Library:Nine Cousins - Date Night
|Nine Cousins, Sante Reze|
The streets of the Nine Cousins were always packed from being built more narrowly than they had any right to be. Monif stood on the sidewalk, leaning against the highrise's wall and hunching her shoulders to present a sturdier profile to the crowds walking past her. She shook her phone and looked at it, sighing and swiping at the screen as she perused her six new matches on Midnight, her dating app of choice.
Her most recent "1" match was late, which surprised her. Sure, Continental Rezese had a more laid back approach to deadlines - something that always irked her when she had to work with one of the Paramount Houses, but those in the Cousins were brisk in their affairs. You didn't dawdle at restaurants or hold up meetings by arriving later than five minutes early.
"Where are you," she muttered as she shook her phone, rerolling five of the results. She swiped at another, assigning it its number, then shook again to reroll the remaining four.
Really, she thought, every single one of these should be a six. But the app required at least rating of the preferential one and a rating of the low interest four in any given round of rolling for matches. She had heard, too, that constantly "scoring" high by giving out tons of sixes would destroy any ability to get good results. So, she spent the mental energy to assign values as much in the favor of the resulting profiles as she could.
Stupid algorithms, she thought. And she knew, too, from work with one of many of Ypau Qipie's advertising algorithms. They were all extremely flawed, given to the biases of their creators and maintainers. In the case of Midnight, that was in favor of quantity dates over quality. All things considered, though, it could have been much worse. It could have been racist or something instead. Or on top of.
She got down to having to assign her preference value for the last match before she felt a tap on her shoulder.
"Got any good rolls?" a voice asked.
Looking up, she met the soft gaze of her match. "Ekene?"
Her date nodded and said, "I'm so sorry I'm late. The upper rail was held up and I can't imagine taking the subway."
Monif placed a hand on the small her date's back and guided them inside. The table was about chest height to her, though her date was shorter and so they lowered it down. In the middle was a tray of jars holding classic Rezese condiments from hot spreads to pickled or dry peppers. The restaurant was Fahrani, so perhaps the condiments were out of place, but Rezese liked the safety of their own cuisine and so any tie back to it was important. Besides, Fahranis also liked their hot peppers, so it was probably authentic enough.
"Have you been here before? What do you recommend?" Ekene asked.
She scanned the menu before answering, though knew it well enough. "Yeah, I'm here all the time for work, actually."
"Oh, you work here?"
She laughed and shook her head. "Oh, no, our office is just on the twentieth here. It's a nice building, and this is the best of the ground floor places. There's an Ottonian place around the corner but it's more expensive for lunch, so we come here a lot. Probably two or three times a week."
Ekene smiled and cocked their head to the side. "I don't think I've ever regularly gone to lunch with coworkers before. But I'm in tech, so maybe that's why. We keep more to ourselves, I think."
"Yeah, ha, that doesn't fly in the nonprofit world. Running the city is like a clique, we're supposed to all be friends or else we'd be at each other's throats. So, we have a lot of retreats and lunches and all-hands conferences. Lots of food at all of them though, even the remote meetings. They send us delivery."
"That sounds wonderful. My company just has a beer on tap and orders sandwiches every so often. I don't like beer, though, so what good does that do me?"
Monif chuckled. "The city would throw a fit if they thought we were drinking on the job. We're more strict on everything, so I don't know how wonderful it is. Emails are all monitored, chats, personal apps on our phones. If my boss cared, he could see I made plans with you tonight once I walked into the network range."
The grimace on Ekene's face made Monif regret saying as much. They probably hadn't ever considered how surveilled Monif was, no matter now transparent she had been about her career choice. Working the metro corporation was a very specific life, and Monif had forgotten how different it was from the rest of the Nine Cousins. There were a lot of sacrifices made to keep the cities safe and secure.
The waiter came up to them to break what was quickly becoming an awkward silence.
"Oh, you never told me what you recommended," Ekene reminded her.
She frowned and said, "Oops! Well, should I just order for the table? Correct me if you hear anything that sounds bad to you."
The waiter turned to her, not waiting for Ekene's response. Odd, but just as well as Ekene offered no resistance to the idea.
