I Will Put My Anchor Here by Michelle Raji

I Will Put My Anchor Here

We met through her husband, my boss, at their compound. The first time we speak is under the slanted climbing wall he built, the guests of the party trying their best. The most successful, Abigail, who did terrifying exercise boot camps back in the United States, could only manage three or four steps. In the end their toddler climbed gracefully up the wall, gazed back at us, as if to say nonchalantly, this old thing, and fell confidently onto the pad.

I told her about my family, which delighted her, because she and my mother grew up in the same town. All I could think about then was how beautiful her face was and what that might be like, having a face that generates such feeling. The way she drew on her eyebrows — red, thin, sharp — made her even more interestingly angular. She could be a model with that face, I thought. When it became obvious how deeply I was observing her, I said as much. It turns out she did model a little, in Milan, which was where she met her husband. She seemed pleased, I thought, to have a chance to tell me this. With time I learned it was important for her to be seen as respectable.

So I am glad Manka does not see me like this, in the country club bathroom, stroking the crying face of a woman, a woman for whom all the stereotypes about sex work and European men in Africa are true. I am not entirely sure what happened. Still, I get that some promise was made and broken by a man, a friend of Alistair’s I try to stay away from, and that the world, once full of possibility, is small again and nothing matters. I know Alistair’s boat is waiting for me, so I get myself together in the bathroom mirror. I am wearing a long blue dress with secret pockets within which I carry six thousand shillings, brown lipstick, and a cheap phone. Looking at her through the mirror, I tell the crying woman he’s not worth it. She gives me a dead look.

On the boat are Alistair, Abigail, and her South African boyfriend. I don’t talk to anyone. I’m still thinking about the woman in the bathroom. Massive rocks pass me by, sometimes connecting into little grassy islands. My eyes fixate on the slow, buoy-like ferry to Ukerewe, but not for too long because just looking at it nauseates me. I kick my shoes off and dissociate for a minute. I hear Abigail and her South African boyfriend, who have now been dating for a month, making out next to me. Rude, I think, but I get it. The South African boyfriend lives in a shipping container near the quarries. He is tall, has pink, full lips, and an almost unintelligible Afrikaner accent. Abigail told me that he owns a kind of mining company, and she must have seen something in my expression when she told me that because she started to explain something about sifting through abandoned earth for trace materials and sustainability and so on and I said, you don’t have to feel bad about it. Then, she said, ‘What is that supposed to mean?’

Alistair largely ignores me except for when he is drunk (when he is drunk, he is very interested and says shocking things), so there is nothing around to distract me from the awkwardness of being near other people’s intimacy. Alistair is piloting the boat toward the Western bank. The boat starts to slow as we approach a large hut decorated with string lights. Alistair jumps out and ties the boats to several tables tacked down beneath the high tide. We take off our shoes and walk on the submerged furniture toward the beach. Without asking, Alistair orders wings and shots of tequila. I notice again that his Swahili is better than mine. The restaurant is empty except for the uniformed man and woman walking wordlessly in and out of the building fulfilling Alistair’s orders.

On the television, in the background, is a news story about a strike, another excavation site…an ancient human…an earthquake…a refugee camp…Brexit. He asks for music and the man turns on the Afrobeats music video station. The tequila keeps coming. I’ve never been this drunk before, yet I can still see everything so clearly. We’re dancing now. Alistair pulls me up onto the table, puts his hands on my waist, my hands on his shoulders.

We have returned to the boat now, which lurches and weaves treacherously close to the rocky islands. Alistair is screaming about not finding his lighter, which he must have left at the restaurant in his drunken forgetfulness. Abigail takes my hand and squeezes it. I wonder whether the crying woman is still at the country club, whether she has gotten herself together enough to go back out again. I suppose I should be thinking about the possibility of dying, so I think about what that would look like, the boat capsizing, being eaten alive by crocodiles or drowning, like here I am experiencing my life, doing and not doing, feeling and not feeling, when the story abruptly ends. What a stupid way to die, Manka would say. And I agree. What she doesn’t know is I don’t care about dying as much as I care about being desired.

Michelle Raji is a medical student at the University of Texas at Austin and an assistant editor of American Short Fiction. This is her first published short story. 

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Art (cropped) Bellerby & Co Globe used in Yinka Shonibare installation titled: Champagne Kids/Peter Bellerby CC3.0 (follow link for more details)

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