Chidinma's head swayed with each judder of the helicopter. The wind was never friendly this time of year, and Devontee's piloting skills were questionable. Chidinma's tight curls brushed against her seat, making rustling noises that annoyed Devontee. He cocked his head in her direction to glare at her. But instead, his eyes widened at the sight of the dried-up bloodstains smeared across her face.
"Ah!" Devontee yelled. His shriek struck Chidinma's ears and made her jolt out of her seat. Then, at once, Chidinma felt severe spasms across her body. The throbbing started from her head and pulsated down to her fingertips and toes. She tried to hold herself up, but her body had given up on her and she flopped on the helicopter controls.
"Ugh," Chidinma groaned. Devontee slapped on autopilot and gently laid Chidinma back into her seat.
"What happened?!" Devontee said. Chioma's words echoed in her head.
Don't trust the white man and the Black man that mindlessly follows him. Chidinma avoided eye contact and didn't utter a word.
"So, you're not going to tell me?" Devontee exclaimed. "We've been partners for how long, but you don't even trust me enough to tell me why blood came out of your eyes!"
Chidinma bit her lip and looked out the window.
"Fine," he whispered. "Dumb girl." The murmur was loud enough for Chidinma to hear. She sucked her teeth and Devontee retorted with the same sound of disrespect.
"Cleared for the ILS 24 Left," CSIS Toronto tower centre said.
"Cleared for the ILS 24 Left, thank you," Devontee replied. "Chidinma, you better tell me what's going on now before we land. How are we supposed to explain the blood on your face!"
"Cleared to land," CSIS tower centre said.
"Cleared to land. Thank you," Devontee said. "You know the camera's probably caught whatever you did." He focused on the controls as they descended, but he squirmed at the sound of Chidinma whimpering.
"We're going to die… at least rub that shit off your face," Devontee said.
The two finally land at CSIS Toronto. Chidinma and Devontee left the helicopter and stared down the runway. Their legs were stiff — they looked around, waiting for something, agents, snipers, servicemen. Chidinma had some power back, so she focused her energy on her eyes to scan the area. Devontee saw her eyes glow and nudged her.
"Using powers right now could be seen as an aggravated assault against the state," Devontee said.
"Shit," Chidinma said. The yellow in her eyes dwindled until the whites of her eyes resurfaced. "I'll tell them you had nothing to do with it."
"They won't believe you either way," he said as his eyes watered. "Let's go."
The walk down the runway was haunted by all-consuming silence. CSIS officials knew they were coming, but darkness still covered the entrance. Only when they made it to the door did the premise lights beam in their faces.
The studded-metal doors opened and revealed not a cluster of agents but Atak Lual. His low afro resembled Devontee's, and his three-piece suit was decorated with a Canadian flag pin. His eyes darted from Devontee to Chidinma, and his jaw clenched at the sight of the streaks of dried-up blood on Chidinma's face. Finally, his eyes shifted back to Devontee.
"You stay in front of her as a cover," he said. "And you, Chidinma, keep your head down. No one needs to be asking questions. Follow me to my office." Atak strode past the glass-adorned corridor, and Chidinma and Devontee sped behind him.
They entered the elevator and rode to the fifth floor, and b-lined for his corner office. Unfortunately, the beauty of the building had not reached his office.
The carpet that stretched across the floor was knitted with rough material, and the walls were a dull grey. Atak collapsed in his seat behind his desk. Chidinma and Devontee watched as anxiety consumed him. He held his head in his hands while taking deep breaths. After the last deep breath, he shot his head up to look at the two. Both jumped and looked around the room to avoid eye contact.
"What the hell is going on?" he said. "Chioma sent me an urgent cryptic message basically pleading that I approved her reassignment request four hours ago. Those take weeks, maybe months, yet here you are. I couldn't reach her, and the hallway surveillance caught five CSIS agents storming her office. They are all missing now." Chidinma kept a straight face, but her heartbeat had escalated to new feats. The sweat rushed out her pores and started to smudge the blood on her face. Atak saw this and softened his tone.
"Take a seat." Chidinma and Devontee both sat down in the chairs across from his desk. "My name is Atak Lual. Before I was an agent here, I was a state serviceman like the both of you. Chioma basically raised me back when we were serving in Nova Scotia. I just need to know what happened."
"97567," Chidinma blurted out. Devontee and Atak spun towards her.
"Pardon?" Atak said.
