The Billiard Room

I can’t believe that it was so long ago that I first saw her. What must be over 45 years? The childhood memory is one of those few that are still vivid to me.

My dad was looking after the club known in those days as the “Hollies.”

It wasn’t his normal job he was a taxi driver, but he volunteered to run the place whilst Dougie and Millie went on holiday. I idolised my father and went everywhere with him, so I found myself helping clear up the club that particular evening. The one and only time I saw her.

My shoulders slumped immediately my father spoke. “Go up to the billiard room and clear the glasses up into the dumb waiter.”

“Can I take Candy with me?” I pleaded.

“Of course. But there really is nothing up there to be scared of, Pedro. It’s just us men blaming our bad shots on something more than inept snooker.”

His words didn’t make me feel any better and taking Candy our German shepherd dog wouldn’t help much either she was scared of the room as well.

The billiard room, everyone knew it was haunted. The men always spoke of how when they were playing snooker, suddenly the ball would shoot of at a different angle. Or how certain coloured balls would have been hidden in other parts of the room when they came up to play their first game of the day. Glasses moved from where they were placed and an atmosphere that could not be explained.

Although I had never seen her, I knew it was a she. And knew something bad had happened in that room.  It was strange that the ghost was a she. The club was a men’s only venue and it really was a stuffy masculine place. But the worse place was that room.

I dragged myself slowly up the huge staircase with Candy trailing reluctantly behind me, she was already trembling and by the time my hand touched the big brass door knob so was I.

I peered into the room, the lights were always dim and it just made it worse. The heavy oak wood paneling dragged the atmosphere down even more. A smell of cigars and stale beer pervaded the air.

I started quickly to pick up the glasses and place them in the dumb waiter. Faintly the scratching noise began, getting louder and more frantic. I tried to shut the noise out.

“Mice”, my Dad had tried to tell me the last time I heard it. “Place is infested with them” Bloody big mice I had thought, not convinced.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw something. I figure in black and white. I swirled round, nothing. “Silly.” I said to myself she won’t show herself to you.

Candy was following me round like a bad smell, with one eye on the door ready for her quick escape. I had left the door open deluding myself that it would make things better. But the heavy oak door slowly creaked back on in hinges to shut itself and we were trapped for now.

Above one of the snooker tables the light flickered as if a bulb was going to go. And then I heard her. “I didn’t mean to. Please don’t put me in there. It‘s dark I‘m scared .Please no.” And then sobbing. And the scratching got louder. More frenzied.

I froze. Candy was cowering behind my legs trying to hide from – from nothing. There was nothing. Only the sobbing. And the scratching.

I bolted for the door and flung it open wildly. I ran full pelt down the stairs Candy overtaking me before we reached the last step.

As I rushed into the main bar my father must have seen the look of fear on my face. I ran towards him and he opened his arms. “What’s the matter Pedro?” he said softly.

“Nothing, I thought there was someone in the room and ….” I trailed off.

My dad smiled down at me benevolently, “There is nothing up there. It’s just a very creepy room. Too many male egos rest in there. I suppose I will have to go and finish clearing up there instead.”

He turned toward the same stairs I had just catapulted myself down.

“Daddy, if they ever pulled the panels down, what do you think they would find underneath?” I suddenly asked.

My father frowned, “Well probably pink walls. It was a girl’s school many years ago. Run by French nuns for the daughters of rich local gentry. Why? What do you think they would find?”

“Dead bodies. Something horrible happened in there I know it I can feel it. I heard her crying, they killed her. I know they did.”

My father had turned back, recognising my fear, a barely discernable frown on his face. “I think we will leave the glasses for the morning. Come on its time to go home. Mum will be waiting up for us. I shouldn’t have bought you out it’s much too late for you.”

We locked up together and walked over to his taxi. I loved his taxi. I loved the leather seats and the shinning black. I always felt special and safe in there.

