The Calm Before The Storm

We stood huddled together on the sidewalk outside Sabrina’s, finishing off the dregs of our conversation, until Gregor’s cell phone lit up like a Christmas tree and he had to excuse himself to take care of some business. We said we’d see him the following evening before Alex told me that he’d like to take a walk down to the harbour. I’ve always found standing on the shore of any large body of water very relaxing so I was more than happy to accompany him.

No words were exchanged between us as we moved through the thin Friday night crowds but it was a comfortable silence that traced our steps. I was searching for the words to convey all of the thoughts careening around in my head and Alex seemed to understand that I needed some time to do that. He passed the time by admiring the various turn of the century buildings and stopped a couple of times to examine pieces of Native artwork hanging in gallery windows.

By the time we reached the water’s edge I had thought of no eloquent turns of phrase, no perfectly worded explanations. So I decided to just keep it simple.

“I’m sorry for being such a complete fool.”

“Did you take the pills I left you?” A sudden smile split his face in two when I shook my head no. “I did not think so. You are looking much better already.”

“Thanks to you,” I said as I gazed at the lights of downtown reflecting in the dark, gently surging waters. I breathed in the salty air, sucking it deep into my lungs before releasing it to continue its voyage around the world. My hand, tucked away in my jacket pocket, whispered a request for relief that was drowned out by the rumble of a passing car on the street behind us. “I don’t know what happened. I’ve never needed anything like that before – not cigarettes, not booze, not sex.”

“And you are not clear of it yet,” Alex said, resting his forearms on the railing before us. “I think it was confronted early enough that it will not haunt you for too long, but it is not as simple as saying no once and you are free.”

“You almost sound like you know what you’re talking about,” I replied without turning to face him.

“Growing up on the streets of Port-au-Prince you see too much. You are tempted too much. Anything that might bring escape from the reality that pushes you down, day after day, is… hard to turn your back on.” I knew there was more to tell but I knew better than to dig for it. After two minutes passed without comment I began to think that was all he would share with me but then he spoke again.

“I came home one day last summer, a little earlier than I usually do. I found my mother on the floor, blood leaking from her nose, sweat pouring off her body. The cocaine she had not yet taken was sitting on the floor beside her. That was the day I decided to get my family out of Haiti.”

I wanted to say that I was sorry but the words died on my tongue as soon as I tasted how empty and futile they were. I tried to apologize again for my own reckless actions but the realization that my regret would change nothing kept my lips sealed. So instead we just stood with our thoughts, our doubts, our regrets, and our worries circling us like starving vultures.

“Are you ready to go back?” I asked when he turned to rest his back on the railing.

“Yes, I think it is time for us to rest before facing the challenges of tomorrow.”

On the way back to the hotel we passed by a homeless man resting beside his grocery cart. All of his possessions were crammed into its steel cage and he was picking through it with a confused look on his face, as though he wasn’t finding something he was certain should be there.

“Is everything okay?” Alex asked as we both slowed to a halt in front of him.

“Mind your own damned business,” he muttered without looking up. He did not smell of alcohol, just of clothes too long lived in without a trip through a washing machine.

“You’ll find he’s not very good at that,” I said with a wink in Alex’s direction, “so I’d suggest just telling us what you’re looking for and maybe we can help out.”

His response to this was to quite firmly, with rather inventive and colourful language, inform us where to go and what we should do to it each other when we got there. We decided at that point it was best to retreat and leave him to his search before he found something to attack us with.

“I suppose not everyone wants to be helped,” I observed once we were safely out of earshot.

“Those are the ones that usually need it the most. My mother did not want any at first and neither did you.”

“Good point,” I said as I looked back at the man who was stilling eying us suspiciously, as though we might return to bother him some more at any moment. “Maybe we should try again tomorrow, see if we can’t track him down.”

“A conversation or two with complete strangers will do little to improve his situation.” He paused and glanced sideways at me. “It is better to come from family… or a friend.”

“Thank you for stopping me so that my family wouldn’t have to,” I replied quietly and he simply smiled and shrugged.

We made it all the way back to the hallway outside our rooms without speaking again, sneaking past Doris while she was busy checking in two newly arrived families. Alex unlocked his door before turning to face me once more.

“Do you still have the two I left in the bottle or do you need more pills to help you sleep?”

“I might have stepped on those while I was getting ready for dinner,” I said while my eyes searched the ceiling tiles in thought. “And thanks but no, I think I’ll go without tonight.”

“Are you sure? I do not want you to spend the night in pain – you need your rest.”

“No doubt in my mind. I don’t need that poison and I don’t want it anywhere near me.” I moved to my door and unlocked it before adding, “Have a good night and I’ll see you in the morning for breakfast downstairs. Then we’ll have a look around the city, have lunch with Doc, get our butts to the arena, and then you can finally knock The Killer the hell out. Sound good?”

“Sounds perfect. Good night.”

Our doors clicked closed, one after the other, and I was left to spend the night alone with my demons.

The End

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