by Ares Demertzis (April 2009)
A mysteriously dark and oppressive pistachio sky hung low over my head; wine colored stars gazed down unconcerned by the plight of a yellow boat plowing with angry difficulty through a murky crimson liquid that I assumed to be the sea. I watched myself sitting on a rusting, white railing that circled an empty deck, effortlessly lifting my right arm and pushing it carefully through the sharp edges of a crescent moon; the shimmering, ever-lengthening appendage extended itself gracefully, disappearing into unfathomable heavens. The explosion was swift and violent; bright orange flames resembling flashes of lightning burst in comic strip animation from amidships, tearing the vessel in two, sucking everything into a ruthless vortex, propelling all into the unfathomable, aquatic deep. I twisted my body away from a crashing wave and felt the frigid water splash across my chest.
The glass shattering against the hotel room´s tile floor woke me. My torso was dripping with bourbon. It´s always been my habit to sip a nightcap in bed, the glass balanced precariously as I await the arrival of Morpheus, on occasion spilling its contents when sleep comes before I finish the drink. The stagnant, tropical air in the room was rank with the odor of persistent mildew; in a better light the terminal cancer eating at the lower portion of the walls was markedly evident. There was also the reek of stale cigarette smoke, the pungent, redolent aroma of bourbon, and a delicately subtle, organic fragrance of bodily secretions from recent copulations.
I looked across the bed at the silhouetted figure curled motionless under a sheet that inadequately covered her naked body; she was still asleep. Exhausted, just like me. I had stopped counting last night after the ninth boisterous and cacophonous coupling; on each occasion the anonymous guest in an adjacent room would pound a fist on the common wall in an obviously irritated response to her energetic shrieks of pleasure. Why is it that with some women it’s an embarrassingly futile undertaking for a man to achieve an erection, and others excite him to an exhausting copulative frenzy? I wondered if women were also programmed this way, or if they all were like our mothers who we are convinced submit out of a stoic duty to please their husbands; of course nothing like those whores simulating passion, attracted only by hard cash.
I met her earlier at a local, shadowy, unpleasant bar on the rough side of town. It was the kind of vulgar place popularly branded “de mala muerte,” the bad death; dirty and shabby, cluttered with tables and chairs in hopeless disrepair. A garishly illuminated platform with long poles reaching to the ceiling accommodated several naked women performing lewd and erotic routines. Excessively boisterous, dark complexioned men and rowdy, loose women were shrouded in a thick haze of opaque cigarette smoke. It was my kind of depraved, licentious, shameless joint, a place to observe and anonymously participate in the mediocre, commonplace banality of life; the watering hole I always edaciously sought out, like a re-embodiment of Toulouse-Lautrec. I was the only Caucasian.
When I walked through the door, someone at the crowded bar looked up and shouted “El Greco!” In those days, although tall and thin, I expect his identification of me was more a reflection of inebriation than my physical appearance. He bought me a beer, and alleged he was an unsuccessful artist. I pretended an inexistent interest and paid for several more in return, refusing to be indebted to anyone, even for the price of a beer. Sometime later I was sitting at a table; she was settled on my knees. I vaguely remembered watching as she flaunted her naked body without reservation on the platform, the pole emerging from between her legs as she thrust her body up and down in teasing, sadistic abandon. She now had one arm circling my neck, playfully gliding the edge of the glass containing an unidentifiable drink into my mouth, past my lips. Much of the liquid trickled down my chin, spilling to my shirt, making her squeal with foolish, childish laughter, in which I crapulently joined with overly enthusiastic cheerfulness.
“How old are you?” I asked.
From what I could discern through the concentrated haze of cigarette smoke and alcohol, she undoubtedly could have been fourteen. Or forty. She wasn´t exactly Jane Avril, who in any case was blonde, and this wasn´t the Moulin-Rouge.
“Yeah, sure. I bet you´re still a virgin.” We both roared with laughter.
