Even though his Algerian audience had gone, Tak kept explaining himself all the way back down to the cabin
saying it wasn’t even a fraction of a woman
or a man
but a Dahli, demon of some region he couldn’t pronounce, possibly close to Quetta, and the only reason he’d known the thing was on the ship was down to his headache and
he hadn’t been sure it was a Dahli specifically, he just knew the impossibly beautiful Pakistani man was not human when he appeared next to the milk vending machine and invited him to his cabin and
even though he hadn’t fucked anyone in four months, Tak held his nerve and cut the Dahli’s throat before it could paralyse him, though due to lack of research, he hadn’t realised it could survive throat cutting, which is why it came back and overpowered them and thank god for the boasting respite in the bathroom cos if it weren’t for that both of them would be dead now, instead of just the demon and
with a bit of luck it wouldn’t have a valid ID, wouldn’t be missed
unless this Dahli was a pack hunting demon
which was doubtful as traditionally they were isolated and cynical types, especially the ones using the tried and tested siren approach.
‘Okay, I’ll believe everything you’ve said on one condition,’ said Sila, stopping next to the bin outside the ship nightclub, which from a cursory half-strip glance of the entrance doorway had three guys passed out on the floor and a single cleaner mopping around them.
‘Belief is comprehension, mate.’
‘You were there, you saw it.’
‘Okay, let me rephrase. I’ll forget about your knife attack on me and that lunatic interrogation you just did above deck, if you do one thing.’
‘I didn’t attack you.’
‘What? In the cabin, when I came in…’
‘That wasn’t attacking, that was checking who you were, why you were there.’
Sila put his hand on top of the bin rail and interrogated the plastic pint cups beyond, asking them without words if they were hearing any of this.
Nothing back, not even a dribble of beer out the rim, so he turned on the wall and did the same to the poster promoting a Serbian belly dancer [weekend sailings only].
Then, when that didn’t work either, he turned on the cleaner, who was busy prodding a drunk guy’s leg with the end of her mop.
‘You drawing a map?’ Tak asked, taking Sila’s hand and lifting it off the bin rail.
‘Okay, forget the attack.’
‘Not an attack.’
‘Just…do me a favour, when we go back to the cabin. Don’t tell Joanna about this.’
‘The Chinese girl?’
‘Yeah. Just say we were above deck, chatting. Or in there, the nightclub.’
‘I thought she knew about demons?’
‘She does, but…’
‘Ah, I get it.’
‘Not that we’re a couple, we’re not, it’s just-…’
Tak put his arm around Sila’s far shoulder and guided him deeper along the passage, unaware that the cleaner had stopped mopping and was now lightly slapping one of the drunk guy’s in the face. ‘No need for excuses, mate. Every single straight guy on this ship would’ve fucked the female version and every gay guy would’ve fucked the Pakistani male model. That’s what the Dahli’s designed for, the essence of it. In fact, those twenty guys we saw up top, they were probably after her too. What else would they be doing out at this hour?’
‘Looking at the purple mist?’ mumbled Sila, looking down at Tak’s hand sliding down his arm and doing nothing to shrug it off.
‘Ha, don’t try and dodge, mate.’
‘You wanted to fuck her.’
‘The cleaner back there. And the Dahli, both at the same time. One in the ass, one in the puss.’
‘Are you okay?’
‘Ah, fine, admit it or don’t, I don’t care.’
Tak’s hand finally left Sila’s arm, leaving him free to look puzzled at the gambling machine selling itself at the junction up ahead.
The thing alone, unused, waiting for him to put in a coin and send him back in time, or tell him alternate futures where the Swahili States won and Ghana owned the Kuiper Belt and the Dahli woman thing was sucking him off in the bathroom instead of traipsing along the sea bed towards a non-erotic, baleful type of revenge that would
He blinked, looking back at the gambling creature already a few metres behind.