As we pulled away I looked up at the window of the billiard room. And there she was, the face of her anyway. She stared for a second at me, pale as moonlight, she had an almost petulant look on her face, as if disappointed I was leaving her, but within seconds she was gone. I was about to tell my dad but thought better of it.

And now I’m back in my home town and each day I drive past the building and each time my head turns and glances up at the window. Do I hope I will see her? Or do I hope she was just my childish imagination?

One day they will knock the building down and then the truth of the place will be known. But for now I drive past and remember the scratching and the crying.

Lamia -The Red Dragon of the Galapagos

The wall of tears, was sobbing, a sound like the wind howling through stone. But there was no wind, only a blistering draining heat. The islands born from fire and ice were at the fire stage. Ice would now be a blessed relief. Perhaps that was why the Wall of Tears was crying, worn down by a heat so searing nothing could give any sense of liberty.  And this heat must have been stronger then shackles binding the slaves who built the “El Muro de las Lágrimas”. Something had drawn me back here; the wall had some magnetism for me in my delirious state.

It gave no shade from the sun there were no shadows to protect me even momentarily from the sunstroke I was now suffering from. Huge yellow tipped larva cacti were dotted across the harsh landscape as if grenades had been thrown in violent abandonment. And the explosion of land had been frozen in time with the needles of the cacti a deterrent to all but the totally insane.

Something moved slowly slowly through the landscape, an animal with his house on his back, moving ponderously a giant tortoise.

I needed water. Somehow I had managed to lose the group of fellow cyclists on the way back from our cycling trip on Isabella. Why had I agreed to cycle anyway? And in the 40+ degree heat I was never going to have enough water to stop my dehydration.

I can’t remember if I rashly had said, “You guys go on without me, I’ll catch you up.”  Would I have said that? And would they have left me? It appeared the answer was yes on both counts, because here I was back at the wall of tears alone, and without a bike, but even worse without water.

A searing pain was slicing through my dissolving brain like a knife through melted butter. I had intermittent seconds of clarity when I knew my situation was not good. And then redness blinded me and I could see only hell.

Now in a moment of that clarity I knew I had to go downwards not uphill as my delirium had driven me. I had to go down back to the coastline. Follow the trail back to the sea.

But there be dragons I deduced, red dragons of the Galapagos. I would have to face them if I was to have any chance of finding help. I had seen them on the journey up, when I had water and the last vestiges of common sense still with me. One had been at least four feet long and was a vivid crimson colour. I had stopped to admire them without fear and they had merely observed me without suspicion, interest or as potential food.

The sound of a bird distracted my already addled state of mind. From the corner of my eye I saw a small flurry of feathers. The small bird seemed to be singing louder than his little body would ever be able to accommodate. And he was taunting me. Of that I was convinced. Egging me on to something but I could not explain his true intent.

So blindly I moved down towards the sea. I tripped over something and fell to the black lava ground, the something moved, it was red. Its tongue flickered, licked at my skin. I lay with my face pressed against the black lava stones. The dragon approached closer his skin next to mine the red skin like sunburn.

He splayed his wings as if to take flight, but then he sauntered past me and merely flicked his tail provocatively as he went.

Relieved to establish that I was inedible to a dragon, slowly through gritted teeth I got back up and continued my descent.

I felt the stinging on my sun baked skin, was it the sting of the dragon, or was it the cacti needles? I knew not and cared even less. To the sea, to the sea, to the turquoise sea, like a mantra I murmured.

And as if in tune with me the bird I had encountered by the wall chirped alongside, running like a pygmy roadrunner. Was he encouraging me towards my destination or was he really mocking my stupidity?

The land under my feet began to change; the lava rocks gave way to sand. I saw shade of sorts from a tree, a mangrove tree, one that’s roots were buried under sand that at high tide the lower branches would hang in the salt water of the sea. Was this the coast line I was aiming for? Or had I once again veered away from the path of greater safety?

The sand shifted and moved in front of me. Black creatures – Iguanas slowly retreated from my path. I again tripped and fell; my hands stretched out and I grabbed hold of metal, the handle bars of a bike, the bike I had discarded. I was so numb it would take a few hours for me to realise that I had burnt my hands on the bars, the metal was white hot.

