he, dressed nondescriptly in a khaki safari suit, is new in the settlement, having been sent by the powers-that-be in the surrounding opulent city to destroy the settlement. as with his type, he is popular, especially in the drinking spots. his favorite poison is palmwine – frothy. white. sweet. dangerous. she, long black-haired, clad mostly in red and white, and bedecked in expensive baubles, is a mysterious member of this settlement founded as a fishing village just over two hundred years ago by immigrants. today, the settlement has become a mecca for restless souls.
as he drinks, his mind is preoccupied by the fact that he has found a pearl in an environment that has become a nightmare and an embarrassment to the opulent society that surrounds it. his senses thoroughly compromised by the alcohol and his expectations for later, he recalls their first meeting. he is standing staring into her captivating hazel eyes, the strong smell of her powder in his nose. around them the hustle and bustle of human activity rage – he can hear bare-chested women peddling food. he can see peripherally a tangle of dugout canoes complementing the labyrinths of the floating settlement impatiently slithering through the maze of waterways – mimicking the notorious roads of the opulent society he is more familiar with. he can sense pre-matured, half-naked children ferrying human and other cargo in their own boats, other normally-developing children – playing raucously on the ‘verandahs’ of wooden shacks on stilts. as the sun deeps on both of them, the singing of dancing penitents in white garments, in make-shift churches on boats, float in – providing competition for the sudden gust of fishy wafts of the sludgy waters. there they both stood stationary in the melee around them, speechlessly communicating unbound mixed affections. it didn’t register that she wasn’t carrying any shopping.
“i have no man.” he looked into her hazel eyes – a dead fish on hook. they had just met in a ‘fish market,’ but he wouldn’t see the symbolism of this until six days later. after six days of meeting by the ‘fish market’ she invited him, on the morning of the sixth day, to her house – the last amongst a series of one-roomed shacks on stilts. that sixth day is now.
“we will meet here by six in the evening. please no come to my house without me.” when he gets to the ‘fish market’ at five thirty in the afternoon – full of frothy palmwine, she is in the process of purchasing fish from one of the merchants’ food stalls on boats full of frozen mackerel imported from the netherlands. one of the pities of living in the settlement is having to live with the irony that there isn’t enough fish in the filthy water.
“you only buy two?”
“yes. you forget we no get fridge for this place.” she smiles at him, the gap between her upper incisors conjuring images in his frothed mind – he puts his hand into his right pocket and feels reassurance from the plastic casing of the prophylactic. he smiles. one of the few things he knows about the settlement is that it suffers also from a high shortage of fish.
it is getting dark as they climb into her shack – he can’t risk being seen entering one of the shacks he is supposed to be destroying. as he steps on the floorboard of the shack they creak loudly in pain. the shack is spare, except for mirrors – like no human lived in it. she lights three scented candles placing them strategically around the room. the room suddenly reminds him of a shrine. she indicates he sits on a handcrafted chair while she busies herself preparing something for him to eat.
“you eat fish?”
“yes.” cooked fish – the last thing on his mind. sitting immobile, the night air flings the smell from the cobweb of sewers full of refuse and human waste and the gray-black sludge that is lagoon water around carelessly – overpowering the powdery smell in the shack – he is yet to reach the stage of habituation that makes the sludgy smell bearable.
“drink something while i prepare chop for you.” noticing his sudden discomfort. she puts a bottle of crudely bottled-water on the table in front of him. he eyes the water with suspicion aware that although the settlement is established atop water, there is a shortage of drinking water, and the little there is the citizens extract via drilling from god-knows where. he touches her hand. suddenly a loud bellow cuts through the growing night sounds in her head. she stops to listen, hears it again. he notices she is looking at him strangely – like she has just been lobotomized. but there is a certain maddened look in her eyes.
“please get up and go.” she steps away from him. then back towards him. he gets up – confused, but refuses her physical urgings for him to leave.
“abeg, go. now.” he notices the sheer horror in her eyes. her hands are getting cold with each touch. the loud bellow is repeated in her head.
“just go.” her voice suddenly unrecognizable. this catches his attention, and in spite of the challenge to his manhood, he starts to leave.
three hours later he is back. though closed, the door is unlocked. he enters on tip-toe – the floorboards creaking in whispers underneath him. in the feint moonlight, he can see her sleeping shape on the bed. he brings out one of the prophylactics in his pockets, clamping on it with his teeth, he undresses. he is about to crawl into bed with her when he notices she is not still. she is gyrating, and as he moves closer she starts to moan pleasurably. he stops dead in his tracks. his first reaction is betrayal. so, this is why she chased me away suddenly, he muses. suddenly, he is slammed against the wall of the shack by a blur he can see in the feint moonlight. his insides feel like they’ve been moved around. the beating is swift and effective. after three minutes of being banged and dragged around the shack, his entire body feels like it has been scrubbed and anointed with peppery ointment. he lies on the floor of the shack, moaning in half conscious. in his half consciousness, he hears her voice as if coming from a series of drainage pipes.
“why you come back … he doesn’t want you here.”