On his father’s forty-second birthday, as the smells of salt and kelp wafted up from the bay, and seagulls circled and screeched beneath the wispy clouds, Suleiman Grandee returned home early from the police academy. He entered the small blue house on Ghubari Street, and locked the front door behind him. “Ma! Pa!” he shouted, but received no reply. He had expected none. He wrapped the new pipe and he tobacco pouch he had purchased for his father, and placed the birthday gifts on the dining room table.
He hoped his mother would be home that evening, as he wanted to give them both the news. She would try to hide her tears of joy when he told them that he was to graduate top of his class, and that his natural talent for forensics and investigative procedure had been rewarded. He would be the youngest officer ever to be employed as a detective in the local police force. His father would quietly light his pipe and say something like: “Why are you crying, Jhanikee, we always knew the boy would be like Sherlock Holmes.”
A small bottle of amber liquid caught his eye. He removed it from the mantelpiece where it had been for as far back as he could remember, the memory of his father’s admonishment ringing in his ears: “Don’t touch that,” Mr. Grandee had shouted, shaking a sun-browned finger at him, “don’t you ever touch that.”
But that was six years ago, when he was only fifteen. With his father at work at the harbor, and his mother visiting great aunt Kalaibati, who was ill, he would finally have his chance to investigate this small domestic mystery. He struggled with the cork, which refused resolutely to come out. Squinting at the fine print on the label, he read: “Cosmic Ale. Turn cork 42 times widdershins.” Widdershins? Was that clockwise or counterclockwise? He tried clockwise, counting carefully under his breath: “One, two, three … ”
He noticed the shadows shifting within the golden fluid. It was these movements of light and darkness that he had first spied reflected in the white wall above the mantlepiece. It was this that had piqued his interest in the bottle.” … 42,” he counted, and pulled at the cork. Nothing happened.
There was a sharp knock at the door which made him jump – rap-rap-rap … rap-rap. He tiptoed over, and placed an eye to the peephole. It was an old man with a face like a dried prune. He looked vaguely familiar. Probably just an old beggar. Suleiman would pretend there was nobody home.
Back at the table, he picked up the bottle. Perhaps I did not turn it fully each of the forty two times, he thought, or perhaps widdershins is counterclockwise. He started counting and turning again. Its pulsating warmth surprised him, and there were the shadows again, as if something majestic was moving within.
At the count of 42, the bottle released its cork with a soft pop. A pleasant yeasty aroma filled the air. Suleiman placed the bottle on the table. Had he spilt some? Would his father notice? A sucking noise increased in loudness until it sounded like the wind in the bay on a stormy night. It appeared to be coming from a single bubble that had separated from it’s neighbours and was floating towards the surface, expanding as it went. At the same time the room appeared to be shrinking. Suddenly it was quiet. Suleiman Grandee found himself in a vineyard under a turbulent sky.