a short story
Tetramethrin Deltamath had time on his hands and an interest in the sky, so he set across the world, chasing solar eclipses. Packed his bags, kissed his wife and was off, waving hands, promising to return in 2046, July 26, the date of the next hometown eclipse.
Now, waves splashing, beach dogs fighting, he is sitting, legs up, toes bare, beneath a coconut palm. It’s one of them bulging down sky sort of dusks. Yellow sand from left to right. The Indian Ocean, repeating itself. ‘But nothing dies/ he recalls — change is name and form; like a wave, quietly static, like a chameleon. An ant, red-topped, black-bottomed, meanders across his forearm. He raises two fingers to squash the hapless insect, which flees through rows of maize, trips on gnarled roots and tumbles headfirst through leaves, squishy and wet, panting and wheezing as the fingers’ sinister footsteps approach.
In younger days, Tetramethrin’s father, Harcoil, erected a playground on hostile terrain. Fiery-red, iron-jowled ants, filtered sands and mounds of cactus, black widow spiders and diamond backed snakes, conspired to spoil the project. To rid the land of ants, Harcoil woke Tetramethrin with boiling water, which the son carried to the playground; his father towered ahead. There followed a scene of terrific destruction. Waves, lethally warm, were poured deliberately, like lava, through the gates of the colony’s subterranean capital. Bodies floated downstream.
By afternoon, the colony had harvested its dead and mended its streets. Father and son returned, boiling water in hand. ‘Let this be a lesson,’ Harcoil declared. ‘Ants are like people: hard to kill.’
‘Since all forms of life are precious,’ Tetramethrin now ponders. ‘Indeed, since life is one and undifferentiated and since life alone is precious,’ he adds. In this way seizing himself with universal compassion, he arrests his murderous digits and offers instead a fingertip of kindness, which lifts the ant away, magic carpet-like, to barren drifts of sand.
Later in the evening, a motley set of vultures lurks about a table — seven or eight. Smoke-filled air, parabolic arms, sipping and pouring, sucking and lighting. Brief conversations, taps on backs, ‘Machung, where ya’ been? Yeah, table’s crowded.’ Tetramethrin, alone, scratches his name on a chalkboard, strategically, and lights another cigarette.
CP is sitting at the bar, talking to a man whose name he does not remember, but who he knows is of high net worth. ‘It’s ready to take off; he is saying. ‘All we need is capital.’ He stresses the last sentence. He has been in conversation with this stranger for nearly two hours. It may never end. Tetramethrin is rooted to the shadows, watching a trio of clowns run the table. Red noses, oversized feet, they clear out the competition. The green-haired guy is stern-looking, jaw clenched. The others are shorter; one’s a midget. He paces the counter above the table, heckling the clowns’ opponents. His ominous nasal voice: ‘Yes, this is a tough shot. It’s hard to get a decent strike on the cue ball when it’s resting against the bumper like that. …Oh! see what I mean? Tough shot …and now look where he’s left it!’ The third clown takes wildly lanky steps. Circles and circles of motion and circles, as the green-haired guy hulks above the pockets, snickering softly.
CP’s soliloquy continues. ‘Unlike most of us,’ he is saying, ‘I’m not just sludging about waiting for something to happen. I’m making it happen.
‘I’m not one of those guys who wakes in the morning wondering what next. I’ve got plans. I’ve always got things to do.’
Tetramethrin calls a waiter and waits as a wrinkled man shuffles over, his teeth like crystallised quartz. He watches the shadows on the ceiling, swinging, heaving, shaking.
‘Master like more cognac?’ Tetramethrin heads toward the dining room. On the way, he encounters CP, whom he acquainted three days before, watching war on tv. Conversation developed over urgent news repeats.
CP was of the opinion that the apocalypse was imminent, so they left, together, in search of cheaper drinks. CP now blocks the entrance to the restaurant. ‘Hey buddy! getting a bite to eat? I’ll join you. Waiter! Waiter! table for two, underneath the hanging man. …You’ve got to see this guy, machung. He doesn’t feel any pain.’
That being said, two doors swing open. Side by side, he and CP stand, on the threshold of the hanging man restaurant, one of its kind, overlooking the coast of an island famed for its unexpectedly pleasant discoveries, carved within the face of a granite cliff.
‘Not bad,’ says Tetramethrin.
‘This is nothing. Wait till you see the hanging man.’
Coats folding, chairs squeaking, a large party opts to rise, spontaneously, like birds. They file past.
‘Who’s the hanging man?’
‘Huh? His self’s.’
Their waiter, a sharp young man, a real go-getter, deftly leads them through intimate conversations, rustlings of napkins, turnings of rings. ‘Here he is,’ says CP, as they round the corner towards CP’s prestigious seats. Picture a lean body, the sort that works for pennies in Asia, robbing fruit gardens, selling fruit, bellowing ‘Badanay!!’ down sleepy high class streets, his body now chalked white, his face — lips eyes nose cheeks pierced, his back suspended by fishing hooks, blessing for godknowswhosesake, blessing bowed heads with plasters of ash. ‘Who thought to place him here,’ Tetramethrin enquires
‘My idea,’ says CP. ‘I’m the hanging man’s agent. We’re going international.’
They collapse on two green couches amid waves of neon blue. A snap of CP’s digits and the hanging man swings like a hunchback, yanking a coconut coir rope. Palm leaves above rustle gently. A delightfully cool breeze.
‘Delightful,’ says Tetramethrin.
‘Couches are great,’ CP avers. ‘You lay on one side, and if that side gets tired, you can always flip over, head to toe, and lay on the other.’
‘True,’ says Tetramethrin, while a chain of waiters scurries diligently, carrying bottles of drink and baskets of fruit, freeing clouds of steam from beneath silver lids, smiling, ‘Bon appetit.’