by Yūdoku Fukuronezumi (有毒 袋鼠)
illustrated by n_th_green
Maqrudh Brik sat motionless, his elbows propped on his knees, and stared vacantly into the distance. By the wall in front of him three large paintings were drying up – a commission from the city hall. Maqrudh didn’t like to do commissions. Residents of Ni’irqe, on the other hand, loved Maqrudh to do commissions. ‘You won’t make money on personal projects,’ the clear-headed M’Oire would tell him. ‘Not enough to earn a living, anyway.’ But Maqrudh needed personal projects. They had the individuality that commissions sorely lacked. In personal projects, he could let off his creative steam and show what he wanted to show, as opposed to what people wanted to see. He could experiment with style and technique; he could ignore conventional canons of beauty; he didn’t have to worry about propriety or listen to his clients’ absurd remarks (‘I don’t want my receding hairline to show and I’m not paying until you correct that’; ‘How could you, sir, you have shown all grandmamma’s wrinkles!’; ‘I don’t want that drapery in the background after all, please make it a waterfall instead’). Commissioned paintings were all the same: smooth, static, made-up lies. How sick he was of them!
Unfortunately, in the last couple of months he hadn’t even had a moment to devote to personal projects, for apart from a few portraits (portraits were always in demand), he got this gigantic commission from the city hall. A new plenary hall was due to be opened soon, and the mayor requested for one of the walls to be adorned with a monumental triptych, full of pompous allegories and various Ni’irqean bigwigs in pretensional, bombastic poses. The mayor, of course, had put it a little differently.
Maqrudh sat up and slowly turned on his stool. They had been living together for nearly two years now and he still had trouble noticing his roommate sometimes. M’Oire was small and thin, which made him look more like a schoolboy than the young professional adult he was; he didn’t say much and was rather frugal with gestures, but that wasn’t the reason why it was so easy to overlook him. The reason was that due to some magical funnybusiness M’Oire didn’t have a name. (M’Oire itself was ‘more of a title, or a label,’ he had once explained, a placeholder to facilitate the lives of the Nameless, so that they didn’t have to explain themselves all the time.) Apparently, names carried a magical charge big enough to make most people subconsciously not acknowledge the Nameless as complete persons. Close family members didn’t seem to have this problem, as well as a small number of particularly observant people; for Maqrudh it took a year to learn not to forget about M’Oire’s existence every time he happened to be out of sight. On some days he still found himself struggling.
‘Ah. You’re back.’
‘Don’t overdo with the enthusiasm…’ M’Oire looked at him critically from underneath his silky white fringe. ‘I met Maecenas Yihib; he asked how you’re doing.’
‘Give me a break.’
‘I’m sick of it all. These paintings are beneath my dignity.’
‘So is starvation, Maqrudh.’
‘I know, but… look at this.’ Maqrudh waved his big hand towards the unfinished triptych. ‘It’s hopeless. Boring, bombastic, boneless crap. I’ve been trying to find some challenge in it, some inspiration, but I can’t! A painter should always aim at outdoing himself, you know, he should search for new horizons, new means of expression…! How am I supposed to do that when they force me to paint below my level? Imagine… I don’t know. Imagine your employer wants you to light his desk with a candle flame and for days on end you don’t do anything but stand there and pretend you’re a candle, while you know you can make fireworks and paint and sculpt with light!’ Maqrudh, who in the meantime had risen in agitation, grabbed his friend’s arms impetuously and shook him. M’Oire smiled sympathetically. After a moment Maqrudh remembered himself and loosened his grip. He stooped his broad shoulders and sunk back to his stool. ‘I’m suffocating,’ he complained quietly. ‘Take me away from here…’
M’Oire observed him for a moment, considering something, then he took Maqrudh’s face in his hands and, leaning down, he kissed him softly on the lips.
‘All right,’ he said, looking seriously into his friend’s eyes. ‘Pack your things.’
The pale Ni’irqean sun was slowly descending towards the western horizon when the two young men emerged from the gate of the tenement house. Maqrudh took the meaning of ‘packing his things’ quite selectively: the only things he had were a box of painting tools and a large folder. M’Oire carried a sack containing a change of clothes swung over his back. They passed by the vegetable fair, where huckstresses in pastel-coloured, fancy-patterned shawls were furling down their stalls; the bridge on the Ahmar river, reddish from its clayey bed; the market square full of houses with washed, intricately ornamented façades; and the city hall.
‘Would you look at this, Mr Brik!’ A booming exclamation came from the direction of the city hall’s gate.
‘Please tell me it’s not Raazhil Twill,’ Maqrudh groaned under his breath, but he did turn around, as did his friend. ‘Mr Mayor!’ he said with feigned enthusiasm. ‘What a surprise. I thought the city hall was long empty at this hour.’
The mayor’s fat gut shook with laughter.
‘Unfortunately, Mr Brik, we don’t all have as much free time as you artists do. No, no, there are important conferences to be held and important decisions to be made! By the way, how’s our commission doing?’
