*The Fan

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
A couple on a business cum holiday trip to a small ugly island famous for its mud.

Submitted: August 05, 2012

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Submitted: August 05, 2012

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THE FAN

They had arrived the night before on the island, taken there by a weekly boat. The hotel was not all that in any sense of the word. It had two advantages: one that it was rather on the small side, and the second that the cuisine was simple. The vast majority who went to the island were escaping from something or other. They were looking for peace and quiet in a place where nobody knew who they were. The tourist went to the island after having tried several different more or less luxurious places. And it was for the simple reason that the only thing it had was: warm mud, a small hotel, a desolated countryside, and a few permanent residents. People who were so fed up, tired to the extreme of family, friends, business, and everything that had to do with everyday life, sooner or later discovered the island.

The morning following their arrived at the hotel, Norma and David got up later than usual. The bedroom was in darkness, only letting in a few rays of sunshine. Norma spoke to David in a voice still heavy with sleep, “Have you rung for breakfast?”
David turned his head to look at her “Don’t you remember? There’s no room service here. So, Lazybones, you’ll have to get ready to greet the world before having your first mouthful.”
Norma didn’t like the idea of having to get ready in order to have breakfast but she had no alternative. After a quick shower she felt a lot better. David had rolled up the blinds and the room was full of sunshine. Norma went up to David who had his back to her. He was staring at something, and Norma put her face on his shoulder to see what had attracted his attention at such an early hour.
“See that woman down there Norma?”
Norma made a movement to say yes.
“Well, there is quite a large group of men coming up and greeting her. And you see those young men? They don’t stray away from her. What do you think?”
Norma yawned. “I don’t think anything. It’s probably her perfume or they owe her money. I’m hungry.”
They went down to the dining-room. David approached a waiter, “Good morning. Where may we sit?”
“Good morning, sir. You may sit where you prefer. Later on we’ll have a table for every room. We never fix the tables and room numbers till all the guests are here.”
“Very well, thank you.”
David took hold of Norma’s arm and guided her to the table where the strange lady had previously been sitting. Norma saw it first. “She’s left her fan on the table.” Norma opened it, the design wasn’t what she had expected and disappointedly she closed it. When the waiter had taken their order, Norma gave him the fan. “The lady who was here before left this behind. She’s probably looking for it. By the way she’s oriental, isn’t she?”
“Yes, Ma’am, she’s from a Pacific island, that’s why she has oriental features.”
“Now I understand and about the fan too.”
When the waiter had gone, Norma turned to her husband, “Now, you know what they say about oriental women? That they have magic powers, like getting men to do as they are told.”
“Don’t be silly. What kind of fantasies have you been reading?”
Norma laughed. It was a healthy laugh, full of vitality. Maybe this short trip, a pause in a not very good summer, would turn out to be much funnier than she had imagined. “When do you have to see that man?”
“I don’t know, I have to ring him to fix a time. Somehow, I don’t think it’ll be today, so we can walk around and see the island.”
As soon as they left the hotel they found themselves in the square, from which all the streets spread out. To look for a special shop it was easier just to go to the square and then take one of the streets to get to the desired destination. There were mostly shops with local art for sale, but very few selling clothes. There were also a great number selling food. Norma and David strolled along casually and soon found themselves at the port. There were fishing boats and some fishermen mending their nets. The sun was strong but it didn’t burn. The ferry that had taken them there the previous night was still there. It would be in port till it made the return journey the following week.
They stayed staring at the sea for another half-an-hour and then went back to the hotel for lunch.

