Old shadow; bent of frame like the street lamp he skirts around. Walks this way every morning, bare for a piece of sail wrapped around the mast of his body. White tentacles of sea hair grow out from where his head once sat. Bones beg at his skin as would the rigging of a sunken ship rippling the waters of its reef. He comes from the coral path which used to lead to the old village before this became our town. The path used to connect the village to the bay that served as a delta to the flood of fishermen. There was a shortcut through the dunes; I could never understand why he didn’t take it.
I don’t remember the village much. The smoke scented dark walls of my childhood home are a mystery because I grew up here in the town. I suppose things can be forgotten. They say not much changed, the Elders still tap the ancient tree of ancestry for palm wine, but only do so to become forgetful. It’s a lot harder for them. They used to have full days out over the bluest of seas but now can only pick amid shallow pools of memory with no promise of the tide.
Nobody lives in the village anymore, so seeing him on the coral road seems to hold his form on the horizon for a vast period before it becomes apparent that he is moving closer. It unnerves me every time. I don’t know if anybody else sees him, he only passes in those hours when you cannot be sure of what your eyes tell you. He hides from the light; almost winces from it like it were some imposter on his natural sight.
My people are fearful of spirits. They say you should never swim in the sea when the moon reflects upon its water. I have seen him wade into iridescence, all the way past his shoulders until the silhouette of his cranial limbs haunt, momentarily, before he enters whole. I have seen him roll outwardly from the sea at the crystallization of dawn, with raw crimson trailing down his spear from the spilt blood of a squid. I have seen him beat it against the sand over and over, filling in me some primal stomp, until suddenly, he stops at intrinsic accord but I keep going, following after movement and sound that is no longer there.
He never sees me.
I prefer it this way. I wouldn’t know what to say to a spirit. I have questions with answers that I don’t want to know. I still follow him though, drawn to his ruin as it walks him. How he battles on tiresome for a meager dish to feed the empty stomachs of a family that once was, as I hawk stolen watches through every hour so I can be gone of this time trussed place. It’s no good here. I am a victim of no foundation who can only grow by a white hand, as if a caveman forgetful of the memories bestowed upon him, whose mind can only grow small by venturing out to the light, where he has to learn sight all over again.
The town is full of tourists. They come flaunting overripe bodies, waddling proudly in front of the skies last moment with the sun, with big lenses to rely on creating a memory mechanically. I am taught to amuse them like a conditioned monkey, while they amuse themselves with young girls who now, have had any chance of love fettered. It’s the part we all have to play: children fed traditional dance to find money, Fathers dashing around in fine white serving what they can no longer catch and elders rummaging through dated costume to attract photos for some change to hide under pillows. One day, I think we will lend from their plumpness and the whole town will be indistinguishable. I hope to have left by then.
I wonder why nobody has shown them where the coral path leads.
I wonder if the elders know why the spirit comes to our little town.
I only wonder though. If anything more, I think the chasm were my childhood went would consume me like the moonlit sea and I would have no way back because I cannot remember how to hold my breath right, only he can. I think the whole town would sink if it were allowed to wander. There would only be a little bit of the coral path and the old village, if that were to happen. No more tourists to string my puppet to, no more money to bait our lines. No. No more of this. You must never wander.
I should be working, but I can’t. My head is a jungle flowering thought after thought, to fall and give rise to fresh seedlings that may grow to flower and fruit again every year. How long before it will be overrun with the unanswered? How long before it falls in on itself with the fruition of a new bloom?
I pace around the streets, frenzied by a need to sell something to break my thoughts back down to their parents. Everyone looks at me as if I were possessed, nobody looks me in the eye, they just mutter my madness, as if I had become a spirit. I turn to round a kiosk that sits on the corner of the town road and the only road out of here but as I do, I am encompassed by a timeless smell of wood smoke. Thick tailed plumes shroud all about me, with each breath I am slowly taken further into a distant world of mangrove roots molded into the labyrinth of village homes. Thin, frail arms cling to me with the patience of those roots as I fall to the ground that shakes in the counter tide of a past and present.
It feels like I am awaking from a very discordant childhood dream. I look up slowly and see an ancient man stepping forth from his shadow, to help me up. The whole town moves about us like we were planetary. His skin is laced with intricate fossils of scars and wrinkles from years under the sea. I feel like I am falling into the chasm, delicate as the process of isolating your first memory; I find myself looking back at my father beating a squid against the ground, trying not to look at us as we walked away from the old village.
Tentatively, I hear my voice ask “Baba?”
He looks at me so disparagingly that I fill with embarrassment for presuming. When he doesn’t respond, when I can see his eyes asking of me something I no longer remember, I begin to understand his silence.