Snapper by Irenosen Okojie
I’m scooping up a broken map of fish bones from my soup when you say “It’s great, honestly, you should see the craftsmanship on this thing! And God knows how old it is.”
We’re sitting in Lazzaria restaurant, complete with dim lighting, cabaret style setting, deep red velvet curtains and oddly shaped nooks. Renaissance art fills the walls and ornate chandeliers dangle from pristine white ceilings. Exotic scents linger in the air and it feels as though we’re in a play. Our supporting cast of diners are found objects who stumble onto set randomly. The sound of cutlery clinking against plates is surprisingly comforting. Only the opera singer is the other guest star. Her voice carries into people’s meals. She seems to be simultaneously singing at several tables as if she’s on wheels. A daffodil in her hair grows from being watered by wine, elderflower, and gin. I’m thinking of the drawings on the toilet walls that look like angels having sex when I answer. “A samurai sword as a gift? Isn’t that a weird thing for a client to do?”
“Nah, it’s a nice gesture.” You break a piece of herb bread from the deep mauve bowl in the middle of the table. “He was just trying to show appreciation.”
“Are you legally allowed to have that?” I ask. “I mean, it’s a weapon.”
“I don’t know Perry Mason” You chuckle a little. “But I’m keeping it.” You finish the bread with relish, crumbs spill into your lap and there is a stain on your crisp, blue shirt from a piece of tomato shaped like a tear. This makes me smile. I like that you’re not quite polished. I imagine you at school as the kid whose shirt was never tucked in properly, whose shoelaces frequently came undone. I picture teachers being charmed despite themselves. In my mind’s eye, you are holding a white piece of chalk from your youth, drawing outlines around our snapshots that will be eroded by the weather.
By the time I take my second toilet break, the angels on the walls have changed positions and are making love doggie style. I can still taste the zesty flavour of lemon cheesecake.
Afterwards, we walk along the Souhtbank hand in hand. Ripples of the murky water call to lost objects. We build a boat from a swiped menu; let it sail in the city, listing the number of things it will crash into.
Several days later, you cut your hand with the sword. Worried, I rush over. Your flat has a rustic charm that always relaxes me, all wooden floors and earthy toned furnishings. While you tell me about the latest video game you’re designing, I lick the blood slipping into your palm lines. You’ve just cut your hair 90’s style and could be an extra member of a Tribe Called Quest. We make love in your rumpled bed with the damaged, purple headboard that rattles. I watch the angle of your arm leaning against the wall, a half bow in my intoxicated gaze. Your mouth opens over the pulse in my neck as if it will run away. I kiss your shoulder, tasting a corner of promise.
Later, I hold the samurai sword. It’s heavier than I expected, with a long blade and a dragon’s mouth on the black handle.
I notice the change slowly. Over the following weeks, you become obsessed with samurai films; Goyokin, Chushingura, Ghost Dog; Way of the Samurai, Throne of Blood, 13 Assassins, Yojimbo, Harakiri, Seven Samurai. You watch these films entranced. We sit through a couple together. I watch restlessly, picking at threads I don’t quite understand. You begin to train in your basement, surrounded by the clutter of ordinary things; boxing gloves, old B movie posters that are a happy audience, a broken record player with a needle scratching the sky. Copper pipes in the ceiling hiss as you practice, darting and lunging at an invisible sparring partner that becomes an enemy in commencing days. You tell me you think of ceilings balancing on the sword, of cutting up islands where you and I are sole occupants, carving out cancerous organs you see in people and keeping them in glass jars. Once or twice at lunch, you use the sword to carve roast beef as though it’s perfectly normal. On one such occasion, I notice the gleam in your eye becoming a tiny silhouette. Cut, cut, cut.
You are laughing about a comedy sketch you saw on channel 4, rubbing the sword against a large, fork like kitchen utensil, sharpening your instrument. The smell of oxtail gravy makes my mouth water. And the rattling in my head begins.
In early April, while we’re curled up on the sofa one evening, you tell me you’ve been fired from your job. You don’t explain the circumstances fully, except to say you dangled one of the directors out of the window for insulting you. You are defiant, dismissive even. “Luna, fuck them! I worked there for seven years and that’s how I get treated? All the directors are on cocaine anyway. I’ll start my own company.”
The concern on my face stops you in your stride. You place your hand gently on my back, steadying the anxiety gathering. “Baby, don’t look so scared. This is what happens when the time comes.” I grab your hands, holding onto their warmth. “When what time comes Cosmo?”
“There are wars looming, enemies hovering. People take their level of comfort for granted in this country, nobody’s prepared.”
I shake my head slowly. “You’re talking in riddles, I don’t understand. We watch TV silently. On the screen, a man takes off his head inside a shop and robs it. It flickers, interrupting my train of thought. Setting your half drunk can of Guiness down, you uncurl like a snake ready to dispatch poison. “You do understand, I know you do.”
I can feel the intensity of your gaze when you say “I need you to be on my side, for both our sakes.”
