Imbecile or Idiot Savant?
Hopping around the Mediterranean is a pleasant waste of time for those who enjoy Brit-louts, beaches and beer, techno-thump and ecstacy. I take my e’s, but don’t burden myself with too much happiness. The venues merge into a paper-trail of hotel bills and travellers’ cheques. Thanks to Void’s generosity, there is money to scatter.
Only a genius or a fool could conceive of a plan so simple, so counter-intuitive, so dumb. Rigorous in the daylight, it does tend to smudge by nigh, though. I call London to remind myself that retreat is not an option.
They’ve moved out, Sarah exults, fallen out, gone their separate ways. How fortunate, I tell her, now you’ll be able to bully some real tenants. But I’m gritting my teeth, resisting the urge to return and bring Leo out here, which, in the circumstances, would be crazy. I have an existence to erase.
Scent of lemon trees and thyme. At a white table by a drystone wall (Ibiza, Cyprus, Malta, Crete?), I scribble one final postcard to Mayola Road. Full text: ‘Return to Zendau – address unknown’. Ruritania and Elvis, a nod to my swashbuckling illusions, my craving for fame and, some might add, an early death. Tomorrow I fly to Rome under the old identity, after which – it’s goodbye Jim, hello Bo
The Swedish passport, immaculate (touch wood), valid throughout and beyond the European Community, is Koff’s masterpiece. We were very careful; both our liberties are at stake. Don’t worry, he boasted, it’s a miracle of digital scanning.
And I have scanned, every day I’ve scoured the web pages of the Bolivian dailies, fascinated by the news. El Coronelito is standing down, a victim at last, of lung cancer not justice, but it’ll do. I blow a smoke-ring across the screen - his wreath.
La Paz isolated again. Sensing weakness in the government, the campesinos have reimposed roadblocks. The hidden hand of fugitive leader, Pancho Choque, is suspected. Good omen, could hardly be better.
And then this delicious last item to strengthen my resolve: ‘Catholic priest beaten up’. Church hierarchy denies Padre Ignacio ventured into the countryside to negotiate a settlement in any official capacity. The man himself claims he was just exercising a God-given right to celebrate Mass. Peasant-union spokesman, however, denounces the attempt at spying.
Yes, I’m going back. In a lifetime of casually taken (and mistaken) decisions, this is either the most daring or doltish of them all. Don’t ask for explanations. With a head start, bags of money and the illogic of a non-chess-playing grandmaster, I know where my future lies. My future lies in Pancho's court.
Yet, after dumping the card at the village post office/store, I wonder at my indiscretion. Prying eyes will intercept and scrutinize the message. Bad omen? Too bad, too late.
I mingle with the hordes of Christmas tourists in Cuzco. They swarm around the city, gaping at the Incan stonework, which is holding firm, and the colonial churches, now crumbling. Meanwhile pickpockets work in teams of three to relieve the foreigners of wallets and cameras - tourism servicing the local economy.
For authenticity, I also sample Macchu Picchu, a holy site on a holiday weekend and still I’m impressed. No photo has ever captured the giddiness of this condor’s nest. At the Hitching-post of the Sun, I’m moved to pray for success.
I dawdle, but eventually find myself in Puno by the Peruvian shore of the lake. Rejecting the taxis, I select the bus, now approaching the Kasani crossing-point while every butterfly in my stomach hatches at once. Well, keeping bowels intact distracts me from the ordeal ahead.
In the event, the border post is understaffed and overwhelmed. A harried official stamps a thirty-day permit. Isn’t it ninety? He lifts his head to study this well-informed tourist. Er, I stammer, that is according to the guidebook, whipping out a virgin ‘Only Plan It’. New regulations, he growls. Extensions from Immigration Ministry, Avenida Camacho, La Paz, nowhere else. That place, shit, outta the question.
Your first visit, señor? Of course.
I try to blend in with the backpack crowd, but can’t hide my thrill at being on home territory again. Ah, merely to breathe Bolivian air (though it's time they built some toilets at Kasani). Why tremble? Those particular policemen in their shabby olive-green uniforms, don’t know you.
Sarah’s meditation to the rescue. Relax, press on.
Can’t, road’s closed. Tourists trapped indefinitely in Copacabana, along with the bus-owners who’ve been blessing their vehicles at the shrine of the Virgin. Take the opportunity, then, to stroll along the lakeside and weigh the risks (trivial – death followed by a hefty jail sentence), ponder your motives (convincing – boredom, a bid for legendary status, wanting to be wanted).
Clambering about ruined terraces, I ponder the irony of the Inca crowning himself child of the sun, unaware that their sun-metal was summoning the conquerors. Certainties are treacherous. This plan, this lateral thinking of mine, what if it’s all-too-predictable idiocy?
