I saw three more water towers along the way. My eyes moved from the road to acknowledge them, as though they were pieces in a languid game of chess. For a while, I stuck to the inside lane, keeping the car at a steady sixty. Mum’s voice on the phone came back to me. I considered how tired she had sounded, how she had spent twenty years in mourning, her whole life preserved in state since she got the news about Dad. It didn’t add any impetus to the journey. There is no rush, I told myself. I flicked on the radio, but soon turned it off as the aerial was broken. Upon the sides of the articulated lorries, I read the names of haulage firms, Gillemot, Van den Bosch, Maersk Sealand: the world passing through this stretch of motorway, like rope through a knot.
That time we visited Liverpool, Mona disappeared. We were spending the morning around the room in the residences, later to meet friends in the city. I went for a shower, but when I came back to the room it was empty. I guessed that she’d gone to the kitchen, but there was no sign of her there, only a group of people eating breakfast. I searched the corridors of the residences, I headed out into the street. I walked around the campus, but there was no sign of her at all. Finally, I ended up in the bar. It was already busy. A girl in a Hawaiian costume sat upon a ducking stool set up over an inflatable pool. Two teams of men were asked questions, and at each wrong answer the girl was ducked into the water. Over an hour passed, nearly two. At first I was looking out for Mona, but when she didn’t come through the door, I sat at the bar drinking, watching the girl being dunked in the pool. Each time she fell, her hands went to hold onto the coconut shells, which barely covered her breasts. She would shake the water from her fake grass skirt and flower garland, before bleakly lifting herself back onto the stool.
When I finally headed back to the room it was nearly five hours later. Mona was sitting on the floor out in the corridor, tearing up what looked like a train ticket and letting the shreds fall onto the carpet tiles.
‘Hello,’ she said.
‘Where have you been?’
‘Oh.’ She sounded bored by the question. ‘I went for a walk.’
She told me how she had got talking to some guy handing out flyers for a film screening. They had gone back to his room, in one of the other student blocks, on the other side of the campus. ‘He has this fish, in a tank. It’s very peaceful. You can watch it for hours. You can lose yourself watching him. He feeds it these dead flies. He sprinkles them on the surface of the water, and the fish rises to the surface. He buys boxes of them. I told him that I wanted to film it. I like fish. They’re hypnotic, don’t you think?’
Once we were inside the room, I started gathering up my things. When Mona asked me what was wrong, I told her that I hated games, more than anything, and so I was leaving. When I left the room, she chased after me, shouting now, livid. All I wanted to do was leave, but the group from the kitchen walked out into the corridor, two men, two women. They wanted to know what was happening, who we were, just what was going on? These scenes… You find yourself inside them without ever understanding how. It wasn’t quite the end, but we were pushed along the way. All because of a man and his tropical fish.
Words © Daniel Bennett