Maqrudh’s smile faded.
‘Mr Yihib asked me the same question this morning,’ M’Oire interjected. ‘I expected he would have informed you according to what I’d told him.’ Raazhil Twill looked at him as if he had only just noticed he was there. ‘The progress is steady,’ M’Oire continued, ‘and soon you will be able to evaluate it yourself. For the time being, however, I must ask you to be patient and not to press Maqrudh. A good painting, especially of such a considerable size, is not created overnight. It needs time and effort. I’m certain you understand it, sir.’
‘Oh, but of course, of course.’ The mayor gave him a wry smile. ‘But I see you’re on your way somewhere? Won’t that slow down the creative process?’
‘Please don’t let that preoccupy you,’ M’Oire replied with a diplomatic smile. ‘It’s nothing more than a short trip to rest and replenish energy supplies. Such a promising young artist cannot be allowed to burn out creatively, can he, Mr Twill?
‘Oh, but of course, of course,’ the mayor repeated as he squinted at Maqrudh, probably trying to find signs of fatigue in the brawny young man’s physique. ‘Well, have a rest then, just not for too long!’ he added, shaking with laughter again. ‘The new plenary hall is due to be opened before long and we want the triptych to be ready by then. Good evening to you!’
The mayor turned on his heel and walked away, wobbling from side to side, as swiftly as his considerable corpulence allowed. Maqrudh raised his eyebrows.
‘Does the city hall really be open at this hour?’
‘Not really.’ M’Oire shook his head. ‘I think the mayor might have been doing something that doesn’t quite become his office. Have you noticed how quickly he changed the subject?’
‘Why did he speak to us at all then?’
‘Why do you think he did?’ M’Oire shrugged and walked ahead. ‘If we’d noticed him sneaking out of the city hall at this hour, we could’ve become suspicious. I know we couldn’t care less,’ he added immediately, seeing Maqrudh’s unconvinced face, ‘but Twill is uncertain of his authority and he suspects that everybody around wants to cause him harm. He spoke to us to make the impression that his presence here is justified by something important and licit, and to give himself a certain advantage – for instance, to be able to change the subject quickly.’
‘Huh.’ Maqrudh cast a glance back. ‘So that lady in a blue shawl, who’s just run out of the gate, probably shouldn’t be there either?’
‘Not really, no.’
‘Do you know who she is?’
‘There aren’t many women working in the city hall. I suppose that’s Ms Kehlushe, Twill’s secretary; she usually wears blue. Rumour has it that they’re having an affair, which explains what he could be doing in his office at this time of the day,’ M’Oire replied with a shadow of a smile.
‘You know all those people?’
‘Not all of them, no. Most are just passing acquaintances. But as your plenipotentiary I’m in touch with all the people who commission paintings, including their plenipotentiaries, secretaries and all the rest.’
For some time they walked on in silence.
‘Thanks,’ Maqrudh said eventually.
‘Your helping me. I sort of… never think of it. But I guess I myself couldn’t come to an understanding with someone like Twill to save my life.
‘It’s not about understanding, it’s about seeing to your business. But no, you couldn’t. That’s why you’re the artist and I’m the agent.
‘Where are we going to anyway?’
‘You’ll see,’ M’Oire replied and took a turn.
‘The museum?’ Maqrudh frowned, climbing the wide white stairs after his friend. ‘But I’ve been here many times…’
‘Not where I’m leading you to.’
‘In any case, the museum is just as boring and colourless as the rest of Ni’irqe. It was a lousy joke, M’Oire,’ Maqrudh muttered bitterly and made to go away, but at that moment he felt a hand grasping his sleeve. M’Oire’s face was serious, almost indignant, and it seemed that it wasn’t just because he didn’t like to be called M’Oire (which, as he had once explained to Maqrudh, actually meant “no-name” in some foreign language and therefore had always felt like an invective to him).
‘A little trust, will you? Do you really think that I’d promise to take you somewhere extraordinary, that I’d tell you to pack your things and take your painting tools, and I’d arouse your hope just so I can lead you to the museum’s gate and have a laugh that I managed to fool you? I’ve expected you to think better of me.’
Maqrudh looked confused.
‘But… you did lead me to the museum.’
M’Oire puffed with exasperation.
‘Look me in the eyes.’
Maqrudh looked obediently into his friend’s peculiar, lambent silvery eyes and something began to dawn on him. Silvery eyes. Nameless eyes. Eyes out of this world.
‘I promised I’d take you away from Ni’irqe and I will take you away from Ni’irqe,’ M’Oire said with emphasis. ‘Just not through the tollgate. Now be quiet and follow me.’
They pulled the tall door ajar and slipped into the building. They flashed through the hall without awakening the dozing porter and ran unseen through the exhibition rooms up to the place where the stockrooms were. That’s where M’Oire stopped. He thought for a while, then headed right. They took a couple of turns, passing by a number of sealed doors, until they reached a door that felt a tiny bit different from the others, although it was impossible to determine what that difference was.
