Monday, February 28, 2011

Jackie Bauer

A good time to run away is when, as you lie with open wounds on your bed, somebody comes along with hot water and disinfectant and a face towel. This was my situation. Ailis appointed herself nurse over me and began dabbing my sore with a solution that irked the nerves aplenty, at once boiling and irritating them, such that even if sanitation was the overall idea, I would have preferred to become a troll. I would have run away, but for the twisted left ankle - which, the more I felt it out, must have torn something in there. So, immobilized, I had to make do with groaning, sweating at the nose and clenching my jaws and she had barely begun.

“So!" said Ailis, sharply, with a suspect smile. “You were running at night... why?”

I should have gathered form her tone that nonsense wouldn't do, but in my folly, I tried to confound her with a barrage of vague hot air, in-mixed with a story about my fitness regimen. Then I wasted my best charming smile on her.


She lunged at me! Mayday! screamt Alter Ego, Pinned down! And she compressed that abominable liquid heat against my wounded wrist! Pain crashed throughout my entire system's everywhere; I convulsed and jerked and swore and spun until I eventually extricated my arm from purgatory. Then I gave her a wounded stare, aiming for the pity vote. My moist eyes should have helped. “Be gentle!I protested, in falsetto for added impact.

But Ailis dumped the cloth back in the steaming bucket and asked, in a flat tone, “Were you fighting?”


It was true, but... Wrong Answer. I watched her with apprehension as she stretched her fingers into the bucket. For a while, her fingers fished about in the Boiling Ocean for the Cloth of Terror, and she was finally able to wring it. And she was saying, “Antony, you know, I know you better than you think. You can't cheat me. Were you fighting?”

There was only enough time to swallow a rising bubble of horror in my throat before I was kicking and cursing as she imposed hot chemical pain on a wound in my elbow I hadn't realized was within her reach. It was hell. I managed to croak, “I feel like dying!" just before the heavens shone forth the type of cosmic light which illuminates the elevator by which the soul leaves the body. But my inquisitor knew her trade; she released me before I kicked the bucket (but after I had already kicked the air, the wall, the mattress, headbutted the headboard) while struggling to end the painful, um, pain.

I spontaneously confessed in the succeeding tranquil that, indeed, I was running at night. I also freely volunteered that I had been chasing Lucas in order to catch him and intimidate him a little, but alas! Before I could grab him I tripped, fell, got hurt and changed my mind. Lastly I recounted how, as I came home, I was expecting to enjoy rest and recovery in peace and quiet "...but I guess today just isn't my day.”

Ailis smiled. It didn't convince me at all. “Too bad," she opined in a neutral tone from her perch on the stool, as she submerged the Wool of Woe in the Bucket of Bitterness - and fetched it back immediately. “Were you drinking?”

It sounded like any other question, but by now I knew better. Thus, I said fearlessly that there was no law against drinking, and I wasn't drunk, was I? But her piercing eyes practically darkened and yellowed as I spoke, so that I was going to shut up shortly if she hadn't interrupted my concluding remarks.

“I suggest you answer the question!”

But she gave no time! She attacked my shoulder with that soaked steaming stinging fabric!

I saw, with painful clarity, a divine revelation: violence begets violence; I shouldn't have tried to chase Lucas, and I wouldn't be there, suffering, hence the world is a cycle. That instant, I foreswore violence but first I had to push Ailis away from me. It was futile. She was poised like a hunting lioness and at any rate my pushing limbs were all injured at the joints. When this final attempt at violence failed, I turned to a delirious diplomacy, relying heavily on tactics of appeasement: I declared that I had only taken one drink I swear! and I would never drink again or try to fight - ever. The pained rant ended when I baptized myself “...Pacifist Teetotaler.”

Ailis collapsed upon me with laughter. I didn't laugh along. I was too engrossed with heaving a sigh of relief and reaching sneakily for that dastardly rag in her hand. I wanted to grab it suddenly while laughter distracted her.

But she turned her laughing eyes on me in a way that made us both suddenly aware of the following:
1. no longer was she perched on the stool, 2. we were in each others' arm on the bed (the 'other arms' were jerking about in a tug-of-war for the cloth), 3. I was shirtless, 4.) our foreheads were touching and 5.) we were both staring dead straight ahead.

