I would have gone this afternoon – to Isla del Sol, I mean. But my stomach had other plans.
Don’t know what the hell I ate, if it was something at that market – or if it was the little guy’s ‘freshly caught’ trouts. But I’m not going to be in any boat this afternoon, that’s for sure.
Damn. I want to leave and … well, let’s just say that maybe I would feel better if was alone again. Jacob’s just… well, he’s very nice and all, but he’s also –
Urgh … banjo-time again.
And no, the Spanish word doesn’t have anything to do with music.
That much I have already learned very quickly since my first stomach upset back in Mexico.
I hope the water-bucket is full this time so I can actually flush.
Deep night …
Still in Copa-bloody-cabana. Still trapped in bloody hostal Aransaya … Still trying to sleep in spite of my stomach doing the alien-thing and –
Christ, what’s that noise? Who in this izzy-bitsy-tiny hostal has a walk-man with the volume of a ghetto-blaster?!
With some effort I push the squeaky door open and guess who I find out on the patio:
“Jacob, shouldn’t you be in bed?”
“No wonder, I can’t either – not since Bono moved in.”
“This – this is a fucking great song, Carrie. Really f-fucking great.”
“Shit, Jacob – watch were you place the bottles! If you have to recreate a rock-concert, including the cheap beer, why in heaven’s name do you have to do it right out here?”
He tries to get up from the small table in the middle of the patio but he’s not doing too well. I just stand there, sleeping bag wrapped around me.
The night is ink-black and it’s freezing at least 10 degrees below zero. This town may look like some kind of mountain Riviera-heaven during the day, just as shining in real life as it is on the covers of the brochures.
But you don’t want to stumble around for too long out here when the night falls. Copacabana in Bolivia, at the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, has a much, much chillier embrace than its Brazilian namesake.
“You’ll get pneumonia if you stay out here, Jake.”
“So just go to bed, okay?”
He tries to get up again; this time he succeeds. Barely.
He looks down at his feet, as if he hadn’t heard me or as if it didn’t mattered that his feet were there or that he had only sandals or that the glass shards from another broken bottle could have gone clean through both the soles of the sandals and the soles of his feet, had he stepped on that bottle – just a little more clumsily than he already did.
I scout around, trying not to look too worried. There’s light in one other room and over in what goes for the reception.
I wonder why the owner hasn’t come around but then again maybe he doesn’t want to lose customers. This place sure looks like it could need some more tourist feed.
Suddenly Jacob just gets up, shuffles into his room, not a word of good night or anything.
He forgot something on the table, though:
Though I want to be with you
Be with you night and
I am annoyed with myself because I still bother, but I pick up his walk-man and go to his door. He opens it ajar:
Jacob looks like a ghost. I look away instinctively.
“You, uh, forgot your ‘ghettoblaster’.” I hand him the walk-man.
“Just keep it a bit down, okay? Michael Jackson must have invented those earphones; it’s like having a loudspeaker in the middle of the yard.”
He nods, but in a way that doesn’t really make me confident that he understood me. Or cared.
“G’night, Jacob. Sleep well, okay?”
He doesn’t answer, just closes the door, like somebody closing the lid to a coffin.
I want to be worried, but I really have to worry about myself. I go back to my room, swallow some more Imodium and hope it’s enough.
To keep everything locked up.
Even deeper in the night …
My stomach finally decided to reboot a bit. The pain is only like somebody tattooing me now, without sedation. But with needles, not a pair of scissors.
Aah, blessed chemicals.
I heave myself out of bed and waddle over to the wall, still with the sleeping bag wrapper around me, trying the impossible art of not letting feet touch the cold floor for too long at a time.
This is silly but … I have to be sure it wasn’t just something I imagined.
Okay, it wasn’t.
What’s he doing?! I shouldn’t care. I shouldn’t really care. But I’m already fully dressed – (yes, in my sleeping bag) – because of the damn cold and because I want to protect whatever I can still feel of my body after my little flirt with the local bacteria.
So it’s relatively easy to skid outside and over to his door, next to mine – both facing the small patio.
I just want to make sure, you know.
Some unintelligible sounds. But it is him, all right.
“Jacob – is something wrong?”
Laughter now. Not hysterical but it’s got that dangerous edge …
“ … Can I come in?”
No answer. The door is not locked. I push the door open.
And there he is, Jacob – right in the middle of his own god-awful mess. I wouldn’t have imagined that it was possible to make a mess in these rooms that look like something decorated by Spartans on a budget, but Jacob has practically torn open his rucksack and spilled its contents all over the room.
