Coconuts and curses
The boat lurched drunkenly, as if from heatstroke, as Kathryn and George made their way to the dock. The two guitarists were long gone as was any help from a local porter. Kathryn simply shrugged and gave her make do grin as they heaved their bags and stepped onto the sandy ground of the island.
Kathryn walked ahead moving through a crowd of locals hawking goods, ostensibly, handmade here on the island. Each makeshift shop was no more than a two-wheeled gardening cart covered by a woven, decorative cloth. In all, George thought, they were lovely in color as he saw them displayed haphazardly along the path beyond the boat. He wanted to remember this and as he had done several times on the trip stepped back a few paces to pull out his instant camera.
Kathryn grunted to herself, blowing hair from her eyes and bending her hat down to block the overhead sun. She had seen this type of interstitial faire before, chatzkies made with a flair for the local culture but somewhere under the faux patina was the haste they were often made from.
The barkers all wanting to appeal to her expected retail instinct but that wasn’t Kathryn’s style. This didn’t mean she wouldn’t look, maybe point a finger or two to ask about its story. The street markets of Karachi and Istanbul had taught her more than just haggling though. The real strength in these markets was to be dismissive with her eyes and body language. She knew doing so did better than smiling and saying “no thanks”. It had the immediate effect of causing a stir by pitting one vendor against another. Between them they all knew her attention was almost as good as her dollars in the end. Money would buy the next meal but continued interest was salesmanship and bragging rights.
One by one they’d approach as she came near. The group of mostly men would stand close and try to engage her with a disarming smile. They’d effortlessly pantomime pushing aside the junk trinkets to show her something special, something she couldn’t possibly leave behind. The juiciest melons, freshest fish or most intricate baubles would be held back momentarily as if to say “I don’t show this to just anyone…but look closer” then thrust forward. In those brief seconds Kathryn knew the balance of the transaction had shifted in her favor. And when she did begin to walk past they would become more insistent, sometimes calling out that a neighboring product was second rate.
Their insistence made her smile as she moved from cart to cart until she came to a woman sitting next to an ancient, dented ice chest. The woman wasn’t looking at Kathryn but up at the sun, pulling in the warm onto her deep brown skin. With a squint the woman brushed the hair from her own face and in a continuous motion waved Kathryn closer, inviting her to look inside.
The ice chest creaked on its salted hinges as it opened to reveal a neatly piled stack of chilled coconuts. Each had been cleaned of the husk revealing the hard, hairy seed.
“Cuanto?” Kathryn asked.
“Cinco” the woman responded.
Kathryn rummaged in her pocket for a few American dollars. She had expected a high price but this woman wasn’t pushy or conniving. Still, Kathryn couldn’t move forward without making a counter offer. The trick in haggling was to offer a suitable amount without offending but to also change the dynamic just enough to make the counter attractive based on the circumstances. Kathryn looked around as most of the men had started packing their things.
“Dos por seis?” Kathryn said as she finished pulling the dollars from her pocket.
The woman cocked her head to the side — slightly mock disdain but also looking at the other vendors. With all the passengers from the boat gone there would be no more sales here today. Two coconuts would make the ice chest lighter to carry back to her roadside stand.
“Siete” the woman countered, this time adding a wink.
Kathryn smiled as the men still hanging around the periphery leaned in to watch more closely. They smiled at one another, a favorite game being played.
Kathryn knew the wink wasn’t just a bond about a cool drink in the Mexican heat. But, more so, it and the dollars that were exchanged were a way of digging the knife past the meat of the coconut and into the hearts of the men who had been beaten at their own game.
“Bueno” Kathryn said handing over the cash.
The woman with the ice chest smiled again as she took the dollars and placed them into a pouch at her waistband. Expertly the woman grabbed two coconuts from the bottom, slamming it shut to put the fruit on the top and pulled out a small machete. With trained hands she sheared the top leaving just enough of the meat in place. Kathryn now knew why the ice chest had looked so beaten.
Kathryn had noticed the woman wasted no extra energy using her legs to hold each coconut after it had been sheared. She then bored a large hole in the top of each with the tip of the machete.
Kathryn drops her bag to the ground and calls over her shoulder as the woman hands over a finished coconut and straw.
George runs up from the side of one of the vendors, bags swinging at his sides.
The woman stands, barely catching the other coconut as it falls from her lap and knocking the machete into the sand. She looks at Kathryn and back to George. Her eyes trace his face and look at his height. As quickly she looks at the ground seeming to size up the distance between where they now stand and the boat. The sun seems to have lost it’s charm on the woman as sweat trickles down her brow and onto her nose.
George drops his bags to the ground. Kathryn looks to George as the woman points far behind them. George follows her gesture back toward the boat but the motion was further, off toward the mainland, across the water.
The woman’s eyes, deepset under a low brow that seems to meet at the horizon of a darkening sky. The sun, while so bright a few minutes ago, begins to fade overhead behind an approaching storm cloud. The light, as does the moment, shifts from bright to somber.
“Salir” she says reaching to hand George the coconut with trembling hands.
Her voice, while paved in a sedimentary gravel of age, isn’t harsh. Instead, it seemed to George more plea as a thin layer of water gathered over the woman’s otherwise clear eyes. Her brow and expression never changed as she let the word register with George.
Both George and the woman stand holding the coconut. George can see the other men moving the wares out of the open area and disappearing beyond the makeshift entrance to the rally area. As he looks back to the woman he can see a mark on the inside of her forearm. A faded tattoo once black or dark blue has now turned green and spread beneath the skin. The mark is a squarish motif with a sea turtle locked in it’s faded form.
“Vete a casa, Nino” she whispers.