Shakwe followed behind hopping lightly from rooftop to rooftop collecting more of the grey and white gulls along the way, knowing and patient. It was Ativa’s aunt that prepared her meals for the day. Today she had prepared a pouch of warm bajia, ripe mangoes and fish that would feed them all including the insistent cat, ripe with kittens, that mewed and weaved between Ativa’s feet as she considered the dull surface of the schillings secured from the sale of the conch to a man with no shoes as he stepped from the German Post Office Museum.
From day-to-day and how the story would change and no one knew the truth of it, or how long she had been there, but she was always there and she always called out from the depths of her rags and always begged and always moaned a woeful pain. She was old and she lay there on her side in the dirt on the stone steps leading from the edge of the square beneath hand-carved wooden doors, art that opened in upon the fort.
“Here mama,” and the shillings she had received from the sale of the conch now rested in the palm of the old lady’s hand leaving Ativa’s pockets empty and her dream of repairing her sail for another day.
Ativa observed the striped-legged donkey, this time in the shifting shade of the ancient maembe tree, scrounging through a pile of cracked coconut shells stripped clean of their flesh when the beast turned its head and locked eyes with Ativa. A bright wink and a bristle lipped smile stole Ativa’s attention and her cart hit a rut, an imperfection of stone that dislodged a wheel and slipping his harness Punda was free and en route for the sea.
“Punda… aaeeyyy… oh no …wait …come back!”
“Scra-heee scra-heee, scra-heeeee,” crescent winged silhouette stark against the cloudless sky.
“You’re right! Fly, and fly, I can see you, can you…”
And the political posters of ‘Bario 2013’ faded and torn, pasted in layers over the sun-washed paint of once fresh stained walls. Ativa had no time to notice, bursting under the smooth curve of the archway and knocking the gate, whining on hinges salted with rust, eye on the gull as he soared. Shakwe leaving a trail of shadow tracing the edges of the alley-way.
Unloading, carrying suitcases balanced on shoulders, porters for the daily arrivals. Hustling to get their handful of paper or coin. Crafty insistent negotiators, unaware of the tune and the horn and the sail. There children splashed and giggled, where the coarse steps entered the ocean, and they could be found swimming between boats in the roll of the wake. Children know in the back of their minds that mermaids can sing.