Damon encounters the unexpected in part four of The Plantation by Lydia Trethewey.
The Plantation (IV)
The wall of the Pavilion rises above Damon, forms of dragons and demons cast in concrete. Grass and moss grow from the porous material, water staining the grey. Damon’s breath comes in white clouds. He nervously fingers the hem of his robe.
“There you are,” he says, as Enhi emerges from the dark palms.
“I had trouble slipping away,” she replies, her onyx eyes shining. “Long day harvesting?”
Damon shrugs and a sharp ache runs across his shoulders. “It’s getting easier. The beds are impossible though.”
Enhi smiles. “It’s only been a week. You’ll get used to it.”
They stand in silence, studying one another. Since their chance encounter beneath the bats they had met every night, and still Damon couldn’t think what to say to her.
“You said you had something to show me?” he asks.
She nods, and draws from her pocket a small white object. Damon leans closer, recognising the curved neck of a horse.
“It’s carved from goat bone,” she says “the material is porous, so the animal breathes. This is what the women do while the men work the palms.”
Damon opens his mouth, but the sound of feet on leaves disrupts the still air. Enhi pulls him against the wall as a beam of light swings through the trees.
“A torch,” Enhi whispers. “It must be a guard, they’re the only ones permitted to have technology. We need to get inside, quick.” She takes Damon’s hand and pulls him along. He feels his pulse quicken.
At the corner Enhi drops to the ground and starts to shift away decayed concrete. Before Damon can ask what she’s doing Enhi has disappeared through the hole. He scrambles after her.
They emerge into a small courtyard. Enhi gestures towards an ornate archway, and Damon follows her through sliding shadows.
After a few minutes she speaks. “Only one other man has entered the Pavilion.”
Damon gazes around at animal and human forms writhing in stonework.
Enhi winds a path through the labyrinth of walls and openings, and stops beneath a huge banana tree.
“Did you know that most bananas are genetically identical?” she asks.
“It’s true. The most common variety is a clone. You’ve been eating the same banana over and over again your entire life.”
Damon watches the shadow of the banana tree slip across her skin. “Enhi,” he says, “what’s someone like you doing here?”
“What do you mean?”
“From all our conversations I can tell that you’re well educated. How did you get trapped here?”
Enhi looks at the ground. “Don’t think of me as being trapped – I enjoy it here. Life’s simple. I’m happy.”
“Well, what was life like for you on the outside?”
“Difficult. I come from a wealthy family – there were certain pressures and expectations. I didn’t want to marry. I ran away.”
“Why not go somewhere else?”
Enhi sighs. “I was despairing. I betrayed my family, and cut them deeply by leaving. I was already heading towards that place from which there’s no return. I didn’t have anything to lose. But I feel like I belong here – the women are kind. They’re all running from something, so they understand. In many ways this really is paradise.”
Damon thinks of Rosa and feels strangely flat, artificial.
“Come on,” says Enhi. They begin to descend, down wide steps, towards a large open area. Damon sees a shimmer of water.
“This is the Pool,” says Enhi. “It’s a small part of an underwater river. This is the centre of the Pavilion.”
The surface glows strangely blue in the starlight.
Enhi takes out her horse. “Most of the carvings are taken as we finish them, but some we bring here to be swallowed by the Pool. The running water takes them away into the earth, as offerings to the spirits of the palms. It keeps Aviva healthy.”
“You don’t believe that, do you? You’re an educated person.”
Enhi runs a finger along the bone. “Belief and education aren’t enemies. In fact, the more you learn, the more you can appreciate the value of mystery. Sometimes it’s better not to understand.”
Footsteps echo down the steps. The beam of a torch shines out onto the pool.
“Quickly,” Enhi hisses, “back to the tunnel.”
Following the shadows they flee the concrete temple.
“I must go now,” Enhi says outside the collapsed corner. Damon feels like he should do something to mark their parting, but she disappears into the trees.
Damon finds himself whistling on the walk back. The palms he passes no longer seem so threatening, and he wonders that he could even get used to the beds.
Suddenly a bright light shines directly into his eyes. He flings up his hands.
“Brother,” a voice whispers through the gloom. The light lowers and Damon sees four men, the two who accosted him yesterday, the old man from the dormitory, and a guard in a green robe.
“We are nearing our departure,” says the man holding the torch, “are you ready?”
The four men look at one another, eyebrows raised. “We are escaping, and you are coming with us. We will need you to tell our story on the outside.”
Damon looks around at the serious faces. “When?” he asks.
“In three days we will be ready.”
Damon thinks of Enhi, and his stomach quivers. A gentle breeze blows through the plantation, rustling the palms.