Damon is introduced to the people of the Plantation in Part 3.
The man foams at the mouth, wrenching his head around like a crazed animal. Strings of saliva dangle from his jaws, spitting and snarling. Two guards in forest-green robes march him across the clearing, their eyes held forward.
Damon sits cross-legged on the dormitory veranda, back aching from his first night sleeping on a thin wooden plank. He watches the man struggling in the tight grip of his captors, legs kicking, teeth gnashing. The trio disappears through a steel door cut into the wall, the opening sealing shut behind them.
“A shame,” says a voice. An old man sits beside him, grey mane twisting behind his ears. He takes a small knife and a flat pebble from his robe pocket, and begins carving. “It’s the Biting Fever,” he says.
Damon looks across at the now invisible door. He can somehow sense the plantation at his back, dark and foreboding. It’s strangely silent in here, away from the noise of traffic.
“You ever played Na-Ske?” the old man asks. He rubs the pebble on his robe and blows dust from the incision.
Damon shakes his head. The man takes a piece of charcoal from his pocket and draws a grid on the wooden panels. Nine more pebbles appear from the folds of his robe, each with a different symbol. “I’ll show you.”
Na-Ske seems similar to checkers, only with rules that change whenever it favours the old man. As they play other men walk past, going to and from the dorm, occasionally pausing to watch.
“It’s a popular game here, so I am helping you” says the old man, taking out the last of Damon’s pieces. “It is better to lose sometimes. You make friends that way.”
“Can I ask you something?” Damon says. The man nods. “Where are all the women? When I arrived, after I signed the contract, I saw…”
The old man gives a laugh like crinkling paper. “It’s Rest Day. Once a fortnight we don’t harvest; the women go to the Spirit Pavilion and we play Na-Ske. Besides, their lodgings are on the other side of the plantation.”
Damon looks down at the carved pebbles. He thinks of Rosa, and the lie he told to get in here. She would never find out, but he felt guilty in misrepresenting their past. They both knew the real reason they broke up, and it was largely on him.
The old man watches him, grinning toothily. “The women sometimes leave the Pavilion early, you might see them in the palms.”
“I have wanted to look around. I only arrived yesterday.”
“Take this with you,” the man says, holding out one of the Na-Ske pieces. “You must not approach the Pavilion though. It is forbidden.”
Damon thanks him and stands, stretching his back.
Rows and rows of palms greet him behind the cluster of buildings. They stretch eerily away into darkness, their spreading leaves blocking the sunlight. Damon steps within.
As he walks the only sound is the rustling of leaves and the occasional flutter of wings. Clumps of unripe bananas hang above his head.
A branch snaps behind him. Damon swivels, and sees a grey-faced man in a dirty robe. Somebody else grabs his arms from behind and hoists him off the ground. He struggles, legs kicking air.
“Who are you?” the stranger demands.
Damon feels something hard pressing against his abdomen. He reaches into his pocket and grabs the Na-Ske pebble, throwing it at the man. It lands at his feet. The man bends and picks it up, turning it over in his hands.
“Sorry brother. I didn’t know you were one of us.”
Damon feels his arms released and falls forward onto the dirt. He looks up, but the two strangers are gone. Stumbling to his feet, he spins around, looking down the columns of trees. He can’t remember the direction he came.
Growing desperate, Damon wanders down the lines of trees. As the sun sinks below the wall he catches sight of another figure, her back to him. He freezes.
The woman turns around and spots him. Her expression is careful, her eyes bright.
“Hello,” she says.
“Hi,” he replies, waving one hand awkwardly.
“You shouldn’t still be out at this time. The bats are waking up, and if they bite they’ll give you rabies.”
It takes Damon a moment to realise she’s speaking English. “Why don’t we get rid of the bats?”
The woman cocks her head. “Bats pollinate the palms.”
Something flutters inside Damon’s gut, a strange twisting sensation he can’t put his finger on. The woman smiles, arms loose by her sides, a slight breeze blowing across her robes.