The Lake Retba Murder by Efemia Chela
The Lake Retba Murder
Roberto finds a body in the lake and feels he needs to investigate – but his lover Mireille just wants sex. Written by Efemia Chela. Illustrated by Eleanor Taylor.
Illustration by Eleanor Taylor ©
No-one asked him to solve the crime. But he was the person who had seen something strange in the water. He noticed it near the edge of the lake. When the wind changed, Roberto had turned left. And he saw it moving towards him. He walked into the lake. The body was swollen. As he turned her over, pink water made pools in hollows above her collarbones and her breasts had swollen into one big lump. Her hair looked like a drain rag. Her fingernails were green and furry. There was a helicopter filled with tourists in the summer sky above. Roberto thought the tourists must think he and the dead body were like flies in a strawberry milkshake.
Mireille looked down from her sand dune and saw Roberto in the lake. She played with the sand and watched the sun go down. Foreigners love the African sunset. She looked at her watch. Two hours until they meet. She hoped he wouldn’t be late.
Mireille said she was like a car and needed a service. She enjoyed a lot of good sex in the thirty-four years that sex had been legal for her.
‘Three times a week we should have sex. Together. Obviously. My address...’
A large fifty-year-old woman had asked him for sex. Then she told him to find a pen and a paper to write down her address.
Did she learn to ask for sex in Iceland? he thought . His mother, the same age as Mireille, told him about her. Mireille had left at sixteen with a policeman who was on holiday here. She’d left suddenly. No goodbyes. She’d returned suddenly too. And quietly. She said ‘Hello’ to everyone as if she’d just left the house for a box of cigarettes thirty years before.
After they had sex, he thought he could smell the smoke of the fire they’d created. Then she smoked. Usually she said nothing. But if he stayed too long, she turned her back to him.
He and Fatima weren’t good friends but they had stopped going to school at the same time. Fatima felt relaxed with Roberto. They saw each other by chance about once every two weeks. Sometimes he saw her sitting alone on the sand at sunset.
The last time they’d talked, they sat by the wall. Fatima asked him if he was going to Dakar soon. She wanted him to buy her a real needle for her record player. He’d made a needle from a syringe he’d stolen from the clinic. But it had destroyed a good record, Wish You Were Here.
‘I’m not sure when I’m going to Dakar,’ he said. ‘But I’ll get you one. I’ll fix it.’
The police didn’t mind that he was investigating the case. The police saw her just as another dead body, just one more case file in the office.
Roberto went to the morgue to look at the body again. Fatima smelled salty but there was also something else. He lifted the sheet and studied the body.
‘Someone killed her – strangled her before she got in the water – she didn’t drown’ said the coroner.
Well that was obvious, Roberto thought. He looked at the dark red bruises on her throat.
It was ten to sex o’clock. Mireille played with her hair and smiled. Roberto was good at sex. She thought that, after her hard life, she was starting to look younger, because of the sex. Maybe she could catch youth, like a disease.
Roberto knew that Mireille had chosen him. He didn’t know why. He helped his father with the fishing and the market stall. But he didn’t use much effort. He just went for walks and waited for the fish to come.
He walked the kilometre back and sat by Lake Retba. He knew all the colours of the lake: lavender-pink at sunset, red at sunrise and pink during the day. That was in the dry season. When the rains came, Le Lac Rose lost its colours with all the extra water. As boring as tap water.
He walked around the town. Sometimes he stopped for a coffee.
When he reached the coast, he found a few fish. Not enough. His parents would not be happy. His parents started to argue with him. He didn’t cut the fish well on the stall and gave the wrong change. He knew he didn’t want to be a fisherman. But he didn’t know what he wanted. He didn’t understand: why was the lake pink? why did he love Mireille?
He understood her body. He loved her smells. They had sex again and again.
When she was putting on her clothes, Mireille said, ‘Terrible - that girl who was killed.’
‘Yes,’ Roberto said. ‘It hasn’t been in the newspaper yet. We were friends.’
Mireille drank some water and didn’t offer Roberto any. He left and didn’t know where to go.
The next day Roberto went to interview Fatima’s family. He wanted to get more information.
‘An angry ex-boyfriend that I don’t know about? A new one?’ he asked.
‘She had many,’ her mother cried. ‘But I think they all still loved her – they wouldn’t kill her ...’
Fatima’s three younger brothers and sisters started crying. They didn’t understand. They were all younger than seven and cried like their mother but didn’t know why they were sad. Roberto wanted to tell them that this feeling would never go away. They would never know why they were sad.
