New Year’s Day (III)

Night …

I’m trying to sleep in spite of my stomach doing the alien-thing.

I don’t think the impatient restaurant guy washed his hands too well before he prepped those trouts for us.

And now there is noise, too.

Who in this izzy-bitsy-tiny hostel has a walk-man with the volume of a ghetto-blaster?!

With some effort I push the squeaky door open. Guess who I find out on the patio:

“Jacob, shouldn’t you be in bed?”

“Can’t sleep,” he mutters.

“No wonder,” I say, crossing my arms. “I can’t sleep either – not since Bono moved in.”

I nod at the walk-man. It is on a small table in the middle of the patio. Jacob is sitting on a plastic chair beside the table. He is alone, except for several beer bottles. He looks up at me but he doesn’t really see me.

I tentatively step out from my room and into the patio. I glance at the other doors to the other rooms. Nobody else seems to have noticed this little private concert.

Perhaps they didn’t want to yell at someone they didn’t know? I get that. And I’d rather do ten thousand other things, but with my stomach messed up like this I have to get some quiet, between all the running back and forth to the toilet. Or I’m going to be even more a nervous wreck than I am, come morning.

So do I take his walk-man or turn it off or throw it over the roof and out onto the street? I don’t know. But I have to do something.

The night is ink-black and it’s freezing at least 10 degrees below zero. This tiny town by the Lake Titicaca may look like some kind of South American mountain Riviera-heaven during the day, as welcoming in real life as on the covers of brochures.

But you don’t want to stumble around for too long up here when the night falls.

So I quickly pull out the other plastic chair in order to sit down opposite Jacob. I cram my sleeping bag down in the chair first, though, and then wrap it around me as I sit down. Then I just sit there and try to figure out what the hell to say.

Jacob has no such problems, although what he says doesn’t make much sense:

“This – this is a fucking great song, Carrie,” he drones again and again. “Really f-fucking great.”

I try to say something but then he makes a sudden jerky move with his hand, as if to wave away all advance critique of this song. He succeeds in smashing one of the bottles against the cracked tiles of the patio.

I jump back in the chair and it almost buckles under me, so I nearly – but not quite – fall on my back, down on the hard, freezing tiles. Like most other places in Bolivia they have a lot of chairs – but all of them are plastic, commercials for Coca Cola mostly, because they are free. But hell to sit on.

“Shit, Jacob – ” I cry out, “watch it! 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?”

“S-sorry …” he croaks and tries to pull the two surviving bottles closer together on the table. They are all open, I notice. Different brands, one stronger than the other.

He must have been sipping them all by his lonesome until he decided to crank up the music. How long has he been out here?

“I’d better g-go back into m-my room … ” Jacob tries to get up from the small table in the middle of the patio but he’s not doing too well. He drops back down in his own buckling plastic chair and begins gulping from another bottle.

I notice his thin blouse. He had a coat when we came on the bus, but he seems to have forgotten it somewhere. He hasn’t even taken one of the zillion blankets from his room and brought it with him out here.

“You’ll get pneumonia if you stay out here, Jacob.”

“S-so?”

“So just go to bed, okay?”

He tries to get up again; this time he succeeds. Barely. At the cost of another bottle that is smashed against the pink and grey tiles of the patio floor.

“Jacob – be careful!” I make to get up, but it is difficult with my sleeping bag and all.

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.

I scout around, trying not to look too annoyed. There’s light in one other room and down in the bottom of the patio, at the entrance,  by the diminutive reception.

I wonder why the owner hasn’t come around yet. Maybe he doesn’t want to lose customers? This place sure looks like it could need some more tourist feed.

Suddenly Jacob turns and shuffles into his room, not a word of good night or anything.

He forgot something, though:

Though I want to be with you
Be with you night and

CLICK

It’s only fair that I mention that Jacob did turn down the damn thing, the moment I came out. But now I turn it off.

