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YA Urban Fantasy- First Chapter Critique


Sleep, glorious Sleep

Thursday May 7, 2009
17 days left

It all started with an irresistible urge to take a nap, which is, I assure you, how all great epics begin. So, I took an afternoon nap, and it was astounding. You might think that I’m exaggerating. In fact, Mother often accuses me of embellishment as she rolls her eyes at me.

Infant Natsnet: Mother, I’m starving.

Mother (rolling her eyes): Don’t exaggerate, dear, you’ve already had breakfast.

Infant Natsnet (already a master of rolling eyes for dramatic effect from being under the strict tutelage of Mother): I did…yesterday! 

That’s how Mother and I communicated. She’d roll her eyes at me; I would do the same and we would try to out-eye-roll each other. And Father, well, he’d just sit there reading the paper, praying that neither of us noticed his presence.

Eye-rolling aside, how good can a nap get, you might ask. Let me repeat myself, incredibly astounding, especially for insomniacs. Mother doesn’t believe I have insomnia. She thinks it’s another ploy to get more attention, but I gave up on that when Mother stopped feeding me. That’s how I was forced to learn how to cook at the ripe age of ten. I’ve been in charge of cooking duty ever since.

It was a small miracle when I suddenly felt tired enough to want to take a nap. It happened during lunchtime as Mother, Father and I sat around the table in the kitchen eating last night’s leftovers. I wasted no time. I stood up, abruptly apparently because my action elicited a yelp from Father. I made a run for my second-floor bedroom. Mother barely looked up from her plate.

“Natsnet, are you okay?” I heard Father yell after me.

“Oh, let her be, she wants us to run after her,” Mother retorted. I could feel her roll her eyes at me. So, I rolled mine as well even though she couldn’t see me. I knew she’d feel it and it’d annoy her. That was what I lived for.

I burst into my room and eyed my bed. I could have sworn my bed gave me a come-hither look.

“Oh, you sexy thing, you,” I said as I jumped my bed. I smiled at the knowledge that I was about to have the best sleep of my life.
And then Mother’s shrill voice wafted into the room.

“Natsnet! Natsnet! Na-ts-net!” Mother was yelling at the top of her voice and she wouldn’t stop. I jumped out of bed dazed, scared and with a killer headache. I conjured every bad word in my admittedly limited dictionary and directed them at Mother. Couldn’t she have climbed up the stairs and knocked on the door like any other sane person? No, that lazy wench preferred to scream from the bottom of the stairs. And then she had the audacity to complain about me being lethargic.    

“Natsnet!” the sloth went on. I looked at my watch. Half an hour, I’d slept for only half an hour. I wanted to cry.

“What!” I yelled, the frustration I felt seeping in my voice. 

“Phone! Dad!” she yelled back. I eyed my bed. It was turned off by my premature awakening, but I could tell it still wanted me. I contemplated going back to its welcoming arms.    

“Is it important?” I asked.


I sighed and headed for the door. I took one last longing look at my bed. It looked positively furious. I knew it would not take me back once I inevitably returned begging on my knees.

“Why are you calling me from work? Shouldn’t you be, I don’t know, working?” I grumbled as soon as I picked up the phone. Father always made sure to spend his lunch break with us and went back to work afterwards. I didn’t know why he bothered but it was certainly not for the fine dining. Mother’s lazy butt never made us any meals and I wasn’t delusional enough to think my cooking was anything more than edible. I used to make enough food for Father and me in the hopes that it would motivate Mother to make her own food. I stopped when she started eating her fair share and making Father get takeaway on his way back to work.

“Did you actually ask Mother if it was important?” Father chuckled in what I assumed was amusement. Father chuckled, giggled, guffawed at almost everything. I presumed it was because his life was so drab that he learned to find joy in the smallest of things.

“Well, is it?” I snapped. He thought it was. I was still too grumpy and tired to listen. It was something that had to do with a baby. What does that have to do with me, I wondered. I kept saying ‘uh-huh, yes, Father, yep’, anything to shut him up. When he hung up, I weighed my options. I could uselessly try to go back to sleep or I could uselessly try to study for tomorrow’s maths test. Before I could settle on a choice, Mother started giving me advice on the baby clothes that I was supposed to buy.

“What in the world are you talking about?” I asked. 

“You didn’t listen to a word Mehari said, did you?” Disapproval oozed from her voice. What else was new? 

”Well...” I stretched out the word making my answer obvious. She tsk-tsked and explained what I had to do.

“Sabrina gave birth to a baby boy! And you need to buy him a gift for his baptism. Clothes will do,” Mother explained.             
“Who the hell is that?” I asked. Mother harrumphed.

“Sabrina is your Uncle Abe’s wife,” she elucidated in a stern schoolteacher tone.

“Sabrina? Abe?” I ran the names in my head hoping that they would ring a bell.