I suppose I was a little intoxicated when the military patrol entered, the entire bar immediately falling silent; as though all the drunks had suddenly sobered up. The soldiers were all youngsters, teenagers really; they looked like kids dressed up for a masquerade party. Two of them took up positions on either side of the door, their fingers engaging the trigger of their assault rifles; the others proceeded to casually meander through the room physically searching the patrons, who mechanically and without complaint submitted obediently to the process.
“What´s going on?”
“They are looking for to find guns.”
“You cannot have no gun in Honduras. The government she is afraid for people to have gun.”
“No citizen uprising allowed, eh? My government is trying to do the same thing. Only the crooked crooks and the crooked government can have guns.”
“We are sheep.”
One of the soldiers stood in front of me; she jumped hastily off my lap and said “stand up.”
“Fuck no. I don´t stand up for nobody!”
“Stand up!” She shouted frantically, pulling on my arm.
The soldier poked me with the butt of his rifle. “Hey! Don´t you fucking touch me! Where I come from that’s considered assault. A felony.”
“Por favor! They will shoot you! Stand up! Stand up!” And she started screaming at me at the top of her voice in the bizarrely hushed bar, where everyone was frozen in place, motionless and wordlessly observing the scene. Inserting both hands under my arms, she pulled with difficulty, raising me from the chair, maintaining my swaying body in a standing position while babbling incessantly to the soldier. I was able to comprehend some words: “He´s a stranger…Don´t hurt him…Just visiting…Doesn´t live in this country…Don´t hurt him…Means no disrespect.” The boy soldier ran his hands across my back, over my pants pockets, and down either side of my legs. He left and she let me drop like a dead weight to the chair.
“You estupido!” she said disgustedly.
Reaching to the night table, I brusquely snatched the half empty bottle and took several long swallows, the fiery liquid burning my throat, racing in a slender, scorching line down the length of my chest. It was then I became aware of the martial music blaring loudly from somewhere in the hotel. Some drunken son of a bitch who likes military music, I growled irritably; Latin Americans are notoriously noisy and unconcerned regarding other people’s sensibilities.
I sat on the edge of the bed, careful not to step on the broken glass shards, and lit a cigarette. Inhaling deeply, my lungs responded with vigorous coughing in protest. Viscous phlegm rose into my mouth, provoked by a long ago diagnosed chronic bronchitis. “Keep smoking and it´ll kill you,” the doctor cautioned. “Yeah, well, something, someplace, sometime is going to end this voyage, Doc.” I don´t remember asking to be born into this world; all I want to do is get through the experience with the least possible aggravation. Lowering my head between my knees, I let the sticky mucous drip over the broken glass. Another generous drink cauterized my cough irritated throat.
I turned to look at her again, seriously considering another engagement, unconcerned that she was sleeping. I could reach over and smack her on the butt, flip her oven and have at it. The alarm clock buzzed; illuminated digital numbers read five. Five in the morning! Shit. I was still tired, my body needed more sleep, and my mind wanted her at least once again, but there wasn´t enough time. I had set the crew call for five thirty, everyone to meet in the lobby “having had,” which in movie parlance means after breakfast.
I took the bottle into the shower and persisted in sucking at its contents, even while I attempted to hastily dry myself with the puny, non absorbent towel the hotel provided, its name scrawled boldly in black indelible ink across both ends to dissuade guests from stealing it; as if someone would be interested in taking this threadbare rag home.
Without turning on the light, I touched her uncovered black ebony shoulder and she turned a sleepy face to me. “Get up and get dressed,” I ordered, “You have to leave.” I had to go to work, and there was no way I was leaving her alone with my personal effects. Without a word of protest she slipped unclothed out of bed, and we both started dressing in the semidarkness of an approaching dawn filtering through the window. Flimsy white lingerie shimmered with iridescent luminosity against her dark figure.
I courteously allowed her to walk off the elevator and into the hotel lobby in front of me. Neither of us voiced a word of farewell, or exchanged a brief, complicit look, not even the consolation of a tentative, uncertain smile. We were once again yesterday’s strangers that happened to have spent a night together. I watched her stride briskly to the ladies bathroom and almost guiltily recalled that I had rushed her out of the room without providing the opportunity for her to bathe.