M’Oire broke the seal.
‘You have to be quiet,’ he warned, putting his hand on the doorknob. ‘The Corridor we’re about to enter isn’t any regular corridor, as you will see. Don’t open any doors until I tell you. And try to keep as close to me as you can.’
Maqrudh nodded slowly and M’Oire opened the door.
The Corridor was shaped like the hull of an upturned boat; its curved walls glistened with lustrous blue glitter. Against the walls, thin rib-shaped pillars shot up, glowing with honey-yellow light. Between them, in deep niches, there were doors. The floor was covered with a mirror-like surface. Maqrudh opened his mouth.
‘This Corridor isn’t always here,’ M’Oire said. ‘Only when I open the door.’
‘What do you mean?’ Maqrudh stepped over the threshold and walked ahead, craning his head back, the better to see the glimmering cobalt vault. M’Oire closed the door carefully.
‘Some Corridors only appear when the right person opens them. The door that we walked through is normally a stockroom door.’
‘How did you know it can be a Corridor door as well then?’ Maqrudh stopped and touched one of the pillars, waiting for M’Oire to catch up with him. The pillar was coarse to the touch and made of something that left a phosphorescent yellow trace on his fingers.
‘I don’t know how,’ M’Oire shrugged. ‘I just knew.’
They went on for some time in silence.
‘We’re connected somehow, the Nameless and the Corridors,’ M’Oire picked up the subject. ‘We’re drawn to them. I found this passage at your last exhibition opening. I wanted to go to the toilet, but I ended up here. I was caught by a guard then and had to go back before I actually reached the door. I managed to return later, though, which is why I know that– Maqrudh?’
Maqrudh stayed behind. It took M’Oire a while to notice him in one of the niches, his unseeing eyes fixed on a heavy, carved door, standing ever so slightly ajar. Very delicately M’Oire took his friend’s hand off the doorknob, then slapped him hard right across the face.
‘Oww!’ Maqrudh shouted, touching his burning cheek.
‘Shut up.’ M’Oire leaned on the door until they heard the metallic click of the lock. ‘I swear, you have to be kept an eye on at all times. What did I tell you? One, you have to be quiet. Two, stay close to me. Three, do not open any doors.’
‘But I didn’t open it!’
‘Oh… Fine, perhaps I didn’t express myself clearly. You don’t necessarily need to actually open any of these doors to cause yourself harm. Sometimes it’s enough to approach an already open one. Or to set one ajar. Sometimes it’s enough to touch the knob. I promise that we will enter through one of them. But please let me choose which one.’
Maqrudh mumbled something with resentment, but he brightened up presently.
‘Can we stop for a moment, though? I’d like to draw this Corridor.’
‘We shouldn’t spend too much time in here. The Corridors were built for travelling, not for sitting in one place for hours on end. You’ll have to draw from memory later.’
‘You mean there’s more such Corridors?’
‘Hundreds. Thousands perhaps. They all connect.’
‘Who built them?’
‘Do I know? Builders. Someone who wanted to make it easier for people to travel.’
‘From world to world. There was a time when the Corridors were much more travelled. Then some worlds closed, in some others spells called Gates became more popular, which rendered the Corridors obsolete. Now I think only the Nameless use them anymore… and people who enter them by mistake.’
‘So what you’re saying is, we’re now… inbetween worlds?’
‘That… That is…’ Maqrudh trailed away, failing to find the right words. M’Oire smiled.
‘A-ha. Here we are.’
In a niche to their left there was a small door, woven from roots and stems of some plant, with a circular, sun-like symbol painted in the middle. On the bronze handle a string of ceramic beads and feathers hung. M’Oire pushed the door open and went inside. Maqrudh had to bend down.
They were inside what looked like a little hut made of leaves and clay. In the middle of the roof a hole gaped, under which on the trodden floor there was a fire pit. Some sort of soup was boiling in a pot hanged on two pegs above it. A big wooden box stood by the wall, together with a stool, a washtub with some dishes in it, and a straw pallet.
‘Different from Ni’irqe?’ M’Oire smiled to his friend.
Suddenly, the woven door, which they had just closed behind themselves, opened wide to show what by no means was the interior of the Corridor. A short, stout woman screamed and let go of an armful of laundry she had carried.
‘Jan Mika o…‘ M’Oire began apologetically. The woman collected herself and knit her thick black eyebrows, peering at him.
‘Sina jan pi oko walo? Sina jan pi nimi ala?‘ she cackled, and before he managed to respond, she seized him into her arms. ‘Mije lili o, kama pona! Kama pona!‘
‘Jan Mika o, ona li jan pona mi.’ M’Oire, having freed himself from her embrace, gestured towards Maqrudh. ‘Mi toki ona. Ona li kule e sitelen.’
‘Aaa! Jan pona sina kin li kama pona.’
‘What’s going on?’ Maqrudh asked under his breath, perplexed.
