I will probably go back to New Barbados. My sister is still there. You know, you might like the Caribbean.” He looked towards Anika with shining eyes.
“I just…don’t know, cousin.” And that was the truth. This was her life’s work and she had never imagined leaving it. The one thing she thought she would always have was now gone.
Anika spent the remaining weeks in a haze. Her days were spent reassuring their final customers that their orders would be fulfilled and recording recommendations for her employees. Her evenings she largely spent moping around her home, trying to touch every wall, every piece of furniture, lie in every patch of sunlight one last time. She tried packing, but it felt futile. Where would she go, and what would she do when she got there? The one person she thought to turn to for comfort, she had no way to reach. Whatever force had thrown Anika and Rose together seemed to be fading. Their paths hardly intersected and when they did, they barely exchanged a few sentences before the connection severed. Anika couldn’t pinpoint exactly when Rose had become so precious to her, but the idea of losing her at the same time she was losing everything else felt unbearable.
Three days before her deadline, Anika made a decision. The idea came to her in the small hours of the night when sleep was elusive and anxiety was present in excess. It was a reckless gamble, but she committed to it. Anika gathered two bags and packed essentials, clothing, sentimental items, identification and the things she thought would fetch a good price on the online market. On top of it all she placed her carpentry set. Her profession was a timeless one, after all. Lastly, she transferred her international chits to Talin. He’d worry, but she’d find a way to tell him, to reassure him, somehow. By the dawn’s first light she was done.
She sat at her breakfast nook to listen to the market wake below her for the last time. She sipped her coffee and did her best to ignore the doubt that crept around her belly. Anika had no idea when she would see Rose next. But she was hopeful and determined to stay ready. She finished her first cup, and then her second, and was just considering whether or not to drag her bags up to the conservatory with her when it happened. The window in front of her shimmered into a sharp resolution of a different space. Rose was wrapped in a towel, droplets that adorned her shoulders shook and fell as she wiped across what Anika assumed was a foggy mirror.
“Anika!” Rose’s face lit in delight. “I was starting to worry I missed you. For good.”
“Rose, listen, I…I know this is a lot to ask, and we haven’t had much time, and I wouldn’t ask if it didn’t feel so right—” Rose cut her off.
“Yes! You want to come here, right? I wanted to ask since you first told me about the notice. But I didn’t know how.”
“I don’t even know if it’ll work.” Doubt was churning in her gut again.
“I put my drawing through! And we touched hands that once, remember?”
Anika sniffed and wiped her eyes.
“Are you ready now?”
Anika nodded her head and stood, grabbing the bags beside her. Rose climbed up on the counter and extended an arm.
“Stars, you’re beautiful.” Anika smiled at the way Rose softened in response.
“C’mon. I’ll make you an espresso. A real one.”
Then Anika grabbed Rose’s hand, and pulled herself through.
K.S. Walker writes speculative fiction. You can often find them outside with their family or starting a craft project but not finishing it. K.S. Walker has previously been published at FIYAH. You can find them online at www.kswalker.net or on Twitter @kswalkerwrites and Instagram @kswalker_writes.