Swim by Vanessa Onwuemezi


Short Fiction by Vanessa Onwuemezi


It was on the third day that I went to Margaret Island to take a break from drinking. 

The sun was low in the sky, shadows long, not many people around. I dragged my feet down the long entrance road lined with trees. Either side, across the Danube, the movement of the city went on and ahead of me there was a great fountain surrounded by a circular pool. ‘Born to be Wild’ played out of hidden speakers, as jets of water shot metres high into the air. A man, wearing nothing but his underpants, stood in the fountain lathering his chest hair, waited for a jet of water to fall over him and sweep him clean. There were ice cream stands and men selling bottled water, sweet drinks and lukewarm coffee for a bloated 400 forint. One of them raised a cup to me, squinting against the sun. He tipped out the brown, the liquid creeping over his fat fingers. I gave him 400, felt the coffee warming my hand. The Bringo carts smiled at me in orange. Their simple mechanics — pedals and steering wheel — were tempting, but I pushed on.

The coffee was quick drinking. I slurped the last dregs while crossing a lawn lined with purple flowers. There were crows poking around  with that wide stalking gait. I picked a flower. A tulip: purple petals welded onto the stalk, and inside five stamen and a stigma that stretched their arms out to me. At their base the petals melted into a yellow exploding nebula. I left the flower there to die.

The air caught my breath as vapour, opening my mouth wide I emptied my hot lungs.

Two hours of traipsing around and then I left behind the lawns. I left the trees with their sore pink buds, the secluded gardens with quiet benches and lonely statues, and the oversized fountain. I took the outside trail: a dusty path looping around the island’s edges like a racetrack. From there I had a wide, distant view of the city.

Every city should have an island like this. It was like looking at your own possessions through a window. The sun cast a honey glaze over buildings, boats. There were the people chosen by the light and those untouched, unaware that they, in my eyes, had been separated, cast in different dyes. A woman in rollers was dragged forward by a Rottweiler on a lead. A truck sped down the street, with workmen crouched in the back, some standing, yelling, rustling up trouble with sun-lit backsides. Police vans moved around the streets, faint revs of engine and no footfall. People walked lightly and slowly.

The Palatinus pool. I sat on the surrounding grass. There were a few people, some floating in the water, some skirting around its tiled edges, skin naked to the biting March air. One caught my eye, she stood by the steps in a bikini, hands cupping her belly, flesh spilling through the fingers, bright white, like fistfuls of pearls. In placing her hand on the stair rail she let go, belly rippling, bent her knees to step down, showing me the triangle gap at the top of her thighs. She winced as the water touched her ankles, stomach, breasts, until she was completely submerged, a trail of bubbles crossed the water. She didn’t come up for air until reaching the other side. Then she took a breath and went back again.

I stayed for hours watching her swim.

That night I fell asleep drunk, woke up with my cheek clammy, as if resting on a warm rubber pillow. I felt around. My hands squeezed flesh and more flesh so I sat up to see who had shared my bed that night. Around me there was blue sky, and at a distance the city. There was roller woman and Rottweiler, the workers in their truck, the police.

I was sitting on a hill of thigh, covered in goose pimple mounds and hairs sprouting like plants. There were grooves in the skin like tributaries, cutting downwards into fat folded valleys and rolling hills. The people of Budapest carried on, unfazed by their island which was now made of soft flesh, a belly, arms, thighs and breasts.

It breathed gently in and out.

I stood and realised I was naked, enjoyed the cool touch of the breeze on my skin. I walked on the belly, admiring the steep slope down the torso to the Danube, the sound of water lapping against flesh. My feet sank into the plump ground with each step. I dropped to my knees and crawled on all fours instead, through the row of tulips, towards the grass surrounding the pool, where she was waiting, ready to swim.

She grazed her belly with a hand as it slid down to her hips, pulling off her bikini bottoms. She spread her legs apart and there was a tulip, that melting yellow nebula emerging from between her thighs. I slipped into the cold water, gasped as ice ran up my spine. As I dared myself to get close enough to speak, she knelt by the water and, as if in prayer, leaned forward to wet her hair.




Vanessa is a writer and poet based in London. She recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London. She is currently working on a collection of short stories and a collection of poetry.
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