‘Probably would’ve said no,’ he said blank, words without any form of pre-anchor or apology for the delay.
‘What, no to a sex demon? Ha, you’re a funny fucker…’ Tak paused, looking at Sila’s Matjaž Hoodie then shaking his head. ‘Mate, I’ve forgotten your name again…Slavoj?’
‘Sila, right. Seventeenth time’s the charm. Yeah, don’t be embarrassed, mate. You were gonna fuck a sex demon, I was too, that’s the whole point of them, you can’t resist, it’s chemistry. Even if it was in guy form, you would’ve fucked it too, if it got close enough. No shame in it at all. I would’ve, the Muslim guy would’ve, Martin fucking Luther would’ve.’
They turned another corner and walked past a condom machine, the ship guidelines, then a frameless, peeling sheet of cabin regulations as the doors started to display numbers.
Would’ve fucked both of them, guy and lady got mashed with other thoughts – falling lady demon, seabed difficulties, anarchist sites in Barcelona – until Sila finally settled on, ‘forget the sex demon. Just don’t tell her the corpse wrapped in a duvet part.’
Tak jabbed one of the doors they passed, mouthing the number on it. ‘You said she knows about that stuff.’
‘Yeah, she does, but…’
‘What’s the problem then?’
‘It’s just…’ Sila tried to order his thoughts, but Joanna cropped up instantly, flicking them out of place like a squash ball. Ah, maybe Tak was right. She knew about the demon stuff, it wouldn’t be a problem, she probably wouldn’t even blink. Worse, she might even like what they’d done. ‘Okay, fine, tell her. It doesn’t really matter.’
‘Sure it doesn’t.’
‘Not like it’s anything new or shocking. I mean, she tried to have me-…’ Sila stopped, staring at the corridor ahead.
‘Tried to have you what?’
He focused on a fire hose nearby, rolled up neat and stuck to the wall. ‘Let’s just get back to the cabin. Rest a bit then go our separate ways, forget all this.’
‘Fuck that, you’re coming with me.’
‘I need you in Barcelona, mate. At least till tonight. Maybe late afternoon, if things turn bitter.’
‘Need me to do what?’
‘Not just you, your girlfriend too.’
‘Don’t make me explain. Just tag along for a while, I’ll buy you lunch, we’ll go to a museum or something.’
‘That’s your persuasion?’
‘Mate, don’t be a cunt.’
‘I’ve got my own stuff to do. Solo stuff. Calling me a cunt’s not gonna help much.’
‘Fine. I’ll ask the Chinese girl then.’
‘She’ll say no too.’
‘Nah, I’ll charm her.’ Tak stopped in the corridor, tapping lightly on the door to their cabin. ‘She’s from Hong Kong, right?’
Sila muttered something in Slovene, then remembered Tak knew some of that so changed to beginner Romanian instead.
‘… … … … … …’ said Tak, possibly in the same language.
‘I said, don’t hide in Romanian.’
‘You speak that language too?’
‘No, Hungarian. But I used to fuck around with a Romanian guy in Uni, recognised some of the sounds.’
Sila dwelled on the fuck around part for a tenth of a second then switched to Tak’s hand stuck on the door handle. ‘Are you opening that or…’
‘I might. If you promise to stick together in Barcelona.’
‘Fine, I’ll do it myself.’
Sila knocked on the cabin door and, when there was no answer, got out his key and opened it. The lights were dim, on the lowest possible setting, which made the brown striped wallpaper oddly bearable and the form of Joanna goblin-like as she sat slumped on the end of the bed, duvet bunched up around her, reading the Slovene book on mythical Krsnik.
She stared at Sila, then at Tak, half her face hidden beneath the book. ‘Where have you been?’
‘That does not exist.’
‘We were on the upper deck, getting some air.’