How many hours ago had I embarked on this fool hardy trip? Was the sun any closer to setting?  I collapsed under the minimal shade of the mangrove tree.

It was only a brief respite. I could feel my brains dripping down my face and onto the ground. How many brain cells would I need to continue this journey? None was the answer, for I could not complete this journey back to town without water.

Had the rest of the group seriously abandoned me? Had there been a falling out, or an accident?

Before I had time to consider just why I was out here alone suffering sunstroke the sound of a hungry dragon filled my now empty head. It started out as a dull rattle, but increased in volume and intensity. I was too weak to look for a place of safety or to be precise knew there was no place to escape the red dragoon.

My feathered companion was dancing up and down on the branch of the mangrove chirping ebulliently as if singing, “Now you are going to die, eaten by the red dragon, just by the turquoise sea.”

I lay back under the green leaves, the sunlight piercing through the green creating a dappled effect. And I began to recite Keats. The poem called Lamia, the one with the lines, – “She was a dazzling shape of Gordian hue. Vermillion spotted, golden green and blue: stripped like a zebra, freckled like a pard. Eyed like a peacock all crimson barr’d.”

Lamia moved ever closer, the noise rising to a crescendo of rattling and growling and then, then she beeped her horn. I don’t remember Lamia having a horn. Then there was a screeching sound and the banging of a door.

A shadow loomed over me, blocking the red and angry sun. And then the sound of a voice that I vaguely recognised as coming from Fernando, one of the guys from the Isabella Giant Turtle Breeding Centre that I was working at.

Water was splashed over my face and a bottle was put to my mouth. I felt the liquid flow between my parched lips. Lamia was not a dragon just an old battered jeep that rattled and the radiator steamed constantly.

I was maneuvered into the jeep by Fernando and David. As I slumped down in the seat, I wondered if they noticed that my brains were still dripping albeit at a slower rate down my face. If they did neither of them commented on it.

Later lying on my bed back at the Flamingo Hostel, having been given fluids and dehydration packets, I established how I had come to be separated from the group.

After reaching the Wall of Tears, where I had not climbed the steps to the lookout post, having complained I was too weak for the steps, we had cycled to a lagoon, where we had swum with the seals, a usual occurrence in the Galapagos.  David had moaned all the way from the wall of tears that his bike had a flat tyre. I had offered to swap saying, “I’m too tired to cycle back I will walk with your bike.”

By the time the group had realised I was not trailing behind them I had disappeared. After a brief but worrying search, they had returned as quickly as possible to raise the alarm for help.

Our gracious host at the hostel had at the start of our trip expressed her reservations of me going cycling with the group. She had merely raised a dark Spanish eyebrow at me and had said, “Vas a encontrar en una bici” – “You are getting on a bike?” That and the look on her face had said it all really.

And of course I had confirmed in my dehydrated state that she had been right.

Why had I found myself back at the Wall of Tears? Had the ghosts of the prisoners lured me to a possible death? I don’t know that part of my memory is lost.

My hands from grabbing the handlebars of the discarded bike were red and raw for a few days. The scar from the dragon’s sting remained a livid red for a few days but that too subsided. I recovered remarkably quickly from the sunstroke. As to the number of brain cells that melted beyond repair? Of that I cannot confirm.

There are no recorded sightings of red dragons on the Galapagos Islands. Maybe once there were red dragons, but today there are only two varieties of Iguana’s, the black marine iguana and the more colourful land iguana called conolophus subcristatus. But the Island of Isabella has the sub species called the Galapagos Pink Land Iguana, commonly known as the “pink morph”, which resides near Vulcan Wolf. I was too far from their range to have encountered these in my delirium. Yet I had am sure I had seen them on way up to the Wall of Tears before my sunstroke had started.  The bird that had taunted me through my ordeal was indeed the “mockingbird”.

