Jevin Lee Albuquerque
If she would just close her dark legs, I would stop staring, and my mother would be proud. Four days of travel in the African interior have made me weak. Beads of sweat drip down my neck when I tilt back the beer. I’m twenty-nine years old, it’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m posted up at a hotel bar in Malawi. The reggae music flips to dancehall; the dance floor swells with sweaty African bodies. Her dark legs are still open, spread on the barstool.
“You look down on me, mzungu?” Her eyes thunder with the feminist glare I was raised on; her poverty cries in a different direction. Covered in only a black skirt, tight purple top, she cracks her gum, rolls it in a napkin. She pushes her braids aside.
“I don’t look down on you,” I say, trying to get lost in the disco ball, the arms of the DJ. Outside is a swimming pool, the water crackling to the heavy bass, trees peeking over the wall.
“You like? Then why not take? I give good rate,” she says, slapping her thigh, slapping mine. I steal a glimpse of her white underwear.
“How about a dance first?” I reach out my hand, a true gentleman.
“O.K.,” she says, sliding off the barstool. She takes my hand, braids swinging behind her.
“I’m Jonathan,” I say, slipping into the womb, bodies swelling.
“Alile.” Her body is fierce, generously feminine.
“We can’t be more than a half hour away,” I tell her, loosening my hips, avoiding the others.
“Will you have me for the night?” she asks, taking hold of my shirt, inches from my lips, a little smile.
“Will you have me?” I ask, waiting for a kiss.
She snaps her tongue off the roof of her mouth, “If you pay, you can have whatever you want.” She snaps her fingers.
“I don’t operate like that, I want you to want me.” I look away like a child, expecting her to grab my chin, kiss me with violence.
“I need work,” she says, stomping her foot.
I turn back to her, “I understand, but I’m not paying.”
“Closer,” she says, pulling my shirt.
“I love the way you move, Alile.”
“Tighter,” she says, lips close to mine.
The music surges onto the floor with a chubby blond girl; she dances next to us, her cheeks inflamed with alcohol. Alile presses her ass against me, nudges me into the blond.
“Alright, Alile, you win,” I tell her.
“Excuse you,” says the blond. Her breath reeks of hard liquor; her green eyes entice.
“This girl’s more your style,” says Alile, the blond shaking her hips offbeat. “I need to work, dance with this girl.” She brushes me off, waving her purple nails.
“I won’t pay, but I think–”
“Hey cutie,” says the blond, awkwardly confident.
“Keep thinking,” says Alile, approaching an African man, his shirt off, stomach flexed. She puts on his New Year’s hat, hips winding, grinding.
The blond shakes her frizzy hair, “Let her go, she’s a whore.” She leans back as though feeling the music, “Love this song.”
“Who do you think you are?” I ask.
“Someone who thought you were cute,” she says, following me to the bar.
I take a seat, “Sorry, I’m Jonathan, how are you?”
“I was fine until I realized you were psycho,” she says. She composes herself, “I’m Sandy.”
“Sorry, I think she’s…well, I just think she–”
“Could do more with her life? Are you here to save her?” she asks, putting her hands together in jesting prayer. “Let me guess, you’ve been in Africa for what, two weeks? Poor African girl, she’s so pretty and smart, she could be a model or a teacher?”
“Actually, she could,” I say, sipping my beer, sheets of sweat dripping down my back.
“Listen, give yourself some time before you start making judgments,” she says, eyes dimming, moving inward.
“Good point, but it’s almost the New Year,” I say, taking her hand. The music sloshes the pool outside, our bodies grinding, counting down the final seconds, cheap champagne in hand, in mouth.
“Happy New Year,” hollers the DJ.
Our tongues twirl to the bluster of screams and whistles, the snap of fireworks.
“Are you staying…?” she asks, my eyes closed.
“What?” Streamers slither through the air, music rumbles the floor.
“Are you staying at the hostel?” she yells, her tongue sneaking out of her mouth.
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing, except you could stay with me,” she says, big smile.
“Are you trying to seduce me?” I ask, looking at Alile, who is inseparable from her new partner.
“Can you take your eyes away for one second?” she hollers, waving her hand in front of me.
“I’m sorry, I’m being rude.”