‘Yeah, really,’ said Tak, moving over to his own bed and collapsing diagonal. ‘Above deck, dumping a demon from Pakistan over the railings. Weighed a fucking ton.’ Tak swatted away Sila’s suburban sasquatch expression and stared up at the ceiling. ‘What? It’s pointless to lie.’ He turned side-on to Joanna. ‘You know about demons, right?’
‘Not Pakistan ones.’
‘Well, there’s no real difference. They’re tough, never truly dead, but fit well in rolled-up duvets. Your travel partner Sila here helped me with that part. Took us an hour to get it up on deck and over the side. Very tough work.’
Joanna stared at them both then seemed to lose interest and went back to her book.
‘You asking her?’ said Tak to Sila.
‘Don’t be a sulk, mate.’
‘Ask me what?’ asked Joanna, looking up again.
‘He wants to know if we can walk around Barcelona with him after we dock. I said no.’
Sila turned to Tak and waited for his pitch.
‘Mate, I know this city. I know where to go. You don’t have me, you’ll end up at all the shit places. La fucking rambla. Sagrada Family Thing. Not good. What do you say, Joanna?’
She looked at the cover of her book and then at Sila. ‘I think it’s okay.’
Sila pushed her feet over a bit and sat down on the bed. ‘The cover of your book told you that?’
‘You didn’t want to see anything or anyone a few hours ago.’
‘He can help you with your cabinets.’
Sila’s hand half went up to gag her but it was too late, Tak was already on the edge of his bed, alert. ‘Do what?’
‘Help with your cabinets?’
‘Old artisan thing.’
‘Come on, I’m not an amateur. There’s what? A demon inside a cabinet? A demon cabinet?’
‘You told her.’
‘She’s my travel partner, you’re not.’
‘Mate, we just tag-teamed a Dahli together. Open up.’
‘I told you, it’s private. And don’t bother needling me more cos it won’t do anything.’
‘Is it a succubus? Door to a demon dimension?’
Sila breathed out the stale air he’d reluctantly taken in then lay himself flat on the bed. ‘I’m tired. I’m going to sleep a bit. You should do the same.’
Tak made a half-hearted whistling sound, told Sila he was too guarded and that kind of shit couldn’t last all day, then fell back down on his pillow. A minute later, he was snoring.
‘He’s not as bad as you said,’ whispered Joanna, crawling up next to Sila and draping an arm over his chest.
The obvious response was you didn’t even use his name the last time we talked, just called him the black guy, but Sila really was too tired to say it and too tired to think it, but
he couldn’t switch off
there had to be something running the wire, and at first it was replays of the cabin assault, flipped into sex acts, then rudimentary Urdu lines, then her body dropping into the sea with a nuclear bomb splash back up in his face, sending him and Tak flying onto Barcelona beach, where the tide parted and the Dahli woman walked out naked, pointing her claw at him not Tak, saying she had planned to pogo-grind his dick for two good minutes before chiselling out his heart but as he’d dropped her overboard she was now going to eviscerate him, in the Cronenbergian sense, while Joanna mapped out their own language exchange
Cantonese to Urdu
with no claws at all cos she was one of the same kind, pragmatic, doing what she had to do
to get out of this
off the beach and into the phone centre, telephone exchange, the place the anarchists held when the fake communists betrayed them
where there had to be a cabinet
of some sort
otherwise what history meant anything, beyond Lyotardian meta-type, and what was it the history of?
Brown stripes and a black and white Krsnik hid in the gaps for a minute, possibly longer, then tightened as the ID furniture faded into the depths of
‘It’s almost time,’ said Joanna, shifting closer to the wall, keeping her book close to her face.
Sila reached for his phone and sat up. Half seven. Another hour and a half and they’d be in Barcelona.
He glanced over at the parallel bed and breathed out in relief when he saw Tak as a lump of jacket and duvet, non-moving.
‘What is the telephone exchange?’
‘You were saying it in your sleep. We have to exhaustively search the Telephone Exchange, check for fringe elements of Stalinism with the Urdu teacher. Exactly those words.’
