Shinganga (Part 4)

Parts 1, 2, and 3 are here, here, and here, respectively. There’s got to be a better way to do that.

A glass appears at Alice’s elbow, startling her into a tiny yelp. It is brimming with wine, smells of lemon and oak and freshly cut grass, a frosting of condensation just beginning to mist the surface.

Oh, thank you, she says, turning to smile at her server. The woman won’t meet her eyes, instead glancing down to the ground and moving mutely on to the next place.

That was weird, she says to Daisy, seated to her right.

Nah, it’s just what they’re trained to do at fancy joints like this. Rich folks don’t like them some natter from the help. Daisy rolls her eyes. How they’re dealing with us showing up, I have no idea. You see the daggers we got from the manager at check-in?

No, says Alice, honestly. I didn’t really think about it, I guess.

Bunch of scruffy looking girls rock up on your doorstep stinking of bus sweat, take over your lodge, staying four to a room? When you’re running a fancy tourist trap like this? I’d be pissed as hell. Daisy laughs with gusto. Although not as pissed as all the old rich bastards who aren’t quite rich enough and have to come here in the off-season. Getting their authentic voodoo experience ruined by a gang of hippy fuck-ups.

Huh. Alice looks around the elaborate dining room. She sees the other guests, at smaller tables than the three their group has taken over. Their shirts and jackets. Their dresses. Even the children, in good shoes or the latest in bushwear chic. None of them are trying to thank their servers. The children follow the example of their parents, staring stoically ahead and making sure to keep their voices down even as their toes wriggle in unfamiliarly tight shoes.

Some of the families there remind Alice of the family holidays she used to go on when she was younger. Her parents, exasperated and excited all at one, trying to force Alice and her siblings into semi-decent clothes, to sit still and stop fidgeting, or fine, just read your book as long as you sit quietly and eat all the food on your plate when it arrives. Yet they’re enjoying themselves, in a new place and a new setting, trying new stuff, escaping for just an instant, even as, yes, one of the men over there has the same cringing smile that Alice’s dad used to wear when one of them asked for something and he didn’t want to pay for it because it was frivolous and expensive and nonsensical but fuck it, you’re on holiday, live a little. The budget’s for work, you don’t take excel to Spain, do you?

Alice recalls the detritus of holidays past that litters her room, treasures forgotten in the cold grey light of home, exoticism drained by miles and time. Memories discarded. Favours and pleadings materialised and abandoned.

Then there was the time she went to an orchestra camp for a weekend and came back to find boxes of her things in the hallway, ready for the bin or the charity shop or wherever her mother wanted to put them. She dug through the boxes, pulled out every piece of tat or misfit toy or straggly dress, restored them to their rightful positions gathering dust.

She remembers.

She sees their whiteness.

She misses them.

Alice shivers a little. She pulls her hoody around her shoulders. Considers zipping it up to hide the crumpled, ratty t-shirt she has on underneath.

Yeah, someone knows a guy who knows a guy who maybe fucked a guy? Or something. Daisy waves her wine glass. Hence our being able to come here at all.

Yeah, Regina didn’t really give me any of the details about this stuff, just said you guys had already planned a bunch of stuff and it’d be easy to add me on, so I paid her the money for it and, yeah, here we are drinking wine in a fancy restaurant and, Alice sips at her wine, holy fuck this is amazing. She takes another swallow. It bursts onto her tongue, rich and fragrantly fruity, then melts slowly away to reveal layers of flavour, leaves her mouth snapping, begging for more.

Like, I think this might be the best wine I’ve ever tasted. The best drink I’ve ever had, maybe. She takes another enthusiastic mouthful.

Don’t get too used to that shit, Daisy says, taking a healthy gulp of her own. This is the best it’s gonna be for a while.

But seriously, goddamn. Alice takes another swig of the wine. We aren’t paying for this, right?

Nah, all included, Daisy says.

Alice turns in her seat. The server is there, before she’s even had time to think about it.

Could I have some more wine, please? Alice asks.

The server doesn’t speak. Her eyes slide away from Alice’s, repelled by some similar polarity. She simply raises the bottle, shows Alice the label.

Alice nods, exaggerated, unsure, glancing at the label without seeing it. Should she have a tasting sip? What is the tasting sip supposed to be for anyway? Or do you swirl a posh wine before the sip or, oh the server’s gone.

