Friday was Fish Day at the docks. From sunrise to sunset. All of Durban knew that which meant that all of Durban arrived at some point during the day. Fishers displayed their fish in portable freezers, and it brought the dull docks to life with the vibrant community. The market was the most visited location by fishers from around the country.
Fortunately for the two chefs, they had arrived early while everyone had just finished setting up their stalls. By noon, the stalls would have reached past the harbor and onto the long pier but early in the morning, it was far quieter.
Ethan and Troy walked through the banner at the entrance of the docks. “So, Boss said we need some Cape Salmon, Soldiers and Sardines for the Catch-of-the-week special tomorrow.”
“How many kilos of each?” asked Ethan.
“Four Salmon and twenty kilos of Soldiers and sardines… Or ten thousand Rand. Whichever comes first.”
“Spoken like a true businessman,” chuckled Ethan. “I’ve got someone here who used to be a friend of my mom’s. He usually gives me a good price when I buy fish for myself.”
“Your mom used to shop here? How long has this place been around?” asked Troy.
Ethan shook his head. “Oh no. She used to fish. Deep Sea, actually. One day she brought home a Cape Salmon. It was about a meter long, and if I remember well, weighed around 12 kilos. We grabbed a few folks from the docks and brought them home to eat it.”
Troy poked his head down the aisles of pop-up stores to find the fish they needed. They heard a mixture of voices shouting out their fish and their prices. Each one tried to shout louder than the other in hope that a customer would hear theirs.
“Wait. Your mom just ‘grabbed’ guys off the docks to come and eat at her house? Isn’t that like really dangerous, given the amount of crime that takes place here?”
“It was a lot safer back then. I don’t think a single Friday passed where we ate dinner alone. I don’t know where she used to find people, but she was always feeding someone that night. That’s how I still know some of the folks here, actually.”
"It must have been quite a loss for the community," Troy replied.
“It was...After she passed, I moved out of that house and the community fizzled away. What’s left is this,” Ethan said, gesturing to the market in front of him.
He heard a voice shouting from the distance. An elderly man with a maple complexion waved at Ethan and Troy. “Ethan! Ethan!"
“Ah, yes. That’s who I was looking for,” Ethan said, waving back.
Troy and Ethan weaved their way through the crowd and walked up to the man’s stall. It consisted of a wide grey table and a freezer underneath it. The man groaned as he lifted a massive Cape Salmon onto the table.
“Mr. Singh! How are you?” asked Ethan shaking the old man’s hand. “What have you got for us this week?”
“Well…um…We’ve got some Cape Salmon, a few Reds and whole lot of Soldiers. Reds have been particularly scarce these days even around the hotspots.”
“What about sardines?” asked Troy.
Singh shook his head. “Absolutely nothing. The run is only coming in a few weeks.”
“I guess we’ll take some Salmon and the Soldiers. Maybe about four of the Salmon and… ten of the Soldiers.”
“Fillet or whole?”
Mr. Singh lifted the fish out of the freezer and dusted the ice cubes off its skins. He placed in a green material bag and handed it over to Troy. He cursed under his breath as he felt the bag’s weight pull him down.
“Hey, do you mind dropping the bag in that basket?” asked Ethan. “I just need to talk to Mr. Singh about something.”
“Yeah…Sure…” he replied, struggling to lift the bag of fish.
“Lift with your legs, young man!” shouted Singh from the stall as Troy waddled towards the basket.
Ethan turned his attention back to Mr. Singh. He wasn’t quite sure whether the fisherman was the right person to give the bad news to. If anything, Mr. Singh could give him some advice on what he ought to do.
“Mr. Singh,” Ethan began, taking a deep breath. “Remember those headaches and dizziness? I told you I was feeling these last few months?”
Mr. Singh pulled out a knife and began to cut and clean a fish on his table. “Yes? I remember telling you to see a doctor.”
“Yeah. Well, I did and…” Ethan’s mouth ran dry, and the words refused to leave his mouth. He just needed advice and he could get that without telling him about his illness.
Mr. Singh paused, his knife stopping its chopping motion. He looked up at Ethan with his misty grey eyes. “And?”
“And…Um…I… Turns out it was just some allergies,” assured Ethan.
Singh raised an eyebrow in doubt. “Just allergies?”
“That was my reaction, too. I guess I was just being a little too paranoid.”
The fisherman stroked his chin and scrunched his nose as he tried to decipher the look on Ethan’s face. Mr. Singh always had a sixth sense when it came to people. He could read even the best of poker faces, seeing right through their facade.
Eventually, he leaned back and relaxed his body. “Good to hear. But I sense that’s not the only reason you want to talk to me.”