*Awkward silence here*

“Goodnight!" exclaimed Ailis, suddenly moving away.

She fled the scene with an awkward wave.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Homecoming Not As Usual

I limped home from my almost-violent almost-altercation with Lucas and his men. A little help from a friend (Furri-Furri) had done the trick for me. In my flying rush to catch a fleeing Lucas while threatening to teach him manners, I’d twisted my historically problematic left ankle, and fallen on rough tarmac like a sack of apples each out to impress Sir Isaac Newton, and consequently I had very nearly died of screaming in pain. So I abandoned the chase and directed my fragile steps towards my room.

I was surprised to find Ailis waiting for me right outside my locked door. Her stance – crossed arms, crossed feet, forward leaning body – all indicated that she had grown impatient. Her facial expression expressed displeasure and disappointment, which I found presumptive. We hadn't organized to meet that night or any other, but she had clearly taken for granted that just because we met every night for supper, that there was some sort of obligation upon me to be there each time. But as she surveyed my gait as I approached her, she saw me limping, and she perked up with concern. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

I said nothing, as my mind was still demystifying the touchy implications of her presumptive assumptions. Did she think there was more to us than regular gossip-flavored supper? The idea was... new. How dare she even...? I couldn't help perceiving that she thought my decision to go missing that night should have been vetted and approved first. My injuries weighed heavily upon me, to the extent that they were cramping my (walking) style, so I didn't want to have to deal with her issues that were threatening to emerge right then. I searched her face for traces of that anger I had seen earlier but all I saw was a genuine concern as she stared at my uncomfortable limping. Meanwhile the security light just outside my door illuminated the fact that my high-speed tumble in the pothole had me worse for wear, and rather dusty too; torn of skin and clothing.

“What happened to you?!” Ailis demanded, in a much less composed tone, when we eventually met under the light and in front of the door.

“I was running and I fell,” I said in a deadpan everyday tone while searching pockets for my keys.

“You smell like alcohol,” she said shrilly, “Why were you running at night?”

I laughed, catching an uncomfortable implication in her words. We entered my room. Immediately, I let myself fall spread-eagled on the bed. I wanted only to sleep, and fast - my nerves had had it with jarring pain and a foolish limp whereas I could have taken a motorbike, and I was probably bleeding too - if so, I didn't want to see it at all; not if I could sleep and wake up first before dealing with it in the morning, when embarrassment was no longer charging through all my systems.

Ailis on her part was in a hurry to go nowhere; she turned on the TV, picked a stool and settled it near my head. Then she took a seat facing me, noisy TV to her back. I stared at her worried expression as I lay on my stomach; it seemed like as she surveyed me, her eyes moving back and forth from head to toe, she too felt the painful sting of my wounds. A delicate grimace was on her face.

“You’ve got too much weirdness going on in your life right now,” she said, waving outstretched fingers about, “Were you fighting...? Why didn’t you tell me you were going out? I didn’t know you would be going out. If I was there this wouldn’t be happening… So you fight?”

I said I wasn’t fighting. I was running and I tripped so I fell.

“Running? Why? Are you drunk?”


The puzzled look in her face was the last thing I saw before I fell asleep. Something about having many wounds all over one’s body simply invites sleep. I vanished into dreamland quickly, and the worried words of Ailis seemed to drift into the darkening distance, meaningless and ineffectual mutterings full of emotion and empty on substance (so I told myself). Her concern was nonetheless touching, even if a bit annoying in the manner of its manifestation. I dislike attention. And I was realizing, rather uncomfortably, that I needed to conceptualize our relations with Ailis in a different light, and stop operating on assumed givens, which transition would likely involve a long sentimental talk, which looked to me like a clumsy task whose outcome could only end one way: scarily.

Sleep was a welcome diversion. Hopefully Ailis would see herself out after realizing I had actually slept, I figured.