“Oh, Aunt Sabrina? She’s given birth again? What, is it like her seventh kid? I’ll get her a rape whistle, that’s what I’ll get her,” I muttered.

“Natsnet!” Mother was getting her temper up again.

“Fine, fine,” I said holding my hands up as a sign of peace.

“I’ll get her condoms,” I added seriously.

“Natsnet!” Mother proceeded to give me a lecture. I get them two or three times a day depending on whether it is a weekday or a weekend.

“So, no condoms?” I asked after Mother was done. She sighed. I knew she’d given up. Mother was an expert at giving up. She was no fun to mess with anymore.

 “No, no condoms,” she said dejected. “Besides, they’re Catholics,” she added making me laugh.

“So, what you have to do is…”

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted her. “Why me? Better yet, why not you?”

“First of all, it’s your side of the family,” she began. Her response made me involuntarily flinch but it didn’t bother her at all.

“Secondly, you should have thought of that before you agreed to do it. You’re free to tell Mehari you don’t want to do it. I’m sure it will make him very happy.” Mother sported her fake smile.

I groaned. Unlike Mother, Father was actually a decent bloke. I didn’t like disappointing him. I agreed to do it.

“Simon is going to pick you up. I’ve already told him which stores to check out.”

“Who’s Simon?” I asked. My head hurt due to all the names that were being jammed down its throat. I was not exactly a family oriented kind of girl. Hell, I wasn’t a people kind of girl period.

“He’s my nephew, my sister Aster’s youngest son,” Mother clarified. The fact that she didn’t simply say ‘your cousin’ wasn’t lost on me. Mother used every chance to remind me that we were not related by blood, that I was adopted. This time she had succeeded in mentioning it twice in one conversation. That was a record for her. I wanted to hurt her the way she had hurt me. She was the one who had asked for this, not me. I wanted to remind her of that day twelve years ago when she had held me in her arms and had asked me to call her Mom. I wanted to lash out and accuse her of being a liar. The anger within me came to a boil. But she wasn’t worth the trouble. Instead, I did as I always do. I took a deep breath before rolling my eyes.

“Is he the fat, nerdy one?” I asked pretending her words hadn’t affected me.

“He is not… just run along and change into something decent before he arrives. You don’t want to scare him off, do you?”

I looked down at my clothes. What was wrong with them? They were clean and proper. Besides, even if I had looked like a hag from hell (AKA Mother), it wasn’t going to ruin Mother’s attempts at making me socially acceptable. My personality was in charge of that. I ignored her order and headed for the kitchen. Coffee, that was what I needed. I was brewing coffee when Mother showed up with yet another request. She announced Simon’s arrival and told me to make him tea. I would have argued against it but I didn’t want to get into another argument with Mother, at least not until I had had my coffee. She had killed my mood for arguing. I quickly drank my coffee before serving the tea.

“Hey, Rainbow,” Simon greeted me as I walked into the living room. I literally growled at him. Rainbow was my dreaded childhood nickname. I had received the nickname not because of my cheerful personality, although I assume you’ve already figured that out. Either that or you’re not the brightest bulb. But I’m getting side-tracked. I was not what people would call a fashionista. I had never paid any attention to what I wore. My tendencies to not colour coordinate had earned me that god forsaken nickname on my first day at my new school. Creative, I know, but what else can you expect from a bunch of brainless eight years olds? The nickname had of course immediately endeared me to my classmates, which was why I had spent the next two years of elementary school not talking to them. Simon used to go to the same school as I before he had dropped out or transferred. I had ensured that the nickname hadn’t carried on to middle school so nobody has called me that for the last eight years. But Simon had clearly not gotten the memo.   
“Oh, it is the fat, nerdy guy,” I replied. Two can play that game, I thought. I was also sincerely impressed with myself. I was usually terrible with names and faces.    

“Natsnet!” Mother screeched. I had to cover my ears or risk going deaf. Simon must have found the whole situation funny for whatever absurd human reason. He barked out a laugh which was peculiarly loud and goofy. Both Mother and I looked at him as if there was something seriously wrong with him.

Mother laughed nervously. “I apologize for that. Natsnet is… well, she isn’t used to being around people.”   

I’m not used to being around people? What am I, a misbehaving dog, I wondered. I rolled my eyes at Mother. She saw me and rolled hers. Simon kept looking at us in amusement. I bet he had never seen a mother-daughter relationship like ours before.

“I was hoping that that would change. Maybe after buying the gift you can take her out for tea?” Mother asked.

That’s when I knew that Mother had planned it all out. Father had never in his life cared about my social life and socializing skills, or lack thereof. She must have asked him to ask me to go because she knew that I had a soft spot for that old oaf and I couldn’t say no to him. That conniving wench! But I was neither surprised by the realization nor embarrassed of Mother trying to set up a play date for me as if I was some sort of freak incapable of making friends. I was perfectly capable of doing that. My friendless status was by design. But Mother, convinced that there must be something inherently wrong with me, usually targeted relatives so that they’d feel obliged to hang out with me. Simon was just a dot in a long line. That’s why I wasn’t worried when Simon readily agreed to take me out. They all started out more or less (more on the less) enthusiastic but none of them ever lasted.

