- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Downriver a calico-clad woman, baby strapped to her back with a sunshine yellow sling, washed laundry on a flat rock as had been done for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. She waved her prune-fingers and smiled at two handsome ebony-skinned canoe polers who offered their morning greetings and smiles in return. She wondered what sort of catch the fisherman had procured that morning then noticed a waterborne cavalcade following behind the boat; sure evidence of flooding: three vaguely human figures, all in a line, here a blonde-haired, pale-faced head, there a black arm, there a white sunburned leg, cattle horns atop human heads and two, sometimes three different faces--black and white--peeled off and superimposed on one another; a marching moil of parts and pieces caucasoid, negroid and bovine. The cadaverous caravan floated slowly along the current, following in the canoe's wake toward the colonial outpost a mile or so downstream. Odd fish, thought the laundry woman, a strange catch.
The carrion parade first reached the shantytown just outside the wooden walls of the outpost proper. Thin-ribbed, hollow-eyed children swarmed out of aluminum-roofed huts and into the river, expending their death throes in a final effort to glean sustenance from the bounty of the floods. Most earned a good thumping with a canoe pole, some drowned, while a group of five boys wrested a cattle torso from the stream, ripping into the bloated guts and filling their voracious holes at the water's edge as the procession passed the edge of town and entered the poorer parts of the colonial quarter. Upriver, cannibals and crocodiles sat satedon the banks, enjoying the afterglow of the levy they had charged on the passing fishermen earlier that morning.
Cibembe, slender whore and town gossip, was first within the fortressed walls to purchase the fishermen's wares. She pointed at a white head, grinning with satisfaction as she threw her colonial ducats into the dugout: "Ah, those ears, those huge white ears! With those I will hear every bit of rumor that leaves the white man's mouth. I will know when the police come, where the best parties are, who is the best-paying client. The secrets of Ngome will be mine." She entered the water, knife in hand, to retrieve the ears. Upstream, five children lay dying on the riverbanks, their poisoned stomachs collapsing in on themselves as they crawled away from a hollow set of cow ribs.
Nigel Dawson, Esquire, exited a hut three doors down from the harlot. He quickly zipped his trousers, tossing some coin to his favorite "mistress," then ran out to pick his choice from the flowing meat wagon. Bright and pink, protruding from a charcoal head, swayed a tongue. Three crowns and a ducat later the tongue was his. Now he would speak convincingly before both tribal councils and colonial courts, something no white lawyer had been able to do until now. His renown and his wealth would spread like wildfire. Upstream a woman turned deaf, whispers of official atrocities and backroom brokering echoing in her mind.
A circus had entered town a few nights before. There, under a brilliant red and yellow canopy, Giardino, the midget, dreamed of being tall, unafraid, towering over all others. The splashing of water broke his reverie and he woke, approaching the liquid pronouncement. Three ducats--his life's savings--went into a pair of long, slender black legs, like those of a giant cricket. Seven feet tall he stood now, towering head and shoulders above autochthon and invader alike. Upstream a lawyer fell under the clubs of a council of grizzled elders--"no white man should speak like a black," they said. "Such a line should not be crossed.
Besides, we must protect ourselves. If the authorities got wind of such improprieties, retribution fall on us and him alike!"
Venefatt, the clown, shopped for a happy face. He found one two layers down in a pile of stripped skin--a smiling visage, just the right size and shape. He threw in his pay then affixed the cheery mask to his own dour portrait. It fit perfectly. Now he would make the children laugh rather than run, smile rather than cry. Upstream an erstwhile midget collapsed as the sickly thinness of his newly-acquired legs filtered up through his trunk, arms and face, sinking his cheeks and distending his belly. His eyes fell out of hollow sockets onto the ochre earth six feet, seven inches below.
At the end of the line of brightly colored tents, Cincoglio, the ringmaster, smiled greedily as he purchased a pair of cattle horns. He would affix them to his sideshow mermaid, making her irresistible song all the more terrifying, her sewn-up lips all the more necessary for safety. Audiences will gladly pay more, he thought, for the privilege of seeing my monster. Upstream a black-faced clown was being arrested for performing without a license and for providing a false identification card--obviously stolen. The penalty for natives impersonating colonists was stiff--stiff as a rhinoceros hide whip. This black clown would pay the penalty.
Geld Vansina, the rubber plantation owner, opened his purse and waded out to intercept the passing boat. After some haggling, he threw two crowns to the boatmen and took his share--two humungous black hands to be used as a warning to plantation employees of what happens to thieves: an eye for an eye, a hand for a bucket of stolen rubber. Upstream a siren popped her sutures with the end of a sharp bullhorn and sang the ringmaster's last lullaby.
At the deep end of the river, where the channel spills into a great lake, Arthur Stokes waited in his rowboat as those of his métier, yet not of his race, passed close by. He threw them a ducat for his needs--a white head. Excellent, he thought as he took the proffered melon, I don't have to take the ears off--one less step. He dropped the head directly into the grinder. Upriver a plantation owner tugged at his throat, trying to remove the immense hands that had somehow remembered their past and become vengeful. Stokes, however, did not heed the screams coming from within the fortress walls. He steered his boat out into the open water, happy to have fresh chum with which to bait fish. On the shoreline a woman with a baby slung on her back washed laundry as had been done for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years.