‘This lady’s name is Mika,’ M’Oire explained. ‘We scared her, but she remembers me and as you can see she’s very happy to see us. She says that as my friend you’re welcome here as well. Jan Mika o,’ he turned to the woman again, this time gesturing to the pile of laundry, ‘len sina li jaki. Mi wile pona e len…’
‘Ale li pona!‘ the woman laughed. She grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the door, leaving the heap of fabric on the doorstep. ‘O kama! O kama!‘
‘Maqrudh, come. You’ll see the rest of the village.’
Once out of Mika’s little hut, they found themselves in a dense tropical forest. Green lianas hung from the branches, amongst which birds and small flying rodents whooshed. The ground was overgrown with wildly flowering bushes and undergrowth full of ripe berries. Birds warbled, crickets chirped, insects buzzed and other sounds made by all sorts of forest creatures came from practically everywhere. The air was saturated with the fresh smell of greenery. Above all, though, everything was saturated with rich, deep, brilliantly vivid colours. Maqrudh’s eyes filled with tears of joy – or maybe it was just a reaction to the mindblowing intensity of colours? After the pallid, washed landscapes of Ni’irqe, this strange new world seemed to him an innermost dream come true. He sat on the ground and took his crayons out.
‘This is no use,’ he mumbled after some time, throwing another sheet of paper aside with frustration.
‘Perhaps you’ll come say hello at last then?’
‘Don’t sneak up on me like that!’
‘I’m not sneaking up, I came quite normally. Pick up your things and come on. People want to meet you.’
‘Why didn’t they come get me earlier then?’
M’Oire smiled gently.
‘This is exactly the whole charm of this place. They believe that the natural flow of events should not be disturbed. Everything is very simple. If you want to come, you’ll come. If you want to talk, somebody’ll talk to you. If you’re hungry, they’ll feed you. No stress, no strain, nothing’s done by force. But I think you should go there and show yourself to the people. I told them about you. They’re curious.’
‘What were you doing here, actually?’ Maqrudh got up from the ground and they walked together down the little hill that Mika’s hut stood on. ‘I thought you’re more likely to be visiting libraries and suchlikes.’
‘You know, sometimes you need to take a break from libraries. And then places like this one come in handy. You can calm down, forget about all the complicated things that you have to deal with on a daily basis. That also provides some knowledge, though not of the academic type.’
‘O! Jan pi oko walo o!‘ someone called, and a young girl came running out of one of the huts, which stood scattered here and there among the trees. Like Mika, she had rusty-red skin and expressive black eyebrows, and her hair was intensely chestnut in colour. Apart from a couple of bracelets and a copious amount of fine fabric with geometric patterns tied around her hips, she had nothing on; ornaments painted in red encircled her nipples. M’Oire stopped at her call. The girl ran up to them and propped her hands on her hips. ‘Toki! Nimi mi li Suna,’ she spoke to Maqrudh.
‘This is Suna,’ M’Oire translated.
‘Ah. Maqrudh,’ said Maqrudh.
‘Maku…lu?’ the girl frowned. ‘Nimi sina li pona ala!‘
‘Your name’s too difficult, Maqrudh.’
‘And what am I supposed to do about it?’
‘Jan pi oko walo o, jan pona sina li pona lukin,‘ the girl, far from discouraged, turned to M’Oire. ‘Ona li pona tawa mi. Mi wile unpa e ona.‘
M’Oire managed to suppress a snort of laughter, but he couldn’t help the smile that curved his lips. Maqrudh eyed him suspiciously.
‘She likes you,’ M’Oire translated. ‘She says she’d like to make love with you.’
‘But she’s only just met me!’
‘I’ve told you, everything’s simple here. As simple as it gets. Shall I leave you two alone?’
‘No! I mean…’ Maqrudh examined the girl’s delectable curves. ‘Well, maybe later… Do you think she’d let me paint her, too?’
M’Oire patted his shoulder sympathetically.
‘You only think of one thing, my friend. It’s unhealthy. Jan Suna o, mi mute li tawa jan ante.’
‘Tawa pona!‘ Suna waved her hand at them and headed back to the hut. M’Oire put his arm around Maqrudh’s waist.
‘Come on. You haven’t seen the sea yet.’
‘Moku pona!‘ Mika beamed, putting a steaming pot on the ground. Some of the people who had gathered around reached their hands with clay bowls. Someone took a long wooden ladle and began to pour out the soup.
They sat on the seashore, where the trees ended and the narrow sandy beach began. Suna and a couple of other girls attempted to drag their guests into the sun, but in vain. M’Oire excused himself on the account that his skin was too pale and direct sun would harm him. Maqrudh hid in the treeshade away from everyone and nothing could break his sketching trance; he just changed position every now and again in order to see his current model better. One girl, whose long, dark red hair was done in many thin plaits, crawled up to him on all fours and casually began to flick through the little stack of drawings that lay on the ground by his side.
‘Sina kule e sitelen kepeken nasin ni tan seme?‘ she asked, tilting her head.