Before looking for a table, David made a phone call.
“I’ve got an appointment for this afternoon with the man who wants to see me.”
“Fine, while you’re with him I’ll try out the mud baths.”
The atmosphere changed on the strange lady’s entrance. With her fan in one hand and the entourage of young men around her, the lady passed Norma and David’s table. David was unable to take his eyes off the lady, and more than once during the meal Norma had to call his attention to what he was eating.
That afternoon Norma took the four o’clock minibus to the mud baths. Apart from the driver there were only ten passengers, including Norma. They were all acquainted, as they were staying at the same hotel. There was no one less than thirty years old. The journey was short and they were soon at their destination, the mud baths, the reason why they were on the island.
It was not at all pretty. The site was really ugly. The basic idea was to cover yourself with the mud, sunbathe for a few minutes and then get into the sea. The mud had something in it that protected you from the sun’s rays.
Some people visited this strange and ugly place every year. The information from the hotel said that the mud was good for rheumatism and its curing properties lasted for several months. That’s why in September, just before the first days of autumn, many people went to prepare themselves for winter.
Norma watched the others to find out what she had to do. It was a ritual. Everyone with a grave look of concentration took some mud in their hands and began to smear it all over themselves. They sunbathed, and then launched themselves into the sea. Norma did the same and she was pleasantly surprised at how soft and creamy the mud was. She sat with her eyes shut for some minutes listening to the waves. Some people were talking but it was difficult to understand what they were saying. A feeling of pure relaxation invaded her body. As she was about to nod off, she got up and went into the water. The contrast between the heat of the mud and the coolness of the water was noticeable. Norma was a good swimmer and decided to stay some minutes in the water. She stared about her and realized that the mysterious lady and her entourage hadn’t gone there. She thought to herself that it was stupid to think about some oriental person, that they were there to have a good time and if possible, for her husband to make a business deal. In spite of herself, Norma was very curious to find out more about that strange group. A man who was swimming nearby introduced himself, “Hello, I’m Bob. I’m in the same hotel as you.”
Norma held out her hand, “Hello, I’m Norma. My husband and I are here for a week. Have you ever been her before?”
“No, it’s the first time. I’ve been told that it’s a good place to feel well. What do you think of our eastern lady and her escorts?”
Norma looked at him out of the corner of her eye and at the same time trying to stay afloat. “I don’t think they are the sort of people usually seen in these places. At least they add a bit of colour and life to a most boring place.”
“I agree with you. See over there, sitting on that large rock, that’s Marta. We share the same table, she’s single, and works in a library. This is her first visit too. Beside her is Rosa, who is a widow. She’s come with her brother, Tony. He’s in the water.”
Norma stared at Bob. What a man! How had he managed to find out so many things about his table companions? David and Norma had a table for two. Norma thought it might have been more fun to have had two more people to share it with.
“Like me to introduce you to the others?” Bob asked.
“I’d appreciate that. Thanks.”
They both got out of the water and went over to the trio sitting on the rock.
Rosa’s brother Tony was just like an enormous baby, he was dripping as he had only just come out of the water. Seeing Bob and Norma they stopped chatting.
“This is Norma. She and her husband are staying at the same hotel as us. Norma, this is Marta, Rosa, and Tony. They all shook hands with Norma. Tony asked her, “Is this the first time you have come down to the mud?”
“Yes, it is.”
“We came down here this morning. You have to make the most of it.”
“I’m going to put more mud on me,” and Rosa began to cover herself with mud. The rest, as they had nothing else to do, did the same. Norma watched them very closely as to how they did it. They were all so serious that Norma wanted to laugh. We are here to enjoy ourselves but all of this is more like a pagan ritual than a healthy place, she thought.

At seven thirty they heard the sound of a horn. Bob said to Norma, “It’s time for us to leave.”
“Thanks. Are you planning to do this all week?”
“Yes, of course, that’s why I’m here, and them too.” Bob said pointing to the trio. “If you feel lonely you can join us.”
“Thanks, I’m hoping my husband will come with me one of these days.”

Everyone was dressed up as was to be expected. They had all taken care of their appearance. Norma peered around the dining-room, nudged David and said, “There they are, the people I met this afternoon.”
Norma introduced them to David and was pleased at how the two women gazed at him.
Bob was saying, “Are we going to the village after dinner or are we staying here?”
Before receiving an answer to his question, the woman and her escorts made their entrance into the dining-room. This time it was easier to see her face. It was true she was not so young, but was certainly feminine and beautiful. The dress she was wearing was of the colour of the sea and of a shiny material. In one hand she held a fan the same shade as the dress, her other hand was resting on the arm of one of the young men.
“I’d love to know who they are,” Marta said in an envious voice.
Bob laughed “Marta, do you want a harem like her? Do you like young men?”
“Don’t be silly, Bob. I’m just curious, that’s all.”
“Well, if it’s just curiosity why don’t you try and find out what the mystery is?”
The mysterious lady sat down.
“Let’s go and get our table. See you later.”
“See you later,” Bob replied.

