Fiction - Winter 2016

Real Papa

By Onyinye Ihezukwu | December 7, 2015
Tarkwa Bay in Lagos, Nigeria. (Flickr/satanoid)
Tarkwa Bay in Lagos, Nigeria. (Flickr/satanoid)

 

Shortly after four A.M., when the last customer left, Affi and Chifo, the two girls who worked for Madam Constance, began clearing up the beachfront shack. They turned off the music, brought in the loudspeakers and the charcoal grill from the tarpaulin tent outside. They wiped down the tables and stacked the chairs, swept the floor, and locked the four windows. Madam Constance was inside, hunched over a low stool in the storeroom, counting the day’s money. “E kaale, Ma,” Chifo said when she was finished.

“O dabo,” the boss woman replied without looking.

In the open-air kitchen in the back, Affi started to wash the pots and dishes. As she bent to scoop water out of the freshwater drum into a large washbasin, she heard Madam Constance call her name. Affi left the basin and went inside.

“Ma?”

“How much you hold?”

Madam Constance had a huge wad of notes in her lap and a ledger book at her feet. She looked up at Affi, snorted to clear her nostrils.

“All your money I have given you,” Affi said.

“You want salary this month or not?”

Affi raised the long sleeve of her boubou and pulled out a thin roll of maroon-colored notes. “This one is free money the customers dash me.”

Madam Constance looked at the money. “Is that all?”

The boss woman rose to her feet. Her perfume smelled of acetone. Deftly she placed her hands on Affi’s shoulders and felt under her straps. Then she felt her armpits, ran her hands over Affi’s breasts and crotch. She placed her hands on the buttock cheeks and snapped her underwear. Without a word, she took the money held out previously and returned to her low stool. “Go,” she said without looking up.

Back at the kitchen, Affi stopped to blink at the moon, which was now receding behind a cloud that shimmered like transparent jelly. The cold breeze of the Atlantic nipped at her jawline. This time, when she bent into the water cask to fill her basin, she heard a dull moan coming from a dark hole behind the cask, between a wood pillar and the back wall. When she heard it again, she dried her hands on a rag and grabbed a pestle. She lowered the pestle into the hole and felt around with it. The pestle stuck. Affi gasped. Then she pulled. The pestle came up at once, a small hand holding onto it. A face appeared with the hand. And from that a scrawny figure stood to its feet. A little boy. He let go. He was shivering.

Affi stared. “Jesus me.”

The boy’s small chest rose and fell beneath his brown button-down shirt. He couldn’t have been more than five.

“Child, what are you doing here?”

The boy said nothing.

“Who brought you here?”

Again, nothing.

Affi saw the tracks of dried tears on the child’s face, his uneven haircut, higher on his left temple than the right. And there was a slight red scar running down the bridge of his nose. She recognized the boy from hours earlier. He had been seated beside a customer in a thick business suit who had ordered almost a dozen beers before midnight, and had come to the kitchen to pay Madam Constance himself. After paying, he asked where he might take a piss. No one saw him again. This was before midnight. Now it was past four-thirty.

“Was the man your Papa?” Affi asked the boy.

From the storeroom Madam Constance started coughing.

Affi turned to the boy and pushed him back into the hole. “Stay here and I will come back. Be quiet.”

The boy’s form sunk back into the dark, and Affi went in to have a final word with Madam Constance. The boss told Affi to make sure she locked up the front and back doors, then walked off into the foggy morning, where Suleiman, her husband and driver, was waiting in his yellow cab to drive them home.

Affi now walked out onto the beach, a few meters from the edge of the kitchen, and began to dig at a spot in the soft white sand with a plastic dustpan. Soon, she was pulling out a cardboard box and wiping it clean of sand. Inside were two covered bowls of white rice and pepper soup and a whole grilled croaker fish wrapped in foil. Affi brought the boy a chair and made him drink a bottle of Schweppes ginger ale she had hidden in the roof. She broke the fish in two and served him a portion of rice and soup. “Easy, easy,” she said as she watched him eat. She returned to scrubbing the pots and dishes. Afterward, she told the boy, “Come. You will sleep now. Later we look for your people.”


