Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mozambique: Getting Help

Roy Brown - Hard Luck Blues

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     The traffic rolled by like an empty song played on a rubber band stretched tight. I could feel its discordant twang in my guts. The snap was coming.

     Africa-time. No clocks, no bus schedules, no ETDs or ETAs. Time was a heart drum that I couldn’t play. The earth and my body, the sky and my soul are not pounding our feet against the dance floor in step.

     I would say many minutes passed, but they could have been hours or they could have been seconds. Time passed and I stood at the edge of the road as the muck of the city started sucking me under.

     Gray, gray, everything gray.

     “Mother,” a little boy said, shoving sticky hands under my nose, “Give me my pen.”

     I shot the kid a sideways glance. “I’m not your mother and you don’t have a pen. I do, and it’s mine.”

     The words missed by a mile.

     He tried again: “Mother, give me my pen.”

     A “no” snapped quick across my tongue before I had a chance to feel the guilt-knife twist in my side. I have. He does not. I have seen this poverty for a while now and I have not grown numb to it. I have grown sick of it.

     Eyes still blank against the passing cars, I reached down and unzipped my purse but he was gone before I could hand him the tangerine.

What my backpack saw.

     I let the details float to the surface only one at a time. My brain felt fuzzy. There wasn’t enough of me to register the gravity of what I’d done so I just stood there in mud while my backpack made its merry way down to the capital, strapped to the roof of the bus. Speeding along without a hitch, no doubt.

     People buzzed by, moving at 8x.

     My computer was in that backpack. My money, my ATM card, my camera, my clothes.

     Above me, the last of the clouds had dissolved. I stood in the sunshine, but it was discomforting. Small pearls of sweat boiled out of my skin.

     My journal was in that backpack; the one I keep my notes and early drafts in. I’ve been known to pull a journal out of the jaws of a bear so you can bet I’m not about to let a bus run off with one. I just need to think.

Wonder if I could catch up with the bus in a rickshaw.

     Hot in the sun, I took hold of the zipper that ran around my right leg, just above the knee. Making the conversion to shorts would help me think. My mind needed air on my legs. I unzipped my pants.

     A woman a little older than me happened to be walking by at just that moment. When she saw me disrobing from the knee down she froze in her tracks. One outstretched arm reached towards the source of her astonishment. Here, it was not impolite to point, just so long as you used your whole hand to do it.

     Watching her watch me transform pants into shorts I tried to imagine how very strange this must seem to her.

     Then I remembered that I knew exactly how strange it was.

     An ex-boyfriend of mine rushed through the door, late for the Halloween party.

     “Don’t be hasty,” I tried to warn him, but he shooed me away with a butcher knife.

     “I’m a chef.”

     “Will you at least take your clothes off before you cut them apart?”

     A sleeve slipped to the floor.

     “I’m a chef. I know how to handle a knife.”

     Halfway around the pant leg.

     “You’re crazy.”

     “I’m not going to-OW! FUCK!”

     It took us a few minutes to stop the bleeding.

     I must have appeared at least that nutso to the woman, standing on a street corner, ankle deep in mud, taking off the lower half of my pants.

     Once she recovered her lower jaw from the floor and popped her eyeballs back where they belonged, she laughed for a long, long time.

     Deciding to use this episode as an icebreaker, I entreated her, in an impromptu game of charades to help me figure out the luggage mess I was in.

     Oh no!

     “I know!”

     What are you going to do?

     “Know anyone with a car? I have money if we can catch up to the bus.”

     And that’s how I met Lenny and George.

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