Shikara – 1: Out of the Ocean

by Paul du Pré

Africa, in an alternate world.

A 9+1-part series.

Late summer. It’s five o’clock on Muizenberg Beach, Cape Town. Aquamarine breakers cream and froth as a brisk offshore breeze whips the top off the foam, and high clouds haze the azure.

A young woman walks out of the ocean.

Coffee complexion, with straight waist-length black hair. Sleek. Busty.

Designer jeans, exquisite kurti tunic. Diamanté strap-ons which she removes as sand digs in between sandal and sole.

Her clothes are not wet.

Water wells from her hair – which weighs slick in the south-east wind – and drips from her hands and feet, but her clothes are dry.

She walks straight up from the beach, into the dunes and along dirt tracks, weaving between shacks and dilapidated cement-block dwellings – she knows where she’s going, though she cannot say how. An elegant woman, out of place, gold and pearl earrings peeping from beneath her wind-tossed hair, a matching pendant dipping to her swelling décolletage; antique Kundan finger-bracelet swaying enticingly against the back of her shapely hand.

Can those be real diamonds, encrusting her 24-carat wrist-watch?

They ask this – three men, wind-scoured, sun-blackened, who abandon their clacking game of dominoes, leaving their makeshift, cable-drum table adrift in the creeping dust, and stalk her. Scattered witnesses turn their backs. A scrawny mother snatches her child indoors.

One of the men hurries behind, bumps up against her flank, checking for alertness, reactivity, and weapons; the second closes off the rear, while the third dashes ahead, and circles, knife in hand, to block her way. “We won’t hurt you,” he lies. “Just stand still.”

The first man, the one at her side, plucks at her earrings, deftly removing them. She shakes her head in abstracted annoyance. And reaches out a delicate finger, diffidently probing the upper arm of the man ahead. Perhaps she is questioning whether social niceties have truly been abandoned? Off course, he will laugh (we imagine) – in exaggerated and mercurial jest – and apologize for his imposition before courteously ushering her onward…

But, that is not what happens.

Instead, he begins to choke. The knife falls to the ground as his hands scrabble for his mouth and throat.

Indifferently, she brushes by, walks on. But then, after a few steps, halts, recalling something forgotten. Absently, she reaches a hand to her denuded ear…

Behind her the three men sag, collapse, and flap in the dirt, like beached fish, eyes bulging, water leaking from their gaping mouths.

…She turns, and taking a few languid paces, stoops to pry her earrings from the drowning thief’s convulsive clutch.

Reattaching them, she walks on.

No-one interferes.

***

She crosses into a less blighted area: the streets are paved and the houses, though small, are plastered and painted and, more often than not, their yards are planted and grassy. Passing through from the south, as she approaches the eastern edge, she comes upon the marshy borders of Zeekoivlei. There are hippopotami living there – she can feel it! But though their presence is comforting – as is the lap and smack of patchy water between tawny reed-banks – that is not where she is led.

Picking her way along the edge of the marsh, she arrives at a low fence of concrete slats that bounds an extensive yard. At its far end it backs onto animal pens, crumbling and rickety, but nonetheless occupied – a heifer and two sheep. Beyond the pens, the rooftop of a single-story house can be seen, also in need of some repair. At the centre of the yard is a butcher’s block, its top scored and stained with old blood; and off towards the boundary, its abandoned relatives, the remains of another three blocks, rotting and mildewed, festooned with grass. As is the entire boundary – overgrown.

Grazing by the fence, a bay stock-horse crops lazily, its saddle and equipage balanced on the wall.

The grass really is luxuriant: it wreathes the fetlocks of the bay, and writhes along the wall towards the equipage, seemingly aflame with emerald fire in the last rays of the westering sun.

No, it doesn’t just ‘seem’ to glow, she decides. It is glowing. Faintly.

Light is concentrated in this yard.

There is an aura of brilliance, and it is centred around the stocky figure of a man, his back to her.

***

Image Credits

Woman underwater – Free-Photos on Pixabay

Disclaimer, Copyright and Permissions

Shikara is a work of fiction by Paul du Preez, writing as Paul du Pré. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are the product of Paul du Preez’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights are reserved, including without limitation, the right to reproduce Shikara and the original art or music associated with it, or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Paul du Preez. Copyrighted 2020 by Paul du Preez.

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