He knew Fatima went out a lot. Sometimes she begged for money. On Mondays she worked as a waitress at La Caresse Marine and on Wednesdays she was a chambermaid at the hotel.
‘Did she go to all her jobs last week?’ he asked.
‘Y-y-yes,’ her mother said.
Suddenly Roberto thought. Where was her money? He hadn’t seen any money in the lake. Did someone kill her for her money? He left the sad family and walked away.
He met some old classmates by chance. Luc and his friends. They were trying to look smart.
‘Hey. Look where you’re going. You wanna die like that girl?’
He didn’t reply. How could he?
‘What a girl!’ one of the group said. The boys laughed, thinking about how beautiful Fatima had been. They were putting Brylcreem on their hair, not painting graffiti like usual.
‘Where are you going?’ he asked.
‘L’hôtel,’ said another one of the boys, smiling.
Luc threw him an old comb.
‘We’ll see you there,’ he said and the group laughed.
Roberto thought about the gang going to the hotel. They knew locals were not allowed in the hotel. No-one wanted them to meet the guests so they didn’t get ideas of how to improve their lives.
And Mireille sat at La Caresse Marine, smoking into a gin and tonic. Hans had taught her this. If you breathe out smoke into the drink, you taste the herbs more in cheap gin. She was listening to a conversation she’d heard a hundred times. Sometimes they read it out from a guidebook.
‘The lake’s pink because of the algae here,’ a pale man said. ‘Dunaliella salina. It has a red pigment and it absorbs the light so it’s Le Lac Rose. Good that we’re here in the dry season. It’s best then. Like a sacred pool on an alien planet.’
‘It looks good enough to eat,’ said his travel mate. ‘Cotton candy. Or strawberry ice-cream.’
They looked as white as Hans. Mireille and Hans loved each other. They said they loved each other at their wedding in the woods where the summer sun never goes down. He was sad when she gave him all the bills. And she left the pink lake for an exciting life.
Mireille learned Icelandic to impress Hans and to read food labels. Then she started reading the newspaper. But nothing happened in Iceland. Sometimes a glacier crashed into another one and a drunk person died on the street from cold. Problems of a different universe. Mireille had adventures. She went on canoes in the fjords. Her hair broke off because of the cold. She had a boring job typing. She lay under the sunlamp for Vitamin D. And she hoped that there was more to life.
It was a very quiet life. They became polite, like robots. They were not happy or sad. Their love had gone grey. Mireille thought it was her fault. Hans said it was what happened to all love. Like flowers, it had to die.
Hans suggested they go on holiday to see the Eiffel Tower, in Paris.
‘Or further south – Cinque Terre, Italy?’
In Rome, they looked out of the car windows in opposite directions. They argued about how the camera worked. They lay on the beach. Mireille got up and went to a pizzeria in Vernazza to bring back some food for them. She got some pizza. Then she got in the rental car and drove away until the pizza got cold and she didn’t want to eat it.
Mireille put out her cigarette and shouted for the bill. She suddenly felt sick. The waiter brought the bill: ‘3 double G&T’.
When she gave him the money, she saw how rough his hands were. He worked with salt, like all the others. The salt looked like diamonds in the sun, but it was very rough on the body. But Roberto kept his skin soft with shea butter. But it made him soft and protected from the world.
After another day, Roberto knew no more about who had killed Fatima. He remembered something small. But he couldn’t think what it was. His parents were shouting, so he lay down with a pillowcase he had stolen from Mireille’s house. It calmed him. It took him away from the world of his family.
Mireille walked around town, angry.
‘Where is Roberto? Who does he think he is?’ she said quietly, angrily, as she walked.
He hadn’t come to their meeting. She was really angry. But she wanted to be in control. She went to the lake to sit and smoke.
Roberto came up behind her on the sand. He knew the smell. He’d found it. He sat by Mireille and stroked her hair. But he was looking for something he knew he would find. There it was. Round with a strong smell. Just like the one he’d found in Fatima’s navel. A juniper berry. He picked it out of her hair and they both looked in his hand. It was so dark now they almost couldn’t see it. But they both know what it was. And they both knew what it meant.
‘She was too beautiful for this world,’ Mireille said. ‘If she had escaped, she would have been disappointed. Like me.’
‘So you decide now, Roberto. We have sex or you tell the police.’
NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://www.newint.org/features/2016/10/01/the-lake-retba-murder/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).