Stepping into the balcony, Walters ignored the sweltering air and focused instead on the repetitious chorus of the locusts.
The surface of the canal was as black as the sky. He couldn’t see through the column of water, but he knew that there were no treasures down there, nothing he could call a treasure. When he first arrived to Memphis he had envisaged prospecting the canals and finding all sorts of riches. Maybe not gold ducats or pieces of silver, but something of value long lost under the sediment, or forgotten in some room under the water, something he could sell, that would allow him to be back on his feet again. He couldn’t recall ever finding anything worth taking to a pawn shop. But it was only a question of time, especially once he ventured on the submerged levels of abandoned buildings. He kept finding excuses not to go there, even thought those were the places where he would find the treasure that was waiting for him.
Something jerked to his right. He couldn’t see anything for a while, until his eyes detected a fishing line catching some of the moonlight. The movements of the line translated the struggles of a creature trying to escape under the water.
Walters straddled the fence that separated his balcony from the adjoining one, extended his arm and knocked on the neighbor’s window. Without waiting for an answer, he returned to his balcony and sat down, putting his feet on the table. By the time the door to the other balcony opened, he had dumped his drink and was trying to remember whether he had any other bottle of alcohol stashed anywhere in the house.
An obese man stepped out onto the other balcony. He moved slowly, except for his face, which seemed a foraign object stuck atop an underperforming body.
“Thanks, man” he said to Walters, grasping the fishing rod and diligently pulling a two-feet long catfish from the water, hitting its head against the railing with a splattering thud, throwing the fish in a basket on the ground, baiting the hook and flinging it back into the middle of the canal.
“Do you want a beer?” the neighbor asked.
Walters raised his empty glass. “Yes, please,” he said.
The neighbor required several steps to turn around on the spot, and then disappeared into his house. Many minutes later he made his way out again, holding a six pack, which he placed on the small table in his balcony. He sat down, grabbed a can and extended his arm, without moving the rest of his body. Walters had to get up and reach for the can. Back on his chair, he opened the can and swallowed several gulps of cold beer.
“That’s the third one I got today,” the neighbor said, using his eyes to point towards the basket where the catfish had landed. “I’m gonna fry them after we finish these beers. Are you still gonna tell me you ain’t interested in having some?”
“I’m afraid so. I’ve seen what they eat and I prefer not to partake on it.”
“You stubborn bastard. Oh well, more for me. I don’t really give a shit what they eat. They were still alive when I got them, weren’t they? If it didn’t kill them, it won’t kill me, ain’t that right?”
A boat approached from the left and slowly passed in front of them. They looked at it as it came and until it left. Long minutes of silence. An unexpected parade. The man on the boat, sitting by the tiller, pretended not to see them.
Even after the boat had been long gone, the two men remained quiet, drinking their beer, enjoying not thinking about anything of relevance.
“Any news?” Walters asked after accepting a second can of beer.
The neighbor turned to Walters and investigated him for a long time, as if he had never seen Walters before and he had to decide whether to trust him or not.
“Don’t know, man, things have been very weird lately. Too quiet. Kinda weird that all those protests have stopped. You don’t see many people in the streets, it’s like we are in the middle of a storm and everyone is at home, waiting until it’s safe to come out again.”
“Sounds like a truce between the methodists and the baptists.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure, man,” the neighbor said, the sweat droplets on his face wobbling like white jellyfish. “Something is cooking, that’s for sure. Detentions have been going on for while, I can tell you that. I don’t think it’s safe out there, and I think most people feel the same. There’s enough shit to be concerned about. There were all these people protesting for this and that for weeks, although my feeling is that most of them didn’t know the rules of the game, and now they are all suddenly gone, or hiding, or whatever.”