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She raised the fork to her mouth and blew softly into the portion of pasta. All the while, she maintained eye contact with him.
“Sex toys?” she asked.
“Adult toys,” he corrected.
“There’s a market for that here?”
“This is Trinidad. We’re number one for the most porn searches on Google.”
“I think there was an article in the Express that said the majority of those searches originated from South.”
“Hermitage to be exact.”
“It’s a village in South Trinidad. Over sixty percent of the porn searches on the island came from Hermitage.”
“That’s an oddly specific statistic to know.”
“I only know it because I’m originally from Palmiste which is pretty close to Hermitage.”
“You South people sure are naughty.”
“Sex is normal. It’s just some Trinis like to pretend that they don’t get involved in the act.”
“Which is why opening a business associated with sex…adult toys, sorry, is a bad idea.”
“You would think so but like I said, Trinis just pretend. Deep down they love their vice.”
The couple sat at their table outside the restaurant of the Hyatt Hotel, overlooking Port-of-Spain’s waterfront. Amber waves rippled across the ocean as the dying sun descended across the horizon. Laid on their table were two servings of pasta; the steamy marinara sauce dripping through the tangle of flour like blood through entrails. A bottle of pinot noir complimented their meal.
“Have you decided a name for your adult store?”
“Cravings Adult Supplies. Straight and to the point. What do you think?”
“Huh. It’s not bad actually. Very minimalist. I like it.”
“You should set up a branch just for Hermitage. Cater to your people.”
“It will be an online service. And I’m originally from Palmiste, not Hermitage.”
“This is such a strange conversation,” she said, as she twisted her fork through the pasta.
“Okay, let me change the topic.”
“You don’t have to.”
“If you could be an animal for a day, what would you be?”
“Wow. That’s random.”
“Tell me. I’m actually interested to hear your response.”
“Huh. What animal would I be? Let’s see. I never really thought about it…Ok. I know my answer. But you have to guess.”
“Uhhh, a dolphin.”
“I don’t know. Just tell me.”
“You’re the first person I ever met who said a snake. Interesting choice.”
“And you are the first person I ever went on a date who spoke so openly about his plans to start a business that imports and sells dildos.”
He chuckled before breathing deeply into his half-filled glass.
“Don’t worry. I’ll help you out and order one,” she said.
“Your contribution definitely will be noted.”
“I’m only joking. I’ve lost my sense of adventure. I’m an old auntie now.”
“Don’t say that. You’re far from old. You could easily go up as a model. I’m sure you know that.”
“You should see me without the makeup. Without it I look like the street of Ariapita Avenue on Ash Wednesday.”
“I’m only kidding. But seriously, makeup hides so much. Sometimes I feel bad for you guys.”
“Why? Because women can trick us when you all lather your face with makeup?”
“Not that. I feel bad because society accepts that women can enhance their appearance through makeup but men aren’t allowed to do the same.”
“I’m sure some metro guys experimented with their mother’s makeup kit when they were young.”
“Maybe. But the average Trini man would think twice about doing anything that would make them seem gay. Our culture doesn’t take kindly on the gay community, at all.”
“True. True. Imagine that! Having to live your entire life pretending to be someone else in public.”
“I think everyone, gay or not, presents themselves a certain way in public. Some version of themselves. You never truly know what someone is really like until you live with them for some time.”
“Until the makeup comes off!”
“To be fair, makeup is just one tool to hook a guy. There are other things…”
“And what’s that? Food?”
“A combination of the two actually.”
Her left eyebrow twitched upward.
“Sweat rice,” he said nonchalantly.
Her eyebrow maintained its position.
“Of course, a Maraval city girl like you wouldn’t know about sweat rice.”
“I’ve heard the term before…”
“Shall I tell you what it is?”
“Knock yourself out.”
“Well, it’s an old superstition. Invite the guy you like over to your home and prepare a meal of rice for him. But while the rice is boiling in the pot, squat over it and let the sweat from your inner thighs and genitals drip down into the grains. An instant love potion.”
“The things people do for love eh? Stooping over a boiling pot of rice just to have sex with someone.”
“There is a difference between sex and love though. Huge difference.”
“Oh? And what’s that?”
“Sex is carnal. Instinctual. Selfish. Love requires empathy and self-sacrifice.”
“You sounding like an expert on love.”
“I think we’re all experts in some way on certain aspects of love to a degree.”
“Do you want to know what I think?”
“Nah. It’s pretty cynical. I don’t want to ruin the mood.”
