I hand over sixty rupees to the shopkeeper. He returns five and a pack of Mahé Kings. Damp squib fags: only ten filters a pack. Skint shopkeeper has to survive somehow, I suppose. Give enough for a day – two, best case – and of course I’ll be allegiant. I push back the silver coin and tell him to take it off the Seybrew tab. I step outside, peeling off the plastic. I toss the clear film off to the side. Not to mention how much paper they’d save if their packs held twenty. I sit down on the curb. I spark one. I inhale. If only I still got the head buzz from just letting the smoke sit around in my mouth.
Kings. Swear I never smoked a fag that made me feel any more like a bloody peasant. A creole bimbles over. I’ve seen this skive before, prowling around for tourists. That must mean me today. His face is peeling. His eyes are hollow. He’ll probably want me to budge up.
——— Can you buy me a pack of cigarettes?
——— The hell I look like, your father?
——— No sir, just generous.
——— Bugger off!
——— Just one pack, sir.
——— If you asked for a fag I wouldn’t’ve minded. But a pack, that’s bloody inconsiderate.
——— It’s only fifty-five rupees, sir. That’s nothing to you.
Ignorant chap thinking just because I’m foreign, I’m rich. Maybe I should just buy him a pack. He’d piss off then. No. I’ve seen him around. He’s vermin. Wag a finger and he’ll bit the hand.
——— I’ve seen you here before pulling this same trick. Always asking for fags but never actually smoking.
——— I do smoke. You’ve just-
——— Don’t lie to me.
——— I do smoke. You’ve just-
——— It’s for heroin. A fisherman warned me about you people. Always asking for fags only to sell them for heroin money – Seldric, I think his name was- wonderful chap, actually. He sold me a 5-foot jackfish for only 500 rupees.
——— Hah! What a friend he is. He’d have sold that to a Seychelloi for a hundred.
——— Tell me, how do you think the real Seychelloi survive?
——— The same reason why I’m here: tourism.
——— Hah! Tell me. Where have you been so far on Praslin?
——— Anse Lazio, of course. Anse Volbert. Cote D’Or. A few more places… Bollocks, I forget the names, but I’ve been to most of the main spots down Baie Ste. Anne.
——— How much have you spent so far?
——— Too much, honestly. What was it… 450 rupees for grilled prawns at Bonbon Plume down Anse Lazio. 450 rupees for 6 pieces? Would you believe it? What is that… 450 by 6 is… seventy-five… seventy-five by seventeen is... that’s a bloody sin… 5 pounds for a single piece of shrimp. That’s how you Seychelloi make money.
——— Hah! Tell me who all that money goes to.
——— To the Seychelloi, who else?
——— That all goes to the restaurant owner. Forget the rich man. What about the real Seychelloi? How much do you think your waiter was paid?
——— 100 rupees?
——— Hahaaah! Hoohhaa! That’s a good one, sir. Our… what’s the name…. minimum… minimum…
——— Minimum wage?
——— Yapa! That’s it. Our minimum wage is twenty-seven rupees. And that’s supposing your boss follows the rules.
——— So tell me then. How do the real Seychelloi survive?
——— I’m not sure.
——— It’s not from tourism, to be sure. All that money goes to the rich men, to the few who own the hotels and the restaurants. Not to the real Seychelloi. How about I give you one more chance. How do the real Seychelloi survive?
——— I told you already, I don’t know.
——— I’ll tell you. It’s by making you richer.
——— I just told you. It’s by making you richer.
——— That makes no sense.
——— It’s really quite simple. It all happens when your people come here and enjoy our beaches.
——— What do you mean?
——— I mean that we hide in the trees and watch as you all lay out in your swimming trunks and your bikinis. We stand there the whole time, waiting. Waiting for the right moment.
——— Which is?
——— Of course right when you go into in the ocean! You people love thinking you’re secluded. Privacy: there’s nothing you people love more. Sometimes you even have sex because of how alone you feel. That’s the best. You think nobody’s watching, but you’re wrong. We are. We’re standing in the trees waiting for you go into the ocean, because that’s when you leave all your stuff on the shore, unattended. Phones, cameras, computers, wallets, keys, everything. Just like that, it’s ours. We’re in and out before you even know.
——— That’s only theft.
——— You haven’t let me finish. You haven’t let me tell you how we make you richer.
——— You see we hide in the trees until you come back. There’s nothing better than seeing you realize that all your stuff is gone. Sometimes you run around and look for us, but we’re long gone before you even get close. We head up to the shopkeepers along Baie Ste. Anne after. Not everyone will buy off of us. Most don’t, actually. But there’s always a couple we can rely on. They’re the ones with ties to Somalia. Not to mention that we’re generous salesman too, you know. We only ask a couple hundred rupees for phones. Just enough to survive for the next couple days, you know.
——— You scum. You know how much that’s worth?
——— Let me finish. Please. Now these shopkeepers are the real deal. They’ve got routes to Somalia and of course Somalia has channels everywhere. Nairobi. Johannesburg. Hong Kong. Delhi. London. Paris. New York. Los Angeles. Everywhere. They’re the real deal, you know. I was there once. I got to see the factories they’ve put up just to process all the phones coming in. Serial Numbers, metal casing, packaging, all that important stuff. It’s brilliant: they’re veiled as import/export government processing facilities. You see, you don’t know unless, of course, you know. We don’t have all the fancy details though; that’s not our line of work. We get the phones from you to the shopkeepers and they smuggle them out to Somalia. In Somalia, some parts get replaced. Others get relabeled. Then they ship it all out across the world. Say you’re back in Britain. You need a new phone. You want the same model as before, but better used instead of new. It’ll save you money; you’ll be richer. So you go to your local electronics store. You don’t notice that the shopkeeper is black, let alone Somalian, let alone Seychelloi. You ask for the same model of your old phone. He looks at you and smiles. He says, ‘You’re in luck. I just got a new shipment with one of those.’ He goes to the back of the store and before you know it he comes back holding that very same phone you thought was lost. But you don’t know that. In fact, you think it looks new. It doesn’t have those cracks you remember on yours. The metal doesn’t have all those scratches your old phone did. But you don’t know this. You don’t know any of this. All you do is smile. You think you’re in for a deal. This phone looks brand new and this stupid shopkeeper is only asking for a quarter of the original price. So you buy the phone. Think about it. I haven’t taken anything from you, I’ve only borrowed it and given it back to you, you know. I’ve helped you save money. I’ve helped you become richer. That’s how the real Seychelloi survive.
——— You addict!
He scratches his neck and looks around. Shopkeeper’s door’s still open, and I know he’s been listening the whole time. I’m safe, for now. He itches his track marks.
——— I just have to do what it takes to survive. You don’t know. Ignorant westerner. You don’t know. You’ll never know what it’s like to be a real Seychelloi.
——— So are you going to get me that pack or no?