And what rough beast, its hour come round at last. . .
It started on Battigua in the Carribean. . . or before that actually. Botti-Gwa as they say down there. . . in that place. Sounding like a battle cry with the wild-colored parrots screaming "Battigua, Battigua!" all inside your head. The thing was, I couldn't sleep. My nerves. . . that shakiness all the time. Can't explain it. A cold feeling in the pit of your stomach that won't go away.
The accident. . . at work; people were hurt. Not my fault of course. These things happen. So much pressure all the time, so dangerous. Have to be careful, so careful, all the time. A vial falls, breaks. . . sound of shattering glass. Acidic smell rising from a little plume of smoke on the tiled floor and the bubbling liquid there. Could happen to anyone. Don't they know how much pressure we're all under?
The women chattering all the time. Chattering like magpies about nothing. Now they'll be talking about me, no doubt. Saying it was all my fault. Knew all along this would happen. Not that their chattering all the time was to blame. Making me do all their work, falling behind all the time because they're too busy talking, talking about nothing. Some actress dies and it's all over the news. All anyone can talk about. I am a life too, doesn't anyone care about me?
Wasting away at home. Suspended, while they do their 'investigation.' Hah! You know where that will lead. Going to pin it on me. Sure. . . making it sound like I'm to blame and then I'll lose my job and nobody'll ever hire me again. Can't even sleep, worrying all the time. Booze and pills help a little. Feel like you don't care. . . about anything. Don't they know who they're dealing with? I'm better than any of 'em, all of 'em put together. They're just jealous, that's all. So anxious. . . for me to slip up, to fail. Just once. So they can tell themselves they're just as good as me, or better even. They never. . .
Yeah. No one could ever make a mistake but me. Don't they realize that it's the chemicals? They. . . they're in the air, you breathe it in all the time. Seeps right through the vials, the rubber gloves. Gets onto your skin into your pores, inside of you. Wash and wash and wash, and it doesn't do any good. No matter how hot the shower, how much soap you use. Can't get it out of you. Don't they know that?
I'm glad it happened, actually. Teach them a lesson. . . about safety, or about. . . having some peace and quiet in the workplace. Everyone pulling their own weight for a change. Not just relying on me to get it done all the time. They'll see. . . what it's like when I'm not there.
Shit. . . who am I kidding. They won't even care. Never did. Won't. . . even miss me. If only . . . if I could just calm down a bit, just for a little while. Make the coldness go away. Get some sleep. But then the nightmares come. Worse and worse with the leaves turn color and fall to the ground like everything's dying and the cold wind starting to blow and so dark out now so early.
Night after night more frantic, frightening the dreams. Ghastly now, ghoulish figures jumping from shadow with knives and bloody scenes of gore, carnage. After awhile you get fixed on them like seduction. You welcome them, seem to lose the boundaries between sleep and wake. Like a mad dream all the time. So what. Bring it on. You think you can scare me. Don't even know what fear is. This is me you're dealing with. And. . . I'm in control like always.
But. . . it's all pointless, isn't it. I can't go on. . . no reason to. Not, like this. Afraid I'm going mad, and the awful jittery uneasiness and never any peace. It has to end. The only thing left is how to end it. Could take all the pills at once, and wash them down with lots of whiskey. Then maybe turn on the gas with no flame. But you can't smoke if you do that.
Then a knock at the door. I wonder if its police coming to check on me, somehow got wind of my plans. But no, it's Mateen from work, that crazy black-skinned Islander with the funny way he talks. He comes in all quiet with his head down. "I'm leaving, Mon" he says "goin back home. Just come to say my goodbye." "What's wrong" I ask. "Too cold up here. A mon can't work in de cold." "Did they fire you?" "Well. . . seems they no longer require m'services" he says with an uneasy smile.
I want to ask him. . . dying to ask him, what they're saying. . . about me, back at work. But it's too embarrassing. Too. . . he's just a stockroom clerk, a part-time hire. Nobody would ever talk to him, or get close to him. So different in his dress and manner. So loud and casual, easy-going about everything. I was the only one. The only one who would ever sit with him in the break room, dare to be friendly and. . . pleasant to this wild crazy foreigner. So different from us, with our white lab coats and glasses and perfectly clean skin.