He has also, it seems, spilled quite a few gallons of that cheap local brew he must have bought on the market while I was searching for sunscreen. Some of it went directly into his mouth and the rest … well, I just stepped in something sticky on the icy tiles and it’s … not rain water.
God, it stinks in here. Has he thrown up? I can’t see anything but … I should just call the owner, shouldn’t I? This isn’t my problem.
And yet, we’ve been traveling together for almost 2 days. When have you traveled together long enough for somebody’s personal problems to become your problems as well?
I sit down on the bed, and it seems happy to squeak like pretty much everything else in this hostal that has a hinge or some other piece of moveable metal in it.
… Jacob’s just lying there, fetus-position, all curled up; still in his clothes from yesterday.
“Are you … ill?”
He shakes his head.
“Jacob … what is it?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, it does. How can you say it doesn’t matter?”
“Because it’s going to happen anyway – just like everything else.”
No answer. I look around for something – something to use to wedge myself back into this conversation that I don’t really want to be having.
“Uh, so what have we here?”
I pick up the book from somewhere between two folds of his own, Prussian blue sleeping bag. It’s part of the pile at the foot-end of Jacob’s bed; a pile that also includes a small case for his glasses (empty), an unopened beer bottle and a pair of dirty underpants.
I look at the cover. Between the beer and coffee splotches it reads unmistakably like a Jacob-book. (I told you he belonged at a university.)
“‘David Bohm: Wholeness and the Implicate Order’? – Nifty choice of travel reading, Jacob.”
“Okay – okay. Not funny. Jacob, please … ”
I gently touch his shoulder and he just lies there, as if he is dead. For a moment I become afraid that he actually is dead, if it wasn’t for the fact that I could see his chest heaving up and down, like he had to make an effort each time.
But his eyes …
He is lying on his side, looking away from me, staring into the gray wall that separates his room from mine; looking into that strange world that only he can see.
“Jacob … ”
“Uhn … ”
“Can I get you anything? Can I – ”
“I wasn’t trying to be smart, Carrie.”
“Asking you about God and everything … ”
“Oh, forget that. I just want to know if you’re ill or something or just drunk. I really don’t feel all that well myself, so if you’re just … drunk, I’ll go back, mind my own business. So is that it? Tell me you are just drunk.”
“I’m just drunk. You can go mind your own business.”
I nod and … stay rooted to the bed.
“Look, Jacob – it was nice of you to stay, to wait for me. So tomorrow we’ll go to Isla del Sol. Together.”
“Hmn … ”
“That’ll be nice, right?”
“Hnn … ”
“”So, uh, I never really got around to asking, but are you going to, uh, Cuzco next? How about the Inca Trail? I … wish I’d done that.”
“Hmm … maybe.”
“But you still have time? You’re not going home next week, are you?”
“In a month.”
“Plenty of time then.”
“Yes, plenty of… time.”
“So what then? College? Some job waiting for you?”
“Wh – ”
He doesn’t turn around, just lies there; staring hard into the wall.
“Wh –” I start again but can’t seem to do any better than that.
“Prison, Carrie. Because I’m not going to do military service for 3 years. Three! I’m not going to do that!”
“And then you … you have to go to prison? Is that for certain?”
He does something with his shoulders that I think is a shrug, pulls his legs closer to himself; still staring hard at the wall, not blinking.
“I’m sure there must be some way of – ”
I don’t have anything to say to that. He rattles on:
” – But I don’t want to go to prison. I just want to … ”
He trails off.
“I wish I knew what to say,” I say feebly.
“You don’t have to know what to say.”
“Maybe military won’t be so … I mean, maybe it’ll be better than prison. At least. Maybe it’ll – ”
“My brother died in the military.”
“ … ”
“ – Blown to bits by some suicide bomber. A girl, around 15. She came walking up to the check-point asking for candy.”
“Oh, God – I’m so sorry … I’m so sorry.”
For a moment his eyes narrow and some kind of stillness creeps into the room; stillness full of ice:
“Strange … ” he then remarks. “You use God’s name a lot. Yet, you don’t believe in some god or other.”
“It’s just a manner of speaking.” I run a hand through my hair and can’t help noticing how filtered it is. “Look, are we … going to argue about God now?”
He shakes his head; like he just awoke from some dream. Then he shivers. And changes:
“I – I don’t want you to be mad at me, Carrie.”
“I’m not mad at you.”
“I didn’t want to offend you. I didn’t want to impress you because … you shouldn’t think that I wanted to … with you … or anything.”
I almost smile.
“It’s okay. I wasn’t offended and I didn’t think you were out to score me or … ‘anything’.”
“I just … ”
He shakes his head again. I try to find something new to say. I have to.
