Flash fiction: Unemployed

He looks disgusted, riding pillion on the back of the motorbike, his eyes sombre and knowing in his ancient grey face. He sits back to front so that he can stare out at the traffic, guarding his retreat.

‘He likes to work. That’s what he’s used to doing. Working. Climbing the tall palms.’

‘I see,’ I say, though I am not yet sure what it is, exactly, that I am seeing.

‘But there’s no work for him now, that’s his trouble.’

For a moment I wonder if we should be talking about him this way, right in front of him. He does look troubled, or in some sort of trouble; deep furrows on his brow, his expression as sad as any I have ever seen. He lifts his fingers to his mouth and gnaws his knuckles hard. His teeth are yellow and broken. He stares at me as if I am someone else not to be trusted, someone who might take his work from him, or part him from his friend, who now revs the bike, the sinews in his muscled arms rippling like eddies in a grease-slicked pool.

‘There’s too much building,’ he says, turning to me while keeping a grip on the handlebars, ‘too many bars and restaurants. Too many coconut trees cut down. There’s nothing for him to do except,’ he pauses, smiles almost an apology, ‘ride on the back of motorbikes.’

He pulls away sharply, leaving an acrid trace of exhaust. I see that his passenger has perfect balance; no need to hold on. The monkey drops his arms into his lap as they accelerate away. Yet I worry that he’ll fall off at the next bend, spend his days scouring the island, seeking the last coconut tree


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