Now they've canned him too. Not surprising, not at all. They don't want anyone. . . who's different, not like them. So. . . that's behind us now, both of us. Him with his minimum wage, minimum skill, entry-level position. And me. . . Ah, fuck it. Who needs them anyway.
Mateen looks around at my disheveled apartment, clutter and mess everywhere. "Are you okay, Mon? It look like de devil been sleeping wid you." "Yeah" I tell him "it's been a rough spell." He puts his hands on my shoulders and looks at me with his wild red eyes, then reaches into his pocket and pulls out a little crumpled-up cigarette. "Some ganja lift up your spirits."
And it does, amazingly so. Just one hit of the powerful weed and at once I feel light as a feather happy peaceful and a joyfulness I haven't felt in years. Like when I was a kid and all the world was bright and sunny. Can't explain it, the change that came over me, but Mateen seems to sense how I feel. "Come wid me, Mon. Leave dis miserable weather." "How" I say, through the slurry haze of smoke filling the room, my eyes and nose with its sickly odor "where?" "De devil's own island" he says laughingly "Battigua!"
Then we're getting into a small cargo plane that's jammed full with all sorts of boxes big and small, and burlap bags, all sort of other stuff. We sit down on a couple of webbed pull-out type seats and the plane takes off. I'm presuming he's wriggled his way into a free ride home on this little plane and that I'm in for a wild adventure or a relaxing weekend. Doesn't matter one way or the other. Just to be gone, and away from all that. . . back there.
Mateen takes a bottle from inside his coat and tips it up to his lips with a long swig, hands it to me. I consider should I wipe off the top before drinking, but that might seem rude. So tip up the bottle and let the cold liquid fill my mouth. It is the sweetest elixir I ever tasted. Like cider and honey and rum and fire all mixed together.
My head starts to spin. I see Mateen get up and make his way to the cockpit area. Much later he comes back with a worried look on his face. I go up to the cockpit and the two pilots are sitting there with their heads lopped off, blood splattered everywhere all over and the two heads staring back at me from the windshield. My knees buckle. Afraid to turn around. Mateen taps me on the shoulder. "Time to go" he yells over the droning engines of the plane. Kicks open the cargo door and pushes me out to the empty sky.
Wake up and we're at the airport. "Time to go" says Mateen as he kicks open the cargo door. Then a taxi to the downtown hotel. A very poor little country, I see, from the open window of the cab. Dilapidated old wooden structures along poorly paved streets. Cab driver dodging monstrous pot-holes, could swallow up his crummy old cab if he isn't careful. The palm trees leaning this way and that, unkempt, just. . . left here as the weather has blown through and aged and swayed them with the ravages of time.
Exotic enough, I suppose, wild looking with all the ferns and plants and little dirt pathways leading off into jungle. Like it hasn't changed in years or ever. Buildings and houses and shops haven't been painted in years, if ever. Just thrown together for whatever purpose, whatever it is they do down here. And the thatched huts and bohio's so natural and unconcerned by any of it. Existing in their own reality, ageless in a different place and time. No wonder Mateen left this squalid place, who wouldn't want. . . something better.
We approach the center of town and the streets are wildly alive in early evening, crowds of people garbed in costumes of death. Children and old people parading up and down with their feathery masks or painted faces. "What is it" I ask. "De harvest festival" says Mateen "come, we join them." "Too tired" I say "catch up with you later."
At the hotel, fall back onto the bed and close my eyes wondering what I've gotten myself into. The old worn mattress is thin, hard, a bit musty. But clean, at least. Have to keep the place clean, I imagine, otherwise scorpions would come wandering about, like cockroaches. And don't want to start that. . . thinking about bugs and mosquitoes and poisonous frogs down here in tropical no man's land.
The hotel isn't so bad. Dark quiet ancient, bare wooden floors creak underfoot. High ceiling fans not even moving in the cool of the evening. No window glass though. I guess you just close the shutters at night. Well, it'll be okay; different anyway.
Feel like napping now that the ganja and strange drink have worn off. Just tired, all tired out. Want to forget. . . everything. Then a knock on the door and two young girls in scanty raggedy costumes and pulling at my sleeve. "Where" I ask, delighted at the sight of these happy kids. "Come" they answer "Mateen send us to fetch you."