I’m vaguely aware of the door opening, your footsteps towards the kitchen and the samurai sword next to the bowl of fruit there. I’m wrestling with the idea of telling you that lately, I am thirsty all the time, so parched I could drain a whole house of half it’s water supply. At that point, I notice the paper ship we built from the restaurant menu in the doorway. It’s worn, dirty around the edges from its travels. The words of the menu have changed. It nudges its way in, on a path of murky water.
We’re looking through photos of our trip to Venice last year when you tell me about the hospital. The paper ship loiters in the background, attempting to gain entrance into the images. A dog barks in the distance, pizza boxes are piled on the floor next to the bed and the scent of pepperoni is still strong.
You are standing outside the hospital, blown onto the steps by a whistle that became a wind.
Cold, you peer into people’s faces to identify their sickness, wanting to cross the busy reception and take the lift up to the wards. Only, it doesn’t feel like it could be a mere few minutes walk. It feels like a journey, in which you imagine losing your hands to confectionary machines that dispatch stolen hands for 70p, £1.50, £2.30. And confronting increasingly docile versions of your face when the lift doors open the higher up you go. People on the steps begin to whistle. A nurse standing by a window knocks on the glass looking straight at you. But you walk away trembling, grabbing roots in your pockets to steady yourself.
I don’t know what to say to this story. I go over several responses in my mind but none of them feels right.
Jesus, that’s a strange tale.
Why would you go to the hospital?
Do you think there was some sort of epidemic being transferred by compulsive urges to whistle?
I stop myself because whatever this was. Whatever we weren’t identifying, I’d be accommodating by saying any of those things.
You turn to me suddenly, taking a deep drag of your cigarette. “Don’t you ever want to be reborn? Don’t you want to know what it feels like?”
The cigarette’s amber tip brightens then simmers. I can hear the leaking shower in the bathroom dripping, filling my eardrums. “Sometimes Cosmo.” I say “I think we have common ground because of our mutual self loathing. Sometimes, I think I’ll scream until I pass out.”
You fold me into your arms then “Luna, Luna, Luna” You chant my name softly, as though an open window has taken a breath. Your mouth hovers over my eye lovingly at first, then, as if contemplating swallowing my vision.
Several days later, while looking for some aspirin, I find your work dismissal letter tucked away in the sock drawer, dated six months earlier than the date you gave me.
One blustery evening, we’re lounging around the flat. We smoke weed, drink shots of rum. Sade croons on the CD player. I leaf through a copy of Time Magazine. You’re playing some Play station game intensely as I doze off on the sofa.
When I come round, you’re standing over me naked, holding the samurai sword covered in blood. Your hands are trembling; you’re breathing heavily, your penis is flaccid.
I stumble up in awkward movements, pat myself down for injuries, brain scrambling.
It’s not my blood. “Cosmo, what’s going on? What have you done?” I ask, voice a whisper. Touching my shoulder gently, you edge forward gingerly as if I’m a mirage. Your eyes are wild. “In the game baby, I had to kill the man at the bridge to get the keys see? He wouldn’t let me have keys to the kingdom otherwise.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I yell. “Tell me what’s going Cosmo, we’re in deep shit. Oh my God! What have you done?”
My head spins; the wooden floor is covered in blood. Panic inside me rises.
“You’re such a bitch! Why can’t you ever be on my side?” You scream. You start to babble about the stupid fucking game, about being a general in Japan during a past incarnation, about members of your army waiting to meet you, ready to overthrow the British government. You continue rambling while I’m darting around the flat, checking the bedroom, checking the kitchen, checking the bathroom. But there is no body and the paper ship is battered, covered in blood. I hear the front door click. You are gone. Out in the night, naked and waving your samurai sword.
I throw my trainers on, bolting after you. Only in a vest and bottoms, the air is cool on my skin. You’re too quick, already rounding the corner and heading into the high street. “Cosmo, wait!” My voice is strangled. You don’t turn around. I take deep breaths. The high street’s busy. I pass a Seven Eleven feeling parched, its neon glow seeps into the whites of my eyes. My throat becomes a small dessert. I could drink half that store, I think. It’s urgent, pressing. I notice a woman pushing a baby in a pram holding a bottle. I snatch the bottle from the baby’s hands.
“Hey! “ The woman barks. “What do you think you’re doing?”
I ignore her, unscrewing the cap and gulping warm milk down. It spills on my chin as I try to keep you in my sights. You are weaving through the road, people stop to stare, car horns blare. We are pressed against dark corners shaped like pockets. Sirens screaming in my ears look for other entry points into our bodies. The gulf between us grows, cracked and dry. I attempt to moisten it with my milky tongue. I think of our time lines being caught in bicycle wheels. I think of you spilling crumbs into your laugh. I remember my snapper meal from the restaurant months back then, like you it snapped at the end of a line before landing into stillness forever. My legs begin to burn. Smoke in my nostrils gathers as if I’ve set myself alight internally. I can see you holding the sword up, talking to a God growing in your peripheral vision. I keep going for our sake. But we are changing beneath flickering city lights, a malleable sky. The tip of the sword is our compass. We are breakable things running. And I am waiting to trip, to fall and catch some semblance of you I recognize.