“Look, I can understand why you don’t want to go into the army. I mean, I’d be afraid of that, too.”
“It’s not that. I just don’t want revenge.”
They demolished the entire village, Carrie. They just drove in with tanks and everything and some other children who were in the way, they got … ”
His voice breaks, like a stone got crushed in his throat.
“I’m sure they didn’t demolish the entire village?” I blurt, knowing full well that if the Israeli army want to demolish something, they are quite able to do just that.
“They just drove through some houses – ” he continues, fighting with the stone “ – houses with families. They arrested a lot, too. But they never found those responsible for sending the girl. Hamas said they did it, but Hamas is just … everywhere. You can’t arrest Hamas. It was in Gaza.”
I discover that my hand is still on his shoulder. I’m not sure if I should move it again. When is the right time to move it if you sit with someone like this?
I can also feel that the pills I swallowed are no longer working as well as they should and I really want to get to that island tomorrow. But now – now it is 4 AM and I’m sitting here.
And Siobhan is probably off to have fun with that Olympic swimmer or whomever it was we spied at the bar – if they are both still in Puno. I could have been, too.
But I’m here instead – here with skinny, beer-stinking, lip-biting Jacob.
And this, apparently, is where I’m going to stay and I loathe myself because I can’t mobilize a tiny bit of idealism about it. Yes, I want to be the pure hearted martyr if only for a moment, but I wish … I really wish he’d just stop; that I hadn’t heard all this.
I put the book away. He notices:
“I have a favorite quote by David Bohm, actually … ”
“Yes … ‘The notion that all these fragments are separately existent is evidently an illusion, and this illusion cannot do other than lead to endless conflict and confusion.’”
“Everything in the world: particles, thoughts, trees … ”
“Even Israelis and Palestinians?”
“I’m thinking … that if I can understand what Bohm means, when he talks about this … wholeness that pervades everything, then perhaps I understand for sure – with my mind – how God could exist. Okay, maybe not the God of the Torah or of your Bible but some kind of divine dimension to life – something that links us together.”
He finally sits himself up in bed, but he looks like he had already been in a war. He takes the book, weighs it in his hands, looking intently at it, as if he is trying to remember another quote from it.
“Jacob … ? Maybe you should try to get some sleep. It’s awfully late.”
“You know, I have read a dozen books about interpretations of quantum physics, Carrie: Capra, Bohm, even that one by Greene about string theory … to me they all point to some greater wholeness the binds together everything; something we can’t just explain with our theories about combinations of dead, soulless atoms racing about in empty space.”
“But what do you want … explained? Why your brother died?”
He bites his lip, seems to grip the book harder. Then tears come to his eyes. And I can see that he is ashamed of them.
“I just want to choose my own way in life – without being punished for it. And I don’t want to have revenge. I don’t want to be like that. Running over a couple of Palestinian kids with a tank doesn’t bring Levi back. I won’t be like that … I won’t.”
He lets his head sinks down on his chest, let’s the book slip from his hands:
“Even if I can somehow avoid prison – there are some ways – it’ll never be good with my family. My father is an officer. He is proud of my brother. Proud of his ‘sacrifice’ – can you believe he said that?”
Jacob looks up, staring wildly at me, like I had some of the answers he is looking for. I just have one:
“If it’s about fathers, yes, Jacob – I believe you. I believe you very, very much.”
He shakes his head again: “I should just stay here, never go back to Israel. But I can’t. Eventually I will go back. So I’m also a coward.”
“No …” I reach out for him.
He flinches, draws away.
“You … should go now,” he says.
Then he begins to pick up his stuff, no real plan to it. He just piles it in the other end of the bed.
“Jacob, I – ”
“I’m sorry I woke you up. Really. Please, just go now.”
He said that just when I instinctively wanted to put my arms around him – no more thinking about that stomach or how tired I am. But at that moment it was too late.
Not because he decided that I’ve already been here for too long.
Not because he decided that he already said too much.
But because he sensed that I was finally ready to give this – no conditions.
But when your entire 19-year life has been filled with conditions you can’t live up to, it feels unlikely that that should suddenly change, right here, right now … on a bitter cold night in a deserted hotel in the Bolivian outback, with some semi-introverted blonde American chick you hardly know anyway.
“Jacob … ”
“ … I would like to be alone.”
“ … Okay.”
** * If you have corrections of grammar or language, please holler - at Christopher Marcus - here: beyourstory AT gmail DOT com. This story is copyright Christopher Marcus, All Rights Reserved. It is published under a Creative Commons License. You may copy and distribute it if you attribute it to the author, don't change it and don't make money from it. * * *