The bus wheeze-squeaked its departure as soon as Laina’s boot heel hit the curb. Graffiti tattooed the dingy bodies of buildings and passers-by alike. Half-dressed toddlers screamed from the hips of terse-lipped teenagers. A frigid breeze whipped a fringe of ragged towels and stained clothing on the firescapes. Shoes dangled from their laces along the power lines like Chinese lanterns which offered no light. Gaping, she cast a glance back at her vanishing ride. The bus paused before turning the corner in a plume of exhaust. Laina checked her watch. Ninety minutes until the next arrival at this stop. Barring an act of cosmic force, she’d be here.
A trio of bald men strode in formation down the sidewalk, wallet chains jingling against one another. Red bandannas wrapped something on each maple-skinned man–arm, leg, or head. The shortest man elbowed his partners and nodded toward the bus stop. Eyeing Laina, he sneered. “Hey, baby. You lost or somethin’?”
She spouted a sort of lie before darting from the curb. “Nope.”
A cacophony of horns swept around her as she wove through traffic to the other side of the road. Whether in a car or on foot, non-residents didn’t dare pause on these streets. The locals drifted along the uneven sidewalks with leveled jaws and steady gaits. Age slowed a few of the walkers to trudge and shuffle.
A woman with sandy dreadlocks and skin like dried tobacco leaves pressed her back against the corner of the alley just ahead. She opened her clouded eyes and pointed a curved fingernail at Laina. Creole flavored her raspy voice. “Downtowner, you look for Simmy? He down dis alley, here.”
Laina halted at the alley and tapped at her chest, but the Creole woman continued gazing past her shoulder. “You talking to me?”
“Who else, then?” She folded her arms, taloned nails resting on a thin shawl. “Course I be talkin’ to you. You ain’t a get nothin’ from there, though. Best go on back where you come from.”
She squinted, studying the woman’s marbled eyeballs. “Are you psychic?”
A cackle spurted from her chapped lips. “Lies paid me well one time, you know. Blind, but no magic. Just observant. Nobody here wear soft perfume. You smell downtown, and all thems come here to see Simmy.”
“His shop’s down there?” Laina peered into the shadowy corridor of dumpsters.
“Ain’t I said? I see what can’t be seen and tell truth, but you ain’t gonna get dat from Simmy.” She shrugged. “You set on it, though, eh girl?”
“I’m doing research. For an article at work. It’s not the sort of personal interest you’re probably thinking.”
“Whatever you say.” As Laina turned into the alley, the woman laid an unusually warm hand on her arm, twisting her back to face her blanched glare. “Somethin’ hounds you. Best be more observant. Keep your eyes open like mines.”
Laina recoiled from the intensity of the blind woman’s stare. “Yeah, okay. Uh, thanks for the directions.”
“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead” (Deuteronomy 18:10-11).