David and Norma’s table was set apart from the others, being near a door that gave onto a garden, but at the same time had an impressive view of the exotic group. David looked at the menu from top to bottom. Norma had her eyes set on the woman’s table. Norma turned to David, “I wonder what it must feel like to be the centre of attention wherever you go.”
“Don’t worry. I don’t think that will happen to you.”
“And why not? It would be fantastic to have all the waiters running around just to please me.”
“Talking of waiters. Where’s ours?”
“Here, sir. What would you like?”
David smiled at the waiter and made the order.
“Want anything else, Norma?”
“No, thanks, it’s all right as it is.”
“Bring me a bottle of still water, please.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Norma, if you are going to spend dinner staring at that woman and those young men, who are probably her sons, I’m going to change this table for another.”
“You can’t change the table they’re all occupied.”
“Well, then you could pay me some attention.”
Norma laughed, “It’s your fault for having aroused my curiosity in her.”
Norma did her best not to stare at the table until dinner was over.
Bob came over to them, “Well, where are we off to?”
“Is there a special place where we could go?”
“Do you mean something typical of here?” Bob asked. “Let’s go and ask in reception.”
The manager was behind the desk speaking to other guests. “There is a disco in the square and several pubs in the same area. In a whisky bar called Hot Rosy there is a show at midnight, and before that in the same place you can dance. Here in the hotel we’ll be playing bingo and other games. At one o’clock canapés and drinks will be served to everyone.”
Overhearing what the manager had said, “Are we going or staying?” Bob asked his friends.
Everyone agreed to go.

After walking for five minutes Norma, who was not used to going out at night, said to David, “I can’t go any further. I’d rather go to bed with a book, or sleep. It must be the effect of the mud I can hardly keep upright.”
“If you like, we’ll go back to the hotel. Hey, Bob we’re leaving. Norma’s very tired and not feeling too good.”
“I’m sorry. Don’t you want to meet up with us later on?”
“I don’t know. What do you think, Norma?”
“Whatever you like, but let me go to bed.”
“We’ll wait for you here.” Bob said.
“Thanks, I shan’t be long.”
“Good night Norma.”
“Good night, everyone.”

David left Norma in the bedroom and met up with the others. Norma took off her make-up and got into bed, with a sense of relaxation she had never experienced before. In the time it took for David to be with the others, Norma was deeply asleep.

The next day David woke up very late. Norma had breakfast alone and returned to their room.
“What kind of night did you have?”
“Good. The show wasn’t all that bad considering how mediocre this place is. The lady was there with her protectors.”
“Oh, really. Well I don’t like that lady at all. She never thanked me for giving her her fan back, and when I greeted her and made a couple of comments she only gave me an enigmatic smile, or what she thought was enigmatic,”
“Maybe she doesn’t speak our language.”
“Don’t make me laugh. She could have managed ‘Good morning’ without any effort.”
“That’s enough. That woman is not important to anyone here, however everyone’s eyes are glued to her. Are we going to the mud today?”
“Yes, but not for long. I think I overdid it yesterday.”

David and Norma took the last minibus to arrive at the mud. They had sufficient time to try the mud and swim a little before going to the hotel for lunch. There was no sign of Bob or the others. This didn’t puzzle David. “Last night we drank too much, we had a free drink in every pub we went into. Besides they were more tired than you were for having spent the morning and the afternoon in the mud. They’ll be exhausted.”
David said, “I’ve got an appointment this afternoon. Can you manage without me?”
“No, I’m going to spend the afternoon thinking of you and feeling miserable.”
“What?”
Norma seeing David’s confused face said, “Of course I can amuse myself. I’ll probably have a sleep.”
“OK, but not too long, it isn’t good for you.”

When David had gone Norma felt the urge to lie down on the bed, but thinking of David’s words she lay down on a sofa, and fell asleep.
When Norma woke up it was late. The sun was falling onto the horizon and the light in the bedroom had changed from bright yellow to a soft red. Norma opened the window and saw the dining-room where the waiters were preparing the tables for dinner. Norma looked at her watch, it was six. David opened the door and on seeing Norma by the window said, “Have you slept?”
“Yes. But for a short time. And you, have you been working?”
“Yes, it’s going very well. Slow but well. I’m going to have a shower and lie down for a while. Listen, Norma, after dinner I’d like to go to bed early. No night time excursions.”
“Now you’re telling me. Fine, if they suggest something we’ll have to tell them we are tired, or we can stay here and play bingo.”
David launched a look of disbelief at Norma. Bingo!