The Vanity of Parakeets

  • Joseph Nambawa, was dreaming, he was standing in a forest clearing with a machete in his hand. Blood was dripping from the steel blade down his fingers round his wrist and creating warm red lines down to his elbow.

There were people screaming and soldiers laughing. The Church was on fire and it was from behind the closed wooden doors that the screaming was coming from. The laughing was from him and the group of soldiers he was standing with.

It was from this day in his dream that Joseph had been running from for the past twenty years.

He thought he had succeeded quite well until the past few months.

He woke up with a start, there was a noise of parakeets outside his window which reassured him of where he was, not in Rwanda, but in Esher in Surrey, England.

The dream that had once been the truth of life had for many years remained conveniently lost and forgotten. But now it was bubbling to the surface like water in a witch’s cauldron. And all because of this dumb game he had agreed to play, a kind of honey trap to get back at someone that had humiliated his friend.

He stared out at the parakeets, something he had not expected to find in England, they reminded him of the parakeets of Rwanda, the rose ringed variety. And at first he had found them reassuring, something of the exotic had managed to survive and flourish in a foreign land, like him. But they had been so successful that regular culls had been needed to keep their numbers down.

Joseph had believed he too had succeeded at adapting to England. But now he had an uneasy feeling that it was all about to go wrong.

The noise of the birds that had once re assured him in the morning now started to be a constant reminder of his past.

He believed now as did the congregation at his church that he was good man. That the Joseph that had lived and existed in Rwanda had gone.

But things were changing and he felt that the game he had been in control of was now been dictated by another person much more devious and probably far braver then him.

For with out a shadow of a doubt Joseph was a coward, he had been running for twenty years. Living in exile as a result of what he had done.

And now all because a friend had wanted to get his own back on one lonely lady, things were unravelling.

“It will be easy, she is a sad lonely spinster, and she is hungry for it. You just have to be careful how you handle her; she can be unpredictable and is very, very fiery.” Marlon had emphatically said.

“Don’t be afraid though she is just a crazy bitch who needs a good seeing to.”

Joseph had his doubts about all of it. Lonely for one thing. It was obvious she was never at home. When he started emailing and texting, she was never in, always out some where, working, out with friends or her niece and nephews. Lonely she definitely was not. But then they could mean she was indeed gagging for it. So he tried the booty calls and texts late at night.

Nothing not one whisper of the sexy texting that Horace had said she had driven him mad with lust for.

But she had been stung by Marlon and was at the once bitten twice shy stage he reasoned.

And then the one meeting that had been arranged in Hyde Park showed to him the crazy bitch side. But that had made here more of a mystery.

And so the texting and emailing had begun in earnest.

And as Marlon got more and more impatient for the coup de grace Joseph had started to enjoy the bizarre relationship they had.

But he had to tread careful; she was secretive and would not give up her personal life too easily. But just snippets came through that made him think she had been married.

“Don’t be stupid.” She has never been married she is a frustrated spinster. What gave you that idea?” Marlon had argued one day.

“She said she is not a sad lonely spinster. So that must mean she is divorced or widowed, or perhaps still married.” Joseph tried to reason.

“Or maybe the crazy bitch killed him” Marlon had replied.

The more Joseph got dragged in to her world the more uncomfortable he became. He started to look for faults in her personality something he could use to bring her down. He breathed a sigh of relief at one stage, she was arrogant he deduced. That was an easy one to break.

But no nothing was working, and he came to the realisation that she knew the game he was playing and was just playing back harder and crueller then he thought a mere woman could.

He started to get angry and frustrated tried to tell how to mend her ways, to be modest, to be humble but it merely seemed to make her worse.

And then she came up with that ludicrous idea of having a tattoo. What the hell was middle aged sad lonely spinster having a tattoo for?

“You should spend you money on getting fitter. Not wasting money on tattoos.”

She had laughed at him “Ill spend my money on what I like. I’ll have two now”, she had retorted.

“One a lioness and one a fire breathing dragon!”

It was the mention of a lioness that had got Marlon all riled up. That had been one of his nick names for her.

