Shikara – 5: Hippopotamus

by Paul du Pré

Africa, in an alternate world.

A 9+1-part series.

“You burned your hand.”

“More of a scald, really.”

“You rescued me – from that…thing.”

“Uh…” ‘It had to be done’, is the first thing that comes to Bulumko’s mind. But, fortunately, sticks on his tongue – lacks sensitivity, he decides. He doesn’t think of himself as shy. But he doesn’t want to say the wrong thing. Not here, not now. Relax bra. Let it happen, he tells himself. Everything’s going to be perfect…

They are sitting on a tussock at the edge of the marsh, limned by stark moonlight, their bare feet in the water, tepid silt tickling between their toes. All around them reeds rub up against each other, stirred by the balmy summer breeze, concupiscent and whispering salacious secrets.

Nearly perfect…

***

Bulumko remembers them leaving the club in a shambles – Saleem squaring the owner, restarting the show, eyeing them as, calf-eyed, they eyed each other: “Get out of here you two,” he barked. “Lie low. For now. But be back for the last set.” Saleem’s anger was not pretended. But, as they turned to go, he softened it with, “Here. Take my room keys.” Bulumko palmed them with a nod. “What would you do without me?” growled Saleem, shaking his head – a passing imitation of paternal indignation and sorrow.

But Shikara’s ideas did not include Saleem’s room. And, enthralled, Bulumko followed.

***

“Kiss me,” she commands.

Perfect!

Gently, Bulumko crooks his arm around her shoulders and leans across.

“Mmm,” she murmurs. “Don’t be afraid.”

“I’m not afrai…” begins Bulumko, but suddenly finds himself elsewhere – on a thick, sun-dappled bank of moss, at the edge of a limpid pool lapped by ripples that radiate from a roil of falling water – a never-ending liquid sheet that glides smoothly down between banks of grey granite. The sparkling air is perfumed with bird-calls. Brilliant flowers flutter and fly.

Besides him, Shikara deftly slips off her kurti, revealing her breasts, ripe and exquisite. “Don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you.” She continues stripping, peeling back her jeans, exposing lush thighs.

In spite of instantaneous and burning pressure in his loins, Bulumko is terrified. “How?” he gasps. “What?”

“I don’t know,” she replies, kneeling over him, undoing the buttons of his shirt one by one, her succulent breasts bobbing enticingly in his face. “Ever since the Zambezi River I can teleport, but I always come back. If I really want to go…somewhere, permanently, I have to surrender to the water, let it dissolve me. Take me, where I want to go.”

“Are you…some kind of witch? Or a spirit?” Bulumko husks. In spite of throbbing lust, his fear compels him and, leaning on his arms, he edges back, heels slipping, scoring furrows in the moss.

“No,” she says, with an air of simple sincerity. “I’m just a girl.” And looks directly, intensely into his eyes.

And as she speaks, Bulumko experiences empathy so intense it is like a vision. He senses affection and scorn, deep concern and hatred, and sees the silhouette of a huge hippopotamus cow twilit against a brooding river bank, silver water swirling about its knees. The animal turns its head, regards him, and dismissively yawns wide enormous jaws, tusks and teeth white as new shrouds.

This is Africa’s deadliest man-killer.

Shikara is still talking: “Please,” she pleads, “Love me! And don’t ask questions…” She has finished unbuttoning his shirt, but now cannot work out how to remove it from his broad shoulders without help – without his willing cooperation. A small, domestic obstacle. But in that moment an expression of helpless and hopeless dejection flits across her face.

In spite of the vision – which still surges through his mind, like the wash and slop of greasy water in the wake of the animal’s dive – Bulumko intuits that this fleeting glimpse of vulnerability is the truer insight into Shikara’s being. He experiences an emotion new to him: though stung by fear and gripped by urgent lust, he also feels aching compassion. Quickly he strips, and tenderly gathers her into his arms. He doesn’t think of consequences, only of her need as, with all the strength of his virile body and all the passion of his brave and foolish heart, he strives to comfort and heal her.

***

“Bulumko,” she murmurs, tasting the syllables of his name, nesting her head on his chest.

“Shikara,” he responds, stroking her hair.

“Do you really have to be celibate to become an adept?”

“What?” Bulumko laughs. “I don’t know. There’s, like, an expectation… More like an urban legend, but I don’t think any lay-person actually knows.”

“It would be a pity,” Shikara huffs, grazing his belly with her lips.

“Well, for now I think I’ll stick with running the butchery for mom.”

“Mmm,” she gurgles, nibbling.

“And sparking part-time. For fun.”

She nibbles more vigorously.

“Hey, stop that. Hey…”

“No,” she counters, snatching a breath, and nipping at him.

***

“What I don’t understand is why the arc went for you.”

“For me? You mean that spark-thing?”

Bulumko heaves up on his side, looks down on her. Eyelids half closed, Shikara pretends not to notice.

“Yes. I’ve never seen one do that before.”

“Oh…”

“Don’t think I’ve even heard of it…”

“I don’t know,” she says, meeting his gaze. “I thought that’s what they did…” Bulumko wonders if he hears something disingenuous in her tone – like the hollow knock that betrays a concealed compartment.

“Uh, huh. And I’ve never heard of a voltaic pile melting down. It’s not possible – the internal resistance of each cell is too high. It’s like the electricity had to…I don’t know – manipulate the atomic structure of the zinc electrodes, or something.”

Shikara remains silent.

Bulumko waits for her to open up, give him something more.

Tries to give her time. Not to scrutinize.

But then, before he can stop himself, blurts, “You’re a strange girl.”

She stiffens.

“Ah… But nice,” he amends.

***

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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