Kuramo Beach stretched for more than five kilometers along the ocean’s shoreline. It was a 15-minute walk to the other, residential side of the beach, with its low-roofed settlements of tarp, rice sacks, and wood planks. Affi’s house was located at the end of a row of lean-tos. She led the boy up the three stone steps to her door, unlocked the padlock, and lit a kerosene lantern. The moon’s dying rays were still sifting through the cracks between the walls of wood planks. She dropped the box of food on a mahogany-topped table with wrought-iron legs, last year’s birthday gift from Abass. Beside the table was her spring bed and beyond that, her sewing machine, with spools of thread, slivers of fabric, and other sewing implements sticking out from its small drawer.

“What is your name?” she asked, sitting the boy down on the bed. She ran a rough finger down his scar, which looked like an old, dying insect in the dim light. The boy turned his face away. She began pulling his clothes. “I won’t let you be dirty when you see Papa.”

The boy obediently raised his legs and stretched his arms, allowing her to remove his shorts and shirt. Affi grabbed a bucket and soap dish and led the child to the communal well. She was careful to avoid one area in particular, where, last week, she had watched a group of neighbors trying to rescue a drowning man. People said he was a rich man with a big company who lost everything in the business market. The workers of the company went on strike because they were not paid. And so much wahala followed that Affi couldn’t even recount the stories. What stuck in her mind was that the rich man had told his driver to park and wait for him, then walked down to this side of the beach, and straight into the ocean.

Affi quickly lathered the boy and rinsed him clean. He was shivering so much that his teeth began to clatter. Back inside, she clothed him in one of her T-shirts, then covered him in thick wax wrappers and watched him drift to sleep. She checked the time. It was past five. She went outside again to wash her tired feet as well as the boy’s clothes. As she hung the laundry in the open to dry, she heard footfalls behind her. It was Abass, carrying a package, his sergeant’s cap tucked beneath his shoulder board. She ignored him, but Abass followed her. He shut the door behind him and waited.

“Mamma cakes. My sweetie jolly tomato.” He drew close and took her hand. She pulled away.

“See what I brought you.” Abass unloaded a large tin of her favorite Nido powdered milk, a tin of Danish butter cookies, three sachets of Ovaltine, a pack of Five Alive fruit juice, and two loaves of bread. He turned to her with the satisfied smile of a magician who has performed a trick.

“Mamma cakes,” he said into her ear. “What now? Give daddy some loving, eh?”

Affi turned and pushed feebly at his broad chest. “Loving is only for good men. Where have you been? Five days and you just leave me like that.”

“But you know my work, Mamma. You want me to leave my work? You want them to sack your daddy?”

“Ah, you can’t lie well.” She wagged a finger in his face. “See your eyes shining. You have been busy with Yemisi.”

He looked away. “But you too know Yemisi is pregnant. I can’t leave her like that.”

“And you leave me instead? Because I remove all my pregnancy for you and Yemisi can keep hers?”

“Mamma, she is my wife.”

“Go to your wife, then.”

“I should go to my wife?”

“Yes, go.”

He walked to the door and placed a hand on the doorknob. “I’m going.”

Affi said, “So this is how it is? You’re going, eh? See, are you going now?”

He turned. “But you said I should go.”

He put his arms around her again and began the old speech of how if he didn’t love her he wouldn’t have stood by her all this while, paying her fees through sewing school, buying her a machine, helping her to set up here at the free beach after her eviction from her last place, seeing that she was adequately protected and no one could harass her about. What he was doing for her was more than what any man would do for even a wife.

He put a hand under her chin and tipped her face to him. His lips were pouted as though about to kiss her.

“Stop it,” she whined.

He chortled. “I’m doing like in the films. You hold your woman’s face like that and mmuah!”

“And I don’t like that. All this saliva stinky things,” she laughed. “Sit down. I have fish and pepper soup for you.”

He sat in the chair with a pleased sigh, drumming his fingers on the table. He began unbuttoning his policeman’s shirt as Affi went about preparing his food. He asked, “But why didn’t you call me all this time?”

“I called you from Joy’s business center. You don’t pick.”

“What of the phone I gave you?”

“Died. When you give me phones you seize from your prisoners.”

“What do you want me to do? All the ones I buy for you you send to your family in the village.”

Affi placed his food before him. He began to eat. “Half fish,” he said. “You always bring full fish.”

“Yes. I gave some to the small child.”

“Small child.”

Affi pointed to the bed and related the story.

“Why bring him here. What of police?”

“You are police. Take him.”

“You don’t know if that man was his Papa.”

“Then his real Papa will come.”

