Anne Goodwin's short fiction has been published online and in print. Her short story The Good News was published by Amarillo Bay in 2009 and In The Interim in 2012. She is in the process of revising two novels: Underneath and Sugar and Snails. Her writing website is at annegoodwin.weebly.com.
Anne Goodwin's short fiction has been published online and in print. Her short story The Good Newswas published by Amarillo Bay in 2009 and In The Interim in 2012. Much of her other short fiction can be accessed through her writing website at annegoodwin.weebly.com along with author interviews and a writing blog.
From tipping the restaurant waiter to scouting out the habitats of his country's most exotic plant life, the delightful Alphonse seemed content to carry all our obligations on his scraggy shoulders. At the end of an internal flight, we didn't even have to exert ourselves to pick up our suitcases from the baggage carousel. Alphonse summoned a couple of barefoot porters and pointed them in the direction of the Naturetours luggage labels and we didn't have to do a thing until we were reunited with our luggage at the next hotel.
"I could get used to this," said Ivan.
I sighed. "I know just what you mean."
Alphonse led us through the terminal building, hardly bigger than the Socks-R-Us franchise at Heathrow, to the 4x4 waiting in the shade, its engine purring. We climbed into the welcome cool of the air-conditioning: Katie and Morris together with Lou on the middle row behind the seats for driver and guide, Ivan sandwiched between me and Ray at the back. Once he'd seen us settled, Alphonse excused himself to go and attend to our permits for the park. The driver sloped off for a smoke.
Katie got out her diary. Ray opened the paperback he'd been reading on the plane. I stared out the window. There wasn't much to see here: just the breeze-block wall of the airport building and a group of teenage girls lounging on the corner, their wild edges muted by the tinted glass.
"I'll swap seats if you like," said Ivan. "You and Ray can sit together."
I stole a glance at my husband. He must have heard, but he didn't raise his head from his book. I knew what he was up to: waiting for me to rescue him from the green-eyed monster that had plagued him since that first getting-to-know-you meal. So Ivan and I had a similar sense of humor? Both addicted to the double-act stand-up tradition that goes from Laurel and Hardy right through to French and Saunders. It hardly meant we were planning to sleep together.
I smiled at Ivan. "I think he prefers the company of his book at the moment."
Morris opened his window. With the driver gone we'd lost the air-conditioning and, even here in the shade, the heat was mounting. I followed his lead and wound down the window beside me. The grey wall of the airport building showed itself a couple of tones lighter.
Katie paused in her scribbling. "What was that orchid we saw yesterday?"
"Which of the two dozen did you particularly have in mind?" said Lou.
Katie's reply was swamped by a sudden surge of teenage girls crowding around the 4x4, thrusting their arms through the open windows. "Look, madam, look!"
They jangled hoops of silver in my face. Sparks of reflected sunlight bounced into my eyes. I turned away and looked askance at my husband.
"Just close the bloody window," he said.
That was no solution. I didn't want to shut out the country I was here to admire. "No thank you. No thank you," I told the girls. Polite but firm.
The group drifted to the window in front. "Look, sir," they chorused. "Look my beautiful bangles."
I watched them thrust the trinkets upon poor Morris. They were solid chunky things, a bit like one half of a pair of engraved handcuffs. Not my style at all. I noticed the girls notice Morris hesitate. We shared a knowing smile as they pushed their wares into his hands. "I give you good price."
"How much?" he muttered, examining the bracelets with evident embarrassment.
Ray groaned into his book. "Now we'll never get rid of them."
The girls pointed out the motifs stamped into the silver. "Look, this snake!" "Look, this flower!"
"They might be okay for presents," said Lou.
Beside me, Ivan fumbled in his bag for his camera. "I'll take this one," said Morris.
Ivan focused his lens. In my own mind, I framed the picture: seven pairs of sparkling eyes, seven enormous smiles, fourteen cheekbones to die for. The vibrancy of their clothes, a glorious melange of international teen wear and traditional prints. I would ask Ivan to e-mail me a copy of the photo when we got home.
Money was passed across to a girl in a red knitted beret and a tie-dye top. She brought the note to her lips in triumph.
Disappointment flooded the faces of her six colleagues. With a collective sigh they moved back. But it turned out this was only to regroup, and they launched their bangles forward with renewed vigor. "Come, my friend. You buy from her, now buy from me."
Ivan put down his camera. Lou opened her purse. "They're quite cheap when you think about it."
Morris slid the silver bracelet onto Katie's arm. She closed her diary and kissed him on the lips.
"Aah," crooned the girls, enchanted.
The girl nearest me wore a figure-clinging black miniskirt with an African print cloth wrapped around her head. She winked at me.
I winked back.
The group congregated at my window and called across to Ivan. "Hey, mister, you buy nice bangle now. Make happy your wife."
Lou half turned to face her husband, but it was clear that it wasn't her the girls had linked to Ivan. The red-beret girl reached into the vehicle and took my arm. "Look, no jewelry. Very very sad."
Ray stared intently at his book.
"You very bad husband," said the red-beret girl. "Why you no buy?"
"You very bad husband," I said to Ivan.
The girls laughed. "You make him buy, madam. He buy you silver bangle like nice man here."
