Social Distance

On the beach
she builds a fire with gnarly driftwood
and sits a copper pot above it.
Stirs in sea creatures like a witch.

Hot chillies and pinches of spice:
ginger; turmeric; paprika, for flavour.
She knows the aroma will drift
on the sea breeze to sunbathers
at the swanky hotel

who lie sweating under palm umbrellas
sipping coloured cocktails
brought to them by young men
in uncomfortable clothes.

In the midday heat a couple strolls
hand in hand towards the woman

who stirs her pot in the shade of sarongs
that hang from a line behind her.

She sells them ladles of soup
in mismatched bowls.

They sit on rocks by the aloes
to slurp and agree
it’s the best fish broth
they’ve ever tasted.

When bowls are empty she points
to her line of bright sarongs
Only 40 she says,

The woman says ‘they’re pretty’
and the man pulls just 20 from his fat wallet.

The old woman yields and watches

them sashay
back along the beach,
back to the sunbeds,
where they’ll try and tan
without burning,
or turning as brown as her.

She wipes her dusty hands
on a rag and casts the dregs of soup
in an arc across the sand,

back in her hut
she eats boiled rice and stale bread,
then drops her skinny frame down
onto her single mattress.

At 10 she hears the music from the hotel start.
Singing and laughter cling to the wind.
She snuffs her candle and tries to sleep.

They may dance until dawn
but she will be heading to the market then.