Abass watched the sleeping boy for a long time. Then he stood and shut the only window in the room. He started pulling off his trousers, dropping his baton carefully on a pile of magazines. His shirt he draped over the chair’s back just as Affi began protesting that this was not the right time, that there was a child with them in the room, that it was morning and she was tired from work, that her back hurt from grilling fish over the last 12 hours. But she finally went on her knees on the wooden floorboards, stomach over the edge of the bed with her boubou flung over her head. The spring bed bucked up, then down. Left, then right. It groaned, it squeaked. Affi clung onto the headpost like a squid. Once she stuck her face out of the boubou for air. Her eyes met a pair of small white eyes, shining like coins in the dimness of the room. They were so startled they didn’t blink.

“Abass, stop. The child is looking. Stop.”

“What sort of child is this? Does he not sleep?” And Abass said no more.

Affi placed a hand over the child’s eyes and panted an old lullaby to send him back to sleep. The lullaby was one she had sung to all her younger sisters when they were babies. One she was sure her mother had sung to her when she was a baby. As she sang, she felt the boy’s eyelids shut against her palms, and in that moment the bed made a far plunge to one side, slightly lifting off on an incline. The child’s eyes flew open again.

“… eeck!” Affi shrieked, arms flailing. “My neck!”

Abass was past hearing. He had brought down his forearms on her neck and pressed them there, as if to stop himself torpedoing. He thumped and buckled. “Mother!” and slumped on Affi. His arms released her neck.

Silence came over the room like a slow gust of salty air.

Now stretched on the bed, all three people watched the morning spin patterns on the walls with streaks of white light. Soon the neighbors could be heard chirruping around the well.

“You can’t sleep.” Abass got off the bed and began to dress.

Affi shook her head.

Abass tucked in his shirt, picked his baton up, and slid it into place by his waist. He knew about her periodic sleeplessness, brought on by an assault she suffered two years ago, when thugs hired by her former landlord bumped her head against a wall as she tried to stop them throwing out her things. When Abass got there, the thugs were gone. So he turned to the landlord, who by way of apology had Affi taken to a street clinic. Nothing serious, the nurses said. And they gave Affi paracetamol and vitamins. With time it became Valium, paracetamol, and vitamins.

“Why you don’t take your Valium?” Abass now asked.

“Valium don’t work anymore.”

He sighed. “I will come back tomorrow. We will go and see doctor.”

“So now you have two women you take to doctor,” she said dryly.

Abass tucked his cap beneath his board. Affi saw him off to the gate, where a band of area boys waved in salute. When she returned, members of a church congregation in white robes and toques were on the beach, clapping and dancing about their leader, who was waving a Bible and a wand, his own robe billowing around him like a cloud. The worshippers turned to the ocean and prayed, turned back to their leader and prayed. Children ran up and down the beach. Some of the neighbors were squabbling around the well, others swept their compounds. Someone called out to Affi, asking if her new blouse was ready yet. Affi said it would be the next day. She greeted more people along the way, up to the door of her house, before going inside.

The child was not in the room.

Affi looked around wildly. Back outside, she searched the faces of the children around the well, the faces of those running up and down the beach and those helping the white-garment people fetch water for a token. A few neighbors looked at her curiously. She went back inside and began to overturn the wrappers on the bed. She beat the pillows without knowing why. Then she found him under the bed, folded like a roll of cloth. Affi pulled him out and held him to her chest. “Oh child, why is this?”

The boy put his arms around her neck.

Affi began to pat his back. “Don’t be afraid, hmm? It was just two people playing.”

She sang the lullaby again.

The boy slept all day. She kept an eye on him as she worked on her sewing through the afternoon. She piled clothes on him when someone came in to talk to her about something, or to give her a fabric to be sewed. When he woke it was close to six P.M. She fed him bread and a huge cup of milk, after which he went back to sleep. Affi stood at the edge of the bed, taking in the rise and fall of his small chest, his eyes twitching in sleep, his fist clenching and unclenching. She laid a dish of rice, bread, and milk for the boy to eat when he awoke. Then she dressed and left for work.

At Madam Constance’s, nobody showed up asking for any child. The suited, dozen-bottle man of the previous day didn’t turn up. Yesterday was the first and only time she’d seen him, meaning that he most likely didn’t live nearby. But then, not all of the customers lived nearby; some came from as far as Berger, Okoko even—hours and hours away from Kuramo.  And they stayed on till morning, from bus drivers to bankers, patronizing the short-time girls who went from beach bar to beach bar, dancing to highlife and makossa. Now as Affi trotted about attending to them, they slipped her dash money, pausing in their talk to crack jokes. One of them she frowned at while brushing his hand away. As she walked off, he clicked his tongue, made a pump motion with his right index finger and left fist. “So Affi, you forget that I get the razor blade, eh?”