Joseph had tried to go with that at the beginning but she would have none of it. And of course she had loads of sexy nick names for Marlon in return, “Black Panther, Hot Chocolate, the list of names quite clearly alluding to his black sexual prowess.

She had none for him though and very rarely mentioned his colour.

“She likes black men trust me, she is crazy for it.”

Joseph was beginning to wonder if she was just crazy and that Marlon had made all this up for his own self esteem which was taking a constant battering just lately.

The battle was constant, with every step forward with becoming intimate with her she would throw him a curve ball and they would be back to square one.

But he was in the web of a black widow spider and couldn’t really untangle himself.

And now Marlon had swanned off to Jamaican for what he called some “Hot Jamaican sex.”

And every thing was falling apart.

He had woken up with a headache. The noise of the children was unnerving him, no he corrected himself the noise of the parakeets was sounding like the noise of the children. The children before they had been marched into the church.

He sighed in frustration, why had he mentioned DNA to her. Or more to the point how had the conversation got round to DNA?

What was it she had said to his question about “What do you do with your DNA?”

“Mixed it with dynamite to save the world from future retards like you.” had been her reply.

And then he had made that fatal mistake, but she had driven him to it, of calling her nephew a retard. But to fair he had called the whole family retards, so it was her own fault and he had text her to say it was the medicine she didn’t want to take.

But now she had cut off all communication with him. And when Marlon got back from his fuck trip in Jamaica he would be expecting to hear how, “You got invited into that bitch’s bed and fucked her till she was unconscious.”

Except of course it had never got even close to that because she knew the game from the start and all she had fucked with was his head.

And then that odd text that she sent, “Be careful whilst cycling there are some crazy drivers out there.”

He thought at first it was threat that she would run him over.

Marlon had said, “Don’t get near her when she is in her car she is dangerous.”

“More dangerous then when she is in bed?” Joseph had asked.

“Well no but just don’t go near her when she is driving.”

But days had gone by and no accident had occurred. He missed her communications but knew it was finished. He was persuading himself that he had got the better of her. But Marlon said on his return from Jamaica. “You didn’t fuck her did you? All you did was just insult her family.”

Now weeks later he had slipped back in to his dull lonely life. Just who was the sad lonely one?

As he cycled home from work he was deep in thought. The dreams he was having about Rwanda were so lucid, so real.

And somehow he knew that she had got the better of him. He had lost as had Marlon and she hadn’t taken her medicine as he had boasted to her about. She would always be both arrogant and enigmatic now forever.

Suddenly a car door opened and blocked his way on the road.

He looked up startled, a man in a suit stepped out of an innocuous black sedan.

“Joseph Nambawa?” The man asked.

Joseph nodded.

“I’m from the immigration office.” The man briefly flashed his card.

“We would like to discuss your visa with you there seems to be a discrepancy.”

Joseph’s heart sank. The noise of parakeets was rising to a crescendo in his head.

 

Joseph Nambawa was dreaming he was standing in a forest clearing with a machete in his hand. Blood was dripping from the steel blade down his fingers round his wrist and creating warm red lines down to his elbow. It was his blood. He could hear screaming, it was him screaming louder than the parakeets.

One Christmas Eve in Gondar. (Part One) — lenawaltonWAYWARDDAUGHTER

How to cook locusts. Remove the wings and hind legs of the locusts and boil in a little water until soft. Add salt to taste and a little fat and fry until brown.

I had been trying to understand my Ethiopian drivers’ attempts to explain to me in his very broken English why we […]

via One Christmas Eve in Gondar. (Part One) — lenawaltonWAYWARDDAUGHTER

One Christmas Eve in Gondar. (Part One)

How to cook locusts. Remove the wings and hind legs of the locusts and boil in a little water until soft. Add salt to taste and a little fat and fry until brown.

 

I had been trying to understand my Ethiopian drivers’ attempts to explain to me in his very broken English why we had a problem going out for Christmas Eve as planned. I had employed Gabra for his steady driving, his cheek bones and lovely dark chocolate skin, not his conversation skills. Now it was apparent that perhaps I should have paid more attention to his command of the English language.

