a dialogue

by Katrina Hamlin

A woman slaps dung on an earthen wall. It will bake hard in the sun. The heat makes her sweat as she works.

A tomcat limps by. Dogs dance a ballet in the dust, or spin and skip in play fight. Turkeys fan their feathers, arch scragged necks, and scream to crescendo.

A donkey is tethered at a wooden post. Empty panniers lie on the ground, ready for a new load.

This road is built into the mountain. Across the valley, goats pick through scrub.

The woman stops her work. She glares at the stranger as he walks on the road. He does not meet her gaze. The stranger is tired of attention, and speaks only with his guide, Baimaoba.

Baimaoba waves towards the dung.

“We burn this. We cook tea, also noodle and momo.”

“What is that?”

“Like dumpling, but must is better.”

The road turns by another house. Here, all houses are made of earth, and surrounded by high walls.

The stranger thinks he hears a familiar song from within the walls.

“I can back walk,” says Baimaoba. “Look.”

He twists his body to face the stranger, stepping backwards and keeping pace. He slips into a perfect moonwalk. Sliding through the dirt in fluid rhythm, he stares into the middle distance.

“Billy Jean is not my lover,” he tells the stranger.

Inside the walls, someone flicks a switch and the music is gone.

Baimaoba shrugs. He turns forward again.

The stranger follows. He wants to ask how Baimaoba learnt to dance. But Baimaoba sees a television flicker in the small shop, next to the path.

“Mana chizi de.” He is pleased.

“Ting bu dong. Hear Don’t Understand.”

Baimaoba nods.

“I love Peckham. You love?”

“You’ve been to Peckham?”

Baimaoba decides.


“Peckham. In London?”

“Yes. Very good.”

“When the hell did you go to England?”

Baimaoba smiles.

Baimaoba enters the shop. He moves past bruised green chillies and faded Pepsi bottles. He leans his elbows on the counter and peers into the screen’s static depths. The stranger is behind him.

Tashi the shopkeep sits on a small stool. His pink flipflops are propped on a low shelf. He leans back into a pile of watermelon.

“Peckham.” Tashi exhales the word with wonder, and a cloud of smoke. He throws a butt on the floor.

Baimaoba grins. He passes Tashi a new cigarette.

The stranger frowns at Tashi.


Tashi pounds the counter with a fist.


The stranger nods for no reason.

“You went there – because – when?”

Tashi can hear doubt in the voice. He does not bother with the words, which he does not know. He looks from the screen, to stare the stranger in the face. He is severe; didactic.

“Peckham.” He will not accept doubt.

The stranger turns from Tashi’s gaze. He looks at the screen. Fuzzed red figures run through the static.

Down the road, the music returns.

The woman slaps dung on the earthen wall, in time with the beat.