The sun was still blazing when they arrived at the festival, making the crowd more subdued and the smells of the portable toilets more pronounced. Mzi quickly directed them towards the food market and the mango atchar stall. In a classic boy-bravado moment, Mzi dared William to an atchar eating contest and the friendly middle-aged sales lady obliged. Pulling out small bottles in various shades of orange and red, the stooped woman carefully unscrewed each bottle of fire and smelt it before arranging the bottles in a row.
‘From cold to hot,’ she stated, smiling broadly at Mzi to reveal a missing eye tooth.
Mzi grinned at William. ‘I’m going to kick your ass brother,’ he said.
‘Whatever Mzi’, said William pulling his fringe behind his ear. ‘I lived on curries in the UK, it’s your ass that’s going to be burned, never mind kicked,’ his green eyes flickered with amusement.
Isla and Karabo stood aside, silently watching the competition unfold.
By the third bottle of atchar, little drops of sweat had started to sprout on Mzi’s brow. William’s cheeks were slightly pinker, but not much. ‘Do we get to drink water in between?’ asked a slightly breathless Mzi.
‘No water,’ came the saleswoman’s response. Mzi took his fourth spoon.
By the sixth spoon of atchar, Mzi was sweating profusely. Drops of sweat ran down his face and neck and he started to pant to try and cool his tongue. William’s face revealed nothing. Only his cheeks were red.
‘One more?’ asked the sadistic saleswoman. ‘No,’ breathed Mzi.
‘Yes!’ said William. Holding back laughter as he watched the sweat drop off Mzi’s chin.
‘Yes, is good,’ stated the saleswoman as she bent under the counter. She brought out a tiny bright red bottle. ‘My very special poison,’ she grinned.
‘I can’t…I just can’t,’ huffed Mzi.
‘Does that make me the winner?’ asked William, already starting to gloat.
‘Only if you eat that!’ said Mzi pointing at the small bottle of red poison.
William laughed. ‘Let’s do it’ he told the saleswoman. Carefully, she spooned out a teaspoon of red atchar. Karabo and Isla covered their mouths, eyes wide as they watched unflappable William.
Minutes after swallowing the atchar, sweat began to soak William’s T-shirt. Mzi grumbled and paid the sales lady who kept on repeating he had lost, and William almost ran towards the nearest drinks stand. It was only after he’d gulped down an entire one litre bottle of water, that William was able to speak.
‘My tongue has definitely swollen,’ he said, prodding his tongue with his finger. ‘What on earth does she put in that stuff?’ he asked everyone.
Karabo and Isla shook their heads.
‘Still can’t believe you ate that stuff,’ said Mzi, still sweating through his T-shirt.
William smiled. ‘How can I possibly resist beating the prince?’ said William, his eyes glinting with joy.
Mzi punched William’s arm.
‘Whatever! Let’s go catch that folk band,’ said Mzi and led the way to the stage.
The folk music wafted across the grounds as the sun started to set. A warm breeze blew in and cleared the air. People were sitting in circles on the field, listening and swaying to the music, or talking amongst themselves. Mzi found a suitable spot and they all lay on the ground looking up at the sky, watching it change colour. Time seemed held in the arms of the woman’s voice that sang Gaelic-sounding melodies. Karabo’s elbow touched William’s and she wished that they could stay like this forever. Nothing really mattered; they were just breathing, here on this beautiful island. Karabo closed her eyes as the warm air filled her lungs.
William was walking away from her. She was shouting at him to come back, but he couldn’t hear her or wouldn’t. She screamed so loudly her voice box ached. He stopped and looked back at her. His green eyes shone like emeralds. ‘I have to go,’ was all he said and continued to walk away.
Karabo sat up.
William was still next to her. He opened his eyes and looked at her. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.
Karabo shook her head. ‘Nothing. Fell asleep I think,’ she said.
He just looked at her. She knew he knew she was lying, and looked away.
A growl emanated from Mzi’s aching gut. ‘My stomach,’ he moaned, rubbing his belly. His stomach growled louder. ‘Guys, I need to go home, that atchar has taken me out,’ he said clutching his body.
‘I’ll go with you,’ offered Isla. ‘Me too,’ said Karabo.
William’s stomach growled loudly next to Karabo. ‘I guess that means me too,’ he said, his face pale.
Mzi and William fought to get out of the taxi first when they returned to the hotel and ran in, before Isla or Karabo could get out of the car. The hot atchar had worked its way through their guts and they were desperate to reach their toilets.
The girls chuckled to each other as they made their way through reception to get their keys.
‘Are there any messages?’ Karabo asked the receptionist.
‘Let me check,’ he replied, confirming there was a note from her mother to call her when she got back. Karabo gave Isla the key for the room and made her way to the hotel phone booth.
‘Hey mom,’ said Karabo, once Anathi answered after a few rings. ‘Hey, my angel, how was your day?’
Karabo told her mom about the atchar competition and how it ended, resulting in Anathi laughing hysterically. ‘Serves them right. Men! Always trying to prove something,’ she said once she’d stopped laughing.
‘How was your day mom?’
Anathi described their day as a huge waste of time. They’d spent the whole day waiting for government officials. Once they’d been allowed access, the official was called away just as they sat down.
‘The only positive is that Cedric managed to get hold of the Frenchman, and we have a meeting with him on Saturday evening in Nosy Be. We’re all excited about it and think we can pull off a good ruse,’ said Anathi, sounding more upbeat.
‘Great mom, that’s cool. Well I better go. Love you.’ ‘Love you too angel.’
Karabo hung up the phone. Her mother was so brave and so smart. She hoped she would grow up to be like her.
Question: Why do you think that Karabo doesn’t tell William about her vision?