Turning to Alile and back, “To your credit, I’ve never seen an ass like that and I’ve lived here all my life,” she says laughing. Before I can respond, she tucks her tongue inside my mouth.
“I hate to break up the party–”
“Can’t you find someone else…?” I begin to say, but realize they know each other. He’s well past midlife, wears a tan fishing hat, four-pocket shirt. “Fuck, it’s her dad,” I mumble.
“Happy New Year, mate. What brings you to this God-forsaken place?” His face is swollen from the day’s heat.
“This wonderful woman here,” I tell him, glancing at Sandy.
His dirty breath reaches my lips. “Make sure you like her.”
“Calm down, everybody,” says Sandy. Henry waves me to the bar. “Go,” says Sandy, giving me a little push.
“What can I do you for?” asks Henry, the music not as threatening.
“Anything is fine,” I tell him.
“Tough guy, eh, try this,” he says, “Black Death!” I knock back the shot, my face tweaking to his laughter. “So what are you really doing here, mate?”
“Traveling, playing some soccer, fishing…,” I say, feeling the warmth of the alcohol.
“You fish?” he says, setting down his glass.
“Yeah, is that illegal?”
He throws up his arms in celebration, “Let’s go tomorrow, I have a boat at my house. What do you think?” I’m not sure how to respond, the Black Death churning in my guts. “This guy’s alright,” he says when Sandy walks up. “Did you invite him back to the house?”
“What are you doing now?” asks Henry’s wife, joining the group. She has short gray hair and at least ten years on Henry.
“Nothing, this young man’s a fisherman….”
She’s shakes her head, “Let’s go dear, you’re drunk.”
“So what?” Then looking at his daughter, “Take the keys to the truck…and you,” he says facing me, “if you end up at my house, in the morning we’re going fishing,” he says, nearly falling over.
“Come on, dear, you’re slurring.”
“And I have an old Mitchel reel you can use, drag’s as good as new,” he says, his wife pulling him away.
“I love Mitchel reels,” I tell him. “See you later,” I say waving.
Sandy links our arms, “Looks like you made a new friend.”
“The house is only a few minutes away. You could probably use a clean shower?” she asks.
“Sounds good to me,” I say, watching Alile slide her hands down the African’s chest.
“You sure seem interested in local business,” she says, covering my eyes.
“Can you blame me?”
After a few minutes on the road, “It’s just there,” says Sandy, turning the wheel hard to the left, tires spinning in the dirt. Henry’s boat, an immaculate Boston Whaler, is parked in the driveway of his two-story home.
“Here’s a towel, the shower’s in your room across the hall.” I notice her left eye is a little lazy.
“Thanks for letting me crash here,” I say, pretending not to notice.
“I travel a lot, I know how it is…and if you’re lucky, I’ll cook you a tasty breakfast in the morning,” she says, her eye trying to catch up.
“Look here, you made it, mate,” says Henry in his robe, his wife guiding him to the bedroom. “Are you still up for fishing?” he asks, trying to light a cigarette.
“I can always get up for fishing,” I tell him.
“Five A.M. sharp,” he says, shrugging off his wife.
Sandy laughs, “Make that a nice lunch I’ll make you.”
I enjoy the cold water waiting at my bedside and head for the shower. I let out a moan of excitement when I feel the firm water pressure, again when the fresh towel touches my skin. Sandy waits for me under the covers.
After a relaxing day on the lake, Henry turns to me, hands on the steering wheel, “How you were able to out-fish me on my own waters, I can’t figure out. I should drop you off here and let the locals teach you a lesson,” he says as we tow the boat past a local market. Sweat gathers on his forehead.
“Listen, boy, I know luck, that was much more than luck…you can keep the Mitchell reel if you like,” he says, wiping his forehead.
“That’s too kind, I can’t take–”
“Nonsense, it’s done, I won’t hear any more, you earned it. For Christ’s sake! Wait until my mates here about this one...out-fished by an American. Can you stay another couple days, give me a chance to regain my respect?”
“I think I better hit the road while I’m ahead,” I say, blocking the sunlight with my hand.
“Well, you’ll at least stay for lunch? Christ,” he blurts out, squinting in the light.
“I’d love to.”
Henry looks pleased, slaps me on the knee.