“You’ll ruin it if you don’t tell me now. So, spill.”
“Okay. I think love is an illusion. We create this idea that if we fall in love with someone we’re not alone. But ultimately, we’re born alone, we live alone and we’ll all die alone. So we compensate through physical intimacy. That’s why they call it ‘eating a food’. It’s a primal need we all have that gets stained by emotions from wanting to share our life with another person.”
“You poor thing. Who broke your heart?”
“Nobody. I’m just being honest with my thoughts. I believe the truth to anything is very simple. People just overcomplicate things. You see, I’m killing the mood.”
“No hun. I appreciate your honesty. Be as honest as you like with me. You don’t have to hold back anything.”
The sunset faded into night and the moon appeared, full and bright. The sound of waves gently crashing against the barrier of the waterfront filled the silent pauses.
“But you never told me – why a snake?” he asked.
“You mean my choice of animal?”
“I’s a weird story.”
“I think our entire conversation so far hasn’t been by the book. So, try me.”
“Ok then. How do I start? Ok, my Granny had, how can I put this? My Granny had a special connection with snakes…”
“My Granny is originally from Santa Cruz. She lived very close to the forest. Lots of wild animals. Lots of snakes. One day she found this snake on the brink of death outside her back porch…”
“What kind of snake?”
“A coral snake.”
“Jesus! That’s one of the most poisonous snakes in the world!”
“Yes. Pretty but deadly.”
“How was it dying?”
“I’m not sure. I think it may have been injured. Someone tried to kill it. Quiet now. Lisssten.”
He mimed a zipper across his lips.
“Granny loooved animals. It didn’t matter the kind. She believed that all animals were God’s creatures. So she took the dying snake and nursed it back to health. She named the snake Princess and kept her in a large aquarium and fed it lizards and frogs. Whenever I visited, Granny would tell me the story about how she saved Princess. Ever since then, I’ve always thought that snakes are misunderstood animals. They are harmless. Unless you provoke them or unless they are starving, they won’t hurt anyone.”
“That’s quite a story.”
“It’s not just a story. It really happened.”
They both finished their meals and poured two full glasses of wine.
“Well, your experience with snakes reminds me about a story my grandmother used to tell me when I was little,” he said.
“And what story would that be?” she asked before taking a sip of her wine.
“It was the story of the saapin.”
“The what now?”
“The saapin. Not much people know about it. But my grandmother used to tell me. It’s an old East Indian folktale.”
“Does it involve sweat rice?”
“Not sweat rice. But interestingly enough, sex is involved.”
“And your granny told you this story?”
“She left out the dirtier parts. Alright, my turn to tell a story.”
“I’m all ears,” she said as she mimed a zipper across her lips and leaned in across the table.
“There once was a young man who led a very successful life. He didn’t inherit his wealth but rather through a combination of hard work and dogged determination he made his way up the socio-economic ladder. From the outside looking in, you would think he had it all – awesome job, multiple vehicles, his own company, and he lived in a beautiful house overlooking the beach.”
“Do you have a number for this guy?”
“But there was a problem. Despite everything I just told you, deep down inside, the man felt empty. You see, he had reached that stage in his life where his paternal instincts kicked in. The man wanted more than anything to find someone he could truly connect with, settle down and raise a family.”
He paused and took a sip of the wine.
“Let’s take a walk,” he said.
“But I like how the story’s going!”
“I’ll finish it while we walk.”
Taking her hand, he led her to the barricade that bordered the sea. They both leaned over, and watched the moonlight glisten across the dark water. She leaned into him and nestled her head gently into his shoulder. The flowery scent of Givenchy Organza draped her skin.
“Finish the story please. I want to know what happened next,” she whispered in his ear.
“One day the man met a woman, unlike any woman he ever met before. She was beautiful and alluring and intelligent yet carried herself with humility and grace. Naturally, they began dating and each time the man saw her, the deeper in love he fell. Eventually, one thing led to the inevitable and he proposed to her and they got married.”
“Happily ever after?”
“Far from it. You see, all the time they dated, not once did they have sex. The woman insisted that they wait until they were married.”
“Ok. Now I can tell this story is from your granny’s time.”
“What the man didn’t know was that the woman carried a terrible secret. Running down her spine, hidden from view, was the tattoo of a cobra. You see, the woman descended from a tribe in India who worshipped the snake god Sheshanga. Legend goes that the descendants of that tribe were known as saapins. A saapin carries the mark of the serpent in the form of a tattoo. At midnight, on her honeymoon night, and under the light of a full moon, the snake tattoo becomes a real snake. It bursts out of the saapin’s skin and bites her unsuspecting lover.”
