This morning the water gleams dully orange under mist, and Abdus, standing just outside his door shovel in hand, thinks of the fish and crabs, the shrimp and eels teeming under the surface.
To the right, he can see the tips of the twigs, linked by a string, that form his plot’s border. On the other side, the brook that separates his land from Ziaur’s has grown, swollen and stilled into the monster twin of its usual self. His neighbor’s cows will stop drinking there, shunning its now brackish water. The water’s never come this high.
He lays his shovel down again and turns to go back in, to wait until the children stir and Matia gets up to ready breakfast. He doubts her efforts to make him start the day happy will be enough. It’ll be plain rice today. The patch of okra he’d planned on harvesting is underwater. He longs to close his eyes, pretend he hasn’t seen all this.
He’s half in the door when he glances back and sees a boat emerge from behind a clump of palms, far out at the end of his land. The water nearly reaches the fan-leaves. That patch has been underwater a while, but it’s the first time a fisherman ventures in. He picks up his shovel again and walks down, holding it in both hands. Despite the distance, the golden glare of the morning sun on water, Abdus sees the fisherman fumble over the side of his boat, lifting something out of the water under the palm tops, metal ringing against the boat’s side, the clear clangs reaching his ears.
The fisherman sees him, standing, his feet in water. Abdus doesn’t wade any further. The softness of the ground reminds him of monsoon season, but the sea, it never ends, and this has always filled him with dread. The fisherman waves, then paddles towards him, as if not understanding he’s not wanted on this land.
Abdus knows him, knows his face. Shameless, fishing here. Abdus has seen him throw nets and drop traps, gut fish right there beyond his field, a few feet above what a few months back was the cricket ground.
“Get out!” Abdus shouts at him when he’s halfway to the new shore. His voice comes out wrong, trembling, and he realises he doesn’t need to shout – the fisherman’s quite close, and on the endless water sounds meet no border.
“Morning, dada. I wanted to talk to you,” the fisherman says softly, standing up as his boat glides on as if by magic. “Terrible thing for you, I know.”
The boat reaches land, coming to a stop in one long soft furrow. The fisherman walks to the prow, stands balanced gracefully above Abdus. “Can I come down?”
Abdus stays silent. His hands are sore from worrying the shovel’s handle. The fisherman smiles sadly, doesn’t move.
“You must do something, dada. That shovel of yours won’t be much use soon.” He looks at Abdus, searching his face. “I looked at your palms there. Fine spot for shrimp,” he adds, bending down to undo a latch on a trap. He takes out a handful of flapping creatures and throws them onto the ground, a few feet in, where their desperate convulsions won’t land them back in the water.
“Look at this,” he says, picking up a crayfish from the trap. He jerks his head towards a half-submerged palm a dozen meters in. “That tree’s fine timber. I can come back later, dada, when the sun’s easy, at low tide, with some friends. We take it down before it’s rotten useless. Give you a frame for a fine craft. Show you how to line it, watertight. Something small, but enough to fish your drowned plot here…”
Abdus still doesn’t answer. The fisherman looks at him, then nods.
“You think about it.”
He plants his long paddle into the ground and leans on it with all his weight until the boat flows back out into open water, then he paddles it around without a look back. The traps at the bottom of his boat full, maybe, of a crop raised in a single night.
Abdus watches the boat disappear behind the corner of Ziaur’s own drowned fields. Only then does he look down and pick up the shrimp. Six of them. Fat ones. He has trouble keeping them from jumping out – they twitch, their slimy bodies threatening to escape his grasp.
He stands a little longer by the water’s edge, wrestling the creatures in his hands, until he’s satisfied he has them safely caged. Then he starts towards the house, towards Matia and the children, holding the shrimp in front of him like something made of porcelain.
Armel Dagorn lives in Nantes, France, with his partner and young son. His fiction as appeared in The Stinging Fly, The Maine Review and 3:AM Magazine, among other places, and his first short story collection will be out in early 2018. You can find more at armeldagorn.wordpress.com