The two girls look like twins but then I notice they're not the same at all. The one so thin with curved Indian nose, and the other, prettier in the face but not as sexy as the first one. Dark out now, I don't know the time. They lead me through deserted streets to a clearing outside of town. A small bonfire in the dead dark night with a large gathering of people crowded around, swaying and chanting in a low hum. "Oom-balla-hayta" is what it sounds like to me, but can't really make it out.
Reminds me of 'the gatherings' back home when I was a kid. Revivals under the tents outside Atlanta. My father would take me to hear the fire and brimstone of wound up preacher men saving souls. Scaring the devil right out of you with pounding fists and clanging banging voices all afternoon and into the night.
The girls lead me to the front of the crowd. We sit down in front of the fire with pulsating beats of drums and bright flames glaring into darkness. Pass around burning pipes of ganja, and gourds with a terrible poisonous liquid that burns your throat and your eyes as you drink. Yage I guess, magical potion of the gods. I wonder. . . but there isn't time to think; everything happening at once.
Young kids jump and dance through the flames. The chanting grows louder and louder until the whole thing blows up in a blinding flash with shrieks and gasps from the crowd. From the thick cloud of smoke emerges a huge fat man covered in strips of gleaming cloth, huge headpiece of feather skin and dark-colored fur. Spreads his massive arms and bellows "doooooooom!" as the crowd cackles with glee.
He begins a high-pitched chanting song. Everyone joining in, stomping feet, waving hands and arms wildly in the air. Trilling their tongues in a rapid sound like "oi-la-lee-la-la-la-la. . . oi-la-lee-la-la-la-la." Over and over again, and then hoooooooooooooo. . . " It all ends with the arms dropping down to the ground and then falling face down.
My vision blurs, everything blends together and spins. I see from out of the fire a beautiful young girl arise. So pale she is, a white girl, blond hair; tied to a wooden altar of green leaves and fronds. Naked men dance around and grab at her scanty nightgown. Drums beat faster and louder and louder.
I feel myself being pushed up, forward by the crowd toward the poor young girl. They tear off my clothing, leave me there in front of her and I see she's crying and shaking with fear. "No! No!" I yell, turning to the frenzied mob. But they just laugh at me and push me back and start tearing at their own tattered clothes. I go to one and then another trying to explain, this isn't right, this is madness cruel evil. Can't make them understand, won't listen. They spit on me, grab up bricks from the fire and hurl them at me.
It hurts and I fall, cover my head with my arms. But see through the shrieking mob people running up to the young girl, falling on her and ripping at her flesh with their teeth. Then they turn, mouths covered in blood and come after me. I jump to my feet and grab up one of the bricks and start swinging wildly at faces, heads, teeth, whatever gets in my way. Then run through the crowd into the blackness of jungle.
Running, stumbling blindly through the brush, tears of anger and hatred streaming down my face. How could this happen? How could they do this? Primitive evil people with their deadly rituals. And how could I just let them do it, and run away?
Pushing further and further into dense cover, hear footsteps not far behind. A dull tromping sound of many feet striking the ground in unison. A horde marching in quick-step coming at me in the dark. Faster I go and light, the poisonous yage clearing my mind bringing my animal senses to keen focus. Can see now through shadows and dark, shapes like glowing phosphor. Feel through the thick tangled brush, snake and lizard, spider and insect. Then I'm all alone and it's hushed, quiet now.
Wander forward at a measured pace trying not to think. From out of a shadow steps Mateen, somehow knowing where to find me. "Come" he says, grabbing hold of my arm "I get you out." But see inside his skull, like words written there to read, or the voice of the yage speaking to me. Know what he's planning and take the brick and crash it down hard on the back of his head.
He falls, but his eyes open up at me, red and glowing through the dark. Take care of that too, and then leave, making my way to the shore. What now, they'll come for me, there's no escaping it. But the sea. . . swim out into calm dark water under night stars and find a boat or driftwood or something to float on with the current. . .
That was then. I live in a strange land now. Won't tell you where but it's near the equator. And I've adopted the customs quite well, the brewing of yage, and the ceremonies. But I watch and I wait. They'll come for me, I know that, the red-eyed devils. And I'm ready.