Maqrudh, so far unaware of her presence, looked at her as if she were a ghost. The girl repeated her question, and when he didn’t answer, she looked around for M’Oire.
‘Jan pona sina li kepeken e kule pimeja en kule walo taso tan seme?‘
‘She asks why you only draw in black and white,’ M’Oire translated.
‘Because Ni’irqean crayons and paints are bloody crap!’ Maqrudh snapped. ‘Too light and… as if there was only half the colour in them. I don’t even know how to put it.’
While M’Oire explained Maqrudh’s problem to the girl with plaits, other girls came back from the beach and surrounded him in a circle. For a while they talked quickly among themselves, then Suna rose.
‘Jan San o!‘ she called and ran up to one of the men. The man had finished his soup and was just wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Suna asked him something, and when he agreed, she ran away and disappeared into one of the more distant huts. She came back some moments later, carrying three roundish clay pots. She knelt (the fabric wrapped around her hips drew apart, showing almost all of her legs) and put the pots on the ground in front of Maqrudh.
‘Kule loje,’ she said with a wide smile, sticking her hand into one of them and producing a handful of powder in the most vibrant red colour. ‘Mi kepeken e kule loje tawa ni,’ she added, pointing at the circular ornaments painted on her breasts. She shook her hand and put it into the next pot, this time with yellow powder which could make even the phosphorescent pillars in the Corridor seem pale in comparison. ‘Kule jelo. En kule laso,’ she added, producing a handful of dark, saturated blue from the third pot. ‘O kepeken e ni. Mi kama jo e telo. Pona?‘
‘She’s brought you pigments.’ M’Oire put his soup bowl down and came closer. ‘She says you can use them. She’s going to bring you some solvent as well.’
‘You’re not joking? How… how can I thank her?’
‘Pona!‘ the painter exclaimed in raptures, hugging the girl tightly. She laughed and kissed him firmly on the mouth.
‘Taso tenpo kama la sina wile unpa e mi,’ she declared, stroking his cheek with her pigment-stained hand. ‘Mi kama jo e telo.’
Incandescent, raspberry-coloured sun – so different from the pale yellow sun of Ni’irqe – sank into the peaceful waters of the sea and the forest slowly began to grow dark. Maqrudh rose and, barefoot, toddled to the shore to rinse his brushes. Around the spot where he had been sitting pictures lay scattered: the effects of his experiments with new, strong colours. It took him some time to figure out the proportions in which to mix the pigments with water to achieve the best consistency; later on he noticed that the local pigments can also be mixed into the paints that he had brought from home and that it allows to use up less of them, while still yielding quite satisfactory results.
‘Are you sure this is a sea? The water isn’t salty,’ he said to M’Oire, who sat nearby, deep in thought. M’Oire raised his head.
‘No. They call it telo suli, “great water”. It can be a sea, an ocean, a big lake…’
‘Jan pi oko walo o!‘ a call came from among the trees behind them. ‘Mi mute li jo e kili. Sina mute li wile ala wile moku?‘
‘Wile!‘ M’Oire called back. ‘Suna and Kisa ask if we want to eat something. I said we do.’
‘But I’m not hungry–‘
‘You haven’t eaten anything in a good few hours, Maqrudh. You can’t live on art alone.’
‘Jan pona lukin o moku e kili.’ Suna danced coquettishly up to Maqrudh, offering him a ripe red fruit. ‘Sina wile jo e wawa tawa unpa.’
‘Ona li sona ala e toki pi sina mute,’ said M’Oire, who had just been approached by the other girl.
‘Ike a!‘ for a brief moment Suna looked distressed. ‘Jan pi oko walo o toki tawa ona.’
‘She wants me to tell you to eat or you won’t have the strength for you know what.’
‘Isn’t she stubborn.’ Maqrudh took the fruit and bit some of it off. It was sweet and very succulent; juice ran down his chin. Suna smiled.
‘O moku, o moku.’
Before he realised, he had eaten three more; they turned out to be very filling. M’Oire ate some, too, and now lay stretched on the sand while Kisa (who turned out to be the girl with the plaits) massaged his back, humming some singsong melody.
‘O kama!‘ Suna suddenly exclaimed and pulled Maqrudh towards the sea.
The water was nice and warm. Suna dived and swam some distance. Maqrudh took his shirt off and threw it back to the shore, and followed her example. When he reemerged, quite far from the shore, the water still only came up to his waist. Suna threw her soaking hair back and looked at him enticingly. Then she moved closer to him and put her small hands on his chest. She was so tiny; her head was barely level with his shoulders. ‘Sina suli a,‘ she whispered.