“Buenos días, Señor,” my production manager greeted me. He was an elderly man who always dressed in economical suits and ties in order to distance himself from menial blue collar workers. I suspected he had been standing by the elevator awaiting my arrival for some time. He looked upset, but I knew he could not speak of the problem until after completing the culturally obligatory, formal greeting ceremony.
“Buen día,” I responded.
“You sleep well, I do hope, Señor?”
“Yes, very well.”
“Oh, that is good to know, Señor. I also sleep well. Si. The bed it is most comfortable, Señor. Thank you.” He was referring to my having provided accommodations in the same hotel in which I was staying; a remarkably munificent gesture because the crew was routinely lodged elsewhere, in much less expensive, austere surroundings. To be bluntly truthful however, the four stars this hotel boasted were categorically undeserved.
“Good. Is everyone ready to go?”
“Señor, I am sorry, there is a beeg problema!”
“Señor, last night the army it steal the government, a new general is now El Presidente. The streets they are full of soldados and tanques, we cannot leave the hotel.”
I walked to the front door and peeked out beyond the massive, intricately carved Colonial wood doors. In the feeble early morning light armored personnel carriers, tanks, jeeps and trucks were either parked or rushing along the avenue; uniformed military in battle gear, most no older than last night’s teen age soldiers, lined the sidewalks armed with assault rifles. A van with large metal speakers sprouting like oversize Mickey Mouse ears from its roof was parked on the sidewalk. They blared martial music from a radio station that was occasionally interrupted by a sonorous voice announcing the change of government, demanding calm from the citizens, and declaring martial law.
I´m going to have to call the American Embassy and see how soon they can get me out of here, I thought, and offhandedly wondered if the United States government was behind this most recent coup. The anti-Americanism in Latin America is conspicuous, the accepted and vocally articulated pretext being American interference. And yet, this position encompasses a curious contradiction, an enigmatic inconsistency, given that the exercise of aggressive, tenacious power, in all its diverse manifestations, both political and social, is that which is consistently most admired and respected.
Across the street in front of the hotel was the ubiquitous Zocalo, extant in every town, around which are situated the most significant government offices; it also functions as a public park filled with flowering trees and bushes. On weekends a local band invariably awkwardly attempts an extended performance of raucous music within a raised gazebo. Older folks sit to listen on wrought iron benches while their adolescents circle the structure, each gender strolling in opposing directions, furtively eying one another in what may be considered a public exhibition of the inherent apprehension between the sexes. Today it was empty of civilians.
“I´m going to the restaurant for some breakfast. Call the owner of the airplane we reserved and cancel. Tell him that because of this military problem we won´t be able to fly today.”
I was in Honduras to make a documentary film on Latin America that began at the Rio Grande and concluded at Tierra del Fuego. Yesterday I chartered a four passenger Cessna 172 single engine airplane and a pilot to fly me and two assistants I had employed in Mexico City to the Mayan archaeological site at Copan. We were going to spend the day filming the scattered carved stone remnants of the previous warring inhabitants of this territory.
I sat at an untidy aluminum and plastic Formica table set beside a large window with a view on the Zocalo and ordered eggs sunny side up, a side dish of sausage, toast, grapefruit juice and a double espresso. “To start the heart pumping,” I commented as a gratuitous and useless joke to the harried waitress, feeling dim-witted as she remained clearly uninterested after the words had escaped my mouth. I watched through the window as my Lady of Yesterday Evening crossed the street, skillfully maneuvering fragile six inch spike heels over cobblestones, consummately aware of the troops lustfully following every sensual ripple of her body under the thin material of her tight, very short dress. I gloatingly reflected that none of them was aware that with every stirring of those broad hips her body overflowed with my seed, moistening her thighs. Mine. She stopped on the far sidewalk and looked back, our eyes meeting almost casually. Turning indifferently, reminiscent of a legendary Carmen, she disappeared amongst the deep foliage of the park.