However, after an indeterminate while, I woke up with a start, and yelping too, much like a dog kicked out of its sleep. Jolting pain shot through my body in crashing waves, originating from my arm. Looking up to discover why, I found Ailis pressing a hot steaming fabric against a raw graze in my elbow, and the air was thick with the smell of boiling disinfectant. Completing the picture was a steaming container on the floor beside my bed which belched fumes that stank decidedly medically.

The tripartite agreement between my open wounds, hot water and disinfectant, facilitated by Ailis' strong pressure, made me incoherent. But Ailis was far from done - she had only just begun.

"Relax," she said, in a way that only made me more tense. "You'll thank me for this one day. Remove your shirt."

It was an order.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Last Drink: Tidal Shifts

Surrounded by hostile enemies in a bar, my confidence was ebbing. I knew that as soon as I finished my drink, I had a fierce beating to absorb. Once I’d reconciled myself with that fate, I could let go of notions of bravery and heroism. I determined to take my punishment quietly and honorably, with dignity and pride and inner peace. Somehow.

But at least they were letting me finish my drink first before that beating had to be administered. Or so I thought.

My original strategy had been to drink the beer so slowly as to bore my enemies into leaving me there after a long wait. But one of Lucas’ henchmen, the one with a Mohawk adorning his head, took the initiative proactively: he snatched the Guinness out of my clutches and swilled the last of it in one gulp. “There.”

Defeated, I rose to my feet to lead Lucas and his crew outside. And I led the way, walking in a ponderous gait, gaze downcast. I mentally prepared myself for the violence that was soon to be visited upon me. Staging the massacre of myself near Lucas’ car briefly appeared to be a bright idea because I knew Angela would be in that car. Maybe she would raise her voice for justice if she saw me being pulverized. But I knew this was a long shot.

Someone in the bar called out my name before I was shepherded out of the premises. I turned my head to look and caught a glimpse of Furri-Furri, a Ugandan friend. He was signaling me to approach him where he sat with his lady - she seemed to dazedly scrutinize a parade of empty bottles before them on the table they occupied. I faltered as I considered going to them to say hi, but Lucas, who was behind me, pushed me hard in my back so that I stumbled forward, onward to slaughter.

Furri-Furri saw all this. Being a clever guy, he read the situation correctly and decided to involve himself. He followed us outside, joining us just as Lucas was wrapping his sweaty left palm around the front of my collar and rolling up a fist with his right. I was tiptoeing on the balls of my feet in a weak-willed preparation to whip a kick in Lucas’ exposed balls if indeed Lucas turned out to be foolish enough to send that fist of his at me. Neither of us struck the other, though, because Furri-Furri stepped right in - and started buddy-talking me enthusiastically.

“You man!” Furri-Furri smiled with me, widely, as though my collar wasn’t at that exact moment in the grip of an aggressive man bent on bringing physical harm to me. “What happened that day?” I had no idea what he was talking about. “You disappeared!” His eyes shone with mischief. Catching on gradually, I decided to play along by offering a fist bump which he returned vigorously.

Furri-Furri is powerfully built, albeit slightly shorter than I am. His aura, manner of carriage and general bearing all suggest violence; a certain reckless daredevilry reeks off him. Just talking to him revived the fight in me.

I disentangled Lucas’ hand off my shirt with a casual chop and continued my inane chat with Furri-Furri. “I tried to call you back and you were also not at your place!” I was speaking over-enthusiastically, with exaggerated grandiose gestures, just like Furri-Furri’s, except the Ugandan’s gestures were better styled to the work of displaying his fearsome musculature – and very effective at that. Mine was a forced performance whereas his menace came "naturally".

Lucas was bothered by the sudden climate change in my attitude; he faced Furri-Furri and said “Excuse us,” and was replied simply and instantly with “No.” The Ugandan hulk turned to me with his companionable smile. “Ooh! That day I was wasted you man! Naps! Even I heard somebody knocking. But I said fuck off let me first sleep.”

We laughed, crassly, as I nodded energetically, because he had spoken dangerously.