“It is. So, on their honeymoon night, the man and the woman fucked for the first time. She was on top of him, riding and thrusting. On and on she went until she slipped into a sort of trance. She kept riding and thrusting, riding and thrusting. She became consumed by pleasure, without even knowing that the cobra tattoo began ripping through her flesh. The snake slithered on the bed and sank its fangs into the man’s leg before it returned to its tattooed form. The man didn’t feel a thing because he also fell into a trance from the intense pleasure.”
“What a session. But what happened after?”
“One week later the man died. Not from the snake-bite, but in in a random accident. People said he was out on a yacht, slipped and cracked his skull on the vessel. He died just as he thought he found happiness with someone. That’s the story of the saapin.”
“And what happened to the woman?”
“Well, I suppose she would find another guy and repeat the cycle.”
“What a sad story.”
“I know. Poor guy.”
“Not only the guy. The woman too.”
“Yes, the woman.”
“How is it sad for the woman?”
“You told the story from the guy’s perspective. And yes, it’s tragic for him. I’m not saying it isn’t. But if you look at it from the woman’s perspective, it’s pretty fucked up for her too. She fell in love with a man she considered perfect only to have killed him without knowing that she did. And then she has to repeat the cycle. That’s a terrible tragedy. All her future relationships would be doomed. She would always be lonely.”
“Until she grows accustomed to being alone, I suppose.”
“Nobody ever gets used to being alone. What a sad story.”
“Hey,” he said as he ran his fingers through her hair, “it’s just a story, you know.”
They continued walking along the waterfront. In the distance to their right, the lights of Port-of-Spain began dimming. A cool wind blew as she held onto his arm.
“What do you think it means?” she asked.
“What does what mean?”
“The saapin story.”
“I don’t know. Maybe it means that the guy wasn’t too bright in the end.”
“There are almost eight billion people in the world and the man thought he found his soulmate in Trinidad – the land of horn and deceit.”
“Stop being silly now. I want to hear your interpretation of the story.”
“I don’t know. It’s just a story.”
“All stories have a meaning. It must have some meaning for you.”
“I don’t know. I guess the saapin was a way for our forefathers to warn us about falling for someone without getting to really know them. I think the moral of the story is to beware of people out there who hide their true nature and intentions.”
“That’s a very good answer. A bit on the nose but I like it.”
“My mind tends to think that way.”
“I know. Straight and to the point.”
“What about you? What do you think the story means?”
She pulled away from him, walked a few paces and stopped. The wind whipped the dress she wore around her delicate figure. The shape of her body formed a black silhouette against a blacker horizon. She turned to him, her eyes shimmering in the night.
“I think it’s really about learning to love yourself.”
“Well, the woman fell in love with the guy, thinking he could be the one. But a part of her was damaged, long before she ever met him. And that part of her would always remain damaged. That’s represented by the tattoo. She hid that part of herself from the world, even from him.”
“I think the moral of the story is you can’t find happiness in someone else. You have to learn to find happiness in yourself first before you can find it in another person. You have to accept the parts of you, the broken parts and wear them without guilt or fear. Because if you’re deceitful, it will only end in tragedy.”
“Wow. That was brilliant.”
“Thank you,” she said.
He walked slowly to her, closing the distance until they were both face to face.
“How did you like the evening so far?” he asked, as he slid his arm around the side of her body and wrapped his hand around her waist.
“It’s pretty awesome to be honest. All these crazy stories. It’s awesome. You’re awesome.”
He kissed her softly on the head.
“It’s getting cold. Enough stories. Let’s go upstairs now.”
“Okay,” she whispered.
The large window of the hotel room offered a view of the ocean below. She faced the window with him right behind her. Below, moored boats and ferries swayed restlessly in the water. She stared into the night sky. A billow of clouds floated across the moon and the night grew darker.
She felt his fingers exploring her breasts. His breath was soft and fiery on her neck and caused a shiver to run down her spine, down to her bare toes. She felt his hand slip down to her stomach, then lower still, all the way to the warmth between her legs. She turned around and faced him, then took a step back. Her hands trembled as she tore open his shirt. She ran her fingers across his meaty chest, all the way to his back. His muscles tightened as her nails dug into his flesh. Their lips locked and her ravenous tongue slammed into his.
And, hidden from her view, across his back was the tattoo of a serpent; its unearthly eyes shimmering in the darkness.