• Noora Ismail

#KoraliFiction: Fenuga Theyo



In the late hours of night, long after all light of day had dissipated, the sea encircling the city was black and endless. It draped over the horizon like some soft, satiny fabric, stretching out and wearing thin as it grazed those cemented shores. In the distant vista, digital screens were fastened to the sides of buildings. Fragments of their colour mirrored onto the water like oil— sudden bursts of bright neon in varying degrees of concentration.

Overlooking the expanse was a famed bistro above the terminal, and on its wooden deck, the man and the girl with him sat at the corner table to the far left. Cooke’s greatest hits played at low volume in the background, but neither of them were listening. Above them hung a canopy made of mesh, to keep out flies. Beneath them, a ferry from Hulhumale’ would arrive in thirty minutes. It was the last ferry till the morning, and would stop at this junction for only five minutes.

“What’ll it be?” the man asked. He’d been leafing through the menu as soon as they sat down.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said the girl.

“Are you very hungry?”

“Not really.”

“A drink then?”

“I don’t know. Whatever you want.”

The man waved to a guy in uniform by the doorway. As he approached, the man pointed at a picture on the laminated booklet.

“One?”

“Two.”

“Kaa ehcheh beynun?”

“Ohon, noon. Just these.”

The waiter grunted and soon brought over two tall icy-looking glasses and two cloth coasters. He placed them down on the table and looked at the man, then at the girl. The girl was looking out over the railing beside her, observing a line of boats moored to the pier. She must’ve counted at least eight, no, nine of them, tethered to their posts by knots of fraying rope. Through the gaps— glimmers of red, pulsing wildly in oscillation.

“The lights look like they’re dancing, don’t they?” said the girl.

“What?”

“I mean, on the water. They’re dancing. Look.”

“They’re doing something all right.” The man sucked at his paper straw.

“What did you get us?”

“Mocktails. Ginger.”

“Ginger?”

“I thought we could try something new.”

“That’s all we do, isn’t it? Sit around and try new drinks.”

“What would you rather do?”

“Nothing,” the girl said and put the glass down. “It tastes like medicine.”

“I can get you something else if you like.”

“There’s no point. The deed’s already done.”

“I’ll get you something else.” He raised his arm slightly to call the server’s attention.

“No, really,” the girl took hold of his hand. “Really, I don’t mind. I like it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” said the girl. “All drinks taste like medicine these days. And all medicine like candy. That’s the way with everything.”

“Oh, quit it.”

“Quit what?”

“Acting funny. Let’s just try and have a good time.”

“Well, all right, I’m trying. I was saying, the lights on the water look quite dreamy. Don’t they?”

“They do.”

The girl looked across at the gentle ripples.

“I could sit here and stare at them forever,” she said. “It feels like time ceases to exist, almost. Like it’s just me and this one eternal moment, and the rest of it is in freeflow, you know?”

“I know,” said the man half-heartedly. He fished out a pack of smokes from his shirt pocket. “Shall we get some water?”

“Huh?”

“I said I’m getting us some water.”

“Sure. All right.”

A crisp breeze blew against the netting overhead. The man motioned to the waiter for a small bottle. He held a cigarette between the purse of his lips for a second before lighting it with a plastic Bic.

“It’s so nice and cool tonight,” the girl said.

“Oh, it is.”

“Isn’t it just lovely—”

“I can’t do it, Mai.”

The girl stopped staring into the distance and lowered her gaze to where the legs of the table rested on the floor.

“It’s too complicated for me right now,” the man went on. “And I have Ian to think about. He’s much too young to understand this sort of thing.”

The girl said nothing.

“I’m not saying it’ll never happen. But it can’t happen yet, just not yet.”

“When then?”

“I don’t know. I can’t say exactly.”

The girl forced down a bitter gulp of her drink. The man took a slow drag before letting out a great billow of smoke. Through the wreath he looked at the girl, studying the contours of her face.

“It’s no simple thing we’re talking about,” he said after a pause.

“Bullshit,” she seethed. “People do it all the time. Every single day. Everyone I know who’s ever gotten married is now divorced.”

“Get your head out of the clouds. It’s not that easy. Not when you’ve shared a life together as long as we have.”

“You can’t even stand each other.”

“That’s besides the point.”

“You’re saying you want to end this then.”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying.”

“What are you saying?”

“I just need some time. A few more weeks to iron out the creases.”

“Weeks? You’ve had weeks. You’ve had months.”

“It’s not that fucking easy.”

“Who said it would be?”

The girl stood up and stepped away from her seat. She leaned her body against the railing and watched the dance unfold before her. Out on the other side, dizzying specks of white and scarlet shimmered across the tide. Boats on either front stirred ever so slightly, if at all, casting their long shapes unto the harbour. Waves frothed in silence. Her vision blurred. She imagined young strangers making love in the shadows.

“The world is too beautiful to keep up this facade,” she said quietly. “It’s gone on long enough.”

“Soon,” the man said, “we won’t have to.”

“You’re lying through your teeth.”

“This world will be ours again.”

“It was never ours to begin with.”

“It’ll be ours now.”

“No, it won’t.”

“It will. I promise you.”

“What good are your promises?”

“Come here,” he said. “Don’t say things like that.”

The girl sat back down, her eyes darting as the stage spun around her, she the weary spindle.

“You said you cared about me,” she said.

“Of course I do.”

“You said you’d do anything for me.”

“And I would. I’d do anything. But you have to understand—”

“I understand,” she said. “Now, would you please stop talking?”

“Listen to me. You’re the light of my life, but I—”

“Please, stop.”

“Mai, I just need some time—”

“Shut up shut up shut up. I’m going to scream.”

Just then, the waiter came out through the doorway with the bill and a bottle of Bon Aqua. He placed them on the side of the table and looked at the man, then at the girl. “Ferry comes in five minutes,” he muttered.

“What did he say?” asked the girl.

“That the ferry’s coming in five minutes.”

“Let’s get going then.”

“What?”

“It’s the last one. I need to catch it.”

“I can’t let you leave like this,” the man stubbed out his cigarette. “Let me give you a ride home.”

“I’m fine. I’m perfectly fine.”

“It’s late, Mai. I’m taking you home.”

“No,” said the girl. “I think I need to be alone for a while.”

The man let out a sigh in defeat. “I’d better go pay then. At least let me walk you to the terminal.”

He stuffed the pack of smokes back into his pocket and fingered the freshly printed receipt. He walked through the doorway and up to the counter, glancing at all the vacant tables. The chairs were stowed and the music shut off— the curtain had come down and none of the other actors were to be seen. He thanked the cashier for his service and walked back out onto the deck. The girl was sitting right where he had left her, taking one final look at the horizon.

“Shall we?”

She nodded.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” she said. “I’m perfectly fine. Let’s go.”


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