Alice pulls herself around in her seat, stares around the room, sees her server moving on to another table. Alice tries to catch her eye, mouth some silent thanks to her. The server doesn’t look at her. Now that Alice’s glass is full, she can’t get her server’s attention.

Slow down, baby girl, Daisy says, eyeing her glass meaningfully. I appreciate that this is the good shit, but we’ve got the juju man tonight. It’s not all wine and dancing girls. Although, actually there might be dancing girls or something, who the hell knows with this place.

Yeah, you’re right, thanks, Alice says. I dunno, I’m not used to this I guess.

You’re feeling better, then? Daisy asks. We were all a bit worried when you were blowing chunks out on the lawn this morning.

Cate, the girl to Alice’s right, turns then. Yeah, that was something man, you were messed up. Babbling about some talking animals or some shit? You having a bad trip or what?

Just my anti-malarials, I think, says Alice, fidgeting with her wine glass. Her fingertips run around the stem, test the weight of it in her hands. She doesn’t lift it. I took them that morning without any food or anything.

Oh, you been getting weird dreams too? says Cate. I dunno how well mine are going with the acid, but shit man, last night I had a dream about some giant forks chasing us all through a wood or something, maybe it was spoons, but anyway, it was a fuckin’ creepy forest, spooky and haunted and stuff, and we were all running screaming, and I was fuckin’ terrified, and then I was just laughing, ‘cause it was fuckin’ forks or whatever, and I woke up and that’s all I remember. No idea why forks or in a wood or how we got there, but I was fuckin’ crying with laughter.

Yeah, you woke me up, you bitch, comes a shout from across the table. Lauren?

Hmm, I’ve been having dreams about a creepy forest as well, since we got here, says Daisy, except without the forks. You know, kind of a lack of cutlery of any kind.

Eh, probably not the acid then, Cate waves her hand. A server appears, summoned by her dismissiveness. Oh, sorry, I’m OK thanks, I was just, yeah, anyway, what were we talking about?

My chunks being blown on the lawn, Alice says. She’s still running her finger up and down the stem of the wine glass, waiting for food.

Oh yeah, so, you feeling better? Course you are, you’re here getting the best of everything, says Cate.

Yeah, I’ll be fine. Thanks for asking, though.

No problem.

Cate turns around to her other neighbour to begin an enthusiastic round of dream interpretation.

Seriously, you were muttering some weird shit about talking animals when you were out there, says Daisy. Like, some fucked up shit, seeing things and stuff. You sure you’re OK?

Yes, I’m fine. I’m fine. I haven’t been seeing things and talking to animals, or if I have its just a side effect of the prophylaxis, nothing out of the ordinary, people get chased through forests by fucking forks when they’re on this stuff for fuck’s sake.

I’m fine, thanks, Alice says. You guys get up to anything interesting today?

Nah, nothing much, Daisy says. She reclines in her chair, lounges like a benevolent empress. Sat around by the pool and read, talked, napped, had a beer or two. Everyone’s still a bit screwed up from all the travelling.

Ah, good. So I didn’t miss anything? Alice’s hand has stopped its fidgeting, is stalled, tense.

No, nothing much, says Daisy. You need to chill out, though, you’re never going to enjoy yourself if you’re so wound up about stuff all the time.

What d’you mean?

Like, you’re worried about seeing everything and doing everything and making this the best trip anyone’s ever had, and just chill the fuck out, alright? What happens if you meet some guy here and he asks you to stay for a bit?

I’d tell him I couldn’t, Alice replies immediately.

And there’s your problem. I lived in Cambodia for a couple of months with a German guy who was working for an NGO out there, Daisy says. Left after a bit, because it was getting a bit boring, but it was fun while it lasted. What are you going back to?

I’ve got a uni place starting in September, Alice says. And all my friends, and my family, and my job said I could have extra shifts since I won’t be at school and if I work all summer I’ll be able to get enough to not have to work while I’m studying, so I have to start soon.

Fair enough, I guess. Daisy takes a sip of her wine and looks thoughtful. Still, don’t discount the allure of a good pair of Hans, if you know what I’m saying.

Daisy, that was a really shit joke, Alice laughs.