“Señor, the owner of the aeroplano he say is no problema. The new Presidente he is friend and will give permission. He send car and driver for we go to airport.” Well, hooray for effective political influence. The Copan shoot wasn´t to be cancelled after all.
“Tell the crew to get the gear together and stay by the entrance.”
The espresso cup was half empty. I furtively opened my silver hip flask and poured bourbon up to the brim. Then I lit another cigarette and waited.
We had been circling Copan for quite some time, the pilot frequently banking to slip into the solid cotton of bulging cumulus cloud cover, attempting to find a clear section that would allow for visual ground contact. Honduras is a continuous landscape of sharp peaked mountains, and Copan is situated in a bowl surrounded by lethal peaks for any aviator foolish enough to attempt a sightless landing. As the Cessna rushed headlong through the white oblivion, both the pilot and I anxiously eyed the instrument panel to determine altitude and level flight; you want to know when the ground is going to jump up and smack you in the ass, and that you aren´t flying upside down. When the breathtaking, heart pounding, questionable boldness could no longer be endured, he would pull back on the stick to judiciously catapult us into a blue sky that we knew was somewhere up above.
I made frequent use of my silver hip flask during that roller coaster ride. I thought back to my early morning Freudian Kodachrome dream; the violent explosion, the orange flashes of comic strip flames, the sucking of everything into a bottomless vortex. I pictured my body torn into hundreds of unrecognizable pieces scattered across the sharp rocks below, where only buzzards could claim the remains. I took another long drink.
“Listen Capitan, this cloud cover will take some time to burn off. Let´s look for a town where we can have something to eat while we´re waiting.” Actually, I wasn´t hungry; my interest was in replenishing my hip flask that was now almost depleted.
We flew below the clouds, zigzagging across spacious mountain passes and through narrow ravines without sighting any populated area. Throughout this unsuccessful search I noticed that he was frequently consulting an object in his left hand, under seat height, obviously attempting to conceal it from me. I leaned across his chest for a better look. It was a road map! “What the hell is that, captain?”
He pulled the tattered road map into plain view, “Ay! I am lost! Lost! Ay, yay, yay! I don´t know where we be.”
“That´s a road map for cars. You don´t have an air navigation chart?”
“No. Some person he stole it.”
“Use your radio.”
“It is broken, Señor.”
“Well, we´re in deep shit, Capitan.”
“We can´t just fly around indefinitely. What do you intend to do?”
“I have one idea. I will find a road to follow until we meet a bus. Then I will go low and you look to the sign that say where he is going. From this I will know where it is we are.”
The suggestion wasn´t awe-inspiring, but for the moment I didn´t have a better alternative. Of course it proved useless. When we would swoop down into the narrow, curving mountain roads, roaring above a bus heading toward us, and I imagine frightening the passengers half to death, the combined speed of the airplane flying in one direction and the bus rushing in the other made reading the final destination on the windshield impossible.
After several of these ineffective aerobics, an inexplicable interior nagging that was for some time prompting an unvoiced concern became markedly persistent. I´m not a religious person. I don´t believe in a God. I don´t believe in Angels. That said, I have witnessed inexplicable paranormal phenomena that make it difficult to ignore another, distinct reality for which I have no explanation. I have seen shamans cure, and clairvoyants predict the future.
“I´ve done a lot of flying on 172´s, Capitan, but I don´t see the fuel gauges on this one.”
“This she is older model, Señor. The gauges they are under the wings.” So the owner of the Cessna was charging me for the rental of a 172 instead of the cheaper rate for an older model. I smiled sardonically, bringing to mind the old refrain, “when you´re getting fucked, relax and enjoy it.” I looked for the fuel gauge slightly above and behind the pilot. Empty. I looked at the one over my right shoulder. Empty.
I remarked calmly, “Listen, Capitan, I think you should know we have no fuel.”
“Qué! Qué!” He performed several elaborately rhythmic twistings and turnings of his head, looking incredulously at the fuel gauge needles, each unmoving within a red triangle. “Ay! Ay, yay, yay! They did not fill my tanks!” His was not the calm, reassuring voice one generally associates with the airline profession.
