from “Nanga”

The day always began before dawn in Lasma. The fishermen preparing the bait and the seasonal coconut pickers making their way to the plantation. I'd hear the latter singing as they came past my hut—it was a happy tune but one that, sung over and over, became nothing more than a hymn to drudgery. The voices were subdued, as was the shuffling footfall, seemingly dragged or forced forward along the coastal path and into another long day working in the searing heat. I'd hear them from the mattress where I lay, my sheet barely covering me as I slept the last few hours before the sun would come and tear up the Asuh mountains.

Raima Raigami, the youngest of Metha Raigami's seven sons, was a late riser too. Maybe it was that same idleness that made him one of the least quarrelsome of the Raigami clan. He'd go along quietly, grudgingly, safe and anonymous in that peloton of criminal brothers. So I was surprised when he was the first one who came and tried to blackmail me. He came up stealthily, I didn't hear him let himself into my hut; I was combing out my knotty hair when there he was in the mirror, sitting behind me on my clothes chest.

"What do you think you're doing?" I said, almost shouting. "How about knocking?"

He got up, went calmly over to the door, and closed it. Then came back and sat down on the chest again.

"We're going to talk business, Tim."

"I don’t think so. I've got nothing to sell and nothing I need. I went to Dompu two days ago."

"But you can pay me to keep my mouth shut."

Unnerved, and though looking at Raima straight on, I was still seeing him as if reflected in the mirror, between the fractures in the glass and the dark of the hut interior, situated somewhere between mystery and fear. His pronounced cheeks, his small, dull, almond-shaped eyes, the shitty whir of his thoughts.

"And what would you be keeping your mouth shut about?" I asked, managing to keep my voice level.

"I know someone's after you."

I smiled. It wasn't easy, but I managed to smile.

"You think we're totally cut off here, don't you, Tim? The news mightn't be instant like they say it is in Europe, but it gets to us in the end. I was in Sirombu two days again. Your picture was in the paper."

"Couldn't have been. No one's taken my photo in years."

"Oh, it was you all right. Younger, maybe, yes. But it was you, a hundred percent."

"Raima, Raima, Raima. You're wasting your time. You won’t get a rupee out of me, plus I'll only have to go and speak with your father."

He said nothing for a few moments. Then got up. His hand dived for his belt and then, before I knew it, he'd sprung forward and was pressing a curved dagger to my gut.

"What are you hiding, Lope Urrutia?"

Now I really was frightened. It wasn't the point of the dagger that worried me, but the total absence of light in Raima Raigami's eyes.

"Raima, gut me and you know you'll be going straight to jail." My legs were trembling, my voice too, now. "The police will come, you'll spend years in a shitty jail, eating shit, sleeping in shit. Think about it. You Raigamis are thieves, not murderers."

"No one saw me coming in," he said, and with such innocence that I immediately felt relieved; no one was going to see him leaving either.

I managed to make him put the dagger away, sit down again and drink a little of the rum I keep for special occasions. I let him feel in control, confessed who I really was, and when we got onto the money, he relaxed. Everything became much easier then. He didn't become suspicious when I went through into the bathroom, so I was able to take down the machete from where it hung next to the shower and, quiet as a cormorant skimming the reef, come up behind him and press the blade to his throat with all my strength. No crying out, no fuss, nice and clean. I even had time to staunch the wound—once I was sure his shitbag of a soul had departed—and his blood barely hit the floor. Dragging the body to the shower, I wrapped up the bloody clothes in an old shirt and wiped the machete clean. Then I went back to bed. My legs had stopped trembling the moment I knew I was going to have to kill him; to let Raima live would have only meant a truce until the next time, until he came to squeeze me for more money or until he decided the reward would suit him better. But I felt utterly tired, I felt filled and weighed down with a deep despondency. I felt the mattress's broken springs stabbing into me, and the sweat of everyone who had ever slept in that room before me. My thoughts turned leaden too, dragging me to the depths, to a cold place, a place with dank, stifled, flotsam winters that last half the year. This was the second time I'd had to kill a man, and though it was a high price, I felt I still had plenty in reserve. The peace I'd come in search of—no one was going to try and rob me of that and get away with it.

From Nanga. © 2007 by Willy Uribe. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2012 by Thomas Bunstead. All rights reserved.