I had somehow interpreted his hand movements and his Pidgin English as thus. From out of the pages of the bible, Ethiopia was about to have a plague of weird flying creatures that had cymbals strapped to their abdomens to encourage females to mate with them. I imagined a hoard of singing creatures on a sexual rampage clashing cymbals loudly before embarking on a lust fuelled evening of insect debauchery. Even so however strange I didn’t really know how this would prevent me from going out for Christmas Eve.

Fortunately the compulsory armed escort that had come with the driver – Ethiopia was still at war with Eritrea when I travelled, spoke excellent English and he explained fully the problem.

A plague of locusts was about to spread across the country, devouring everything edible in their wake. The cymbals were in fact tymbals and muscles on the abdomen popped them in and out to make the chirping noise.

I had experienced many unusual phenomenon whilst travelling the world, but a plague of locusts was not one of them.

I do remember when watching the “Natural World”  as a child, seeing a program where a plague of the insects had been filmed somewhere in Africa, maybe Ethiopia, but all I can remember was the scene of the barren wasteland they left behind them.

Now here in Ethiopia I contemplated how the next famine was about to begin and how soon Bob Geldolf would be flying in for his sequel to his “Feed the world” concert.

Gabra had arranged to take me to his cousins home for an evening of Ethiopian hospitality, which would include for me the nectar of the Gods, traditional Ethiopian coffee, along with Tej the local brew of honey or mead wine would be available and special Ethiopian dancing to an instrument known as a massinko which can briefly be described as a one stringed violin.

This was not a tourist venue, it was going to be a group of local Gondar people who were happy to invite me to their home. An opportunity not to be missed, and all I had to do was supply cigarettes and a few cans of Heineken from my hotel mini bar.

It was the coffee that swayed it for me, that and the fact my parents had lived through WW2, if they could survive Nazi bombs I could survive a few locusts.

Gabra had suggested a, “handful from God of the flying creatures”. I guess it depends on how big Gods hands were as to how many locusts would descend on Gondar.

And so we left my hotel and drove down to the city of Gondar. On our drive down one solitary locust landed on the car, and I thought, “One locust does not a plague make”.

How big the hand of god was I would to find out later!

 

The “home” we arrived at was from the front an innocuous looking café. The first room we entered was painted a pastel mint colour and furnished with Formica tables and plastic chairs. On the walls were ubiquitous pictures of that hero of all Ethiopians and Jamaicans, Haile Selassie.

As I sat down a saw a dark man sitting on his own, he looked up but did not smile. I immediately thought, need to put the hand of friendship out and offered him a cigarette. Gabra’s face showed he was not happy, he took me aside, “Bad man very bad man, why you give him cigarette?”

“I didn’t realise there were going to be designated cigarette receivers. How the hell do       know who a bad man is?”

Gabra continued to be agitated, “No cigarettes for that man. Bad man, he’s a bad man.”

I looked across to the man, tried to read his face. Who was he, perhaps ex-army? Perhaps he was one of those government officials who hung men outside the gates of the palace of Emperor Fasilidas. I could only guess why Gabra didn’t want to include him in my making friends with the locals.

At that moment a lady of grace and dignity walked across the room, she held her hand out and gave me the traditional handshake that all of the countries men and women would give. It was like a Masonic handshake and I returned the hand shake in the same manner.

“I am Rachel.” she introduced herself.

And so the evening’s entertainment began, I handed cigarettes out and the cans of Heineken, under Gabra’s careful surveillance. He chose who received my gifts.

The bad man sat watching and I looked at his face I could see something dark about him, not the colour of his skin, the colour of his heart. He didn’t smile at me and I didn’t smile at him.

As the evening progressed I found myself confused by the number of men that seemed to come in and out of the front café. The “Bad Man of Gondar” sat watching the proceedings in silence. At regular intervals men came up to him and gave him money. He seemed to be collecting quite a stash of Birrs, the currency of Ethiopia.