In spite of her good intentions, Norma was incapable of avoiding looking at the woman with her followers when they entered the dining-room. She wore a colourful dress with a fan to match. There was not so much interest shown this time, the people soon got back to what they were talking about.
The atmosphere in the dining-room was that of tiredness. The guests ate their dinners without tasting the food. Norma said to David, “It’s hardly worthwhile choosing anything special. I’m so tired everything tastes the same.”
“I’m not hungry either. So let’s have something light, what about an omelette?”
“Good. Perhaps as it’s so simple a dinner it won’t take long to be served.”
David gave their order to the waiter, who showed no surprise at their choice. It was easy to understand why no one was hungry.

Later, in the hall, Bob went up to speak to them, “We’ve been in bed all day, and you?”
“We went to the mud for an hour and then we went back to the hotel to sleep,” Norma said.
For a brief moment there was an uncomfortable silence. Nobody liked the idea of admitting that they preferred to go to bed rather than go out.
Marta made the decision, “Don’t count on me for going out tonight, I’m sorry but I’ve got a tiredness that I’ve never known before. So see you tomorrow and goodnight.”
The rest followed her example.

In their bedroom Norma said to David, “Don’t turn on the lamp.”
“Why not?”
“I want to find something out.” Norma stood by the window. In the dining-room below the waiters were clearing the tables. Through the glass doors that separated a small bar from the dining-room, Norma saw the woman with her followers.
“They never get tired,” David had joined Norma at the window, “And she’s always opening and shutting that fan.”
Norma laughingly said, “ Maybe there’s something in the fan. Now I remember. You know what’s odd? Even though every fan is a different colour the pattern is always the same.”
“Are you sure. I hadn’t noticed. You’re imagining things that don’t exist.”
“I’m sure the pattern is the same on all of them.”
“Perhaps it’s a pattern she’s designed or she’s seen somewhere. Is it important?”
“No, nothing. It was just an observation, nothing else.”
“And after what you said to me about ignoring that woman. Women! Who can understand them?”
Norma drew the curtains, taking a last glance at the scene below as if she would have liked to be there.

On the third day everyone felt a lot better and decided to take advantage of the mud and the other distractions on the island. Now that they were no longer affected by the relaxing agents of the mud they stayed in it all day, taking some packed food prepared by the hotel. There were varying comments about the strange woman and her group of young men. According to some she was a film star, others said she was a rich heiress, one wag said she had probably won a lottery or the football pool. Cashing in an insurance claim was another suggestion. After having gone from one silly idea to another they left her alone, but without taking their eyes off her when she was near. However, neither she nor her companions ever went to he mud which for the rest of the tourists after four or five days had become a routine.
“How quickly we’ve got used to being in this place. It’ll be like going to another world when we leave here.”
“Don’t say silly things, Norma. We’re here for a few days, that’s all. As soon as we’re back home this place will no longer exist for you,” said David.
“Do you think so? You’re right. I’m exaggerating a bit. It’s very easy to adapt yourself to a new timetable and a new programme. I’m a bit bored.”
“Go and buy yourself some paperbacks.”
“I have tried reading, but I lack concentration.”
“Only you can solve that particular problem. I can’t help you concentrate. Today I’ve got another appointment.”
“You’ve got appointments every day. Good job I’m not a jealous woman or otherwise I’d think you were meeting the woman with the fan.”
David laughed. It seemed funny to him that he should have anything to do with the said woman. “Do you really think that with six permanent admirers on hand she needs me too?”
“You never know, a mature man just for a change.”

That night David and Norma went with the other famous quartet to one of the typical bars on the island to taste one of the local drinks.
“I’m not surprised it’s unknown anywhere else in the world. It tastes of sea weed,” Rosa said, making a grimace.
Later they arranged to meet in the hall the next morning to go to the mud.

The next day brought something peculiar. David walked to a taxi. He carried a small packet in one hand.
“Where to?” asked the taxi driver.
David was struck dumb. The taxi driver turned his head and repeated in a firmer voice, “Where to?”
“What? Oh, yes, please take me to Almond Tree Street, number eighty.”
“Very well, sir. Sorry for being indiscreet but do you feel all right?”
“Yes, fine. Why do you ask? Do I look bad?”
“No sir, But you do look rather odd.”
“Odd? Nothing odd here except for your ideas.”
“Excuse me, Sir.”
“It’s OK. I’m tired.” David didn’t want to admit to the taxi driver that he was right.

