THE SOJOURNER PART 6&7
Enter the cyborg.
Auditorium and stage is ensconced in a darkness that is only broken by the bloody glare of one mechanical eye.
It speaks; its voice box digitalizes, flattens and amplifies the output.
“Your having stayed this long has been noted and is appreciated. It will be forwarded to High Command for possible rewards. The little boy reports that some of you feel the protagonist has had a raw deal; well… nothing has ended until ‘the end’. And even then one can never be too sure.”
“So make yourselves comfortable as we launch another mission into space. 3, 2, 1, 0…”
The door bore no name tag, unlike the others. It was deliberate. It was both a gesture of nonconformity and a distinguishing mark. Most times it was shut. Today, it stood ajar as the man behind the desk drowned in memories.
Nondescript! The word fit the person and the office in an uncanny way. There was an air of blandness about the room; one grainy college picture on the wall, a framed diploma and a couple of books occupied the desk, and a chair sat away from the door for the visitor who felt the need to use it. He exuded that same aura: from rumpled plaid shirt, on a once sizeable frame, tucked into chinos that had seen better days, to scraggly facial hair and horn-rimmed glasses. He was the portrait of the guy you meet on the way to work and forget everything about by the time you are walking into your office. Unless you looked beyond the spectacles and encountered the brilliance that glowed in those eyes, but few people did.
A rap on the door jolted him back to reality. Ms. Estevez stood there smiling. She looked as exotic as her name sounded. She was one of those women with bodies that never failed to attract a second look. Voluptuous in a Latina way, she stood at five feet, had raven black hair that reached below her shoulders and a smile that brought out the sun on a cloudy day. She was one person to whom he could apply term belle à ravir. She had been there before many of them, and was passionate about helping the kids turn out right. She wanted to know if he’d join her for cappuccino.
Lately, she had taken to dropping by, inquiring about his welfare and sometimes getting him a bite when he missed lunch—which was every other day. He was not in the mood, right now, for chit chat. He was just about to dismiss her when he saw her face, it brought on a rush of emotions he’d been trying to dam. Damn! He managed to summon a watery smile from deep within and presented it. What he could not see was that it gave away the pain that lived just beneath the surface.
The period after he left the hospital and lost the house were really trying times for him. All he wanted was to not exist. He’d contemplated suicide then tried substance abuse but the escape offered by methamphetamine only lasted so long—when it wore off, reality was waiting to welcome him. He had quit and withdrawn into himself. Subsequently, his small circle of social interactions shrank even further. So intense was the asociality that cutting him loose had been informally considered. She had been one of those who stuck with him.
Thirty odd minutes later, they were still having coffee—and talking. She was fun—and infecting him with it. He was having a good time, which was saying a lot. Since Claire’s death he’d retreated into an unexplored world that existed in the farthest recess of his being. There he did not have to deal with killing her—or the baby. The latter was one subject he refused to confront; even his most errant thought-tentacles were not allowed to touch it. How on earth could he rationalize that the only child to ever come from his loins died at his own hands. No! Stop! He inwardly screamed at himself.
A silhouette chose that moment to appear in his peripheral vision. He spun around. Nothing! For an instant there he could have sworn his eyes did not deceive him. Heck! He shook his head—to clear it. Once again, he looked through the window of the coffee shop to the street outside half expecting to see something that would set his mind at ease. Nothing!
“Forgive me. I did not catch that.” He mentally kicked himself for chasing ghosts when there was a warm, breathing (and, he suspected, very willing) being seated across him.
“No hay problema.” She flashed white teeth. “I was just saying that you work so hard to appear uninteresting when you are anything but that.”
“–Spanish? Sí. Usted va a tener que aprender.” At the lost look on his face she translated, you are going to have to learn.
He replayed what she had just said and weighed the import. He permitted a little smile to play on his lips while allowing himself to really look at her, for probably the first time. Time slowed down as his eyes settled on hers and his fingers sought hers across the table top. Their faces inched closer. He could hear her accelerated breathing and as her eyes began to close he saw an apparition reflected in them. He jerked his head back and around faster than a child who just got introduced to a hot burner. Juan was standing by the window, watching him.
In his haste, he knocked over his seat. Pairs of surprised eyes trailed his movement till he hit the sidewalk and then stopped. He looked up and down the street, left, right, left again and then right. Not a single sign of Juan.
“Mister, are you okay?” A little girl asked him.