"An order of mutafayyah, please. Not with the seabream, though. Do you have a good tilapia? That's probably better for Fahrani, yes?"
The waiter nodded and wrote it on his tablet. "More authentic that way, yes. Is two lir extra okay?"
Monif smiled, "Of course, no worries for me."
Ekene's face, however, displayed the discomfort in answering that question. Monif placed her hand briefly on Ekene's and said, "I can cover whatever you want me to. My choices, my responsibility."
Ekene smiled, though it seemed to Monif to be hollow. "We'll see what I like, then, I suppose"
Turning back to the menu and scanning down it with her finger, Monif questioned in her head and aloud whether one or two orders of saltah to start was the way to go. Eventually she settled on three, which hadn't even previously been in the running. One with rice, one potato, and another with the seasonal vegetable medley. Lamb kabobs for each of them rounded out the meal.
"Hummus and bread to start?" the waiter asked.
Ekene answered for them, "Yes, please, thank you."
Monif raised an eyebrow. She said, "Are you paying if I don't like that?"
"I think I could say yes and it wouldn't matter. You come here three times a week, what are the odds you don't like hummus or bread?"
They had a point. It was a safe bet.
To pass the time while waiting for their food to arrive, Monif asked Ekene about their job. Tech was only passingly interesting to Monif, so some of the aspects were difficult to follow, however she did at least have her own opinions with some base knowledge behind them to keep Ekene talking. Ekene was definitely one of those people who had a real passion for their work. That concept was to Monif foreign.
Monif did what she did because she was good at it, but she could never say that she enjoyed it. She could talk most people into almost anything they hadn't formed an extremely entrenched opinion on already, so long as she could manage to sound like more of a subject matter expert than whoever she was speaking to. And typically she could, at that. It was, perhaps, fun for a fleeting moment but at the end of the day, when she was off the clock, she was fully off.
When asked to expand on her own career, Monif merely shrugged and explained that it was far too boring for dinner conversation. Selling products and services which practically sold themselves, and really that her work was more in helping to automate that entire process rather than handling it directly.
"It's mostly meetings, honestly," she said as their food arrived. She set the bowl of mutafayyah between them and dipped in some of the remaining flatbread from the hummus order. "Meetings and continually convincing everyone that we have to keep covering repetitive strain injuries or else lose good people like you to other Cousins… or, worse, the Continent."
Ekene laughed. It was a flowing laugh of honest amusement, at a middle pitch that carried over the table and lit up Monif's heart in its sincerity. She had been concerned about how well things had been going, but this seemed like a good sign.
"I would never," Ekene said. "I can't speak for anyone else but Ypau Qipie is my home. Perhaps another Cousin would do but the idea of going west? I hear it rains there every day and I don't know what I would do with air so wet. I bet it would destroy my hair, at least."
They finished the meal after some light conversation about their preferences in climate, hair and skin care, and of course the all important question: how could it possibly be better to live where the Paramount Houses were constantly competing for your vote of confidence in them while at the same time kicking you back and forth between them as you navigated their services to find the best one for you. In the Cousins, you just had to deal with the metropolitan nonprofit and their single system of handling affairs.
The waiter came by and cleared their table, leaving behind the bill and a handful of Fahrani sweets on an ornate plate fair nicer than anything they had been served actual food on.
"What are these?" Ekene asked.
"Oh, you've never had them? I suppose I've only seen them here and in speciality shops. They're Halmat al-Shwkwlat. This place always serves them with the bill. They're very good. A lot sweeter than chocolate usually is."
"What does Halmat al-whatever you said… Do you know what it means?"
Monif blushed at the question, knowing full well as that was the reason she used the Gharbaic name instead of translating. "Uh, well…."
"What? Don't tell me it's something weird."
She covered her eyes momentarily before saying, "Dusky Nipples. They call them Dusky Nipples because of…." She mimed the curve of a breast and held one up to the region of air she shaped. "I mean, hyperbolically anyway. Mine don't look like this, at least."
Ekene burst out laughing again. "I don't know if I believe you, Monif. That's definitely the most absurd thing you've said so far."
"Oh, oh no, it gets worse. If you ever want to come by my place, I can give you at least two more types. I couldn't say their names in polite company, though."