“In your mother’s backyard,” Affi retorted.

The men hooted and slapped their mate on the back. That one laughed good-naturedly and drank his beer. “When the sea go rise and clear this beach like the church people prophesy, Affi will beg me to save her.”

“Sea rises once every year,” a man said. “Nothing new to anybody, old boy.”

Before dawn was breaking from its pouch on the horizon, Affi walked back home, her ankles swollen and her eyes red from grill smoke. The boy was up and sitting in bed when she entered. He was surrounded by her magazines and style catalogs, all of them open and scattered about his legs. He had made drawings on the pages with her tailor’s chalk. A circle here, a wiggly worm there. Most were stick sketches of people with cube heads. He had pulled out all the fabric swatches she’d pinned to particular client styles.

“What is this?” Affi screamed.

The child stared at her, mouth agape.

“I say what is this?” Affi leafed through the pages this way and that. “Spoiling my work? My fine magazines?” The child dropped the chalk and raised his hands to shield his face. Affi pulled him down from the bed. “Pick them all up. Now!”

He remained on his feet, arms hanging stiffly by his sides. Affi’s T-shirt reached down to his ankles. He put down his head as she continued yelling. Then came a sound like that of a zipper sliding, and an immediate heavy stench as a thick slide of yellow porridge pooled by one ankle.

Affi said, “Jesus, me. Jesus, me.” She fetched a roll of tissue paper and lifted the shirt to wipe his bottom. She wiped the floorboards and took him outside to rinse him off. When she brought him back in, she noticed that the food she’d left hours ago was still intact. She looked at the boy, speechless. He was already snuggled under the bedcovers, eyes fluttering closed. Again, Affi sang till his clenched fists fell loose, and his breathing rose and fell in soft motions. While he slept, she gathered the rest of the magazines, reattached the pages, and sat to sort her fabric swatches. In the midst of this she studied the chalk sketches of stick people, the circles and the worms with eyes bulging from the tops of their heads. When she went out at noon to have her phone fixed by repairers along the expressway, she bought a pack of 12 wax crayons and half a ream of plain white paper.

That afternoon, the boy sat up scratching figures with crayons clutched in a bunched fist, zigzagging from one end of his paper to the other, low grunting noises coming from the back of his throat. Across from him, Affi pedaled her sewing machine as she told him stories of her childhood in the village. She told of her four sisters, strong girls who hauled cassava and maize to the grinding mill every day. By next year, when she would be 27, she hoped to have saved enough money to bring her mother and sisters over to Lagos. Hopefully Abass would have married her by then. Then they would all be one happy family. Affi paused to look at the boy. “If your Papa has not come by that time, you will be with us too.”


Three days later, as dawn cracked over the ocean, she joined one of the several queues of people praying and waiting to be blessed by the white-robed prophet. She put a 50-naira note in the offering basket and was given a bottle of blessed ocean water. This water she sprinkled on her sewing machine, the child, and the few secondhand clothes she had recently purchased for him. Lastly she sprinkled the water on her repaired phone. Now even when she called with the phone he had given her, Abass was still not picking her calls. That night, she quietly stepped away from Madam Constance’s grill and punched Abass’ number with greasy fingers. At the fourth ring a woman’s voice answered, “Hallo, whoyisthis?” and Affi froze. A baby could be heard crying in the background. Yemisi, the woman said, “Hallo? Hallo? Ah, this babyill not let me hear …” Affi hung up, her heart thumping in anger.

With brisk steps she spun round to resume her place at the grill. Someone stepped in her path. It was Chifo, dressed in thick clanging bangles, even thicker makeup, and a tight shiny gown.

“Is it your policeman again?” Chifo cackled. “Has he run away?”

“At least he didn’t run to you. He is careful not to catch a scratching sickness.”

Chifo made a move towards Affi. Her hand came up and her bangles clinked.

“You just try it,” Affi scoffed. “Try it and see if I won’t tell Madam why till date, no one has caught the rat that has been entering the store to eat her smoked meat.”