‘Was I involved?’
‘As the villain?’
‘No, you were not there. I think. I can’t remember, it’s already gone. What are you doing awake?’
‘Reading my book.’
Sila looked at the cover again, pretending the Krsnik was a surprise. ‘I thought we’d moved past that.’
‘Don’t think that’s a good idea.’
‘Hmm. Maybe you’re right.’ The book went down and so did Joanna, the duvet following her. ‘Wake me up in an hour.’
‘You’re going back to sleep?’
She closed her eyes, keeping a hand on the Krsnik book.
Got to be the most erratic person I’ve ever met, Sila urged himself to say out loud, but the phone was closer and it’d been a while since he’d checked the Barcelona anarchist sites.
Starting with a generic search, he got an article from the Harvard advocate that was a thin line between anarchist support and those silly utopians
then progressed to iberianature.com
with ant-sized text and oil tanker paragraphs
and then direct to the anarchist library, which was much better, more detailed, but had nothing on cabinets.
Maybe punishment of some kind, he thought, clicking on a link to Durruti quotes, for not searching the last two weeks, for wasting time on someone unrelated who
tried to have him murdered next to a red wall of Ljubljana Castle.
Was that supposed to have expired by now?
Cos they’d fucked twice, both times under the influence of grey vasic?
Cos she’d been wounded, traumatised?
He dropped the phone and picked up the Krsnik book, which was still on the page she’d left it.
A tale about a farmer near Maribor, forced to give up his son to a Krsnik disguised as a salt merchant.
This was reflecting?
An hour or so later, the ferry horn blew the starboard section apart and forced all three of them awake.
‘Still fucking tired,’ Sila moaned to the Amir figure on the disintegrating dream bed, his hand stretching out and failing to pull some of the duvet away from Joanna.
‘I’m buying breakfast,’ said Tak, putting bare feet on the floor and jabbing the side of his head.
‘For both of you.’
‘The ship’s docking, we’re not-…’
‘I’ll have an omelette,’ interrupted Joanna, unravelling the duvet to reveal blue shorts from her primary school gym lessons and Sila’s Steaua Bucharest training top.
‘Ah, Hagi’s team…’ Tak said, spotting it, eyes lighting up.
‘Can’t say his first name, too hard.’
‘He’s talking about your t-shirt,’ Sila explained, sitting up and reaching for his Matjaž hoodie. ‘My t-shirt. A football player.’
‘Played for Barcelona too. You can get a shirt with his name on it, both of you. My treat.’
‘Give me five minutes,’ Joanna said, blocking out both of them, taking a diver’s breath then putting her right leg forward as if she were walking for the first time in 300 years.
‘Take your time.’
When the bathroom door was closed and the lock had clicked, Sila slid onto Tak’s bed and told him they weren’t going around Barcelona with him, they had their own things to do.
‘I’m serious, we can’t go with you. It’s weird.’
‘How about those cabinets?’
‘Tell me what’s inside them and things will be less weird. Tings will be less weird. Ah, Jamaican too.’
There was a noise from the bathroom, something electric, like a shaver. After a few seconds it got louder.
‘… … … … … …’
‘Is that Cantonese?’ asked Tak, jabbing his head again.
Sila ignored him and knocked on the bathroom door. ‘What’s going on?’
If there was an answer, the electric buzzing must’ve drowned it out.
‘Mate, I’m going for a walk.’
‘You guys can talk things over. I’ll be back in ten. Don’t try and sneak off without me.’
‘What about your bag?’
Tak repeated ‘ten minutes’ from the corridor outside and then vanished. Sila waited for the door to swing shut behind him then knocked on the bathroom door again. ‘Joanna, he’s gone out. What’s going on?’
The buzzing sound got louder.
‘What are you doing in there?’
There was a reply this time, but her voice was muffled by the electric noise.