At this juncture in the proceedings, Angela emerged from Lucas’ car and joined us. She was in a high temper, fixing Lucas an impatient pout. “Are we going to Westie now or what?” she demanded, “Hopefully today.” Furri-Furri turned his shaggy head squarely at her, giving her a fierce appraising look that seemed to have to force its way under his eyebrows, but although he said nothing, he somehow conveyed that he could have done without her noisy interruption. Such direct glaring first intimidated and then totally killed Angela’s queenly airs: she suddenly became uncharacteristically docile - which did nothing to civilize the Ugandan's unmitigated harsh look or even to divert it from her.

I seized the initiative. “Let me talk to Lucas aside for a minute; you guys just wait for me here,” I said to Furri-Furri. He nodded; “Easy, man! I’m here!” (which meant many things!) And as Lucas and I went “aside to talk,” we left three friends of Lucas facing a monstrously muscular Ugandan who wasn’t smiling with them. Angela fled the scene quietly; she wisely went back inside the car.

“Aside” was a road leading into what looked like darkness beyond. When Lucas and I got to “aside”, I asked him to let me know exactly what topic it was that he wanted to talk about which could only be discussed outside and why; and because something in my tone conveyed evil, he first checked that my fists weren’t clenched. Failing that assurance, he took off running towards the distant darkness.

I chased after him. Predator instinct, but do I say.

There was chaos and a little shouting and yelling behind us, but I knew Furri-Furri was fully in charge of the situation.

I had the time of my life chasing after Lucas. In fact I was quite amused to see him run with dedication that I taunted him, laughing as I ran. Being fast, I was gaining on Lucas, intent on seeing if I could scare him into pissing his pants. The fact that there was an audience - a scattering of drinking and otherwise partying students milling about that darkened road - only added to my speed and flair. Yes, I began to show off.

But my left foot found a pothole at the critical juncture when my arm was outstretched and my hand poised to swoop and grab Lucas’ collar from behind for a very comical end to the chase. He would have stopped with difficulty, his neck being momentarily strangulated on his collar by his own running momentum; perhaps a few of his shirt buttons would have popped off and gone flying away as a result, and I would have let him fall on his back, a victim of his own inertia. Just like in the cartoons, is how I visualized it.

The accidental discovery by my left foot of said pothole in the darkness twisted the associated left ankle, and I tumbled clumsily on the rough tarmac in pain, feeling foolish for falling down just when I was ready for the swoop. I knew the chase was over. This did not stop Lucas from rapidly hot-stepping it deeper into the darkness. As I watched him go, I smiled a pained grimace, a feat made harder by the hysterical laughter of those drunken youths who had seen me fall. For a while, self-consciousness anesthetized me as my pride had to contend with the image of that weasel Lucas scurrying away.

Rising slowly to my feet, I made a mental note to thank Furri-Furri later, and I limped homeward.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Last Drink...

My previous encounter with alcohol had failed to convince me that its virtues were make-believe. I’d come out injured and scarred, after participating in a scuffle which was really about rival sports teams, a woman, alcohol, raw brutality, expected sex and foul language more than anything else. The lesson I was meant to learn got lost in the chaos and noise, so I went right back to the same bar a few weeks later. Unwisely, I went alone, devoid of the company of Wise Men.

In those days I had a penchant for saying hi to associates in the most superficial manner and then proceeding to sit by myself. While I was alone, my eyes fixed on a muted television set showing reruns of international football friendly matches. My ears wallowed in music from I-don’t-know-where.

Developments soon turned against me. Angela - of all people - materialized from amidst the lively crowd, sat across the table from me and started humming, preening and making all sorts of little feminine gesticulations while looking at me fixedly.

I smiled; “Are you going to say hi or should I?”

She laughed icily and said, “I’m waiting for my boyfriend, so don’t feel like you have to talk to me, coz I’ll just sit here and be gone once he shows up. We’re goin' Westie.”

“Have fun,” I said, and tried to ignore her.

But our eyes kept meeting. Inevitably, I saw that she had a black eye. She saw that I had seen – my expression must have betrayed my feelings towards the eyesore – and she willed me not to mention it.

“How’s GalPal?” I asked, out of curiosity - I can’t really say I was changing the topic.