Inactivity will prove my undoing. So when a military escort is arranged to evacuate us, I join it willingly, but don’t quite see the use of these pimply recruits in a conflict situation. They crowd the aisles, cadging cigarettes and pressing against the thighs of the female travellers.
Our convoy, seven buses and a jeep, crawls along the deserted highway. Every few miles, the soldier-boys disembark to clear a path through a million rocks and stones. They are certainly earning what we paid to hire them, if, that is, the officers decide to distribute the cash.
My eyes are mostly glued to the window. An occasional campesino family, out herding animals, stares at our passage; otherwise the altiplano is empty, tensed like a lion about to spring. One soldier grumbles, "We clear, the stones reappear during the night." His mates nudge him; an officer has boarded the bus to check passports.
Camera, guidebook, a logo-less green cap, dark glasses, floral t-shirt, shorts, horribly sunburnt legs – the impeccable tourist, at present shitting in his pants. However, it’s the lieutenant’s turn to maul the ladies, and I have an excuse to avert my gaze.
Tranquillo. We’re nearing San Roque on the outskirts of the Alto. Knowing that I daren’t visit my old haunts, I’ve prepared a little treat to commemorate the return. Insert the cassette, adjust the earphones, prime the walkman, wait.
The U2 tape, the one remaining genuine classic, was among Geordie’s devastated collection, and this song in particular hijacked my soul, made me weep. I’m crying now as I play it again, full volume. Listen to the lyrics.
I wanna run, hide, break down the walls that hold me inside. I wanna reach out and touch the flame, take shelter from poison rain, blown by the wind, trampled in dust. I’ll show you a place high on a desert plain, where the streets have no name.
Well they don’t have names, do they, not up here? Astounding, prescient, how the Irish fellows managed to compose an authentic anthem for the Alto.
I’m snuffling, then tears course down my face, have to fake a cold or a coughing fit. But the other tourists are being captivated by their first sight of La Paz in a bowl and the troops have already trudged away, exhausted, to the Tárapaca garrison. I wallow in sentiment. Yet not so far gone that I don’t note the tanks and armoured vehicles clustered at the Ceja and goon-squads guarding the bridges of the autobahn.
A word about the state of play. I quickly gather that el coronelito's illness and resignation have resulted in a groundswell of sympathy, turning him overnight from a monster into a monument. Much is made of his twenty years of democratic striving and conversion from dictator to elected president. Much is forgotten of the tyranny.
And his obsession to regain power goes unremarked, though it is perverse. Restored to the palace, his arse on presidential chair, he hadn’t the slightest idea how to run the country, though his cronies never forgot how to fleece the treasury. The young replacement is Washington’s poodle. Nothing much has changed. Enough, you get the idea.
To practicalities. I inspect the Sucre Palace Hotel, where Ché once posed as a Uruguayan businessman. But paralleling his swansong would be most unwise, plus I need to stretch my funds. So I choose a cheapo, not even a hotel, but a backpackers’ lodging house, oddly reminiscent of the jail, its courtyard leading to tiny cells. Faded jeans, not bodies, swing from the washing lines and the music is international, tasteful. Nevertheless, some nights, I wake all a-sweat.
The error is in overstaying my welcome. Others are hurrying between phases of the great Andean experience. The fat concierge has fixed on me. She knits in her glass-fronted office like a guardian of the guillotine reborn, and I know I’ll have to invent a cover-story to appease her curiosity.
Business, import, sorry, export, um, alpaca jumpers, looking for native producers, investing in the potential of............ Needles clack, her blatantly false teeth savage the woollen thread. She marks an asterisk against my name in the ledger.
Have to keep alert. But this ugly city in its beautiful setting, is gradually smothering me. A caffeine hit to dispel the lethargy. I’ll read the newspapers, ponder moves, kid myself I have choices.
So, what nonsense is El Diario spouting today? Aha! An editorial on Pancho. According to which, el Sr.Choque is a maniacal, ruthless, terrorist agitator whose influence must be extirpated from the nation, etc. Bien, you can see that the little coronel is still pulling the strings from his deathbed. And the clique are so scared that Pancho will sandpaper the veneer of civilization off their chessboard. Right, he’s going to indianise the whiteboys. And I’m desperate to contact him. But how?
Back out in the street, it’s like watching a video of myself, an inattention which almost costs me dear when, by the steps of the Finance Ministry, Edmundo and Osvaldo emerge suddenly from a chauffeur-driven limousine. Wow, I think, the comic couple together again, Edmundo cool and important (functionaries usher him inside), his sidekick scrambling behind, clutching the briefcase. And if either had glanced up, would the beard have fooled them?
I must break free of this trance.
But the call to Julio’s home is yet another mistake.
“Quién es?” Tangible fear on the line.
“A friend, phoning from abroad. I’d like to talk to Julio.”