‘I don’t understand you,’ Maqrudh sighed, moving a strand of wet hair out of her face. Suna threw her hands around his neck and pulled him towards herself. The paint on her breasts had dissolved in water and now left red traces on Maqrudh’s muscular torso where her hard nipples touched him. Suna’s lips brushed his collarbone and neck. They were full, soft and hot, despite the quickly cooling air. From between her lips, the tip of a pink tongue slid out and began to tease Maqrudh’s ear. He half-closed his eyes, feeling a surge of arousal. Suna moved even closer; he felt her hands touch his back, his buttocks, his thighs…
‘Sina suli kin!‘ she chuckled when she slid her hand between his legs and found his already half-erect cock. He embraced her and kissed her hair while she delicately but deliberately stroked him rock hard, her other hand firmly cupping his butt. He lifted her chin and kissed her face and tickled her behind the ear; she laughed happily into his mouth. Suddenly she broke off. ‘Mi wile unpa e sina. O kama!‘ she said impatiently and pulled him back towards the shore.
The wet fabric hindered movement. Suna got rid of her loincloth, uncovering her full hips and buttocks. Then she pulled Maqrudh’s trousers off, and knocked him to the ground before he had time to protest. She sat astride on his stomach and kissed him passionately. Then something occurred to her.
‘Unpa uta li pona ala pona tawa sina?‘ she asked. She stood up for a moment and turned the other way. She bent down and carefully, tentatively, took the tip of his penis in her mouth. She purred and the vibrations immediately sent his mind somewhere very far away. Then she looked back. ‘Pona?‘
‘Uh… uh-hum,’ he managed quietly. Suna smiled and positioned herself more comfortably on his stomach; Maqrudh’s hands wandered up her thick thighs as if on their own. The girl’s lips once again closed around his swollen cock and her tongue began to trace lazy circles around it. Maqrudh cast a hazy glance to the side, where in the dusk M’Oire’s silhouette could still be seen; he lay with his head on Kisa’s lap and she stroked his shoulders, still humming under her breath.
M’Oire let out an annoyed, half-sleepy grumble.
‘Sorry… Tell her… I don’t know… can’t we… mnnngh… can’t we move to a hut or something?’
M’Oire sat up and rubbed his eyes.
‘Jan Suna o, ona li wile tawa tomo.‘
Suna looked surprised.
‘She asks what for.’ M’Oire rose from the ground. ‘Don’t worry, sex here is as natural as eating. Nobody’s going to mind you. It’s dark anyway.’ He squatted down to kiss his friend goodnight. ‘See you tomorrow, Maqrudh.’
Maqrudh only moaned.
A new day came, and another. The men went out of the village in the morning to hunt and gather fruits and berries. The women washed clothes, gossiped and plaited ornaments made of beads and parrots’ feathers into their hair. The girls sunbathed on the beach. The children ran shouting around the village or played ball. M’Oire spent a lot of time alone, sleeping or meditating. Maqrudh painted. He painted so much that he ran out of paper and had to start painting on the other side of the sheets; he also painted over his first failed sketches. Sometimes he put the paints down; that’s when Suna came and dragged him away, into the forest. Soon, he knew every inch of her rust-coloured skin by heart and the sight of her full breasts, rocking above him like bells, came back to him every time he closed his eyes. He also managed to paint her eventually. At first she didn’t understand when he asked her to be his model (although he tried his best to learn the basics of the natives’ language).
‘Sina wile kule e mi?‘ she asked with surprise and pointed at the red patterns on her skin. ‘Kepeken nasin ni?‘
‘Ala, ala!‘ he denied and, resigned, went to fetch M’Oire and ask him to translate.
Suna turned out to be a natural model. She sat or lay down exactly the way he wished, and she could also stay in the same position for a very long time. Her beauty, her people, and the colours of her world fascinated Maqrudh and provided him with endless inspiration. Even M’Oire admitted that Suna’s portraits were among Maqrudh’s best and most original works so far.
‘I’m afraid, though, that they won’t catch on in Ni’irqe,’ he sighed.
‘Ni’irqe!’ Maqrudh snorted, covering another old sketch with white paint, so that the paper could be used again. M’Oire ran his fingers through his longish fringe.
‘We’re going to have to go back there, Maqrudh. I know that you like it better here, but we cannot stay. Our lives are there, in our world – not here. And that fits in the philosophy of the people here, remember? The natural flow of things should not be disrupted. If we stayed, in the long run we would disturb the order of life in the village. I promised you a short trip, but it’s time for us to go home.’ M’Oire put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. ‘Pona?‘
‘Ugh. Pona,’ grumbled Maqrudh reluctantly.
That night, when the villagers all went out to eat a meal, M’Oire decided to take the opportunity and say goodbye. They were going to leave the next morning.
‘Ike a!‘ Kisa exclaimed with distress.
‘Meli lili o, ale li pona.‘ San stroked her cheek to comfort her. ‘Ken la ona mute li kama. Tenpo kama la ona mute li kama.‘
‘Jan pi oko walo o,’ Mika said to M’Oire, ‘o pali e suno musi!‘
‘O pali! O pali e akesi!‘ Kisa clapped her hands, instantly cheering up. ‘O pali e akesi suli suno!‘
M’Oire smiled. He snapped his fingers and colourful lights appeared around him; some stretched into bright rays that began to wriggle and change, others surrounded them like a cloud of fireflies. The shiny shape bulged and sprouted legs, and a huge, luminous winged snake materialised above the roofs of the village; it sailed among the trees and dispersed into thin air. Immediately, a flutter of tiny butterflies woven from pink light rose up from M’Oire’s hands. People laughed and clapped their hands when one of them sat on San’s nose. They called merrily and shouted requests: make a flower, make a parrot, make a fish, a tree, a squirrel… Maqrudh disappeared somewhere.