‘I can’t-…it won’t stop.’
‘What won’t stop?’
The door opened and Joanna pulled Sila in, opening up his hand and trying to dump an electric shaver on his palm.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Make it stop.’
Sila pushed her hand away.
‘It started buzzing. I didn’t touch it, it just started.’
‘Give it here…’
Joanna handed it over. He examined it fast and found the on-off switch.
‘I turned it off, but it got louder.’
‘Fuck, it’s loud.’
‘Make it stop.’
Sila tried flicking the switch on and off again, but it made no difference. ‘It’s not stopping.’
‘I said that already.’
‘Doesn’t make sense, it’s not even turned on.’
‘It’s not mine.’
‘I don’t care, it’s annoying.’
Sila tried taking the metal guard off the top of the shaver but that just made it louder.
‘Don’t say fuck, make it stop.’
‘You just made it louder.’
‘Shut up a sec.’
Sila looked around the bathroom, at the toilet, at the door, at the mirror, at the bin, but there was nothing in there that could possibly do anything to stop it, so he just stood there holding it as the metal guard slowly slipped off and little bits of stubble crawled out onto his hand.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Joanna, scratching the Steaua Bucharest t-shirt.
Sila looked at the electric shaver. ‘I don’t know.’
‘What do we do?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Sila, for some reason giving up on panic and laughing. ‘It’s turned off, I can’t…’
‘I’m going outside,’ said Joanna, backing out into the cabin.
‘It’s too noisy.’
‘You can’t go. What about this?’
‘Turn it off.’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Fuck. It has to stop soon, right? Run out of battery…’
Joanna looked at the shaver then at the door. ‘I’m going back to bed.’
‘You’re gonna sleep?’
‘For a while.’
‘But we’re docking soon.’
‘… … …’
Sila tried flicking the off switch again, but it still wasn’t obeying orders. ‘Seriously, it won’t stop.’
‘That’s why I told you to break it.’
‘It’s Tak’s, not mine. He’ll go nuts.’
‘Buy him a new one.’
‘Fuck, this is ridiculous.’
Despite threatening to sleep until the ship’s captain himself dragged her off the ferry, Joanna returned to the bathroom, examining the shaver and coming to no conclusions. After five minutes of not moving, they both looked in the mirror and saw themselves not moving and for some reason they laughed.
‘We’re stuck,’ she said.
‘The noise…it’s fucking killing me.’
‘I’m getting used to it.’
‘I’m not. Maybe we can wrap a towel around it, muffle it.’
‘I know, but-…’
‘We’ll have to wait until the battery runs out.’
‘Huh, you just said it wouldn’t.’
‘Maybe one hour.’
‘Shit, the metal part’s coming off now.’
‘Put it back on.’
‘It’s too sharp.’
The door nudged into Sila’s back, pushing him forward and almost forcing the shaver out of his hand. ‘What go on, comrades?’
Sila turned and held out the shaver. ‘It won’t stop.’
‘Give it here,’ said Tak, holding out his hand.
Sila handed it to him and stepped back, worried the metal guard would fly off any second and crash into his face.
‘Always plays up like this.’
‘Man, it’s turned off…supposed to be.’
‘Yeah, just gotta know the trick, how to…’ Tak twisted something at the bottom of the shaver, ‘…handle it.’
The shaver powered off instantly, but the metal guard couldn’t cope with the sudden change, shaking even more violently then flinging itself off towards the bathroom wall, missing Joanna’s head by about two inches.
‘You okay?’ Tak asked Joanna, who nodded and said she still needed to use the bathroom.
‘Quick recovery time,’ said Tak, slapping her on the arm. ‘Just like the Tang.’
‘Tang dynasty. Empress Fan Bing Bing.’
‘They never recovered from anything.’
‘Sure they did, that rebellion, I forget the name.’ Tak picked up the metal guard, put it back on the shaver and put the whole thing in the bin. ‘Let’s leave her to it, mate.’