 Simon and Mother chattered away for a while. My mind was on my bed and my lost sleep. Oh Sleep, glorious Sleep! I yawned throughout their conversation but Mother surprisingly didn’t scold me by saying I was being rude. Telling me off in front of people was one of her favourite pastimes. I cleared the table after they were done drinking their tea and then we were off. 

I dozed off in Simon’s car or rather in his friend’s car, as he had sheepishly admitted to me. Before taking off, I had asked him how old he was but not because I cared about getting to know him. I had been concerned about my safety. Simon looked to be around my age despite his huge build. The legal age for driving in Eritrea was 18. Simon had told me that he was fifteen. Fifteen! Yes, this big ball of fat was three years younger than me, or rather two since I still had a couple of weeks left until my eighteenth birthday. I normally wouldn’t have trusted someone so young and without a license to drive me anywhere. But I was too tired to argue and I soon snoozed but not before making barely audible, drowsy threats about him driving safely and slowly.

When Simon shook me awake, I growled at him much to his amusement. My condition had deteriorated. I felt even more tired and my headache was killing me.

“Can’t you buy whatever it is yourself? I’ll wait in the car. I think I’m coming down with something,” I said.

“You mean coming up with a lie? Get your lazy butt out the car. I don’t know anything about baby clothes,” Simon declared. Neither did I but I was honestly not up for a fight.

“Stupid human,” I muttered.


“Nothing. Let’s go,” I jumped out of the car but I felt dizzy. I had to hold on to the car for balance.

“That is so not going to work on me. Sorry cous, you’re not getting out of this one.”

As if I would fake an illness to get out of doing something. I didn’t do anything against my will, ever. How dare he assume that? This big ball of fat didn’t even know me.

“We’re not really cousins, you know. So don’t call me cous ever again!” I said taking a page out of Mother’s book. I then stormed off.

“Erm, Rainbow?”


“You’re going the wrong way,” Simon said laughing.

 I stopped in my tracks immediately and that made him laugh even more. I told myself to calm down. I told myself that killing him was not going to make me feel better. Instead of succumbing to my impulses, I looked around in an attempt to figure out where we were
We were at Piazza Michele Bianchi, one of Asmara’s hotspots for clothing stores. Many of the places in Asmara still retained the names they were given when they were built during the Italian Colonial Period. It was the Italians that had made Asmara their capital city in 1890. Italian architects, who had been considered too experimental at the time, had been given free rein in Asmara. Because Asmara has been incredibly well preserved, a stroll will have you running into buildings belonging to modernism, futurism, art deco and more all within a square kilometre.

The buildings around the piazza or square were around a century old which always made me feel like I was travelling in time. Too bad it was always so crowded.  I had no time to indulge in my favourite activity, which was taking long leisurely walks around the city.  I was in too much pain and I just wanted to buy the stupid gift and hurry back to my parents’ house. I asked Simon for directions to the baby store and stomped off as soon as I got them. Simon followed closely behind which only served to irritate me more. Why couldn’t the kid just get lost in the crowd? I was so angry that as I passed the building to the south of the square, the lion-shaped brackets below its balconies and the grotesque cherub faces above its windows, which I usually stopped to admire, seemed to be mocking me. I couldn’t help but to flip them off.

 I was shocked when I found the baby store. It consisted simply of a counter behind which stood a distressed looking employee, and several shelves displaying baby clothes surrounding the walls. It was tiny yet many people were squished inside shouting and pointing frantically trying to get the employee’s attention. I briefly considered waiting until some sort of order was established but I knew that that was going to be a waste of time. It is better to brave it up and get things over with, I told myself. The sooner I finished the task, the sooner I could get away from the big, nerdy guy.

 “I’ll wait for you here,” Simon kindly informed me. Cowardly human, I wanted to accuse him but ignored him instead. I was not in the best physical condition for confrontations, not today. Mother would be so proud. She assumed that I intentionally started fights. Look at me, avoiding fights and all. Ain’t I a darling, I thought. 

To get to the counter, I had to cross a sea of bodies. I started pushing my way towards the counter. Some people refused to let me pass while others just murmured about how disrespectful I was being. I was halfway through when the dizziness worsened to the point of being overpowering. The oddest sensation took over me.  I felt weightless while at the same time my ever-escalating headache kept me grounded. The people around me suffocated me. I needed to get out. I helplessly looked back to where I had left Simon. He was nowhere to be seen. I started panicking.

“I need to get out,” I said but it only came out as a whisper.

“Please,” I said but no one heard me. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move. My headache kept getting worse. It felt like my head was going to explode.  

And then nothing.


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