Morris laughed. Katie kissed him again and the girls whooped.
Ivan opened out his pockets. "Look, I no money. I very poor man."
I nodded solemnly. "He very poor husband."
Giggling, the girls whispered something in their own language.
"You buy one very nice bangle. Else wife run away and live with other man." They drew back, as if amazed at their own temerity. They stared at me and then collapsed into fits of laughter, clutching each other and hopping about as if the tarmac were scorching the soles of their feet.
"You speak very true," I said.
The girls leaned across me and dangled the bracelets in front of Ivan. "Buy! Buy! Buy!"
Ivan shook his head in a parody of remorse. "But I no money."
"I give you good price."
They quoted the figure Morris had paid.
Ivan quoted back one-tenth of the price. "I very poor man."
The girls howled with laughter. They offered half of their original figure. "See, mister, very fine silver. This very good price."
Ivan showed them his empty pockets and doubled his offer. It was still less than a dollar for what they claimed was solid silver.
Ray raised his head from his book. "Don't tease them. You don't even want their tat."
"It's just a game," I said. "You're supposed to bargain. They're enjoying it."
To prove my point, the girls folded into themselves with laughter. It would have made a great photo. But I knew that if I reached into my backpack for my camera, the moment would be lost.
"Okay, my final offer." It seemed they were now willing to give us three bangles for what they'd charged Morris for one.
"But I don't need three," said Ivan.
A girl with a Nike T-shirt pulled tight across her small breasts reached for my arm. She pointed to my wrist, to my elbow, my upper arm. "One. One. One."
A short girl with her hair in cornrows nudged her. "No." She pointed to me, then Katie, then Lou. "One. One. One."
Another roar of laughter. "You three wives. You very rich man."
Ivan raised his eyebrows. Ivan had very abundant eyebrows and this gesture seemed to amuse the girls even more.
The headwrap girl cleared her throat. She pointed to herself, the Nike girl, and finally the cornrow girl. "One. One. One."
I gasped dramatically. "You want he take three more wives?"
The girls didn't laugh. They glanced uneasily over their shoulders. I looked beyond them to where Alphonse was walking towards the 4x4, accompanied by our driver.
The red-beret girl pointed briskly to herself and to each of her six friends in turn. "One. One. One. One. One. One. One. My final offer."
"Hang on a minute," said Ivan. "Have I missed something? It started at one, went up to three, and now she wants me to take six."
"Seven," I said.
The red-beret girl was scowling. "One me. One her. One everybody. My final offer."
Her friends stepped back as Alphonse and the driver climbed into the front seats, but the red-beret girl kept her hands on the door frame.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," said Alphonse. "Took longer than I thought."
"There isn't a problem with our permits, I hope?" said Ray.
"Don't worry, it's all in order," said Alphonse. "I see you've been shopping while you've been waiting. Are you all finished or shall we hang on a little longer?"
"To be honest," said Ivan, "I really don't know."
"No joking now," the red-beret girl growled in my ear. "Buy one everybody, we go home, we eat dinner."
"He'd bargained them down to a really good price," Lou told Alphonse, "and then it all went pear-shaped."
"I don't want seven bangles," said Ivan. He sounded like an exhausted parent who suddenly realized he'd rather die than read his kids The Gruffalo one more time.
"So how many do you want?" said Alphonse. "How much do you want to pay?"
"It was just a bit of fun," I said. "Just passing the time."
"For photo," said the red-beret girl. "You buy us."
"Shall I speak to her?" said Alphonse.
"Maybe we should just get going," said Lou. "We've lost enough time already while you were sorting out those permits."
The driver turned on the engine.
"You and Morris are going to have to close your windows," said Ray, "or the air-conditioning won't work."
The red-beret girl stepped away, but she kept her hands on the door frame. "You buy us. For eat. For clothes." She stroked her belly. "For baby."
"She's persistent if nothing else," said Ivan.
"I suppose you have to be in a place like this," said Ray.
"Ready?" said Alphonse.
I looked at the red-beret girl. Beneath the tie-dye top I guessed she was around six months pregnant. Eating for two, as they used to say.
I wound up the window, the girl's hands still hooked over the tinted glass. She glared at me with none of the happy-go-lucky air that had charmed me earlier. Those cheekbones no longer looked so attractive. Was she ever going to let go? What was I going to do if she didn't?
"Ready," said Ray.
We moved off. I had an awful vision of the girl being dragged along, her fingers trapped between the window and the door frame. Just in time she let go, stepped back, and turned to join her friends sulking on the corner.
"Hope the next lot of tourists are more generous," said Ray.
I felt like slapping him.
I called out to Alphonse.
"Yes?" He turned round, grinning. I dropped my gaze from his eager face to his bony shoulders beneath the well-pressed T-shirt. I felt ashamed now to ask whether another flight were due into the tiny airport that day. "How far is it to the reserve?"
"A couple of hours. Are you tired?"
About halfway there, we stopped at the side of the dirt track so that Alphonse could lead us through the scrub to botanize a rare kalanchoe. I stayed with the jeep, seizing my chance to rearrange the seating on the back row. For the remainder of the journey, I made sure my husband took the seat in the middle, between Ivan and me. Our double-act didn't seem funny any more.