Debriefing

She sat on her suitcase in the shade of the ruined minaret, waiting for a taxi, although a taxi was about the last thing you’d expect to see coming down this particular road — bulldozer or a tank, maybe, or even a camel — but not a taxi. A horse galloped by, the rider’s robes flying, and she was enveloped in a cyclone of dust. Too late, she pulled the scarf she wore around her throat up to her face. She coughed hard behind it. Her eyes filled with tears.

On the other side of the road, a man in a filthy t-shirt and once-white cotton pants sat down in the dust. She was relieved to see, squinting over the top of her scarf, that he remained upright, staring at his bare feet in front of him. People attracted little attention here when they sat down and died on the side of the road. She had tried to file a story about it once, but her editor didn’t get it. “What do they die of?” he’d asked her. Hunger, thirst, exhaustion, disease, you name it, she replied. He killed the story. Ditto for the cholera epidemic that wiped out an orphanage. But what about that perfume factory rumored to be manufacturing chemical weapons? How about a follow-up on that?

People attracted little attention here when they sat down and died on the side of the road. She had tried to file a story about it once, but her editor didn’t get it.

When the dust cleared, she reached into her bag and took out a bottle of water, then crossed the road. The man took it from her without looking up. He tried to open it, but the twist-off cap was too much for him. She wished she had remembered to open it before she gave it to him. She asked him in her best broken Arabic if he needed help, miming a little twisting motion with her fingers to show him her good intentions. When he didn’t answer, she reached for the bottle. He hugged it to his chest.

“Please,” she said, “let me open it for you.”

He didn’t budge. She considered wrenching the bottle from his grasp and loosening the cap whether he liked it or not. She was not going to watch him die of dehydration with a bottle of water in his lap. Then, from the corner of her eye, she saw a cloud of dust coming down the road.

Inside the cloud, she could see, was the taxi.

She had just enough time to scoot across to her suitcase and get her scarf pulled up over her face, before the cloud of dust was upon them, rattling and squealing. She tossed her suitcase into the back seat of the aged Mercedes, and as she climbed inside after it, she heard, over the clattering of pistons, the man by the side of the road coughing and coughing. She closed her eyes. She told the driver, “Airport, please.”

Printed from Cerise Press: http://www.cerisepress.com

Permalink URL: http://www.cerisepress.com/02/05/debriefing