As I was relaxing one Sunday afternoon trying to wash 2800 dishes with just one bottle of vinegar wild berries dishwashing soap that advertised such a feat was indeed possible, I could hear a small cry through my triple-paned windows. I immediately thought it was the firemen or the sanitation engineers who were passing to collect their Christmas collections.
I reached anxiously into my pockets forgetting to dry my soapy hands only to realise that the cry I heard was moving down my street. I opened the kitchen window and peered out to see the back of an old man walking sluggishly and holding up a small box in his hand and crying,
With little time to digest the spectacle I ran outdoors in my slippers to ask the stranger an essential question. I caught up with him, cut off his advancement and barked:
"As an Oxford scholar of early Samoa" I proceeded, "do you proclaim to be an Afafafine, the group of Samoan thirds genderites long thought to have disappeared?"
The coloured man looked at me with dark, cloudy eyes. He then took a breath and whistled with such force that I thought I stood before a car alarm. Immediately a ruby feathered bird came fluttering as light as a petal and landed on his shoulder.
"I, I" he said.
"You are one of the Afafafine of early Samoa, aren't you? Did you weave that basket yourself?"
He looked at the basket and then to my face he said,
"I don't know what you're talking about. I'm selling wifi connections. Want one?"
"Wifi?" I asked.
"Fast wifi. Fa-wifi. Fa-fi. Fa-wifi-fa-fiii!!!" And the bird went fluttering above and around his head.
I excused myself and went back to the kitchen, my cheeks had reddened from disappointment. I had never met an Afafafine and probably never would. But the old man had rekindled my interest. After all, 20 years ago I had written my thesis on male basket weaving and the refusal of hunting amongst the male Afafafine population in early Samoa. Still, there was that bird and that whistle and what was such a character doing down my street trying to sell wifi?
Perhaps I was overreacting. After all, only 150 years ago in the times of Dickens sellers used to abound in the streets of London. I remembered vaguely scholars of language had analysed how street vendors deformed the language by selling their art.
"Old clo, old clo" stood for old clothes.
"Rat trap, ra-trap, buhy a rahtap" or "Fresh cat meat a penny a toss! A slice ah cat fuhapenny!"
I went back to conducting my hand dishwashing experiment. I forgot if I was at 2010 or 2110. Regardless, it was a perfect Sunday to wash dishes and I always felt it was the best way to contemplate and plan my day; the steam condensed the windows and the bubbles were so thick they concealed all the dirty dishes.
I smirked an laughed to myself about the incident when I heard another noise approaching my house.
I opened the window.
""Fluffy, frosting, fondant, Cuhh-cakes! Fo-fo-fo caahkes!!! Fo-cahkes!"
I ran back out in my slippers to find myself face to face with the same man wearing a pink and white polka dot dress pushing a wooden cart. When he cried he looked towards the sky, blasted another whistle and the same ruby winged bird came fluttering round his head and landed on his shoulder.
"What are you doing on my street, first selling wifi and now cupcakes?" I enjoined.
This time he took a cupcake out of the cart and held it up to my nose.
"It's a seven minute frosting" he said, his upper lip curling into a smile revealing a golden tooth.
"Ok, how much?" I asked
"Seven minutes to frost but seven days to prepare. $7."
At my nearby Cupcake Emporium I was used to dishing out $5 for the banana-oyster gluten-free special of the day. $7 would have mother rolling in her grave.
"$6?" I tempted.
"The fluffy frosted fondant has secret message inside." and he turned to get on his way.
I bought the cupcake and back in my kitchen I took a butcher's knife and split the cupcake with the skill of a lumberjack.
The message in the cupcake had filled me with anxious expectation. Before me I beheld a silk thin crimson crumpled paper.
With a sense of urgency I took the vinegar wild berries dish washing soap and undoubtedly added more than a few drops of detergent than would have been necessary to free the paper of its encrusted gluten-free environment. The lettering was small and there was a drawing on the back. I decided to blow dry the document before examining it in my study.
It seemed like old English but I wasn't sure.The message went like this:
"You are in Henri Rousseau's painting "The Dream". You have a safari hat and a snake necklace. The jungle is so thick that you can barely advance with a machete. Giant lotus leaves cover your boots. You come across a naked girl, a tiger that has its belly planted in the bushes, a snake and a snake charmer playing a flute. You open your camera case to take a picture with your Leica but you realise there is no film in it. The naked girl points a finger at you and says,
"What are you doing?"
"Taking pictures" you reply.
"But your camera has no film"
"I know but I'm a photographer"
That was the cupcake message. I flipped the paper and i could roughly make out the details of the drawing. It was all adding up but in the wrong way. What did this mean? Who would believe me if I told them. Was I going mad?
I ran back to the kitchen. There was the stack of dishes that I had washed and rewashed for the past 4 hours. I had noted 2136. Each stack of 10 dishes had an X on a sheet of paper. I had 210 X's and 3 lines.
I rubbed my gums to check whether I was thinking straight. Yesterday my dentist had pulled a tooth and there was the space that my tongue kept seeking. And what about the Afafafine guy selling wifi connections? And what about that bird? I went to my computer to check the veracity of the trans-gender tribe. No connection. I looked again at the drawing of Rousseau's Dream. On the nude girls's arm there was a tiny tattoo barely visible.
It said, "Fa-fi".