“Why do you think they would do that?” I asked serenely, not because I was interested; I wanted my relaxed attitude to reduce his escalating panic.
“They do this stupid thing because we only go to Copan and return,” he answered, now more in control of his emotions, albeit cursing angrily under his breath.
The engine began to sputter in that nauseatingly recognizable manner that even motorists dread when they are on a deserted highway, having neglected to fill up at the previous gas station. No one said a word. Commentary was superfluous; the imminent deadly threat was obvious to the pilot, to me, and the two assistants sitting behind us. I pulled out my flask and drained its contents; no use letting good sour mash go to waste. In that sublime, whispering silence experienced only during glider flight, the pilot swiftly descended over several cows grazing in an exceedingly narrow, radically sloping patch of earth, frightening them away. He banked sharply, like some giant bird of prey violently pursuing its victim, wings almost scraping the rock strewn terrain, returning again to the now vacant grassy slope. We came to a bumpy, forceful landing where seconds previously cows had been foraging.
“Nice driving,” I complimented the unexpected, extraordinary ability of the pilot, adding in an inaudible mumble intended solely for my benefit, “Cheated Death again.” I lamented having needlessly and far too hastily consumed the bourbon in anticipation of my imminent demise; there wasn´t a drop left for a necessary and indispensable celebration.
With everyone out of the Cessna, the pilot informed me he was going off to look for gas; not waiting for a response, he walked purposefully up the steep incline and disappeared behind the rise. Of course, I thought, cows are domesticated animals, they don´t live in the wild; where there are cows, there must be people. The three of us left behind stood around wordlessly.
The hours passed interminably; eventually, long shadows stretched across the abruptly skewed field as the sun slumped behind intimidating jagged mountains. The temperature dropped, and my body started shivering, vibrating uncontrollably - not from the cool breeze, but rather for lack of alcohol; I recognized the familiar symptoms. It was imperative to our survival that I devise a plan. Food was not an urgent consideration, but water was indispensable, and for me, additionally, whiskey. My thought was that we would spend the night in the airplane; at first light I would leave the two Mexicans behind on the remote possibility that a search party might eventually be dispatched and they would be fortunate enough to be spotted. I intended to follow the pilot´s path by climbing over the steep ridge to find assistance. I was by this time convinced that he had abandoned us, not willing to face the consequences, on returning to the capital, of his stupid and unjustifiable oversight in not checking the Cessna´s fuel level. Truck and bus drivers are notorious for this lack of compassion, leaving the dead and injured at the scene of a serious accident and disappearing.
It was around the time these thoughts were passing through my mind that there was the first inkling of a further menace. We heard unidentifiable rustling originating from unseen sources all about us. Abruptly, we were rushed by incoherently screaming uniformed troops; they surrounded us, assault rifles ready. Disparate voices shouted angrily for us to put our hands up and face the airplane.
The government armed forces were in the mountains searching for Communist guerrillas, and in resembling the guerrillas they were pursuing, they also terrorized the populace, stealing goats and chickens, raping their daughters. Most of the soldiers, like the guerillas, were mere children, too young to clearly understand the motivation of the adults who programmed them; those theoretical ideologues fueled by the greed of personal economic considerations. Politics and government are all about greed.
After being searched, the airplane and the film equipment thoroughly explored, an arrogant young officer questioned me. That same ability to sense danger that had alerted me to the Cessna´s fuel shortage again materialized.
“We are in Honduras making a movie. Those two are Mexicans, I´m an American. We ran out of fuel and landed here. The pilot went off on foot looking for help.” I could see the incredulity in the officer´s eyes; I was obviously CIA, the others clearly mercenaries. “We have a letter of safe passage from the new government authorizing our flight,” I added.