Yeah, I know. And yeah, it was just him, even if his cock was big enough for two.

Food appears before them, then, longed into existence by their hunger. Again, Alice turns to thank her server, but by the time she can turn around, push her body through the haziness of her wine hitting her empty stomach, there’s no-one there.

Her plate is full of rich, elegant food, meats draped across platters of charred and roasted vegetables. A rich, heady aroma, sweetly burnt, earthy, tangy, drifts upwards into her nostrils.

The rest of the meal is sensation, colours, tastes, textures scintillating across her tongue. She stops talking to Daisy, stops looking around the room. Stops trying to thank the people handing her course after course of food.

Forgets that she’s out of place. Her wine glass is never empty, but it’s OK, she can’t have enough.

She’s drunk again. She knows it now, recognises the feeling when she whips her head around to the side and feels herself take a moment to catch up.

Hey, you’ll get your hair in my glass! laughs Daisy.

Sorry, Alice says, blushing hard enough that she is too warm, takes her hoody off, realises she’s still too warm, it’s stuffy in here.

Nah, you’re cool. Excited about the show, though?

I, Alice begins, stops.

I don’t know, she says eventually, slow and grudging. Thoughts and memories have forced themselves up through her mind like air bubbles in a tar pit. I was talking to someone this morning who said that witchcraft was a pretty serious deal around here.

What, your boy? Daisy has had a lot to drink as well, and the nudge on Alice’s arm is heavy. A fork clatters to the floor. Oh, sorry.

No worries, Alice says.

There’s a moment where they both look at one another. Blank. Unknowing.

They burst into hysterical, giggling laughter, snorting wine in glittering droplets over the pristine white tablecloth, hands shaking as they grasp the stems of their glasses, rivulets of dark red dribbling down their hands and the corners of their mouths.

What the fuck?

What were we even talking about?

I dunno, I got scared by that fork. I swear it looked at me funny.

Stop, stop, Alice heaves, gasping. She sets her glass down on the table, picks up her fork. She turns, grasping it in her hand, and finds that another has already been set before her, her server already there and gone and withdrawn again before she can thank him.

The regret is less now, briefer and easier. This is the way it’s done.

She discards her fork on the table somewhere, seizes the new one and tears at her food, hungry with the force of a drunken day.

Her plate is gone and replaced and gone and gone and it stays gone and why is it gone? She hasn’t finished, she wants more, more food, more wine, wants to eat and drink and fill her heart with forgetfulness.

But it stops.

She looks around, her vision whipping blurrily as she squints to focus in place. Everyone is still. They’re looking somewhere. Towards a point. She drags her gaze towards whatever. Someone stands there. She stares.

She resolves. The figure resolves itself in her mind. Becomes a woman. Saying something.

Follow me. The show will start soon.

The room rushes upwards as people stand. Alice goes to stand as well, feels her head tilt and a leg splay under her.

Whoah, there.

Daisy catches her under an arm. Had a bit too much wine? Eh, I don’t blame you. And it probably hasn’t gone too well with your being sick and all.

No, no I’m fine.

I know, I know, have some water. Here you are.

The water is cool, clear, refreshing the cracked dryness of her throat as it trickles down.

Everyone else has left the room.

We need to go. We need to see the show, we can’t miss-

Yeah, I know, I know. Just hang on to me, we’ll go slowly. Here, take this.

Alice feels a heavy cylinder drop into her hand. Her arm sags under the sudden weight.

It’s just more water, OK? Jesus, you need to learn to manage your booze better.

Never really had much of a chance, Alice giggles.

Yeah, I suppose you haven’t. Daisy eyes her. And to be fair, I’ve drunk enough that dragging your drunk ass out into the bush seems like a good idea.

Thanks, Daisy, thanks, Alice mumbles.

They pass through the door. The air is cool on her face. There is a breeze brushing over the trees, making the forest rustle and whisper.

It’s colder now, away from the stifling humanity of the dining room. Away from the mess of people and consumption. A wind gusts, smells of dark and watching. Alice shivers.

You cold?

Yeah, Alice mumbles. Shoves her hands inside her sleeves. Leans on Daisy as they sway together in the clearing outside.

Look, we just follow the lights down the path, OK? Think we can do that? Daisy looks down at Alice. One half of her face is in shadow, so that Alice can only see half a smile. One eye.

