Hot in the schoolhouse we study mathematics, geography. We are told many times that the maps teach history too. We learn of the African Union; we learn of the Empire of Mali, and are told that it was long ago. We learn of Portugal, and of the British in swathes of dull red. Sometimes the sea sweeps into the mangroves, and sometimes the forest bears fruit.

Stephanie, my pen friend, writes that she is entranced with the idea of the hippos, and asks me to send a picture. Hippos are hard to draw. Last summer I saw a fisherman too close to the water: he was torn in half, one part disappearing into the frothing pool and one part spat into the mud. Occasionally we make masks and pretend to be animals: cows, sharks and other harmless beasts. To like a hippo you must have to be very far away. In the mud and the water, I thought the colours of the half-swallowed man looked like the map in our schoolhouse: red, blue, brown.

I try to imagine where Stephanie learns geography; I try to see what a city would look like. Stephanie sends pictures with buildings like picked-clean whalebones thrown into the sky. Outside the schoolhouse, our mathematics rulers double as weapons, sometimes as spades. Later, in the evenings, I like to carve, carefully working at a new mask while the red sun falls into the sea.

 

by Phil Robinson-Self

Phil Self lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, and considers the weather to be not as bad as people say. His fiction has featured in Flash Fiction Magazine, Paragraph Planet, The Pygmy Giant, Apocrypha and Abstractions, and elsewhere. On balance, he would probably like to be your friend.

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