At one stage I need to use the latrines. As I stepped outside the back of the café, I was surprised to see a complex of single level shack like homes rather like Pontins holiday homes. I guessed perhaps the bad man was some kind of land lord and that was why he was being given the money it was rent night.

As I crossed the square I heard the whirring sounds of insects in flight. The one locusts earlier was now plural and they were fluttering around my head.

As I came back out of the latrine the air was filled with the creatures and I started to blindly flail my arms in the air, batting ineffectually at the cicadas as they landed in my hair and I could feel the gentle vibration on my scalp. Not something I could say was that pleasant.

I rushed toward what I thought was the café door, opened it and slammed the door behind me whilst continuing to bat at the insects in my hair.

And then I opened my eyes and saw, two naked bodies on a bed. Both black. They literally stopped in mid copulation to stare at me. As surprised to see me as I was to see them. I stood embarrassed in the half light of the room. No one spoke for a second and then the man smiled and waved his hand as if to say come and join us.

I backed toward the door and opened it to the sound of locusts. The only way to describe a swarm of locusts a gentle exhalation of air like a fart. It is like they are having one big farting competition. Loathe as I was to step back into the night, I knew my place was not in the room with the two naked bodies.

I closed the door, cringing as I exited and turned to face the farting insects. (To be continued……..)

Slow Dancing in Lago Agrio

Lisa couldn’t remember the last time she had swayed her hips with such seductive abandonment and so close to a gorgeous young man. It felt so easy, so natural and so, so tempting.

She had stopped counting the beats of the music, mouthing the numbers in Spanish “uno dos, tres cuatro, cinco” and the faster “seis, sete, oche…” so much in tune was she now with her sexy dancer.

And she had become oblivious to her surroundings, that if it were not for the odd sound of gunfire punctuating the atmosphere, for the few brief seconds of silence when the music changed she would have forgotten she was on the Columbian border in the rather infamous drug dealing town of Lago Agrio.

It was just her and her beautiful young lithe dancer Miguel.

They had barely said two words to each other since meeting in the restaurant across the street from her hotel. But now here in the Salsa bar they had found a way of communicating that defied words.

After her initial reluctance and shyness to even step on the dance floor, they were soon in slow dancing embraces, drawing each other together and then flicking away and in Sevilliana swirls to meet again in each other’s arms. Her hips sashaying like a young precocious teenager. Enticing young hot males to her mercy.

As the first refrains of “Amor de mis Amores” played out, Lisa was lost in the moment.

The room was full of Salsa dancers but they receded into oblivion as Miguel teased his hips close to hers and their body heat was the only thing between them. By the time “I like it like that” was being played Lisa realised that yes she did indeed “like it like that”.

Occasionally there was the applause of fellow dancers and laughter rang through the hot smoky room. The sound of shoes taping on the wooden floor.

Only stopping for mojitos, laced with salt and lime, they danced late into the night and finally it was the musicians who stopped playing and Lisa saw that she and Miguel were the only two left in the bar. The band packed up their instruments and made a very swift exit from the back of the building. Avoiding any possible involvement with the drug fuelled actions going on in the main drag of Lago Agrio.

It was then for a split second Lisa felt vulnerable. But that was easily swept away like tumbleweed as Miguel with traditional Spanish machismo put a protective arm around her. With a casual “Haste Luego” to the owner of the venue Miguel led her out back into the main drag of the town to her hotel.

Once back in her hotel room they continued their slow, slow dancing. While the bright white neon light of “Hotel Agrio” flickered and buzzed outside the bedroom window, they slowly undressed each other, peeling of the final traces of any of her middle aged inhibitions.

Miguel was a hot Latin lover and he took Lisa greedily and selfishly. She enthusiastically clung to his warm, soft brown body. Fluid hip gyrations and slow twirls gave way to a more frantic rhythm, rigid back arches as Lisa dug her nails into Miguel’s muscular back.