‘You’re not gonna try and fix it?’
‘Nah, it’s done. Just leave it there.’
Tak walked back into the main cabin, keeping his hand on the handle of the bathroom door until Sila had followed him out. Now that the shaver debacle was over, he noticed that Tak had a bruise on his left cheek.
‘What happened to your face?’
‘Ran into a wall.’ Tak rapped on the door, even though it was still open. ‘Five minutes, yeah?’
Joanna nodded back and pulled the door shut.
‘You ran into a wall?’
‘Yeah. Got another headache and lost my way a bit, ran into a fire hose.’
‘Not a wall?’
‘It was attached to a wall. Same thing. Why were you messing around with my shaver?’
‘Man, I didn’t, I never even touched it.’ Sila sat down on the bed and pulled his Matjaž hoodie out to give himself some air. ‘It was bizarre, like it was possessed or something.’
‘Maybe it was…’
‘I don’t know. Haru Suzuki said possession requires a certain wattage of electricity, nothing else. That shaver was electric, so yeah, maybe.’ Tak pointed at the bathroom door. ‘You sure you’re not a couple?’
‘Me and her?’
‘Okay, mate, feign surprise if you want, but you’re ticking off a lot of the hallmarks.’
‘We’re not a couple.’
‘And if you’re not now, you will be if you stick together long enough. Unless you detach and she comes with me around Barcelona.’
‘Not this again…’
‘But you can’t detach now cos I just turned off the shaver for you. And you switched it on without my permission so you owe me. And face it, the demon dumping was fun. Bit weird at first, maybe, the cabin part, but overall a pretty good time.’
Sila lay back on the bed, stretching his arms upwards. ‘Why are you so desperate for us to go with you? That’s the part I don’t get…’
‘Cos I know the city and you don’t. Simple.’
‘Do you have a plan or something you need us for?’
‘Mate, plans are for small business owners. We’re gonna walk random, enjoy ourselves.’
‘You just said you knew the city…’
‘I do. That’s why we’re doing it random. Actually, there’s an info shop I know around here, we can go there later. And some of the old Anarchist sites. Might even have some of those cabinets you’re after. How’s that for planning?’
‘But it doesn’t open until three, so we’ll have to go some other places first. Doesn’t matter. I know the general direction to head in, it’ll be good.’
Sila threw an imaginary dagger at the ceiling, imagining a green corpse falling back down. ‘If there’s really cabinets…maybe we can tag along for a bit.’
‘Bonza. I’m gonna go pack.’
‘To the other side of the room?’
‘Ship’s docking soon. Don’t be fucking caustic.’ He took the book he’d been reading hours earlier and shoved it without care into his bag. ‘Okay, mate, packing done.’
‘That’s all you have?’
‘All the stuff I wanna keep, yeah.’
‘What about clothes?’
‘Don’t need to take much.’
‘Buy cheap stuff when I need it, keep this jacket for cold places, etc.’
‘Is that enough?’
‘Enough for what?’
‘I don’t know. Travelling? Your life?’
‘Look, mate, this conversation is dipping a bit, almost non-stop queries. How about I go and wait up top, you pack your stuff, we meet in ten?’
‘You’re the one who wants us to spend the whole day together. Remember?’
‘What’s that mean?’
‘You said the conversation was dipping.’
‘But you just said…’
‘We’ve been talking on and off for two hours, what do you expect?’
‘The rest of the day there’ll be three of us, one extra brain, no more problems. And if we run out of topics, just don’t talk, simple.’
Sila sat up on the bed and folded his legs, while Tak took up position by the door. ‘You packing or what?’
‘In a minute.’
‘Good. I’ll be above deck. See if there’s any Hungarians hanging around.’
‘Where do we meet you?’
Tak grabbed a Spurs beanie from his bag and rolled it over the top of his head. ‘Look for the hat, you’ll find me.’