I remember watching Ikky sink and thinking I should do something, that I should be able to help, to stop it, to save her. I was never able to save her. I used to watch her playing with Dash in the orchards in summer. They’d come out for the harvests when the mangos were ripe, we all came out. It was tradition. Ikky would lift Dash onto her shoulders and he would pass the mangos down to her to fill their baskets. Every now and again Ikky would lower Dash to the ground and they’d spread themselves in the shade for a break. I remember how she used to look at those times. She always wore her hair in a high braid, the kind that wraps around the back of a girls head. I remember one year she wore a dress made of pure cotton, white and red. I thought she looked like an angel, the light playing around her braid like a halo of gold. It was unbearable to look at her sometimes, and even worse not to. Mother would curse a streak at me for my share of dropped mangos, unusually high when Ikky was about.
I don’t think Ikky ever knew I was watching her, not how I was watching her, but occasionally she would see me looking, staring like an idiot, and smile. My heart would skip like a rogue butterfly and I’d let loose another mango from my hands. She was so beautiful and so far away. Maybe it was better that way, maybe she was better that way. I used to think that if I touched her, if my hands, these callused dirty paws on the ends of my wrists, if my hands ever touched her skin she would spoil. I thought I was unworthy. I knew I was beneath her. But how badly I had wanted her, any and all of her.
When I heard Ikky was to be married I could hardly move. I remember Mother took me as sick and sent me to bed, my supper cold and untouched at the table. I lay there unable to close my eyes, breathing only out of stubborn habit. My body wouldn’t let me die as much as I had wanted it to. My angel, my untouchable angel was to be given body and soul to another man, and worse, infinitely worse, she had wanted to be his.
Carlos was a brute. He had always been a brute. When we were young Carlos and I would play with the other children in the fields behind the tar pits. The simple games of childhood, imaginary and safe, though Carlos was never content with safety. I think to myself now that Carlos was simply never content. I remember one day while we were playing he got it into his mind to dare poor Vim to brave the tar. Vim was the youngest of us, the runt we used to say, always biting at our ankles. The older children, myself included, would take turns walking into the tar, as far as we could manage and back again before we were stuck. We never let Vim take a turn, he was too little, too scared, too likely to panic. To Carlos, this just made him sport. He taunted Vim, jeering at him, calling him names. We all joined him, none of us wanted to lose favour with the brute who could so easily torment.
I remember the knots in my stomach as Vim took his first step out onto the tar, his arms raised from his sides to balance his weight. I wished for him to make it out, and more to make it back. If he cried now or backed out Carlos would never let him forget it. Vim took his first step and faltered, I could see he was scared, we all could. It didn’t stop Carlos though, his taunts just grew to match Vim’s hesitation. I think now that Vim kept walking simply to escape Carlos and his jeers.
Vim was too far out before I knew something was wrong. His steps were coming too far apart, taking too long. I could see his feet. The tar clung to his soles too readily, too greedily. I yelled for him to come back, to turn around. I remember thinking he was too far out to hear me, that the tar ate my words as easily as Vim’s footsteps. The other Children were silent, even Carlos. I told them to run back to the village and get help. They fled, happy to be away from the sight of Vim and his sinking determination. I remember standing there beside Carlos, unable to move, unable to help. I remember looking at Carlos as the tar ate what little remained of Vim’s innocence. His face was like stone, cold and passive. I had expected there to be horror there, or shame, or regret. I had expected something to be there, but there was nothing. I saw the same look on Carlos’ face on the day he and Ikky were married.
I turned my eyes from the brute and sent them out over the pit. There was nothing to see now. Nothing to hear but the faint bubble and grumble as the tar settled its stomach. The heat coming towards us from the middle of the pit did little to warm the chill that had taken hold of my body. By the time the adults arrived it was too late. Vim was gone and so was Carlos’ humanity.
I remember watching Ikky sink and thinking of Vim, thinking that I should be able to help now where I could not back then. I remember thinking that she was right. Ikky did what she had to do to escape, just as Vim had.