Angela shrugged, looked at me and said, “Forget her, Negroid, she ain’t your type.” It was hard not to take offence, but I think my eyes darkened and I kept very quiet, to avoid calling her Mrs. Matchmaker when she was so obviously drunk and impervious to sarcastic rejoinders. I didn’t even say “eye patch,” no. Still, I didn’t have to stew in my own angry juices too long; the cold Guinness before me civilized my outlook in short order, and my stare roamed to and fro around the bar in the name of avoiding having to recognize Angela’s presence.

Soon enough, Angela’s boyfriend showed up to take her away. Foolishly, I had expected that Angela would simply leave with him and I would immediately recover from the effects of being in her evil presence. That was not to be, for said boyfriend looked at me and, at the instant of recognition, snapped out of his semi-consciously dull stare, jumping straight into a livid rage.

He signaled over his shoulder at three guys I hadn’t noticed, and they all approached my table and took a seat, each giving me questioning looks. One even offered a handshake; he had a stylish Mohawk on his head and we bumped fists. Angela’s boyfriend, Lucas, then introduced me formally to his entourage: “This one of the guys who piga’d me last time I was goin’ digz!” And right then, the questioning looks of his friends turned to menacing airs. Lucas made a show of his clenched jaws, which made Angela start drama routines as she demanded to know whether or not they were going to Westie after all. No answer was forthcoming from the businesslike expressions all around her. Exasperated, she snapped, “I’ll be in the car!” and stormed out, heads turning in her wake.

There was a brief silence at our table as we stared after Angela stomping away in stilettos. Eyes all over the bar converged on our table as drunken youths sought a hint as to what made the lady so unhappy, but all there was to see there were some guys looking at one other badly and not fighting - or even talking. Mama Drama, they decided, leaving us well alone.

But Lucas had an agenda. He jumbled out a self indulgent rant about how me and another Wise Man ganged up on him, and pummeled his brains out at a time when all he wanted was to go home to his girlfriend and sleep (with her? Before, while or after assaulting her? He didn’t say). He conveniently left out the preceding part about how he ran away from the gang-fight like a chicken, was too slow about his running, ran out of stamina anyway, stood panting and unsteady in the knees in front of a church gate, and was eventually felled with a single backhanded bitch-slap across his face from a guy shorter and thinner than he is. Lucas also forgot to clarify that I didn’t touch him (because when I chased and caught up with him, I recognized him and left him alone), but my fellow Wise Man had been too ideologically zealous to embrace peace when his opportunity came to shape destiny. I suspected that these clarifications about who hit or didn’t hit the other weren’t welcome right then, so I kept quiet, hoping to defuse the situation somehow - but there wasn’t any way out.

I wasn’t required to say much, luckily, because as soon as Lucas finished his controversial tear-jerker about our alleged unjust predations upon his person, he started worrying us all because he was “outraged" that he has just found me "canoodling with his girlfriend to add insult to injury.” Lucas’ buddy, whose Mohawk looked atrocious, now that I had been given time to reconsider it, fixed me a mean look and demanded to know why I wasn’t saying anything. I avoided stating politely that I ordinarily do not argue heated exchanges with people who smell like a backstreet brewery whose ingredients include some jet fuel. No, I just kept quiet.

“You think you’re hard!” Mohawk charged. I said nothing. Lucas got worked up and started heavy breathing, a potent demonstration of rage. “If you’re so tough, why don’t we step outside right now?”

I shook my head.

“Why not?!” shouted Mohawk above the music and the bar-crowd’s noise.

I raised my bottle and wiggled it, to demonstrate that I was too busy drinking to consider stepping outside to prove my toughness as a meaningful distraction. An erstwhile quiet henchman of Lucas’ then came up with a bright idea, which I didn’t appreciate at all: “And when you finish? Can we step outside?

I shrugged casually, trying to convey “Yeah, whatever, bring it, I don’t even care, I’ll still pulverize y’all.”

The point is, all five of us round that table were simply seated there looking keenly at the level of alcohol in a dark bottle. I was no fool. I knew that my best strategy was to take a sip an hour, because the bar was crowded with people and not one of them was friendly enough or strong enough or even familiar enough to recruit to my cause. I sighed and looked around; where would my help come from?! With divine insight, I discerned what The Psalmist was going through when he lamented, “I am surrounded by my enemies!”