The festival was in full swing. All the great writers from around the world were present, topping up their tan by the pool. Sorry I mean all the great white writers. The UK-returned natives were keen to stay out of the sun. Listen, you must understand, on this island paradise, the darker you were the harder it was to find a spouse and the more likely you were to be killed. It’s true. In Paradise the lighter shades of brown were what the natives loved. Why? Don’t ask me, perhaps it’s leftover from a slave mentality. So no, there weren’t any damnfool local fellows by the pool, turning black.
S. S. Ranasingha was there, all flowing white robe and pale…ish brown skin. He was an island-born artist, for those of you who’ve never read the earlier story about him, and he had made some beautiful paintings of his island home floating in its own azure cesspit of violence. The paintings were in soft watercolours and they spoke of wistful things. I’ve no idea what these things might be, I’m just telling you what I’ve heard. SS was here with his wife Sue from Basingstoke and his daughter, Sallybaby. Sallybaby was no longer a baby of course but in paradise once a baby always a baby.
Everyone from the extended family came to greet them at the swanking airport.
‘Smile, for God’s sake,’ Sue told her daughter.
Sallybaby scowled. She was boiling hot. And angry. And seventeen. It had been a long flight. Everyone from school was at Toby’s eighteenth birthday party and where was she?
‘Hello, Putha,’ someone said (perhaps it was an aunt).
Sallybaby’s scowl deepened. Any moment now her father’s accent would begin to change, go back to being more island-ish. Any moment now he would start waggling his head and talking on subjects about which he knew nothing. Telling it like it wasn’t, impressing the authorities, closing his eyes against reality as he spoke of art, and music and politics (British/European). Boring, thought Sallybaby, sulkily. She wondered if there were any decent boys she might shag, who perhaps liked the kind of music she did. Unknown to her father Sallybaby was keen on people like Kelis and Queen Ifrica. In fact, and this was the tricky part, Sallybaby had a boyfriend who was black! He played in a band at the Brixton Jamm and wore dreadlocks.
‘You sly minx,’ Sue said when she accidently found out while checking her daughter’s facebook page. ‘Your father will be livid!’
To Sallybaby’s surprise Sue had laughed.
‘Now what will your island grandmother do about arranging an Introduction?’
‘What kind of Introduction?’ Sallybaby asked, suspiciously.
‘Your grandmother wants to find you a husband!’ Sue admitted, eyeing her daughter, waiting for the explosion.
It came soon enough; the explosion, I mean. Worse than a land mine going off in the North of paradise, making more noise than the army soldiers in the South as they raped the young girls from the Other Side.
‘They can forget it!’ Sallybaby shouted. ‘I’m not marrying any island bloke. They’re all stupid.’
Honestly, what a generalisation! Don’t they give these kids an education in the UK? Sue Ranasingha sighed. She had married her swarthy prince against her father’s wishes. This headstrong daughter of theirs was the result. Both sides blamed the other in a ‘situation normal’ kind of way.
‘She’s a damn throwback with British genes,’ SS’s father shouted in private, forgetting about his own behaviour with the servant woman.
‘What d’you expect?’ Sue’s Dad had sniffed. ‘I’ve always thought SS was a bloody funny name.’
Even after twenty years Sue’s Dad was still moaning about his son-in-law’s name. Christ, how long does it take to forget a war? Couldn’t he let bygones be bygones?
‘Let’s just have a nice time,’ Sue told her babygirl. ‘It’s only for a fortnight and your Dad is exhibiting his art at the Festival.’
In the elder Ranasingha’s house, in the place with the number seven in the address, the servant woman was in shock. Everything had been going so well. The sex she’d been having with her employer had given her a hold over him. But now, with the return of his UK family, she knew he would stop visiting her quarters. It wouldn’t do.
The woman asked for a day off. She wanted to attend the next devil-dancing session. To get advice on how to get rid of undesirables. The devil-dancing session was around the time of the full moon; the next day, in fact.
‘Alleluia!’ cried the servant woman, forgetting she wasn’t a Christian.
