Where I live.
The dusty paths winding between the tents have dark patches where water has been thrown to keep down the dust. Occasional pools of water reflect strings of lights. A still figure draws the eye, a woman middle aged and soft with too much flesh, and a long plait winding its way down her shoulder. Her face is lined, and there is grey mixed in with her pale blonde hair. Her brown eyes twinkle at the crowd. She hugs her knee, and rocks as she sits and watches the crown spill past her table of knick-knacks. Her wares are pretty, pictures of unicorns, dark green household objects painted with flowers.
She rocks a little again, and her mouth lifts in a smile as she scribbles some figures on a scrap of paper. “Petrol money, yes. The most important thing, but if I have electric light tonight I can finish the trays, and they always sell well there. And then I can borrow from Ayesha, and then still get there tomorrow, and have some cash for driving back”.
Her hand, with rings too tight, reaches out to stroke the wood nearest her. “I could just work by candle light, but then it may look like nothing. And no chance of enough cash for the week. A cheque coming in regularly, man, that’s nice. Only good thing about that bloody school. “
Her mind skitters away from the image rising in her of herself standing in the staffroom, and the headmaster saying how much they had appreciated her work, and how she would be missed. He had not met her eyes once during his speech, read from a crumpled bit of recycled departmental circular. She had stared back at them, and smiled, and lifted her head, and straightened her shoulders, like some textbook soldier. She had pitied them, refusing to feel bad, and smiled and thanked them, and stared at them, hoping to put a hex on them just by staring, and smiling. The smirch of their smiles did not touch her.
She keeps smiling now, although the procession of floats has drawn the crowds away, and no one passes close to her table. Her head tilts back, and she smiles, a brave smile she thinks. Over the noise of the music thumping through the loudspeakers, she hears a scream. The crowd stares in the direction of the biggest float.
“What is it?” she calls to the security guard hurrying past.
“That Carmen, she’s fighting with Brit on the bloody float.”
She stays where she is, staring into the gathering dark. She could go and watch, like the others, not like anyone was gong to steal her stuff. Couldn’t give some of it away. She looks up and sees the boy hesitating, half turning away. She goes very still, and calls to him.
“Derek. What are you doing here?”
“Nothing, Aunty Jocelyn.”
“Come here then, what is going on?”
He walks over, with the shambling gait of an adolescent, not quite meeting her eye.
“I thought you couldn’t come.”
“My dad didn’t come home, so he wasn’t going to say anything was he?” The boy stares at his feet, and twists his head, so that his body faces hers, but his head is turned away. His belligerent tone stops her.
She stands up, and puts her hand flat on his chest. His head turns back to face her, and his body stills under her touch. And then they are looking around them, instinctively checking for observers. But the gaze of the crowd is still fixed on Carmen, and the fight, and no one is watching.
“Come home with me.”
The boy shrugs.
And she decides candlelight will be just fine for what she has in mind for the evening.