Ami got used to the sex early on. She quickly learnt not to notice
the grunts and wheezes as Ulf lunged back and forth, his face the
colour of tamarind. She taught herself to wriggle and smile and sigh
and do the other thing he liked down there. She paid no attention to
the weight of his belly pressing into hers, or the springy red hairs
on his chest. Instead she stared at the flying saucer light fitting
above their bed and thought about the maya bird in the pawpaw tree
outside her family’s house. You could train yourself to do anything
if you had to.

The agency in Manila had shown her a picture of a younger, handsome
man. When she arrived at Frankfurt airport, tired and disorientated,
and saw an older man with a face like a sweet potato holding a sign
with her name on it, she assumed he was the German broker. Even when
she noticed the heart drawn in red felt tip pen alongside her name,
it didn’t cross her mind that the man with the fuzzy ginger hair and
trembling moustache could be her husband. She couldn’t have asked
anyway because she didn’t speak the language that sounded like glass
shattering on stone.

The man took her back to a tower block on the outskirts of the city.
Each flat had a different coloured square of balcony - orange or
green or blue - and to Ami’s unaccustomed eyes the effect was
pleasing, one of order and modernity. They rode in the stainless
steel lift in the same silence that had travelled with them from the
airport. He guided her into the flat as if she were a porcelain bird
that might break or unexpectedly fly away. After taking off her
cotton jacket and hanging it alongside his own on the back of the
door, he gestured for her to follow him into the kitchen. There he
sat her at the foldout table and handed her a hunk of bread filled
with sausage and a sour, wrinkly vegetable. He sat down across from
her and watched her eat. It was only when he laid a meaty hand on top
of one of hers and gave a hesitant smile that she realised this must
be the man called Ulf, her new husband.

          The bread, normally such a treat, kept sticking in her
throat. He noticed and poured her a small glass of beer, and she
drank the bitter brown liquid though she’d never tasted it before.
She liked how the foam tickled her lips and suddenly she wanted to
giggle. She wanted to tell him that she was the youngest of eight and
had to stand at the table as a child because there was never enough
space for everyone, that her mother was sick and her father long
gone, that she was terrified, and that the woman at the agency had
promised she could call her sisters whenever she liked. She wanted to
ask him how old he was and what work he did and where his parents
lived and whether he had any brothers or sisters and if he liked
breadfruit because that was her favourite, but all she could do was

He didn't smile back. He was earnest as he searched her face for some
sign of mockery or cruelty. Her friend Datu did the same thing
whenever he hobbled around the village with his bad leg dragging
behind him, so she understood. She held his gaze, keeping her eyes as
still and clear as she could, until something like sunlight on water
reflected in his lumpy face. It was fleeting, but it was the only
answer she needed that day.

Over the months that followed her ears adjusted until she was able to
speak his language in her own tinkling way. Every Saturday he drove
her to the market on the other side of town where she could buy the
breadfruit and atis and bayabas she loved to prepare. He added these
names to his growing vocabulary until he spoke enough to tease her a
little and, later, to speak to her sisters on the phone.

Ami wasn’t sure when she stopped staring at the flying saucer light
above their bed, or thinking about the maya bird in the pawpaw tree,
but at some point, without even realising, she started stroking the
curly red hairs on her husband s chest and watching his sweet potato

Claudia Boers is originally from Johannesburg and now lives in London. She left a career in fashion to
focus on writing in 2007. She was short listed for the Willesden Herald Short Story Competition 2009. She's been
published in Your Messages (a collection of flash fiction) and was commended in the Ilkley Festival 2008. She's
currently bashing away at her first collection of short stories and is generally fascinated by the imperfect
roundness of life.

It was written in the middle of July during a writing retreat in Wales. I tweaked it slightly before sending it to Foundling Review.

I had diametrically opposed comments on the line: "You could teach yourself to do anything if you had to." One said 'brilliant', one said 'overkill, take it out.' An editor said to change the title, which was originally 'Sweet Potato Face' and lose the last two paragraphs. I couldn't bring myself to lose them completely, but I cut the penultimate one considerably. I felt the last one contained the essence of the story so I didn't want to lose that.


Copyright 2009