You don’t know about these events, do you? Well stick to the beach, have fun, eat the curries, and go home. Don’t start messing with paradise charms. These are the names given to the evil spells locals use on one another. Charming, innit? Haven’t you seen the roadside offerings? Do you think they’re put there as decoration? Out of a love of flowers? No stupid, these are offerings for the devil! You sun worshipers live on another planet.
Anyway the servant woman went off to cast her spell. Having forgotten she was Buddhist she felt capable of a little destruction. Jealousy was in the air, shining through the sunlight, Discrimination was the batsman and Ignorance the bowler. All was as usual then, here in paradise, with the war over and everything fine, fine, fine.
In the Festival tent Festival discussions rose in the hot air. Famine in Africa, Torture in South America, Terrorists in Afghanistan, Killer Whales in the Sea; these were the subjects that were debated. The Festival sponsors strutted about and got lots of exposure. The organisers played at blind-man’s bluff. And the tan-toppers drank a lot. I’m telling you, all was as it should be.
The foreign visitors liked the serious nature of the programme. England was in a mess; there were all sorts of problems with the NHS. Pensions were being cut, London had riot mobs and the police were having a dreadful time of it. So of course the foreigners were glad to take a break here on this perfect island. Wouldn’t you be?
One or two people were a bit worried about security.
‘Did you hear a Russian girl was raped?’
‘No, no,’ SS told them, waggling his head. ‘That didn’t really happen! It was a play put on for the purpose of the Festival. It wasn’t the real thing!’
‘What about that Red Cross guy who was killed?’
‘That was in the play, too. Remember your Hamlet? The play’s the thing and all that…’
‘Oh okay,’ said the foreigners and off they went for a swim thinking, gosh, these people are incredibly friendly. They just smile and smile…. wasn’t there something like that in Hamlet, too?
In the tent the audience admired SS’s paintings. The one with the strutting peacock could have been sold several times over and the pastoral scenes of Britain were simply stunning. People started milling around him asking questions.
‘How long did it take you to paint it?’ was the usual one.
‘Could you look at one of my paintings, Sir?’ was another.
‘You have such a fine understanding of colour. Where did you learn it?’
An old man came up. He was wearing a sarong.
‘I say, they say the British are the best water colourists in the world but you’ve proved them wrong, hah!’
SS smiled. He went on smiling for two full minutes. Until a woman approached him. She was a funny colour, neither dark nor white with very long hair and a nasty sort of confidence.
‘Have you heard of Angelina Petipa?’ the woman asked.
‘No,’ lied SS.
‘She lives in the UK. And she’s a painter as well.’
‘Never heard of her,’ SS said, coldly.
‘She’s a friend of mine,’ the woman told him, bold as brass.
Of course SS knew of her. He wasn’t dumb. Angelina Petipa was a mixed race, half Tamil, half Singhalese bitch who banged on about ridiculous subjects like Injustice and Truth, and The War. According to big-mouth Ms Petipa there had been a few civilians taken away in white vans at some point. Still were according to her. Well, what d’you expect after a war?
‘You should look her up,’ the brassy woman continued. ‘She’s just had an exhibition at the Serpentine. It’s about the situation here.’
Situation, thought SS nastily. There is no situation in paradise. His head was beginning to ache.
‘The exhibition was called Stop The Human Abuse in Paradise,’ the woman persisted.
‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ SS muttered.
And off he went in search of Sue.
‘These festivals always attract some undesirables,’ he said later that night.
‘I just want to go home,’ whined Sallybaby who was having diarrhoea from all the spicy food.
‘Oh shut up both of you,’ snapped Sue who was being bitten to death by mozzies and wanted to go home too.
The holiday was nearly over.
Meanwhile deep in a wood near Dondra, not far from where they used to hang men in the 1930s, the servant woman was busy. Empires had come and gone like passing ships with holes in them, but the servant woman and others like her had been doing this sort of thing for a thousand years. What was she doing? Why, making a crime-against-humanity charm. From the bones of two lizards and a chicken’s beak.