FLASH FICTION: Travelling Salesman, Early 80s by Wilson Koewing

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My job entailed selling instructional videotapes that taught industrial workers how to perform menial tasks with basic machinery. A universal concept. The ingenious idea to sell them in developing countries was the brainchild of my mentor Jerry Lane. 

“Me, idea-man; you, sales-man,” he’d repeat handing me plane tickets.

I flew all over the globe: Philippines, South Africa, Nigeria. I kept a bag packed. My wife hated it, but the kids were too young to care. It didn’t matter. Business was booming and money poured in. I bought new suits at airports and left them in hotels when I flew away again. 

***

In Manila, I hailed a cab outside the airport. Before I could close the door, two men jumped in with me on either side. 

“How do you want this to go?” the one on the right said. 

The other produced a knife. 

On instinct, I elbowed the one on the right and knocked him out. The other thrust a knife. I grabbed his hand, the blade inches from my eye. We struggled. I managed to force the knife into his throat. Blood gushed unceremoniously. There’s nothing interesting about killing a man. 

I pushed both out of the cab and closed the door. 

The driver said, “Where to?”

I stalked across the luxurious lobby of my hotel. The man at the check-in counter made little to-do over my blood-covered clothes, which I appreciated. 

Before bed, I practised my sale’s pitch in the mirror over the bathroom sink. It was strong and I felt good about making the sale. I attempted to shave, but my hand shook from adrenaline, so I decided to wait until morning. 

Unable to sleep, I sat on the balcony and opened the newspaper I purchased in Los Angeles before the flight over the Pacific. The wind whipped circular off the bay. I read an article about Reagan. There were warnings of a typhoon. A quote from the article stuck with me: “To sit back hoping that someday, someway, someone will make things right is to go on feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last, but eat you he will.” 

***

Two days later, in Johannesburg, I closed in a hotel Penthouse. The Black businessman—who headed a massive diversified mining and metals operation—handed me a champagne flute and we shook hands. 

Far below, tiny fires spread through the streets. 

“You are lucky you are not South African,” he said. “People here can tell.” 

He had a deep-bellied laugh. We clinked glasses. I wasn’t sure what he meant. 

A car stopped in front of me outside the hotel and I got inside. As the car drove away, I watched two men restrain a member of the white minority while another filled a tire with t-shirts he soaked in gasoline. The man writhed and fell to his knees trying to escape, but there was nowhere to go. They pulled the tire over his shoulders, tossed a match and watched him run away engulfed in flames.

***

After closing the biggest sale of my life with a Nigerian rubber baron, I rode away from downtown Benin City in a long car a man at the hotel promised would “take me to nightlife.” As we rose over a knoll, a furry-topped building appeared on the edge of the Benin River. Naked women wandered around outside. 

Before entering, I passed a man selling live chickens from cages above a steep embankment that fell to the river’s banks and opened to a beach full of crocodiles. The man handed me a chicken with legs wrapped in metal wire. Holding it, I felt a rhythmic hum against restraint. It flapped its wings. The man led me to the edge. The crocodiles crawled forward. 

“Toss it,” he screamed. 

I dropped the chicken. It fought against the ties that bound it but never had any hope. I imagined it would land directly in the mouth of a crocodile, but it didn’t. It thudded against the sand, bounced and left an imprint. Two crocodiles pounced and ripped it apart. Most of what it was disappeared in their jowls, but a few feathers fluttered in the air and a thick pool of blood briefly reddened the sand before absorbing into nothing.

***  

When I returned to our mountain home in Monteagle, Tennessee, the children rushed to greet me. Three beautiful red-haired girls: one five, one three, one-two. Annie, my wife, who the girls favoured. A roaring fire. Our hound Odie wandered over floppy ears. The girls leapt on the couch as I sank into my armchair. Outside, an afternoon shower trickled through the tree canopy onto the moss-covered ground that surrounded the house. 

“Daddy,” the oldest, Claire said. “Tell us about your trip.” 

They sat in a line watching me, hands under chins. Odie fell face on paws by the fire. Annie handed me a rock’s glass of Tennessee whiskey. We kissed and the girls turned up their noses. 

I took a sip and made up a lie. 

THE END


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wilson Koewing is a writer from South Carolina, USA. His work has recently appeared in New World WritingGhost ParachuteThe Hunger JournalMenacing Hedge and The Fiction Pool.


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