Fiction · 12/02/2020

Bones

I told him I would wait here. My legs dangle off the thin concrete pier, and my shoes slip over my heel and hang on my toes like fingertips over a ledge. This dress was so expensive, but it is suffocating and long. The humid air compresses the viscose lining against my body, and the skin on my chest and back cries out for the cool touch of sea breeze. I should have known better, but I packed for the flight so quickly, after all.

We hardly knew anyone at the funeral, just like Baba and Nancy’s wedding. There was some extended family, although none from Mama’s side, and some old colleagues of Baba. He never had many friends. Most people at the funeral must have been Nancy’s, other parents at little Caroline’s school. I wonder if Baba felt out of place with them. He was so much older, and now a stiff husk in a sickly casket, the color of a polished chrysalis. I stood next to Caroline as she stared into Baba’s coffin one last time, stoic and unquestioning. I wondered if she would stop flying home one day like me and Aloysius, and if Baba knew he wouldn’t live long enough to see it happen.

I haven’t eaten meat in nine years, but for most of the funeral all I could think about was the pigeon restaurant from when we were children. I told Aloysius after the service, and he said we could walk to the ferry and go. Nancy seemed to understand.

Whenever we went to the pigeon restaurant I would always insist on having a bird to myself, just like Baba and Aloysius. I would tear into the earthen flesh as fat oozed from the crisp mahogany skin, oiling the walls of my cavernous mouth and tongue. As we ate, pigeons circled the restaurant, and some even landed on the railings separating us and the seafront. It was barbarism so bare faced we could only laugh. It wasn’t until now that I thought the pigeons might be the same as the ones from the city — vermin — flying over the sea, above the passenger ferry, and onto our plates.

I remember one particular evening when the waiter gave me the smallest bird of three. “Aiyah,” Baba said, gesturing for the waiter to come back. “Swap our plates, big bird for the little girl. She may look small, but her stomach is — ” he blew up his cheeks and pushed his chin down, expanding his arms. Shame for my appetite found me years later, but I always feel lucky for the years I ate unabatedly, knowing it made Baba proud.

I finally see Aloysius coming back, shielding the sun from his eyes. His jacket hangs over his arm and he is sweating through his shirt.

“Sorry.”

I stay silent. He sits down next to me.

“Someone told me it closed a while ago.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, he knew which one I was talking about right away. Apparently the owner died and all his kids sued each other until there was nothing left. It’s gone.”

I begin to cry, holding Aloysius’ hand.

Back then Baba would look at the carcass on my plate, grey bones stripped of meat and cartilage, and exclaim, “Wow, my daughter is an archaeologist!” Once the waiter cleared our plates, my still greasy fingers would hold a tin can of Coke, sipping it at the same slow pace at which Baba sipped his Tiger beer. I used to watch him stare out toward the orange sun sinking into the sea. I never thought to ask what he was thinking. I wish I had, but I was a child, joyful and simple, holding little else but a heart full of love.

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Nicola Dinan is a London-based writer from Kuala Lumpur. Her work has appeared in Paper Magazine, i-D Magazine, ZORA, and elsewhere.