A Ballad on the Boardwalk

A shortlisted piece in the Fiction section of the Honi Soit Writing Competition 2021.

Sitting some six-hundred metres west of Praça do Comércio,
On a Southern post of Portugal’s coast, a man with a needle in his hand
Attempts to touch me.

With The Woman In the Dunes by Kobo Abe in my hands,
I am resting, reading on the bay. The novel is about sand, you could say,
A woman, a man, and other things.

A battered voice begins to sing – A frail man by the bank,
Leaning on the breakwater brick – He’s purple and pale, sick.
A calloused king, hair mank, thick.

He’s wearing a woven hat, sandals slapping at his scabbing heels,
Near enough to where I’ve sat to hear. He feels along the balustrade
And eyes the fleeting passers-by who sprawl across the esplanade.

He pulls his penis from his pants and starts to piss upon the wall,
A dozen voices call. Who is this man of mischief?
Has he no qualms at all?

Driven by this sordid shock, the flock around disperse and scowl
Before he puts away his cock and starts to curse and raise his hand:
A middle finger and a growl.

The others have fled, I stay a while (so as not to leave a page unread)
And smile at the thought that this is no Belgian fountain –
The Port of Lisbon has this instead.

I hide my book back in my bag and glide my sunnies down my nose
To note what now is in his hand: another jabbing instrument.
No, not his hose, a simple, silver syringe.

I cringe at the apprehension. He presses the skin on his side
And stretches it wide to create the tension needed to slide the needle’s little incision
In with a sullied surgeon’s precision.

He ceases shooting up, skin uncut, interrupted by my motions
And the notion that I, solely unfazed by his urination,
Judged him now, some abomination.

He lurches, hurtling to a run, with an outstretched arm,
With a sweaty, sunburnt palm, and begs me in his native tongue
Some string of things I can’t comprehend.

I contort my back in an awkward bend, so as not to have those fevered fingers
With bitten up ends poke me harsh enough to note the pressure.
I stoke the heat and retreat, hell for leather.

Fifteen metres now, I turn and gleam the needle, still unused, protruding
From his grip. He spits and spirals with a wild sadness. I’m glad I haven’t
Shit myself, I hadn’t planned for this.

These were memories of a day I remember most acutely,
Dare anyone refute me.