Ethan grabbed a chair from behind the stall and sat on the opposite side of the table. “I need some advice.”
“And what would an old fisherman like me be able to advise a young genius inventor like you?”
“I have a problem. Remember that project I was working on for the past few years?”
Singh nodded. “Yes. I recall you mentioning it more than a few times.”
“Well, I’ve been blacklisted in my industry, and I no longer have any access to the item I need to complete my design,” Ethan said, scratching the back of his head.
“So, what are you going to do about it? Give up?”
“Well I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”
Singh smiled and shook his head. “My dear boy, you didn’t give anything up. They took it from you. Given half a chance to get another shot at finishing that, you’d dive headfirst in a heartbeat.”
Ethan clenched his jaw. "Is there something wrong with that?"
Mr. Singh looked into the distance and shrugged. "No. It's just something to keep in mind the next time an opportunity to continue it flies your way."
"What makes you say that?"
"If it was indeed your purpose then you'll follow it once more, maybe without even realizing it," he replied. "You've been at this for ten years and you've been the most determined man I've seen in a while. Ask yourself whether it's worth giving up."
"I have," snapped Ethan. "I don't want to. I have to."
Singh sighed and spun his chair around to face the waters of the harbor. Fishing boats loaded with fish glided in. Not far from them stood a pier that stretched from the paved land, past the charcoal grey rocks and into the raging ocean. At its end, Ethan could see people with fishing rods casting their bate into the ocean.
“Then, you should become a fisher,” Singh said, pointing to the fishers on the pier.
“A fisher?” Ethan scoffed.
“This isn’t the time for you to convert me into a fisherman. I’m serious!”
“As am I. Do you honestly believe I’m joking around with you?”
Ethan folded his arms. “It sure looks like it.”
The old fisherman rolled his eyes. “Do you see those chairs?” Ethan nodded, deciding to play along. “After attaching the most enticing bate any fish could see, casting the perfect line into a fishing hotspot and having the strongest line to catch even the mightiest of fish, every fisher needs to hang up his rod, take a seat and wait.”
Just then, a fisher reeled in his line and a fish, attached to the hook, flailed around in the air as they brought it onto land. Even from where Ethan was standing, the fish looked big. The man cast his line once more and sat down in his chair, sipping from a bottle of beer.
“What do you do while you’re waiting? Doesn’t it get boring?” asked Ethan.
A reminiscent smile spread across Mr. Singh’s wrinkled face. “Fish alone and you’ll lose your mind. Fish with company and you’ll always find something to talk about.” He stood up from his chair and grabbed Ethan’s shoulders with both his hands. “You can’t decide to move on, kid. You can only try.”
I don’t have time, Ethan thought. I can’t just sit around doing nothing waiting for an opportunity to fall from the sky.
“What if I don’t catch anything?” he asked.
Mr. Singh shrugged with a cheeky grin on his face. “I don’t know. When you find out, come and tell me.” He leaned back in his chair and placed his legs on the stool in front of him. “Now, let an old man rest and watch the waves. It seems your friend needs some help.”
Ethan turned around to find Troy with his hands on his kneecaps, panting. He turned to face Singh and said his goodbyes.
“Hey!” shouted Troy from a distance. “Do you mind helping me out here or are you just going to stand there?”
“Uh, right,” mumbled Ethan as he scurried over to help Troy.
With some trouble, Ethan and Troy managed to carry their goods to the basket. It was controlled remotely and floated above the ground next to the two chefs. Ethan’s stomach grumbled, demanding it be fed. All he had for breakfast was a cup of coffee which wouldn’t last him more than a few hours.
“You want to grab something from there?” Ethan asked pointing to the fish restaurant in front of them. “I know the owner.”
“Do you know everyone?” Troy asked as he walked up the steps and stood in front of the entrance of the restaurant.
“You’ll be surprised how closely-knit the fishing community is. Even when I was at my lowest, I still felt like I needed to come in occasionally and reconnect.”
The restaurant was easily the largest at the docks. A wide blue banner spanned above the restaurant. It read ‘Jeff’s Hook’ in bright red letters. The entrance led to a floor populated by chairs and tables. The best part about the restaurant was the floor itself. It was made from short, artificial coral to make the entire restaurant look like it was placed at the ocean bed.
Ethan heard the sizzling of pans from the kitchen and the roaring of extractor fans. Most of the noise was drowned by the chatter of the customers and the commentary of the football match in the background.
A thin man walked up to the two. “Hi! How are you? Good to see you again Ethan,” he greeted shaking their hands so firmly, Ethan thoughts his arm might wiggle off its socket.
“Pleased to meet you, Jeff,” replied Troy.
“How did you know my name was Jeff?” he asked.
