East is East

East is East by T. C. Boyle Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: East is East by T. C. Boyle Read Free Book Online
Authors: T. C. Boyle
effort, he pushed himself up on his elbows. He was feeling dizzy. The girdle of black tape cut at his flesh and he felt a sharp throb in the shin of his leftleg—had he banged it against the underside of the boat when those butter-stinkers attacked him in the dark?
    He didn’t know. He didn’t care. All he knew was that he had to get up. Had to move. Had to find a human habitation, slip through the window like a ghost and locate one of the towering ubiquitous refrigerators in which Americans keep the things they like to eat. He was conjuring up the image of that generic refrigerator stuffed with the dill pickles, Cracker Jack and sweating sacks of meat the Americans seemed to thrive on, when he became aware of a subtle but persistent pressure on the inside of his right thigh. He froze. There, perched on his torn pantleg and studying the sunburned flesh of his inner thigh with a gourmand’s interest, was a small glistening purple-backed crab. It was, he saw, about the size of a mashed ball of rice.
    He was going to eat that crab, he knew it.
    For a long moment he watched it, afraid to move, his hand tensed at his side. The crab hunched there, unaware, water burbling through its lips—
those its lips?—and combing the stalks of its eyes with a single outsize claw. Hiro thought of the crab rolls his grandmother used to make, white flaking meat and rice and cucumber, and before he knew it he had the thing, a frenzy of snapping claws and kicking legs, and it was in his mouth. The shell was hard and unpleasant—it was like chewing plastic or the brittle opaque skin of fluorescent tubes—but there was moisture inside and there was the thin salty pulp of the flesh, and it invigorated him. He sucked the bits of shell, ground them between his teeth and swallowed them. Then he looked for another crab.
    There was none in sight. But a grasshopper, green of back and with a fat yellow abdomen, made the mistake of alighting on his shirt. In a single motion he snatched it to his mouth and swallowed it, and even as he swallowed it, his
screamed for more. Suddenly he was moving, stumbling through the stiff high grass, oblivious to the slashing blades that cut at his feet and shins, his hands and arms and face. He moved as if in a trance, the olfactory genius that had visited him at sea come back again with a vengeance.Dictatorial and keen, it led him by the nose, led him across a snaking inlet and into the shadow of the moss-hung trees at the edge of the marsh. He smelled water there—old water, stale and dirty water, the standing water of swamps and drains and ditches—but water all the same … and way beyond it, at the periphery of his senses, he caught a single faint electrifying whiff of fat sizzling in the pan.

    It was the golden hour of the day, the sun gone soft as A big dab of butter, and Olmstead White, the grandson of the son of a slave who was the son of a slave who was a free man of the Ibo tribe in West Africa, was fixing supper. He was sixty-eight years old, his limbs as dry and sinewy as jerky, his face baked hard by the morning sun flashing off the sea. He’d been born, raised and schooled on Tupelo Island, and in all his life he hadn’t been to the mainland more than two dozen times. His garden stood tall with corn and staked tomato plants, he raised hogs, fished and crabbed and shrimped and oystered, and he did odd jobs for the white people at Tupelo Shores Estates when he needed a bit of pocket money for a chew or a drink or a new battery for the vanilla-colored transistor radio that brought him the Braves games in the cool of the evening. His brother, Wheeler, with whom he’d lived through all the mornings, afternoons and evenings of all his bachelor days, lay six months buried in the family plot out back of the garden.
    On this evening, while the Braves game whispered huskily through the tinny speaker, Olmstead White sliced a cucumber and tomato, fixed a side

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