It’s not here, read the sign. Large, white text on an off-shade of green. Underneath, italicized, was, in 8,000km not there either.
They had laughed about it, hard. They laughed and took photos, took selfies taking turns making grotesque faces, taking turns kissing each other’s foreheads. They laughed until the implied ‘what you’re looking for’ answer to the subject of the sign stopped being funny. Before leaving, they had been queried if they were looking ‘for themselves’ or a ‘purpose’ on their trip.
They were looking for Nattiq, the not-city far north and usually reached by provisional plane tickets – free for people moving there – or hitching rides with trucks shipping in shipments and shipping out Nattiq’s exports. Madhuri and Brae weren’t moving there, didn’t want to get stuck trying to hitch in the deadzones of the meri-west and south-eastern mountains, and had bikes. Bikes that could carry them places as far as Nattiq was, if not further.
At the sign, their laughter subsided. Madhuri’s hiccups of giggles tapered out and Brae’s wheezing from not having the lung capacity to laugh anymore was quelled with large gulps of air.
“Okay, but what is it really?”
Madhuri shrugged, found that she was holding a shovel – a folding spade, nicked from a franchise hardware store – and started digging. They dug until the sun set, taking turns with the single spade, occasionally teaming together with Brae’s cardboard panhandling sign to bail loose earth out of the hole.
What they found was a sack. Inside was a box of matches with YES, EVERYTHING printed on it, a shallow bowl with instructions handpainted on the underside, and the jar of inky fluid that sloshed with an unnerving disrespect to gravity.