Tired after the magic show, M’Oire said goodnight and headed to Mika’s hut (Mika herself had moved to the neighbours’ house for the duration of their visit). He yawned languorously and went inside, taking off his shirt. In the darkness it took him a while to realise he was not alone.
‘Nice show,’ came a voice from the pallet. ‘I liked the dragon best.’
‘I thought you’d be with Suna,’ M’Oire said and slid off his trousers.
‘I was. We said goodbye. Now I want to be with you.’
‘You’ll have more than enough of me when we’re back in Ni’irqe,’ M’Oire said jokingly.
‘I’ll have more than enough of the blasted city hall commission when we’re back in Ni’irqe, for starters,’ Maqrudh bridled up. ‘Which I intend to paint over, by the way. Suna said I can keep those three pots of pigments. Ni’irqean bigwigs could use some fresh energy.’
M’Oire didn’t answer. He rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand and lay down on the pallet. He felt Maqrudh shifting position beside him. The painter’s big hand brushed his fringe away from his eyes.
‘Thank you, my sweet.’
‘Not at all, Maqrudh,’ M’Oire smiled in the darkness. Moments later Maqrudh’s arms closed around him. M’Oire slid his hand among his friend’s soft curls. Lips found lips; legs tangled together in a tight embrace. ‘I see Suna hasn’t squeezed you completely dry after all,’ M’Oire teased when he felt Maqrudh’s throbbing erection through the thin fabric of his underwear.
‘Suna… was something different,’ Maqrudh muttered between kisses. ‘Now I want you.’
He shifted a bit, licking M’Oire’s nipples; then he took his penis in his hand and began to stroke it lightly. M’Oire purred. Maqrudh’s soft kisses reached his stomach and slowly moved lower and lower.
‘You know there’s no lubricant here?’ M’Oire asked gently, wrapping Maqrudh’s fair locks around his fingers.
‘Uhm… well, tough.’
‘Are you sure?’
Immediately Maqrudh’s face was right in front of his.
‘I want you,’ he whispered hotly. ‘I want you bad. Fuck if it hurts.’
M’Oire propped himself up on one elbow and kissed his lover.
‘You’re a madcap, Maqrudh,’ he said softly. ‘Lie on your back.’
They moved in the dark. M’Oire kneeled between Maqrudh’s spread legs and rubbed their dicks together for a while. Then he licked his fingers and began to gently rub Maqrudh’s anus.
‘You get too tense when you’re horny,’ he murmured with concern. ‘You need to relax more.’
‘Enough already,’ Maqrudh moaned. His body radiated heat and desire. ‘I want to feel you!’
In the next moment he let out a loud gasp and sank his fingers into the pallet. M’Oire rocked his hips.
‘Told you. Do you want me to pull out?’ he asked, as he bent down and kissed Maqrudh’s breastbone.
‘No… it’s better now. You can go a bit faster. And harder. And–‘ he gasped again, arching his back. He felt M’Oire’s slender hand brush against his stomach and chest and rest on his mouth, as if to silence him, but then his lips were parted and a finger slid inside, teasing his tongue. Maqrudh let out an inarticulate noise of pure pleasure.
M’Oire’s rocking movements were gaining pace. Maqrudh wrapped his legs around him and began to stroke his own dick. M’Oire pulled his fingers out of Maqrudh’s mouth, stabilising himself on all fours above him. Maqrudh grabbed him by the neck with his free hand and kissed him hungrily. M’Oire bit him, so in response Maqrudh ran his fingernails hard across M’Oire’s shoulders, after which he got bitten even harder.
He breathed hotly into his lover’s mouth. The thrusts got faster, more intense, impatient.
‘Goodness… gracious… I missed this.’
Maqrudh sat motionless, his elbows propped on his knees, and stared into the distance. A little complacent smile danced on his lips. By the wall in front of him three large paintings were drying up.
The way back from the cobalt Corridor had turned out to be a little more difficult than the way there. They had almost got out of the maze of turns and passages when a guard noticed them and they found themselves frantically explaining what on earth they had been doing in the museum stockrooms with a box of painting tools and a sack of dirty garments. In addition to that, the soothing ointment that M’Oire brought from the pharmacy that evening turned out to not work as well as Maqrudh had hoped, which made the last couple of days rather miserable for him.
On the table by the window, among some scattered sheets of paper and paint-stained rags, there stood three round clay pots. A pile of colourful pictures lay stacked on the chair nearby; on the very top of it a portrait of a girl immediately caught the eye with vivid reds.
