The way to the sea is clear. I take the back walls, avoiding the wide open field which is blowing with dust and canvas from the dismantled souk. I climb the abandoned building at the end of the beach, looking over a steep drop. At the bottom, there is a shallow place where fishing boats have been dragged onto the sand and tied to metal hooks.
Beyond that, I can see everything.
Night fishermen stand on the shore. I see them in silhouette; they, and the Mediterranean, are between me and the moon. Bright tips of fishing rods and ends of cigarettes hang in the air.
Paired humans, widely spaced along the sand, rise from their blankets and walk to the sea. They wade in, touching only at the fingertips. They move closer as the water covers them. The women are slower to unwrap than the men. The fishermen watch, smoking, not moving much. They peel the covers off new cigarette packets, snap the metal on soft drink cans, cast lines.
Last night I left you in bed with the man who arrives with the smell of another country, evidence of a large dog and another woman buried in the fibers of his clothes.You left one of your bedroom shutters open for me. He would get up later, I knew, to close it against the wind.
I leave the wall and make my way down to the sand. There are some lights, which I avoid. The patch of beach that smells of rotting fish is darkest. Where dry sand meets wet, I nudge a space and vanish, despite the full moon. I’m a small cat. I am the color of wood and sand and dirt. It’s a convenient way to be.
Once, under a moon fat with light, I told you the story of the woman from the south who said when the moon is low and bright like this, we meet our wisest self. You smiled and stroked my flank with your nails. You told me to sleep and be quiet. I wish you would learn my fucking language. Sometimes I think you’re quite stupid.
I’ll tell you this, since you aren’t likely to understand; I only pretend to hate the water.
I move from my place and stalk the first wave. When it lifts me, I let it. It takes my breath for a moment, then I match it. I make my body sleek and low like a sea dog. If anyone can see me, what they see is a piece of seaweed, a jellyfish, a plastic bag thrown off a boat, a child’s toy washed off the beach. I wait for a larger wave, hold my breath and dive. Under water I hear the tap of sea animals talking to one another.
I keep my eyes shut when I dive. I prefer not to know how far from the floor I am. I think instead of the current in my fur and the salt that buoys me to the surface. I flatten my ears and swim toward the moon.
Two mornings ago, I saw the first fishermen come back to shore with a boat of bodies, fat from the sea. Humans without life are different from cats; their skin is visible. I can see where blood used to flow. But like us, your hair turns to straw. These bodies were caked with salt. They are the ones who try to cross the ocean.
The early morning fishermen are old and thin; the weight of the bodies they carried from their boats to the beach pushed them low, so their faces were near the sand. They laid them out on the sand. One dead man did not have a head. He was wrapped in a fisherman’s net. One was missing a shoe, another a foot. Another was wearing too-warm clothes for the season. There were twelve. Some were very small. Men with vans came to take them elsewhere; their tires left deep wells.
Later, at the place where the bodies had been, I found half a salted fish and a knitted scarf soaked in blood.
The way I creep along your garden wall, the way I press my face into your legs, the way I pounce on the shredded fabric you drag along the tiles; those are also a disguise. You’ve never seen the face I use to hunt, in the dark, in the parts of the world humans like you won’t go, where animals like me cluster and disperse. I see the things your species do in secret. The death I give my mice and birds is bliss in comparison. You have cornered cruelty.
It’s dawn; I swim back to the beach. The man shouts from the mosque. A balcony door opens. Everything else is still.
He’s in your garden when I return. He’s spilled a line of dark coffee on the tiles, which I delicately avoid, making sure he sees. I spend a few minutes on his lap, listening to the click of his fingers on the laptop, which is larger and also warmer than yours. A mosquito lands on his chest, where the smell of you is strongest. Blood fattens its abdomen. He swats it and the abdomen bursts, staining the hairs of his chest.
Pomegranates hang over your wall, from the neighbors’ tree. During the night, one has cracked open at the center; insects suck at its red seeds. A current of ants moves toward the spilled coffee.
I go inside to you. I don’t mind him, but I prefer you alone. Your skin is hot when you sleep in the morning, your heartbeat echoes up from somewhere dark. Despite your stupidity, I know you’re an animal like me. I find the dip of your back and wind myself into a ball, and we sleep together that way. You are primitive, but you have a rhythm that keeps time with mine, for now.
Miriam Vaswani is a North Africa-based writer. She’s been fiction editor of Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine since January 2013, after contributing to several early issues. From Atlantic Canada originally, Miriam has lived in Scotland, Russia and Germany, and now makes her home in a coastal town near Tunisia’s capital city. You can follow her at @miriamvaswani