‘Twas a dark and clichéd night. The twin headlights strained to pierce the pea-soup fog as the jet-black limousine glided through the gloom of the low-lying Louisiana marshland like a sinister, marauding alligator, or perhaps a low-flying duck. Mack’s heart pounded in his chest and cold sweat trickled from his brow. His beady eyes flitted twitchingly between the white-lined road, and the rear-view mirror. Had they seen him? Was he being tailed? He could not be sure. His head grew heavy and his sight grew dim. He’d have to stop for the night. The deserted ‘Last Chance Motel’ wore its garish neon sign like a halo. But would this fateful evening turn out to be heavenly, or hellish? Only time would tell.
The car pulled into the drive and stopped. Dead. Mack, trying to hide his nerves, sauntered, as nonchalantly as his present state would allow, to the door marked ‘Office.’ He rapped on the door thrice, but hearing nothing, pushed the squeaking door open and peered inside. To his shock and horror, there, on the floor, in a pool of blood, lay the cold, lifeless body of a dead man. His eyes stared, mute and blank, at the ceiling. Mack was shaken, but not stirred. He immediately set about the task of rifling through the drawers, but the dead man was ‘going commando’, so he settled for rifling through his pockets instead, all the while scanning the room for the hotel safe. The safe was in the small ante-room at the back, but, alas for Mack, it had already given up its treasures to an earlier guest. Mack turned on his heel and beat a hasty retreat. The powerful engine roared to life and the tyres screeched their goodbyes. Back on the road again, it wasn’t long before that old feeling started to gnaw at him once more. Jolene, Jolene…Jolene! Jo-lene! She could have her choice of men, but Mack could never love again. She was the only one for him…Jolene. Had it been her all along? Had she toyed with him as she had toyed with so many of her other boys? Her ‘toy boys’? He’d been played all right. She’d played him like a dime-store glockenspiel. She’d played him like a 12 inch extended dance mix of ‘Walk Like An Egyptian.’ She’d played him like a game of Craps.
He grasped the wheel harder until his knuckles showed white in the dashboard light. He glanced furtively at his watch. Yep, still there. He checked the time on the dashboard clock. 12 midnight. The Witching Hour. He looked up to see a blood-red moon dripping vermillion light and staining the bayou. Somewhere in the distance a coyote howled and an owl gave a hoot.
Did Jolene give one? Mack doubted it. He vowed that tomorrow would be another day. After all, he mused, what does not kill us makes us stronger. There were, of course, plenty more fish in the sea, and Mack knew that a woman was like a bus, if you miss one there’ll be another along shortly. And when all is said and done, it is better to have loved a short girl than never to have loved a tall.
The long, black-windowed limousine cruised the foreboding highway like a dark angel of death, pausing only once to refuel its insatiable long-haul tanks, and once for Mack to take a wizz. “Tomorrow,” he swore to himself, “tomorrow, I will start over.” And how prophetic his words would prove to be. For, as yet unbeknownst to Mack, the agency had rung with the news that Brad Pitt would take the role after all.
Mack was therefore free to pursue “other projects.”
What Did You See, My Blue Eyed Son?
Moto-sighing around my recently adopted Isaan homeland, armed only with a camera and a smile, I have seen some wondrous sights, had not a few exotic adventures, and been privileged to have been stirred by the meeting of some of the most beautiful people imaginable. At least one of these meetings will haunt me forever.
Taking the ‘path less traveled’ and veering off the main road, I found myself on a side street lined with shop-houses overlooking the railway line. Suddenly I caught sight of a pair of child’s legs hanging limply from a young mother’s lap. The sort of legs you see shakily supporting the walking skeletons enduring African droughts. The sort of legs where the skin wraps tightly around the bone, proving beyond doubt that there had never been any flesh to begin with. This child had always been that thin.
I stopped the bike and gingerly approached the mother. She eyed me curiously, neither of us knowing exactly what I was doing there. I motioned toward the child and asked in my ridiculous Thai: “Sabidee Mai?” She shook her head. “Mai Sabidee.” Not okay.
Lost for words, I mimed wiping my forehead, as if the April afternoon heat were the least of the child’s worries. “Chai” she agreed, and wiped his forehead. “Hot.” The dribble on the little one’s chin and the vacant eyes bespoke a lifetime of waiting. Waiting for attention. Waiting for food. Waiting to ‘get better.’ Waiting for an end?
I took the only note I had in my wallet and offered it to the mother with a wai. The smile returned me held no shame. I had added my light to the sum of light. There was nothing left to say. I blessed both madonna and child under my breath, kick-started the bike with my strong, healthy legs, and rode back into the city.
But not the same city I had come from.