“I can´t. The pilot has it.” The officer smiled sarcastically, lips making a scornful sound; his eyes covetously eyeing the expensive camera gear scattered on the ground. I knew he was deliberating if it was worthwhile to shoot us and keep the equipment. I considered telling him that he could take all our belongings if only they would leave, but it wasn´t going to work; those who may at a later date accuse are better left lifeless. It wasn´t looking good; it was time to gamble. “Listen, mi general, give me a cigarette” I demanded, addressing him familiarly and using the imperative conjugation. “I smoked my last one hours ago,” I added offhandedly. The derisive smile vanished; an irate expression crossing his face. I had nothing to lose in pursuing this hazardous game; he was a military man and understood the rules of engagement. If I had sufficient confidence to disrespect him and belittle his authority by ordering him about and mockingly calling him mi general, it could only be because I was “influyente” - possibly an acquaintance, or conceivably even a confidant of that real general now sitting on the Presidential throne. He mistreated me at his own peril; if my influence went high enough, he would simply vanish, perhaps accompanied by his entire family as supplementary retribution. I knew, and more importantly, he knew, that this scenario was not an isolated occurrence.
I suspected Latin American´s celebrated politeness, at times almost to the excess of fawning servility, particularly to strangers, was due in large measure to an uncertainty regarding the unknown individual’s societal or political circumstance. A faux pas to an important personality could have catastrophic consequences.
His brow wrinkled, his eyes narrowed in that clichéd manner of those lacking sufficient intelligence for the rapid assimilation of circumstances; he grudgingly pulled a crumpled pack of cheap cigarettes from his pocket, the soft package damp with perspiration. He gave them to me without a word. I pulled out one crooked, sweat stained cigarette and returned the pack, also without speaking. He passed me matches and I lit up, inhaling with enormous satisfaction. “Thank you, mi general. I will see to it when we return and I have the opportunity to make known your thoughtfulness, that you are sufficiently rewarded for your much appreciated kindness.” It was a traditionally elaborate assemblage of words that are expected from one who wishes to articulate an expression of deep gratitude. It may have been a fatal error for me to be so attentively considerate; the role of forceful jefe, was much more decisively understood. And respected. So in retrospect, it was a mistake.
The officer left several young boys with rifles to guard us and went off to be alone, about ten yards away, smoking a cigarette with discernable uncertainty as he considered how to proceed with the situation. His smoke finished, his mind made up, he walked back to me. I was sitting cross legged on the ground. “Get up and follow me,” he ordered. Then to his troops: “Bring all the equipment! And the Mexicans.”
They tied our hands behind our backs and marched us single file, soldiers in front and behind; I regretted the obvious certainty that this was going to be the shortest long walk of my life, resembling that notorious, euphemistic “last mile” of the condemned being escorted to the execution chamber. I needed another cigarette. Badly. I anticipated that the officer would give me another one if I asked for it before they shot me. After all, it was a military tradition to be given a final smoke while standing in front of a firing squad. At last, I had something encouraging to look forward to.
Suddenly the unexpected faint rumble of an approaching vehicle grew louder. Just like the predictable, immature fiction of Hollywood movies, when the settlers in their covered wagons are about to be overrun by the savage Indians and the Cavalry arrives, bugles blaring, robust stallions charging, a multiply dented Volkswagen that had once been painted a bright yellow appeared, wildly careening over the slope, rushing down in our direction, its horn blowing insistently. John Wayne, possibly the most prolific and least talented thespian of the American silver screen was in the passenger seat; his Western hat set on his head as firmly as the jaw below obdurate lips. At least that´s how the scene appeared to me. Actually, it wasn´t John Wayne; it was the pilot.
After inspecting the letter of safe passage circumspectly, in due course convinced of its authenticity, the officer appeared impressed with our credentials. A letter of safe passage, issued on the very day of the coup d’état and signed by the general who was now the President of the sovereign Democratic Republic, now that´s intimidating. The officer snapped to attention and gave us a crisp salute.
“How may I be of service?”
“Get the fuck out of my sight while you can still walk pendejo!” I snarled angrily, taking swift advantage of my new found privileged circumstance, and in the process being maliciously insulting by calling him a pubic hair.