“No está. Ha viajado lejos.” Long gone.
“Just leave us in peace, Jaime,” his mother whimpers and the connection is cut.
I’ve assumed public phone-booths are safe but, if Julio’s line is tapped, the call might be traceable. Why not? Bolivia, one of the favoured 51st States, must test-run American equipment for the embassy. Shit, and I left my fingerprints. The things I do for my boyfriends; they’re the only ones I really care about. I dive into a nearby store, watch. No black-gloved technician dismantles the phone, yet.
And to cap the sequence, cops swoop at night on the lodgings. The tourist police are a new phenomenon, their brief to protect and hassle travellers as appropriate. Bo Nesto’s passport raises no eyebrows, though its details are meticulously copied. I don’t tempt fate by producing the ID that Koff kindly doctored and extended for five years, also accredited to the Swedish architect.
Time to stop pretending that I can always leave if this doesn’t work out. After Bolivia, it’s the moon or Atlantis. Plan A (there is no plan B) requires me locating Pancho. Problem is, the survivors have probably melted into altiplano communities, inaccesible to me. And this city is simply too perilous. I should head for the hills, but they’re mountains, and I ain’t gonna shelter in no ice-cave.
Whether Pancho and his merry band will accept me as a comrade, I refuse to consider.
The drop hasn’t lessened any. In fact, the road to Coroico is worse, much worse, more traffic and a new generation of juggernaut supertrucks to push our bus over the precipice. I don’t mind tumbling three hundred metres; it might clarify some ambiguities.
Sandy and I met on this deadly road, and I could do with her calm logic now, I'd even take the barbed criticisms. Distracted, I also miss the transition from snowy mountain pass to tropics, though my fellow-passengers are ooing and aahing at the spectacle. Sorry, too preoccupied to deal with nature’s wonders, however dramatic.
On arrival, I climb to the same hotel that Sandy and I shared, but don’t last too long in the place. A clique of guests have imposed a weird communal trip, humming mantras to the sunset, and the German owner’s asking where she’s seen me before.
Finding the shack on the hillside above town is a stroke of luck. Great view of the rolling valleys and a light breeze late afternoon. Shack, I say, but sturdy and neat, basic furniture and kerosene lamps for the night. A stream sparkles close by, my water supply. Low rent and a none-too-inquisitive landlord further increases its charm.
Now I have the solitude in which to write. Like Proust, who finished his days in a cork-lined room, it’s my privilege to be lonely alone. Though the scribbling didn’t redeem his trivial life (and won’t justify mine), there is a bonus. Sarah’s meditation technique works only too well.
As I concentrate on the document, events return in technicolour detail like I’m experiencing them in the flesh. Not that I lay claim to many moments of clarity. This is newsreel, total recall (or false memory). Unfair; isn’t confession meant to lead to personal growth? A wart has appeared on my left thumb, will that do?
Most days I stick to the task until dusk, when moths and mosquitoes converge, attracted by the lights. Me too. I change clothes, swab my face, scramble down the path, eager for entertainment.
Caution restricts choice of company. I do encroach on some tourist circles, once I’m fairly sure they plan to move on tomorrow and know nothing about Sweden. So as not to be tempted into imprudent one-night stands, I say I’m an invalid recovering from an obscure virus. If they quiz me, I’m a sculptor by profession and have important examples of my opus ready to discuss (may Sarah pardon the plagiarism).
I never mention writing, not the least hint. This instinct to conceal my activity, I take so seriously that, on leaving the shack, I always hide the manuscript under a loose plank in the floor, despite my fear of the lurking creepy-crawlies. Probably unnecessary; after all, who’d want to read the boy's own story of an unsympathetic fool behaving badly?
I work steadily, cooking meals at home on an ancient, capricious primus stove. But I’m no mouse on a treadmill. When creativity fails, I’ll visit the town by day, usually to buy a morning paper from the first La Paz bus.
It’s a stiff climb back up in the heat, so I stay on a while, taking care to shop at different stores and never frequenting the same establishment too often, which rules out the internet and a decent cappuchino. I can’t be invisible, but I do endeavour to play the cranky outsider, best ignored. Meanwhile, I’m listening to tidbits in the market-place, pool-hall and bars, book in hand, pretending not to understand a word of the language. Mostly local gossip (‘and then she threw the pisspot over his wife, imagine,’). I may yet overhear something significant.
The foreign residents, earnest project managers, snobby restauranteurs, the odd artist (and I do mean strange), are palatable in minute doses. Safe in their gringo lairs, they swap and compare prejudices, oblivious to the country they’ve settled in. I’d love to score some dope (many look well-stoned), but daren’t risk being drawn in and having to create a fabulous past. And they’re an insipid bunch, no exceptions.