And that settled it. Affi went back to the grill and served till morning. When she walked back home, she saw that the tide had come in and a few neighbors were scooping water from their homes in buckets. The boy was awake and waiting for her, the same haunted look in his eyes. Affi, who had already taken off her shoes and was splashing barefoot to him, held him and patted his back till he fell asleep. By evening the water had ebbed a little and Affi was careful to ensure their clothes as well as her clients’ clothes remained secure on the nails in the plank walls. She called Abass again, for it was he who rallied the area boys to sand-fill her floors when the tides started to rise. His phone rang and still no answer. She cursed at the phone and flung it across the room, where it sat in a puddle of water.

That night, it was again her turn to wash and lock up. After Madam Constance had retired, Affi fetched the usual bottle of drink stashed away in the roof. Next she went into the open and stood over her spot with the plastic dustpan. There was no moonshine, only a murky darkness. Just as she hit the cardboard box and began brushing away the sand, she sensed several flashlights shining upon her. She froze.

“No. Continue digging.” Madam Constance’s voice was unruffled as always. As she walked her weighty walk towards her, Affi saw that the woman had a team of people behind, enough to hem Affi in. So many faces.

“I said keep digging,” Madam said. “I want to see the chicken egg too.”

Affi wiped sweat off her forehead with her sleeve. She slowly turned back to her hole and pulled out the box. She dropped the box at Madam’s feet.

“Look. It’s not even an egg.” Madam shone her flashlight on the box. “What can it be then? I hope it won’t bite me.”

“It’s a computer egg,” a male voice said, but no one laughed.

Madam took a step back. “Is that so? Then I must see inside this wonderful computer egg.”

Affi’s armpits itched like someone had stuck pins in them. She felt dizzy, but remained squatting on her haunches. A man came forward and peeled open the flaps of the box. He showed Madam the exposed contents. She ordered him to uncover the bowls and unwrap the foil package. The spicy aroma of barbecued fish filled the air. The murmur in the crowd grew louder.

“You see it?” A female voice rang louder than the others. “You see it, Madam? Do you believe me now?” The owner of the voice came forward. It was Chifo.

Madam did not reply. She wasn’t even looking at Chifo. She was adjusting the damask scarf tied over her perm curls. She fiddled with the scarf like she was before a mirror. Satisfied, she took the box from the man, closed it up and held it under one arm.

“What do we do with her?” another male voice finally asked.

“Collect the other eggs she has been keeping at her house,” Madam said.

And so they elbowed the protesting Affi along the shoreline, down to the other end of the beach, where the neighborhood was rousing from sleep. When they got to her house, a few men broke down the door. As they rampaged about, dumping her clothes and magazines into the pools of water, Affi was held back by a man whose fermented breath was enough to choke her. The boy was sitting up in bed, staring at the commotion. His legs trembled under the covers. Madam Constance strutted about, splashing in the water, telling her gang to search here or there. She had them bring her every tin, every container, every polythene bag. They found nothing.

“Eh! And who is the pikin?” Now Chifo stepped forward and grabbed the child by the shoulder. He flinched and whimpered.

Affi made to move, but the man holding her tightened his grip.

Madam Constance peered at the child.

“Madam,” Chifo said. “But you know that Affi has no pikin. Ask her where she get this pikin.”

Madam Constance said nothing. She seemed to be looking at the child for some other reason. Finally she turned to the men and told them to search beneath the bedsprings. She told them to move the boy away. Affi shouted to them not to touch the boy. For the first time Madam showed that she was losing her patience. “Carry away the pikin!”

The boy started screaming and kicking when the men laid hands on him.

Angry, Madam marched to the bed and tried to pull the boy away. In the moment she turned to place the box on the table in order to free her hands, something happened. What came next was a sharp wail, and the boss woman’s torso fell forward. Her damask scarf fell into the water. She was cupping her behind with a hand. “Pikin bite me! It’s hot. Oh God, hot iron!”

