He sets his bag down by the boulder and sits down on it. From here, the view is clear – he can make out the gestures of the four girls frolicking by the water, he can play at guessing their thoughts. He breathes in the air, then slides his tongue out and tastes it. Wet with a bit of salt in it.
He unpacks his rifle from the bag, looks through its scope and imagines shooting at the girls. He pictures their heads and bodies exploding, the blood spilling into the water, or maybe diluting the soft sand. His heart races at the thought but his hands are steady, adopting a state of preternatural calm.
The last time these girls were on the beach, they had a fifth companion. She waded too far out, cried for help.No one moved a muscle. These girls stared in horror, mouths open, their colorful swimsuit-clad bodies stuck like mute outposts on the shore. This was not what they reported though. He had looked into their eyes when they told him about their heroic efforts to save his daughter and he knew they’d been lying.
He doesn’t intend to lie after this. For now, he just wants to take in the sea and the quiet. He eats his sandwich.
In the afternoon, he will pick them off one by one, these lovelies cavorting on the beach. He has all the time in this world.
He pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose using his middle finger; a tiny, self-conscious gesture. His finger collects a layer of oily sweat. The other hand grips the paper cup tightly, though it’s long run out of juice. He is leaning back against a pillar watching the dancing; a spectator to joy – both planned and spontaneous – that’s unfolding in bodies fourteen and fifteen years old in front of him.
This is when Lila bursts into his vision and smiles – that smile, that smile. He can’t believe it when she offers her hands to him, those hands. He drops the cup, wipes his fingers on his crisp, white shirt and meekly submits his hands to her. She pulls him to her, so close, he can taste her breath. His knees buckle and he falls to the ground. When he finds his glasses and puts them on, there are four of them looking down at him, laughing. Sia mimes her action of taking him out from behind; causes a fresh explosion of mirth.
He can feel the paper cup crushed under his body. Something oozes.
There’s so much joy, so much laughter. Lila’s teeth are tiny, perfect. If she were to bite him, he’d feel no pain. If they were all to eat him, he’d feel no pain.
Knowing by Ajay Nair
‘You are a little porcupine, aren’t you? All sensitive and bunched up and thorns shooting out your body.’ She said this in a gay, sing-song voice, her head bobbing up and down. She was a big woman, a massive, misshapen tree of a woman, wrapped in a rain-coat the size of a tent. She wore a cap on her head, its beak peeking out, drops of rain slipping of its edge like so many pieces of transparent candy.
Stroman, eleven, looked up at her as she pushed against him on the bus-stop. She had a fat face full of curves and if this were a movie, she’d be a cinch for the kind neighbor.
‘So what kind of girls do you like, kid?’ she asked again, her voice swaying dangerously in the breeze that was lifting up from the just-rained-on ground. She could squish his head between her thumb and her forefinger if she wanted to, Stroman thought.
‘Or is it boys you like?’ Her voice came out low and even, no cadence any more, no music. It was the smooth, hard bark of a tree. The curves on her face had straightened out and her eyes were squinting down at him, tiny stones of accusation. Stroman felt a prickly heat spread inside him in spite of the rain.