I put my cigarettes one by one in to the holes in my lungs, they fit neatly and it was a relief. I was stressed, partly because my business partner had just flown back from India and was enraged that the Indians kept telling him how to cook a curry. No one likes a pushy salesman, I could accept that, but his indignation was over-powering, and our work was not getting done.
Our office was crumbling – we would have to change location soon. The walls were damp with mould, and one patch looked eerily like a grumpy woman – a face that reminded the both of us of the wives we had left behind in the home country, disapproving of the wild ideas we were working on so’s we could make a better life for us all.
Stress upon stress, I swallowed the coffee grinds recycled from the compost, bits of cabbage and carrot peel stuck to the roof of my mouth, ants in the honey, shouts about turmeric and different coloured onions behind me, desk piled high with papers covered in numbers and graphs, lists of names and nation states.
“Derek!” I cried. “Derek, please hush. There is work to be done.”
“Cedrick!” he replied. “Cedrick, I am jet lagged and my frustrations are spread so thin along this dirty floor. I cannot think clearly about my own limbs, let alone join you in crunching numbers.”
“Okay Derek. I hear you, friend. Just sit down and do some drawing, that is something you can do to calm yourself if you cannot work.”
He nodded and sighed in agreement, sitting on the bench space next to the sink, scribbling on plates with a gold pen.
“We could eat these pictures you know.”
He did not look up as he spoke, and the words were full of certainty verging on aggression.
“Sure, I can see that. But where will we go? This mould is making my cough worse.”
I spat up blood to emphasise my point. Derek was not impressed.
“Your cough will not go away until you patch up those infected wounds on your chest, and with something that isn’t duct tape this time.”
“But it was the highest quality duct tape! Industry standard! Everyone who is anyone chooses to work with that brand. I cannot let that connection to success get away from me; when it is close to my heart I feel powerful!”
As I spoke, I knocked the piles of paper on to the floor. They had fallen in to the shape of a dog, and Derek noticed, and was again reminded of India. He exploded.
—— —— ——
I was left with pieces of Derek all over the pieces of paper, and I knew I could not clean it alone. I did not want to, it seemed an unnecessary push on my already failing body, and it could only lead to ruin- the business was already in trouble, what with the sudden demise of my business partner. What would become of our wives? And what of our legacy as movers-and-shakers? We had hardly made an imprint in the stones of this land, and the chances of doing that thing alone seemed slim, nearly as slim as the chances of Derek sharing his meals with me, though I always shared mine with him.
This is why I would fail alone – I was less greedy, less business savvy than the man who was now spread so thinly over the already dirty floor, his stinking guts matching the colour of the mould-face on the wall.
The papers were ruined too; there was no hope of recovery, not even of copying. Derek’s anger broke him and our work, and all I could conceive was sitting out the days until my own demise there in that office, spitting up blood periodically so mine could hang out in the pools of his. So sit there I did, coughing every minute.
—— —— ——
Two weeks in to my sickly, fasting vigil, the mould woman started to speak to me. At first she spoke softly of healthy meals and effervescent beverages, and it was soothing, and I felt okay with slipping in to death in that messy office. Her face was less grumpy than when it first appeared, though it still reminded me of a wife, any wife, possibly my wife when we first fell in love by a river.
But just as I began to feel more comfortable than ever before, as death crept smoothly up my spinal column, she became stern. And then she got mean. I could hear her whispering angrily to the other mould patches that she couldn’t believe I hadn’t mopped the floor of the blood and guts yet, that Derek’s gold-pen dishes were still sitting in the sink, un-cleaned. She wanted me to leave, but she never said it to me, only to her fellow mould-lings, whom I could hear chattering to each other from time to time.
I was too weak to move, too weak to stand or fight or even speak to tell her I could hear her sneaky loathing. I could only cry in to my chest, wounds still dribbling with pus and tar.
—— —— ——
Little leaves began to sprout from a few mounds of Derek that lay furthest from the wall on which the mould woman grew. Through my tears I could see them, through my snot I could smell them. He was back, and he was finally sharing something with me! It gave me hope, courage to move. Everything else dissolved in to the weak excitement I felt at this environmental change – the business was over, I cared not for my wife, and the mould woman was now easily ignored.
The leaves grew bigger, and there were more of them, and then some tendrils appeared, thin spindly green things waving about, searching for something to hold on to. I used the tiny amount of strength I had to conjure some tomatoes on my skin, and the tendrils noticed and came rushing towards it like Derek had done when he spied gleaming white piles of dust.
“Bind to me” I croaked. “Give me strength.”
…to be continued…