Then I look at the closed door to his room. I am annoyed with myself because I still bother … but after a little while I pick up his walk-man and go to the door and knocks gently.

He opens it ajar:

“W-hat?”

I shiver and it is not because of the cold. In the light from the lamp over the patio I now clearly see his face. But it is a ghost face. Like he is some shell of someone else.

I look away instinctively.

“You, uh, forgot your ‘ghettoblaster’.” I hand him the walk-man.

“Th-thanks.”

“Just keep it a bit down, okay?” I say, trying my best to make light of this whole annoying situation. “Michael Jackson must have invented those earphones; it’s like having a loudspeaker in the middle of the yard.”

Jacob 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. I have seen something like this before, I’m afraid. But I don’t want to think about that. I never want to think about that again. And I really have to think about myself.

I go back to my room, swallow some more Imodium to put a stop to my stomach once and for all. I 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. At least I have that.

When you travel in South America for the first time and you are on a shoe-string you learn these lessons the hard way. You learn to be hungry instead of eating something that you have even the slightest sense will upset your stomach. You learn to appreciate feeling well in your body, like normal – not like you want to flee it every second, because it hurts so damn much.

In fact, I have never hurt so much in my life – physically. As when I ate something down here I should not have. And it takes weeks for my stomach to reset itself. In the beginning I had some faint, grudging idea that it would take away my focus at least, on why I am here. Why I keep running. But at some point you just realize that it hurts too much. And you want the pain to go away. You’d give anything.

Right now I sigh deeply and release some of the tension, as another shot of chemicals from my grand assortment of pain- and germkillers do their work and I feel myself slowly getting back into my own skin. The room is dark and there are no particular shapes for the faint light from behind the curtains to catch on to. Just my bed and a little table, not even a poster on the wall with some busty lady advertising the latest Bolivian beer.

It is all simple, and relaxing. As it should be after so many hours of the opposite.

But I can’t help think of Jacob.

Damn.

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.

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.

I knock on his door again.

Jacob?”

Some unintelligible sounds. But it is him, all right.

“Jacob – how … is everything okay?”

Was that laughter?

“ … Can I come in?” I ask, with a little more insistence.

No answer. However, 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 went home early, when I first noticed that something was not right about that trout. Some of the beer is on the floor is on the icy tiles on the floor, in big sticky poodles. And I just stepped in one of them with my bare feet.

God, it stinks in here. Has he thrown up? I can’t see, because the light switch doesn’t work, so we only have the light from the patio’s single bulb. I tear the curtains away and almost regret it.

Now I see him.

… Jacob’s lying there, on the bed, fetus-position, all curled up; still in his clothes from yesterday.

I hesitate but then I sit down on the bed. It squeaks a little. The only sound in the room. Except my voice now:

“Jacob, 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.”

“What is?”

No answer. I look around for 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 say.

I pick up the book from somewhere between two folds of Jacob’s 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:

“‘David Bohm: Wholeness and the Implicate Order’? – Nifty choice of travel reading, Jacob.”

No answer.

“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.”

“‘Smart?’”

“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.

Fuck.

“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?”

“Prison.”

“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 – ”

“There isn’t.”

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 best friend died in the military. He is – was – just two years older then me.”

“ … ”

“ – 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.”

“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 … ”

“Yeah?”

“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.’”

“’Fragments?’”

“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 friend 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 sink 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 Levi. We were neighbors. Proud of his ‘sacrifice’ – can you believe he said that? He even kept saying it to Levi’s father – until they moved.”

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.”

“I should just stay here,” Jacob mutters, looking down at the floor. “I should never go back to Israel. But I can’t. Eventually I will go back. So I’m also a coward.”

“No …”

I reach. For him.

And he flinches … draws away.

The moment dies.

“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 – ”

“Please, just go now.”

“Jacob … ”

“ … I would like to be alone.”

“ … Okay.”

[GO TO PART IV]


Last updated 20 October 2019

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