And they watched as Madam Constance howled and jigged Rastafarian style. Meanwhile the boy had stretched on the bed, legs stiffened and eyes rolling about in his head. His mouth frothed at the sides. Affi’s captor let her go, and she rushed to hold up the child’s head and turn him on his side. Madam Constance had stopped jigging, her heavy breathing mingling with the many voices rising up at once. She told Affi to hold a spoon to the boy’s teeth. A spoon appeared in her hand as if by magic and she forced it through the gnashing teeth. Another voice told her to rub the boy’s body down with palm kernel oil. And then a bottle of the oil appeared and was tipped onto the boy’s body. By the time someone else had turned up with a nurse, the child had calmed down. The nurse dabbed a cool towel all over the child, gave a few drugs, and left. Madam Constance and her gang had emptied out of the room, leaving behind the neighbors, who were wondering whose child it was that Affi was holding. Others said that they had seen Affi come out to bathe him only under the darkness of pre-dawn, and yet a few others speculated that the child might be hers, perhaps the policeman’s son even. For who knew Affi’s ways from the start? She’d always been quiet about her business.

When the neighbors left, Affi fed the boy bread soaked in milk and gave him more medicine for his fever. He went to sleep again in her arms. About her legs was the marshland of her wardrobe, client’s clothes, spools of thread, pins and buttons, toiletries, magazines, and utensils all overturned in water. Her front door was now hanging on a hinge. As the neighbors walked past they could see her cradling the child, and giggling children came and peeked at her before running off again.  She continued to hold him, singing her mother’s lullaby in a loud tremulous voice. She nodded to sleep, and then awoke to restart the song. She slept. Sang. Slept. With the child across her lap. Over and over till the sun set above Kuramo.

When darkness fell, the second batch of visitors came in and finally knocked off her door. Affi could just make out a haze of people moving about. She could only watch as tiny people raised her to her feet, holding her up. They swam around her making noises, and she found herself gulping when she tried to talk. Now and then she heard a man say, “Now look, didn’t I say no trouble? Just take your child and go.” The people floated like cotton, someone pouring tears on her, pulling a weight from her hands. Another voice was saying, “But woman, how could your husband come to drink and forget his own son?”

She slept for two days. There were brief moments of consciousness, someone waking her to eat something, placing something cool on her head. The interior of the room was bright, then dim, and then there were noises of people again. When finally she came fully awake, she sat up in bed and looked around. A kerosene lamp was burning in the corner. Beside her someone was asleep in a chair.

“Mamma cakes.”

Abass was smiling, his eyes heavy-lidded.

“I want to piss,” she said.

He hurried outside and was back with a big aluminum bowl. She squatted over it, and Abass went out to empty it after she was done. She sat on the edge of the bed and looked around again. Her machine. Her clothes. Her door. They were all as before. She got to her feet and lifted her mattress. Her savings were still secure between the bedsprings, wrapped in a wad of cloth. Abass came back inside and held her hand. She put down her head. After a while he went to one of the nails on the wall and unhooked a polythene bag. From the bag he pulled out a magazine. He turned to her. “See what I brought you.”

It was a sheaf of colored sketches bound with a cover from one of her fashion magazines. The papers were crumpled from dried moisture. Affi looked long at the red worms with blue eyes, green people with red lips, yellow lips. Scattered, spindly lines. Zigzag lines. Red circles. She began to cry.

“Mamma cakes.” Abass flipped more pages. “But you haven’t looked at everything.” He flipped some more till he came to a page with a large drawing of a stick person seated at a table. The person’s cube head was brown, the arms yellow, the legs yellow and wearing black square shoes. There were two orbs pushing out from the chest area and even lower down, the figure had a green triangle for a skirt. On the table was a most interesting object in the shape of a cuboid. This cuboid was colored purple and had a knob extending from one of its corners. The knob was S shaped, one tail of the S trailing off into a wheel. The figure in the triangle skirt had one arm on the wheel. The other arm was resting on a flat broad thing streaming out from below the knob. Scrawled in black below this drawing was one word: papa.

Affi took the album from Abass. She ran her fingers over the letters. She was smiling. She stood up with the album pressed to her chest and walked to the door.

“Wait for me.”

She left, closing the door behind her. She walked past the well, past the area she’d lined up for holy water days ago. She was now close to the zone where the rich man had been seen walking. She sat in the sand, and the tide washed over her feet. Afar off to her right, she saw the distant twinkling lights of the beer shacks and heard the vestiges of their loud music. Dark forms of people ran around, holding hands and laughing. She looked to the horizon, felt the seawater seep through her skirt to her skin. Affi hummed the lullaby, thinking she could hear another voice humming the same. Of someone like her across the ocean, seated at another beach and looking out. Come over, the double was saying. For here the lights never go dim.

The horizon stretched, violet fringed with fading gold. At the point where the waves embraced the Atlantic she imagined the world at that edge. She imagined the world the rich man had chosen over this one.

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