I estimate it took approximately another three or four hours for the pilot to sufficiently refuel the Cessna. He had brought along a piece of narrow, transparent plastic hose and an empty, rusting can that in a very distant past enclosed eight ounces of Campbell´s soup. He repeatedly filled the can by sucking gas from the Volkswagen’s tank through the hose, subsequently climbing carefully up on the wing to pour the contents into the airplane. When he was at last finished it was night; a crescent moon slashed the velvet sky, bright stars jovially twinkled. He started the recalcitrant engine and we bumped our way roughly to the edge of the precipice, abruptly dropping off into sheer emptiness, being sucked down by gravity into an impenetrable blackness, before mercifully achieving level flight.
We arrived in Tegucigalpa in the early morning hours, shortly before dawn of the new day. It had apparently rained; the runway was soaked, and there was still a perceptible light drizzle floating in the air. We taxied to the hanger where a large group of people, police and army vehicles were busily swarming about, conceivably organizing a search and rescue mission for us, I optimistically surmised. The owner of the Cessna rushed infuriated to my side as I exited the airplane, stabbing an angry, reproachful finger at the pilot. “He got lost, didn´t he? El hijo de puta got lost!” I looked at the pilot who didn´t react to his mother being called a whore by his patrón; his face betrayed no emotion, although there was a beseeching expression in his eyes.
“No. We didn´t get lost.”
“Tell me the truth. It isn´t the first time este cabrón has gotten lost!”
“Copan was socked in, so we flew around and ran out of gas because the tanks hadn´t been topped off,” I replied accusingly, in reprisal for his cheating me on the fee for the Cessna, and additionally considering this scenario an ideal pretext for refusing to pay him. I felt no particular obligation to protect future clients from an unexpected, abrupt demise at the hands of this unprofessional, albeit very skilled pilot, on occasion given to embracing a precarious, suicidal necrophilia. In the final analysis, everything comes down to destiny; it’s either your time to move on, or, as in my present case, it isn´t.
“I am so sorry, Señor…so sorry,” the owner profusely apologized while personally escorting me toward the waiting limousine we had been provided yesterday morning. My production manager hurriedly materialized, solicitously cloaking my damp shoulders with a trench coat, the collar raised, giving me a Bogart appearance.
And then I saw her. My Lady of Yesterday Evening. Standing alone on the tarmac, a solitary figure separated from the crowd; she was back lit by an intense searchlight that illuminated the hangar, modestly attired in a flower print dress billowing about her legs in the gentle breeze. One hand was raised, holding tightly to a wide brimmed, straw chapeau; Jane Avril would have been envious. She intercepted me at the door to the vehicle, which the owner considerately held open.
“I wish to go with you,” she said.
“How did you know I was here?”
“I go to hotel. They say your plane it is lost in the mountain. I come to pray for you.”
She was holding a votive candle in her free hand; it is a religious practice in Latin America to light a candle for those recently deceased as a guide to the afterlife. I was nonplussed by her unexpected gesture.
“You come to my country to die,” she said. It must have been a question, but it sounded more like a statement of fact.
“Well, no. Not if I can avoid it.” I edged towards the car door. She stepped in front of me.
“I wish to go with you,” she repeated.
“I have no more money,” I replied carelessly, feeling very tired and wanting nothing other than a long nights rest.
“I do not want your money, güero,” she responded indignantly, addressing me familiarly, using the colloquial term for “whitey.”
I acknowledged her appropriate rebuke and my irritation at her impertinence with a curt gesture indicating she could board the car. Once we were seated inside, I leaned forward to the driver and whispered urgently, “Go to the nearest store that sells whiskey and cigarettes.”
“What is it you are called?” My Lady of Yesterday Evening inquired.
“Rick,” I replied.
“Ríqui,” she repeated sweetly, and her lips fashioned a tentative, uncertain smile, exposing glistening teeth that contrasted luminously against her dark complexion.
“Yeah,” I said. “Here´s looking at you, kid.”
I was certain she didn´t understand.
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