She licked the final traces of salt and lime from his lips, from the mojitos that they had drunk so easily earlier in the evening.

Twenty years of marital boredom was shed away from Lisa in that first tryst. All those years of clinging to the sham of her marriage, to his cold, cold lies. Like a snake peeling skin to be regenerated, Lisa felt her old self go with her moans of sexual delight. By the time she reached her climax all traces of any remorse for her cheating ex-husband Alex had gone too.

When she awoke a few hours later, he had disapeared, and for a moment she thought that she had dreamt him. But she could still smell his body on the sheets, and a faint tang of salt on her lips. In the shower she sighed almost with pain as she watched the water take the final invisible traces of Miguel from her body.

Her slow dancer had gone from her life, Salsa’d away from her in Sevillian swirls and now all she had was the memory of his hips as he had led her so deliberately in the dance.

She fell back onto the bed, her arms outstretched, slowly a grin formed at the corners of her mouth. There could be many more Latino lovers like Miguel before the end of her trip. More slow dancing like at Lago Agrio.

Perhaps life as a divorcee would not be so bad. The memory of Miguel was already fading, as was the taste of salt and lime on her lips.

 

 

Magotts and Cheese

Back in the seventies the shopping chain Woolworth’s in my home town of Epsom used to have an open cheese counter. One Saturday my mother sent my sister and I with my dad shopping. A rare event in itself. He wanted maggots for bait for his fishing trip on the following Sunday and mum had asked for him to buy some cheese for a cauliflower cheese dish. Knowing that we would be going to Woolworth’s my sister and I had already cajoled dad for a bag of pick and mix sweets on the way out.

Dad purchased the maggots from the fishing shop that used to be at the bottom of the high street. And then we walked in to Woolworths. My sister and I both eying the pick and mix counter with high anticipation of a bag of specially selected sweets on the way out.

Once at the cheese counter my father handed the box of maggots to my sister Karen to hold. Karen with a squeal of disgust flipped the box towards me with the back of her hand saying “No, I don’t want them, you have them” as I put my hand up to deflect the oncoming box my hand hit the lid off and the box rose high into the air. Slowly the contents of maggots swirled like snow flakes down to their resting place on the slabs of uncovered cheese.

Our father meanwhile had sighed with resignation as he had watched the maggots flying through the air. Without a word he walked round the side of the counter, picked the box up that had landed with a clink on the floor and began to pick the maggots up from the buttercup coloured slabs of cheese. The assistant who had stood spellbound by the sight began to assist him, both remained silent as they completed the task.

Meanwhile several customers with their mouth’s open in bemusement stood watching the scene.

My father showed no flicker of embarrassment at all.

When it was apparent that there were no more grubs to be rescued, dad secured the lid on the box, walked back round to stand along side us two girls and then politely said to the assistant. “ Can I have a pound of the extra mature cheddar please?”

Both my sister and I wrinkled our nose’s up and grimaced repulsed at the fact he still bought the cheese that the offending maggots had been resting on, but we remained silent. At the same time knowing all hope of our pick and mix bag was disappearing rapidly.

As if it had been a perfectly normal turn of events the sales assistant cut the cheese and wrapped it in the paper and handed it across the counter to my Dad. With a polite thank you the three of us turned round and walked out of the shop. I glanced mournfully at the sweet counter as we passed. The sweets shone in pretty coloured wrappers like jewels, purple, orange, green , bright red, all dazzling hues protecting the chocolate and sweets hidden within.

That evening my mother cooked dad his favourite meal of cauliflower cheese which he ate with enthusiasm. My dad was half French , of course a few maggots would never put him off eating cheese. Now as an adult I am so glad it was a selection of English hard cheeses that were on display, the sight of a juicy runny camembert with maggots settling in would have been just too much. Neither my sister or I could even stomach the smell let alone taste it. And even today the sight and smell of cauliflower cheese has us both wrinkling our noses’ up and brings back to me the incongruous sight of maggots falling down like fat snowflakes on yellow cheese.