“That’s right, he bloody well out-fished me,” I hear in the kitchen as I strip naked, preparing for another luxurious shower. “Nice young man, I wish he’d stay an extra night.”
“Sandy sure doesn’t seem to mind him,” says Henry’s wife, chopping on a cutting board.
A bell rings in the living room, an unfamiliar sound. It rings again. I hear the patter of footsteps, someone racing down the hall.
I clean out my ears with a Q-tip. My clothing has been washed and folded, placed on the immaculate, wrinkle-free bed. The floor smells of cleaning products, everything is perfectly in its place. I hear the grunt of an animal, the bell rings again.
I lie down one more time on the bed, savoring the comfy mattress. Sandy knocks on the door. “Hungry?”
“Starving,” I tell her.
She smiles at me. I follow her into the dining room. The smell of turkey fills the air. Henry sits at the head of the table; a hand-sized bell stands next to his lemonade like a little emperor.
“What would you like to drink?” asks Henry’s wife.
“Water is fine.”
“Let’s get him a beer, he earned it today,” says Henry, raising the bell in the air. He shakes it violently side to side, his pink face wrinkled. Again, he rings it, this time slapping it on the table.
“Yes, Masta,” says the maid, nearly running to the table.
“Get this man a beer.”
Turning to me, “What would Masta like?” she asks, with a polite smile. She wears a gray dress over her skinny body. Her head is shaved.
“Nothing, I’m fine, thank you.”
“Bring him a beer,” he says again. “Go.”
“Hold on a second,” says Sandy. “Bring me a glass of white wine.”
I stare at the turkey, the stuffing oozing, like guts. He rings the bell again; the maid returns.
“Bring my photo album.”
“Which one, Masta?” she asks, short of breath.
“The one with the fish. Go.” He brushes her away. “Wait ‘til you see these trophies. You may have outdone me today, but there was a time...,” he continues, pointing at me with a sharpened fingernail.
“Something wrong?” asks Sandy.
“Could you excuse me for a minute?” I ask, getting up.
“What’s wrong, boy?” asks Henry, his forehead wrinkled.
“I should really get back,” I tell him, staring at their family portrait.
“Don’t you want to eat first?” asks Sandy.
“Is she taking too long?” asks Henry, ringing the bell, my ears.
“No, no, that’s quite alright, quit ringing the bell, thank you…I really want to leave.”
“O.K.,” says Sandy. “I’ll take you back.”
“Boy, what has gotten into you?”
“I can’t eat like this,” I say, blood flowing.
“You don’t like the food? But it’s very American, we cooked it for you,” says Henry’s wife, shoulders sinking.
“I’m sorry, I’m just not used to–” I continue, taking a breath.
“Used to what?” asks Sandy.
“Treating people that way,” I say, finally calming down.
“The maid?” asks Sandy, raising her voice, standing up.
“Yeah, the maid, the bell, I…,” but the sting in her eyes shuts me down.
“Get off your fucking high horse, last night you were staring at a hooker with your jaw on the floor, now you come into our house and insult us. Ilani is family, we’re putting her kids through school, we took her off the streets, how dare you….” She throws her napkin down on the table.
“Calm down, dear,” says Henry, releasing his fingers from the bell. “Let him go, if he’d like.”
“Your photo album, Masta.”
“I’m sorry, I really appreciate your hospitality. I just have to go.”
Sandy leaves the room in tears; Henry’s wife follows.
“I’ll take you back, son, don’t worry,” says Henry, getting up, trying to place his arm around me.
“I’m fine, I can walk,” I say, shrugging him off, turning away.
“No, you can’t walk, it’s too dangerous,” he says, trying not to raise his voice. “Just calm down, mate, get your things, and I’ll get you back. No harm done.”
After a long silence on the dirt road, “Anyhow, you can keep the reel.”
“No, thanks,” I tell him.
“You can walk the rest of the way then. Get out,” he says, slamming on the brakes.
About the author:
Jevin Lee Albuquerque lives in Bozeman, Montana. He recently completed his second full-length novel, American Mess. His fiction has appeared in Double Take, Points of Entry and Map Magazine in Madrid. You can find his poetry in the October/November issue of Literary Juice. In a former life he was a professional soccer player. He has a degree in Latin American Studies from UCLA.