The penultimate evening there was a fancy dress party and the majority were up to taking part, except David. Norma asked him, “Don’t you want to go in for the lovely legs competition?”
“Just what I need. At times Norma you certainly get some ideas. We go to the party as spectators. Nothing else.”
“Yes, Sir.” And they both laughed.
Rosa and Tony sat with David and Norma, but Bob and Marta dressed up in phosphorescent skeleton costumes and had painted their faces white. They carried clackers in their hands in the shape of bones with a card that said ‘Starved to Death’. Of course they didn’t win a prize. Two girls won first prize dressed up as a ‘Thousand and One Nights’.

On the last day Norma saw the strange woman in the hall and went up to her. “Excuse me, but may I ask you something?”
The woman stared directly at Norma, “What is it?”
“I’d like to know why you always have the same pattern on your fans. It’s not exactly pretty and that’s what puzzles me. Has it got something special about it?”
“Yes, it is special.”
“Thank you. Most kind of you.”
The lady gave Norma one of her enigmatic looks and left, followed by her companions.

Before the last dinner Norma and David met up with the quartet for an aperitif.
“Marta, tell everyone what happened to you this afternoon,” Bob said in an attempt to make the poor woman speak.
“I went window shopping. There was a gift shop that interested me so I went in. While I was inside, that strange woman with those young men came in. I took no notice of them and continued sorting through possible presents. Suddenly I felt her beside me it was due to the noise of the fan, I looked at her face and saw a very odd expression on it. Click, clack, went the fan. She left as quickly as she had arrived. I paid for my purchases and went out into the street. My head felt as if I had drunk too much, I also had what you might call ‘impure’ thoughts. I got into a taxi, I don’t know how, and returned to the hotel.”
Norma and David exchanged looks.

The manager shook hands with all his guests, presenting each one with a short history of the island as a souvenir.
Norma was sitting alone in the hall waiting for David when a waiter approached her with a small packet in one hand. “Ma’am, the exotic lady told me to give this to you.”
Norma knew what it was.
“Thank you. Is there a message?”
“No, Ma’am, the lady said that you would understand.”
“Oh, thank you.”
David appeared at that moment and Norma let the small packet slide into her handbag. Explanations could wait.

Some weeks later David and Norma were back home with friends talking about their recent holidays. Inside the house there was an autumnal warmth and Norma got out the fan for one of the women, who began to fan herself energetically. Suddenly, the woman put the fan down saying, “I feel really strange. I want to go home.” At the same time she gave her husband an odd look.
Norma was in the kitchen laughing to herself when David returned after seeing them off.
“How did you find out the contents of the fan?” he asked her.
“Two things. Your experience with the packet and Marta in the shop, and then of course the mere fact that a very mature woman, however beautiful, wouldn’t be able to maintain the attention of six young men. And another thing, have you read the history of the island the manager gave us?”
“No, why?”
“Page seventeen. Got it? Read it.”
David began reading out loud. “Even before the arrival of the Romans on the island, the aphrodisiacal properties of the mud were already known. Nowadays, no one believes in these legends and those who go to the mud are there for relaxation, to feel well, alleviate rheumatism and other body pains. There are still people who maintain that the mud has aphrodisiacal properties, but until this can be proved, this is just an assumption.”
David closed the booklet. “They will have to re-write the information. We have managed to extract the aphrodisiac from the mud, it also had other effects on people that used it, that’s why we went there The original idea was to use it for medicinal purposes.”
Norma’s mouth had fallen open. “And the lady with the fan?”
“Oh, her. She was working for us. Her job was to try out the effect on different people. Remember the pattern? Remember Marta? Well, it was necessary to have the aphrodisiac evenly distributed, therefore the design. The excessive tiredness was due to rubbing the mud all over the body. As it was a cure-all for rheumatic pain, and so on, it also induced sleepiness. Now you understand why we were all so exhausted. Hey, Norma, what are you doing?”
Norma was busy breaking up the fan into tiny little pieces.


© Copyright 2017 Georgina V Solly. All rights reserved.

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