The Price of Power
The six men dragged their boats on to the beach and looked expectantly, past the guest cabins, towards the kitchen block. A waiter, having a cigarette outside, acknowledged their presence and called through an open window. A few minutes later, two men, wearing blue checked trousers and short-sleeved shirts that had once been bright white, emerged and walked down. One peered into the open boats.
‘A good catch,’ he said to the tallest of the six.
‘Were you out all night, in that storm?’
The fisherman nodded. His eyes were albumen white but ringed with red from staring into the dark for hours on end.
‘It lasted only a few hours.’
He looked away, across the rain-hardened sand, strewn with debris from the trees, hoping to conceal the desperation that had forced them out to sea overnight.
‘I think it was worse on land than out there.’
The chef plunged his arms into the catch, up to his elbows in fish. It smelled good.
‘Six thousand,’ he said.
A couple of the fishermen muttered to one another. The youngest-looking moved to the prow of his boat, readying to push it back into the sea.
‘We can get seven at Club Med,’ replied the tall man.
‘Okay then,’ shrugged the chef and turned back towards the hotel. He knew that if he had been their first choice to be offered their catch they would have been on the beach at dawn. They must have already tried the hotels further up the coast. They would not be offered seven thousand if they returned.
‘Wait.’ The tall man had his hand on his young colleague’s shoulder.
‘Six thousand then.’ A thousand each would barely feed their families, but there was nowhere else to try before the fish began to rot in the sun.
‘Good,’ said the chef, indicating to his assistant to count out the cash.
‘I’ll send down some crates. Make sure it’s all off the beach before we have finished serving breakfast.’
He glanced towards the beachside cabins. Stripes of electric light through gaps in the shutters suggested that most of the guests would be emerging soon. The gardeners and pool boys would have to work quickly to clean up the leaves and branches that the storm had deposited before the towels began to colonise the sun loungers.
In the third cabin along, Sophie was peering at the sky through the tiny bedroom window.
‘I’m not happy with this weather,’ she said.
‘Look at those clouds. I thought it was going to be sunny all week.’
‘It’ll brighten up, darling,’ Charles answered from the bathroom.
‘And it’s still a damn sight warmer being here than spending New Year in London.’
Sophie grunted an acknowledgement and began to dress.
‘Are you going to have a cooked breakfast again today.’
‘Full works,’ Charles said, coming out of the bathroom and rummaging in a suitcase.
‘It’s all included, so why not?’
Sophie observed her naked husband in the dressing table mirror.
‘I think you should lay off the Bucks Fizz today. You were squiffy before lunch yesterday. And your tummy’s showing again.’
‘I’ll speak to reception about the air conditioning and the water pressure,’ said Charles, ignoring her jibe and pulling on his shorts.
‘That shower was more like a trickle and I’m covered in sweat already. What is it with these countries that they can’t get the basics right? I bet everything worked properly when we were still in charge.’
‘Will you book us a private car back to the airport, as well?’ asked Sophie.
‘I can’t take another five hours in a minibus on those roads. And that driver had terrible B.O.’
They walked up the beach to the hotel. Sophie went straight to the restaurant, where the waiters hovered solicitously. Charles had tipped generously on their first night and they had been well looked after all week, as he had anticipated. They’re probably expecting another big tip when we leave, thought Sophie, but she knew that Charles didn’t work that way. Why tip when you’ve already had the service?
At the reception desk, Charles berated the manager’s assistant.
‘It’s supposed to be a luxury beachside cabin, not a campsite hut. The least I’d expect is a working shower.
‘And there was no air conditioning for most of the night. It was like a sauna.’
‘I’m very sorry, sir,’ grovelled the assistant.
‘The main power line to the hotel came down in the storm and I’m afraid our emergency generators produce only enough to run the lighting. The men have been working on it all night and all the power for the air conditioning and water pumps came back on a few minutes ago.’
‘That’s good,’ Charles replied, nodding approvingly.
‘I will expect an adjustment to our bill, of course.’
‘All sorted?’ said Sophie as her husband joined her at the table.
‘Sorted.’ He clicked his fingers and a waiter scurried over with a coffee pot.
‘The cabin should have cooled down by the time we finish breakfast.’
‘I overheard the waiters talking among themselves while I was waiting,’ said Sophie.
‘One of them was saying that his brother had been called out from their village to fix a fallen power line during the storm last night.’
Charles took a swig of coffee.
‘Yes. Apparently that was why the aircon wasn’t working. You’d think they would build these things to withstand the local weather.’
‘He said his brother tried to reconnect it but got electrocuted.’
‘That’s a shame,’ Charles murmured.
‘I suppose they’re a bit less fussed about health and safety out here. I can’t imagine there’s any shortage of labour.’
‘He had three small children,’ said Sophie, dabbing the corners of her eyes with a napkin, but Charles had turned away to look out over the beach. The fishermen, barely able to lift their eyelids, were wearily transferring their catch into the crates.
‘Looks like fresh fish for lunch,’ he said, turning back to face her.
‘I bet they’ll try to charge us extra.’
First published online and in audio by Sledgehammer Literary
Image by Nhan Nguyen Duc on Pixabay