To move forward, Damon contemplates going back.
The Plantation IX
Damon’s wrist twinges as he types into the search bar. The laptop keys feel strangely smooth, unreal, beneath his fingers. Beyond the high-rise window morning smog hangs low across London. He rubs his eyes.
He’d emailed the article to Jordan yesterday, but the words had felt frail and insubstantial. Absent was the high-pitched whistle of bats taking flight, and the porousness of concrete and bone. The smell of palms dissipated before the overbright screen.
He hits enter and waits. Flights appear one by one, streaming down the page, connections in Beijing, Singapore, Delhi. It seems that all routes take him to where he wants to go, if he could just be sure.
“Damon,” says a voice behind him. He jumps and swivels around.
Jordan stands there, holding a steaming mug with #1 Editor printed on it. She smiles without showing her teeth.
“You’re in early,” Damon says.
Jordan shrugs. “I knew you’d be here. I wanted to congratulate you on the Aviva story. It reads very real, very close. You convey the monotony and agony of it. I liked your wordplay too, ‘plantation’ and ‘implantation’.”
Damon smiles but the gesture feels like his words, empty. Obsidian eyes open inside his chest. His bruised ribs ache as he breathes in and out.
Jordan takes a swig of her coffee.
“I don’t think it’s ready yet,” Damon says, “there’s more to Aviva than what I’ve written, and I think my article does the people there a disservice.”
“It’s got intrigue and action. It’s clever and thought-provoking. It’s ready to be printed.”
“I just think I can do better.”
Jordan purses her lips. “I know what this is about – that Enhi chick. You don’t need to worry about upsetting her – she won’t be able to read the article.”
Damon stares at the carpet. Two sets of hands pull him out of freezing water. A mosquito buzzes in his ear.
“Chin up, Damon. You’re home now.” Jordan turns to leave, and then stops. “One other thing – we found out who the green-eyed man is. His name is Ngi Eja. He was part of a major crime gang in the capital about ten years ago, after the failed coup. The government tolerated him until he started competing with them in illegal trade, and he fled to the country. He started Aviva as a hiding place, a legal loophole. Technically they can’t prosecute him whilst he’s in there – religious sanctuary. Anyway, thought you’d want to know.”
Atop an amphitheatre of steps, two figures wrestle over a pistol. Orange smoke stains the stars.
Working to unscramble the images in his head, Damon opens his mouth, but Jordan has already walked way. A familiar feeling rises inside him, one of vaguely realised inconsequence. Once again he is a secondary character in his own story.
He thinks of his escape from Aviva.
Two men had pulled him from the river, taken him to a dirty hospital. Lying on the waiting room floor, with flies and heat, he’d slipped in and out, time compressing inside his throbbing head. At some point he was relocated, to a cleaner hospital with food and clothes, and mostly white patients.
Everything was a daze from there. Outside his hotel, men had been waiting for him. Without intervention his feet had taken him to the deli at number nine instead. The man with the crooked teeth had flung his arms wide as if welcoming an old friend, and fetched Damon’s things without question. A bumpy ride back to the airport, and in a blink he was home.
The bandages around his abdomen feel heavy. He looks out the window and the fog congeals into patterns; the face of an old man, two young men, a figure dressed as a guard. The wind blows them into distorted shapes.
A flash on the screen draws Damon’s eye. No space to mourn in the ceaseless city.
This page has timed out.
He hits refresh. The flights line up again.
A concrete wall, twenty-five feet high. Animals made of soap. A woman who appears and disappears like a ghost.
He double-clicks on one of the flights. It opens a new page.
There was only so much time, he thought, that one could spend being a pawn in other people’s fates. He wonders how Rosa felt as she walked to her own destruction. He wonders if Enhi will still be there.
There were unfinished threads he needed to find, to follow into the earth. Roots. Complexity wrapped up in the guise of a simple life.
Damon settles back in his chair. Outside, a plane punches into the sky, breaking through the fog. Inside, everything feels quiet, still.
And they come, churning out of the water.
And they go in, and never come out.