Troy looked up at the signboard, then at the name tag on the owner’s shirt. “Eh, just a hunch.”
“Yes, yes, yes… A good hunch indeed. Please take a seat. Anywhere you’d like and our waiters will be with you in a moment.”
Troy and Ethan sat down in a corner and received their menus. After some time, a waiter came to take their order.
“Ethan? The usual?” asked the waiter.
“And for you sir?” he asked.
“Tilapia, grilled and a still water, please,” replied Troy.
The waiter scurried off to the kitchen and placed the order at the entrance of the kitchen.
“It’s good to be on the other side of the kitchen for a change, am I right?” asked Ethan.
“Depends on if the chef is compet—”
Suddenly, the audio from the football game cut and the TV screen displayed the emblem of the FSP. A broadcast of the president in his office with a grim expression on his face appeared. The camera zoomed in on his face as his cold eyes stared into the lens.
“Good morning, South Africa. This is an international announcement that should be broadcasted on every channel of every television and radio,” he began. “Our rainbow nation has suffered a great loss today. Just moments ago, before the preparations for the summit began, twenty members of parliament in the FSP were killed in a teleporting accident.”
That's over a third of their members! Ethan thought. And teleporting accidents haven't happened in over two decades.
A wave of gasps flowed through the restaurant and more people from the docks flocked to the television. Many people covered their mouths with the palm of their hands in shock as a censored version of the corpses were displayed for all to see.
“The FSP suspect sabotage and are committed to finding the culprit of the offenders. If these terrorists are watching this broadcast now, know that this is an act of war on the Republic of South Africa and that each one of you will face the full force of the law,” he continued.
“Due to this tragic incident, the summit shall be delayed to carry out a funeral for our fallen South Africans and all police activities will be focused towards finding the culprits and executing them.”
Ethan and Troy looked at each other in concern. Never had an execution taken place in South Africa since the early stages of the war. Some chatter arose after Duncan’s bold statement.
“We, as a ruling party, do not trivialize the murder of political figures by awarding the culprits a lenient punishment of life imprisonment. Let this statement be an example to all those who resort to violent, and terror-inducing means to further their cause. Let this statement serve to cut off the disorder before it spirals beyond the control of the FS—, government.”
Troy raised an eyebrow, looking up from the blank table. Ethan glanced at him briefly before turning his attention back to the screen.
“As a precautionary measure, all appearances of FSP figures will be backed by armed guards and watchers. Please do not be alarmed if security is tightened for these circumstances. There is no reason for concern. This is merely a warning to those who wish ill for this blessed country and an assurance to the rest that their lives, well-being and security is in capable hands.
“Thank you for your patience and stay safe and secure. One nation, one leader, free society, free people. Good day!”
The TV broadcast cut, and the football match continued to play on the channel. The people began to gradually return to their seats and resume their late breakfast. Within minutes, people acted as if nothing had happened.
Troy was seemingly unsettled. He immediately stood up from his seat. "I'm sorry. I have to go."
"Where? And your food?"
Ignoring Ethan, Troy rushed out of the restaurant and took a brisk walk out the harbor. Ethan dropped his gaze to Troy's seat. He had left his jacket, wallet and link behind in his rush to leave the harbor. What made him leave so quickly that he left everything behind?
Soon after Troy had left, their food had arrived. Ethan had lost his appetite after the recent broadcast. The remains of the accident that were shown were enough to make his stomach churn.
"Uh...Sorry..." he said, calling the waiter that was about to leave. "Can we get these to go."
He nodded and took the two plates back to the kitchen. Just as he turned his attention away from the waiter, a familiar face stood on the opposite side of the table. Ethan blinked twice at the overweight man dressed in a suit that barely fit him.
"Max?" he asked, confused. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Hi, Ethan," the fat businessman replied, extending his hand for a handshake.
Ethan return the handshake with some hesitation. Whatever Max was here for, it was incredibly important. He wouldn't be caught dead in a place like this.
"Not your usual place to eat, I suppose? Has the company been doing that bad?"
Max frowned, but dismissed Ethan's comment. "Trust me. I don't want to be here but I really have no choice."
"Oh don't worry. I believe you," Ethan grinned. "Take a seat."
Max pulled out the plastic chair and sat down. "I have an offer for you."
A/n: Some questions I wanted to get your opinions on
1. Do the descriptions of the market make it feel alive in contrast to the gloomy setting of the novel so far?
2. Was the fisher analogy effective in conveying how Mr. Singh views 'moving on'?
3. Is the power shift in the government becoming more apparent from the previous chapter?
*SPOILER WARNING FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT READ CHAPTER 3: NO GOING BACK*
4. Does the events up to this chapter help make Ethan's hasty decision to join the Alliance later on more believable?