SURESH RAMPHUL

It was a mild, lovely day. Blue Bay wasn’t crowded that Tuesday morning. Two young tourists emerged from the glittering sea, fully satisfied with their swim. The brochures hadn’t lied. Mauritius was indeed enchanting.

The wind was whistling in the trees. In Italy, they had never heard such a soothing sound. They were mesmerized.

As usual, Rattan, a 35-year-old hawker, was strolling with dozens of belts hanging over his left arm. He was asking himself if it wasn’t time to shift to another job when his eyes fell on 26-year-old Alan conversing with the tourists. He scampered towards them. The tourists appeared to be fresh from university. The taller had bushy eyebrows, rosy cheeks and tattooed arms. The shorter was adjusting his spectacles after rubbing towel fluff off his face. Rattan began reprimanding the intruder for pestering the tourists.

Alan said he was only doing his job. Rattan yelled back that the tourists needed some rest. “You’re jealous of me,” said Alan. “Don’t interfere in my work or else I make your face blue.” He was preparing to give Rattan a blow when he controlled himself. He went his way awkwardly. The tourists thanked Rattan warmly in English. They were about to leave when Rattan politely said, “I wonder if you’d spare me a minute.” Unwilling to offend him, the tourists paused. Rattan shook off his backpack and placed before them his items of handicraft. They watched uninterestedly.

With years Rattan had picked up some foreign words in several languages. Moreover, he possessed the ability to win people over easily. Thus, he gained their trust and managed to sell belt bags at Rs 300.00 each. The day had begun well, he thought. (The real price was Rs 50.00 each.) As they expressed interest in flowered shirts, he managed to sell them at Rs 600.00 each. (The actual price was Rs 125.00 each.)

An ice-cream seller was passing by. A few children rushed in his direction. He shouted for the tourists to hear. Not expensive, he said, special ice-cream for tourists: home-made, with genuine red sugar and exotic vanilla taste. Guarantee you getting no diabetes. The tourists listened, not knowing what to say. They deliberated and decided they would give it a try. How much? Not much, my friends. We, Mauritians, always good-hearted, for you, we make only Rs 250.00 each. They paid. (At the most, they cost Rs 15.00 each.)

Hawkers and other pedlars were aware that they were fleecing the tourists every day of their lives. But business was business. Conscience had nothing to do with it. Their logic was: if they took it in terms of morality and honesty, they’d soon be out of business. Certain politicians were messing about with public funds without any trace of guilt, so why should they?

They had developed grit, determination and instinct. You needed to play your cards right. Choosing your victim judiciously was a must.

Rattan caught the taller one ogling at a bikini-clad Mauritian woman sunbathing on a lounger. She looked stunningly gorgeous.

“We, Mauritians: very generous, very helpful,” he said. “You feeling dull, you tell. I make arrangements.” The tourists looked at him questioningly. “Massage,” he said, imitating the kneading of flour. They seemed amused.

“How much?” they asked.

“Let’s make it three thousand rupees each.”

It was incredible; far too much.

“No, you not understanding,” he muttered. “It’s a package deal. You get the ship and the cargo too, y’ see.”

No, they didn’t.

“Massage, sensational blow job…”  (He wriggled his tongue. They chuckled.) “…and, of course, the rest.”

Their eyes animated with excitement. The shorter one slightly ran his tongue all around his teeth.

“Safe place, trust me. And good stuff. Me and the chicks go back a long way. You sure will obtain value for money.”

Two hours later, they met again at the same spot. Rattan had already contacted his accomplice Alan to call a taxi. Rattan accompanied the boys to a bungalow in Pointe d’Esny. They handed the money to him. He wished them the best. They high-fived and withdrew briskly to their respective rooms.

The women were in their 30s. It wasn’t what the young fellows had expected. They travelled their eyes over them and since they had already paid and the women were not that bad, there was no point making any fuss. The women were always smiling. They invited the tourists to take hot, mint-flavoured tea. They had never heard of it. It was a powerful stimulant, typically Mauritian, said the masseuses.  The young men became as enthusiastic as children having received their favourite Xmas gifts.

When they woke up some half an hour later, the rooms were empty. Their heads were throbbing with pain. They realised their bags were missing. The shorter tourist’s heart broke in two: he had lost a bottle of perfume he had bought in Port Louis for his mom at one thousand rupees. They had told him it was imported from Dubai. He had rubbed his chin and decided that since it originated from Dubai, the quality had to be top. (In fact, it was locally made and worth Rs 50.00 or Rs 60.00.)  He had also lost his mobile phone.

The taller one was shattered too. His Adidas shoes (bought in Grand Bay at three thousand rupees) had vanished. Little did he know that elsewhere he could have obtained the same for less than rupees three hundred.  His ring had also disappeared.

They didn’t remember having had any massage or sex.

“Bloody country!” said the tattooed man, crushing his fist against the wall. “I won’t come here ever again.”

“Me, too!” replied his friend.

That same evening, the Minister of Tourism was stating on television that Mauritius was “une destination de rêve pour les touristes »…