From outside the attic’s door voices could be heard. Maqrudh rose and took off his greyish green apron, which he wore while working. The doorknob clanked and into the vestibule came M’Oire, a large stomach, and behind it the rest of Raazhil Twill’s sweaty and panting self. The last to slide into the room was the lanky and balding Maecenas Yihib.
‘Good afternoon, Mr Brik!’ the mayor boomed cordially, shaking Maqrudh’s hand. ‘How’s our triptych doing? Approaching completion, I hope, isn’t it?’
‘Not quite,’ the painter said, ruffling the hair at the back of his head. ‘Please, sirs, come into the room. As you can see, I took the liberty of introducing some changes.’
Momentarily all blood left the mayor’s reddened face. The huge man staggered. For a while he patted his pockets with shaky hands in search of a handkerchief; he wiped cold sweat from his forehead and looked at Maqrudh with horror.
‘Mr Brik… Mr Brik… do you wish to ruin me? How am I supposed to show this… this daub to the city’s personages? Is this what I paid you a thousand piastres for? This?! You are ridiculous, Mr Brik! I revoke the contract. And don’t expect any future commissions from the city hall! I’ll see to that!’ Twill turned away and, staggering, practically groped his way out of the apartment, muttering feverishly under his breath, ‘A lunatic… a lunatic! I’m ruined. I’ll lose my office. A lunatic…’
‘I’ve told you it’s not the best idea, Maqrudh.’ M’Oire leaned against the wall with a sigh.
‘But no, Mr M’Oire, no!’ a quiet voice said with conviction. Maecenas Yihib, who had so far remained dyplomatically silent, walked closer to the paintings. ‘This is extraordinary. This movement, these dramatic poses, this dynamism… This cloak, this patch of colour here… Mr Brik.’ He turned to Maqrudh. ‘How did you achieve this? These paintings glimmer! They glow! Where did you find these colours?’
‘Let’s say it’s a secret. Someone gave me the pigments…’ He reached for one of the clay pots and showed its contents to the man. ‘I only mixed them.’
Yihib stuck his bony finger into the red powder and peered at it for a while, enthralled.
‘Astonishing. Pray tell me, Mr M’Oire, how much did the mayor offer you for these paintings?’
‘Three thousand piastres in all. One thousand in advance, the rest upon receipt. Provided that the final product satisfies him, of course. Which, as you could see yourself, sir, it unfortunately did not.’
‘Never mind that!’ The man’s greenish eyes glistened. He came up to Maqrudh and lay his hands on the young painter’s shoulders. ‘Mr Brik, I’ll buy this triptych from you. For, say, four thousand piastres. Please, finish the paintings at your own discretion. Marvellous,’ he added to himself quietly as he looked at the paintings with admiration again. ‘Truly remarkable. You’re going to begin a new trend in art, Mr Brik. You will be taught about in academies!’
‘Are you absolutely sure?’ M’Oire wrinkled his fair eyebrows.
‘Absolutely. We’re witnessing a turning-point in the history of fine arts.’
‘I meant, that you want to buy the triptych.’
‘Oh, that. Yes, of course. Of course I do. How much did I say, four and a half thousand piastres? Make it five. Please notify me as soon as the paintings are finished.’ That said, he cordially shook Maqrudh’s and M’Oire’s hands in turn. ‘We remain in touch, of course, Mr M’Oire. Gentlemen, pray excuse me, but I must leave you. I must tell my wife. Such a find! A breakthrough! Good day to you!’
M’Oire closed the door behind the patron and came back to the room. Maqrudh still stood in the same spot with a wide, incredulous grin on his face. M’Oire calmly removed the pigment pot from his hand and placed it back on the table.
‘Did… did he actually say he’ll buy the triptych?’ Maqrudh spoke at last.
‘Yes. For nearly twice the original price. It looks like you won’t have to worry about commissions in the foreseeable fut–‘ The rest of M’Oire’s words drowned in his friend’s hot embrace. Maqrudh took him by the hands and danced with him enthusiastically all around the attic, but he tripped on a chair and they both tumbled down to the floor.
‘I love you, my dear,’ Maqrudh panted cheerfully and kissed M’Oire on the forehead. ‘It’s all thanks to that trip. Thank you,’ he added, rubbing his cheek against M’Oire’s. ‘I could positively…’ He broke off suddenly and jerked his head up. ‘No. I’ll take care of the painting while the light’s still good. I’ll get back to you in the evening.’ He winked and got up from the floor. He threw the apron back on, rolled up his sleeves and got down to work.
M’Oire sat up, laughing.
‘Have I ever told you that you’re a madcap?’
This story is a part of a series of stories I’m working on which revolve around Maqrudh and M’Oire. The issue of Namelessness is broader discussed in other parts of the series; I left it in this story, but decided against getting into too much detail since it’s pretty much irrelevant to the main plot.
The language of the colourful people is an actual constructed language (not mine) and you can learn more about it here: http://tokipona.org/.