"9-7-5-6-7," Chidinma said.
"What does that mean?" Atak responded.
"I don't know," Chidinma said.
"You don't know," Atak said. His eyes shifted to Devontee, but he looked confused as well. Atak knew he could just be lying, but servicemen at their rank aren't trained in the art of deception.
"Where did you get the number from?" Atak said. Chidinma stayed silent; her eyes grew emotionless. "Look, I know Chioma, but I don't know you two. There's only so much I can do. I've enlisted you in a new squad CSIS is forming that I'm in charge of to stop higher-ups from asking questions. I'll take you both to your residence. Rest up.”
The ride to the basement was quiet. Chidinma made sure to control her breathing, so both wouldn't notice her hyperventilating. When she finally got to her room, she collapsed on her twin bed. She silently wept for some time before entering her shower.
She washed all the blood and grime off, and her coily hair shrunk up. Pain still ate at her muscles. She did her best to hide it outside, but here, she hobbled to bed and waited for CSIS agents to barge in until she fell asleep.
Chidinma awoke to knocks at her door. It followed a familiar annoying rhythm she knew. She swung her door open.
"Your afro is lopsided," Devontee said.
"No one loves you," Chidinma said.
"Your mom does," Devontee said. "Get dressed. We have to meet Atak soon." Chidinma kissed her teeth and gestured to him to come in.
After breakfast, Chidinma and Devontee were summoned to the west-wing training facility for day one of training and squad introductions. CSIS headquarters was the most expensive government facility in the country, and it showed. State of the art gym, indoor track and combat assimilation centre. The duo stumbled in, distracted by the money, only to come back to focus due to a scoff.
"An all-Black CSIS squad," May said. "Cute." Chidinma eyed the young woman judging them — brown skin, pronounced cheekbones, curled dreadlocks and brown eyes full of annoyance.
"It's Canada's way of showing diversity," Atak said.
"Segregation?" Mary said.
"We'll be the first of many diversified squads to protect Canada and her allies," Atak said.
"There might be many to come, but we're definitely not the first," May said. Devontee leaned to Chidinma's ear.
"You two will get along great," he said. Chidinma rolled her eyes.
"Everyone gather ‘round," Atak said. "Let's introduce ourselves. I'll start: Atak Lual, rank A commander officer."
"May Jackson, rank B, agent."
"Devontee Brown, rank D, serviceman."
"Chidinma Nwankwo, rank D, servicewoman." Chidinma felt May judging her. It didn't make sense for rank D's to accompany people of her and Atak's position. Chidinma ignored her illusions and played the game as she always did, quiet but aware.
Every day followed the same routine: eat, 'school,' aggressive workouts and sleep. Even though no one questioned Chidinma, her anxiety haunted her. She kept waiting to disappear. She watched everything and everyone, especially May.
Chidinma knew that by 6:00 a.m., May took walks around the premises; by 7:00 a.m. would be in the library reading about liberation movements and Black heroes; 8:00 a.m. is when she ate breakfast: scrambled eggs and spinach usually; 9:00 a.m. was 'school;' by 3:00 p.m. was training time which was supposed to end at 5:00 p.m. but it usually would go until curfew. Something about May was off. The two of them never talked, but one day in the locker room, Chidinma jumped at her and backed her into a corner.
"You good?" May said.
"97567," Chidinma said.
"Huh?" May said.
"9-7-5-6-7," Chidinma said.
May raised an eyebrow and pushed Chidinma out the way.
"Weirdo," May said.
Later at night, Chidinma watched her door with the lights on until she dozed off as usual. Muffled sounds made Chidinma jolt out of bed. Her eyes sparkled with yellow, ready to attack. Chidinma whipped her head around to see May with her eyes engulfed in purple. May closed her open hand into a fist. Chidinma felt every muscle contract in her body. Her arms wrapped around her body and her legs slammed together. Veins protruded out of May's face as violet shot out her eyes into Chidinma's. Finally, the yellow was taken over and purple popped out her veins. May smiled as her voice entered Chidinma's head.
"Let's try this again," May thought. "Let's see everything you know about 97567."
To read the first chapter of The Servicewoman, click here.
Stephanie Okoli is a third-year creative writing student, author and CEO of Daalu Media, a virtual safe space where Black Canadians can laugh and learn.
Black Voices at UBC is an open-form column publishing work by Black writers in UBC’s student community. If you’re interested in getting involved, reach out to email@example.com.