Yeah, of course. Follow the lights, Alice murmurs.

Good. So just lean on me and we’ll be fine, alright?

Yeah, sure.

They trudge over the lawn. Moisture has formed on the short stubble of grass, and the droplets of water brush Alice’s toes as she drags her sandals through.

My feet are getting wet, she says.

That’s because you’re still wearing sandals at night, Daisy says. Still haven’t learned?

I didn’t bring any proper shoes, says Alice. I thought it’d just be, you know.

Daisy laughs.

Yeah, I remember the first time I went proper travelling, like outside Europe. Fuck me, that was a shambles. I got my phone and bank card stolen and had to call the UK from a phone box in a border post in fucking Venezuela, feeding fucking, what d’you call ‘em, bolivars into the slot every ten seconds.

Oh my God, Alice gapes, trying to focus on the half face swimming above her. She stops, and stares down at her feet.

One in front of the other. Then the next. Drag your leaden legs forward. And again. Keep going.

Yeah, right? And the worst part was that I just spent five minutes fucking crying as soon as I heard my mum’s voice and ran out of coins and didn’t even tell her to cancel my card or send money or whatever.

There’s silence. Alice hears the crackle of crickets chirping in the undergrowth around them. Something slithers dryly over cracked leaves.

So.

So what?

So, is that supposed to be a funny story?

Fuck no! Daisy laughs, and Alice feels her body moving, her ribs heaving with mirth.

No, it’s not supposed to be a funny story, she says. If anything, it’s just meant as a bit of encouragement.

What, to go and lose my bank card?

No, you arse, just to remember that we all fuck up. Daisy stops walking and looks at Alice. Some worse than others. And no-one really knows what they’re doing, and anyone who says they do is a fucking liar.

Oh, Alice says. The lighting on Daisy’s face is different now. The bottom half is lit softly, and the upper half of her face cloaked in shadow. Her eyes glitter out of the darkness, but it’s as if the forest has given her a mask, like a hero or a villain in a comic book.

The lights are placed at intervals on the forest path. They shine softly on the surrounding trees, showing the brown of bark and the thick, deep green of leaves. In the night, the green is dark, fading. Shying away from the man-made intrusion, retreating into the undisturbed darkness of the treeline.

Oh, we’re on the path, Alice says. She goes red as soon as she says it, tries to calm her burning face, her stupidity by taking a gulp from her bottle of water.

Some of it catches in her throat and she coughs and splutters, and turns redder and feels more ashamed.

Daisy just looks at her, with those glittering eyes. Eventually it stops

Sorry, Daisy, sorry, Alice says, gasping for breath. You can let me go, now, I feel a bit better.

You do? Daisy gestures. Walk over to that light post thingy.

Alice wobbles towards it.

Ah, straight enough, Daisy says, watching her.

Yeah, it’s not as if you’re a sober nun, Alice giggles.

A what? Daisy peers at her, eyes screwed up with the drink and the light.

Oh, Alice falters.

Just, um, just something my dad says. I don’t know why.

Heh, it’s cute. Daisy punches Alice in the arm. Come on, kid, we’ve got to get a move on, they’ll be starting soon.

Oh shit, yeah, Alice says.

The noise of others, talking and laughing, traipsing unconcerned, haphazardly, along the forest path ahead of them drifts over the gusting air. It smells cold. Fresh. New.

Look, Daisy, I, Alice falters again. Stops.

What? Come on, Daisy says, tugging at her arm.

No, I just wanted to say, Alice pauses. Thinks. Say thanks, for this and for talking to me and for helping me with everything and just for being here and being you and for liking me and showing me all this cool stuff and I-

Shut it, Daisy cuts her off, and punches her again. Harder this time, hard enough that she actually feels pain through the armour of wine.

What? But-

No, seriously, shut it. I don’t like sad drunks, so you’d better not be one, Daisy says. And I didn’t come all this way just so we could stand around and braid each other’s hair and talk about our feelings, I came to see some fucking witchcraft. So come on.

Alice smiles.

Sorry, she says. Just feeling a bit weird still.

No worries. Now this show better be good, Daisy says, turning and walking as briskly as she can down the path. I bet it can’t beat this thing I saw in Thailand. You ever heard of a ping pong show?

Part 5 is here.

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