Until the handsome photographer surfaces. Three calm months, then Jan arrives to jolt me out of my detachment. Presence, poise, personality; he stands out. Of course, I do my best to suppress the longing, ignore the attraction, but there’s an electric current passing between us (upgrade that to thunderbolt). One glance says it all. He doesn’t approach me immediately. He gives me leeway, knowing that I’ll seek him out.
Inevitably we do meet. Over coffee he enthuses, “Ah, another artist. I knew you were different. I’m a photographer myself.” From Prague, with rather an Irish accent to my untrained ear. The conversation flows smoothly enough. Jan (as in yin) is careful to back off whenever I’m vague on details. He’s charming, so much so, that I’m tempted to lower my guard, especially when a sinewy leg brushes mine too often for misinterpretation.
“Look at these recent photos,” he says. They’re shot from unusual angles. “Interesting,” I mouth. “How talented you are.” Hey, that’s weird; hat slung low, I’m in some of them. Flattery? Intrusion?
“Oh, how clumsy!” I exclaim, tipping coffee over the photos. “Do apologize.” And with a paper towel carefully wipe my prints from his prints.
But Jan’s persistent. Luckily, I’m reaching the end of my literary labours, because each morning he materializes in the open field below the shack and, stripped to the waist, runs through his tai chi and kalisthenics routine. Such languid ease. I can’t concentrate anymore for drooling.
I stand on the porch pleading with my eyes that he work out somewhere else, that he should come on up, but, after an hour, the sweat glistening on his torso, Jan always waves goodbye. Whatever his agenda, he takes pleasure reeling me in slowly. Lord knows, I’m hooked.
Nights, I dream of dreadfully unsafe sex.
Weekends, when there are too many Bolivian visitors in town, I usually explore the neighbouring countryside. Now, I’m hiking daily, it serves to cool my lust. Wandering through hidden valleys, folds of soothing green, where families hoe maize, tend their coca plantations. A friendly greeting, an exchange of cigarettes for fruit, and on.
Today, returning from the waterfall, I pass three black women in bowlers and traditional polleras (a single layer of skirt only in this stupendous heat). They’re coming from Coroico, enormous bundles on their backs. Not an ususual sight; several Afro-Bolivian villages thrive in the Yungas, dating back to the colonies. So many black slaves died in the silver-mines, even the Spaniards could see the sense in transferring the survivors down to the warmth.
Those are real loads they’re carrying in their aguayos, sacks of noodles and sugar, flagons of cooking oil, carrots and onions poking out, enough to feed a multitude. That women there reminds me of Lidia, the same bulk. Naah, can’t be. Course, if Lidia’s a fugitive, home territory would be a natural hideaway. The angle of the bowler’s covering her face. See, she’s also turned and is making urgent signals that I go away.
I sit on a rock and smoke. If it’s really her, she’ll have good reasons for spurning me. I should go home and think this over. Instead I follow at a discreet distance.
Psst! She springs from the undergrowth, furious, ferocious.
“Lidia, what a shock you gave me,” I splutter.
“I gave you a shock. Estás loco, Jaime. What you doing here?”
“I’ve come to rejoin the struggle.”
“Hombre, don’t you have a country of your own?” And now that she’s consented to embrace me, I see it isn’t indignation or surprise. She’s perturbed, very nervous.
“Let me visit you. Just tell me where and when.”
“Never. Do yourself a favour and go.” She dives into the undergrowth.
Well, you can imagine, the encounter sets me thinking. Those women carrying tonnes of supplies towards self-sufficient communities (which certainly don’t need to purchase vegetables). Everyone expects the remnants of Pancho’s group to be sheltering in the altiplano. What if he’s gone counter-intuitive too? Soon, I’ve convinced myself.
En route home, I continue the truncated conversation. Take me in, Lidia, please. You’re my only true comrades. Friendship elsewhere is so ambiguous. I don’t ask for acceptance. I’ll settle for cover. My life is empty.
Comradeship? So long as I overlook the pack of Astoria planted among the crate of missiles. Wholehearted betrayal might be closer to the facts. A bunch of beaten opportunists, and I’m begging sanctuary at their castle in the air. Think they’ll let me thrash around in the moat before loosing the crocodiles?
No, no. Pancho told me stay loyal. He’s the comandante, I’m his disciple.
Over and over the arguments chase each other’s tale.
Too soon, I’m opening the door to the shack. And something is wrong. Maybe it’s like Poala says, I read too many spy novels, but this time I’m glad of the precautions. The strand of hair is broken, a layer of dust disturbed. There’s a subtle disorder in the room. The rummager is not a thief; he’s found and ignored my stash of cash. But (thank goodness) missed the writing under the floorboard, since he wasn't searching for any.
Oh Jan, this is getting personal. Which is what I yearn for, isn’t it?
I take to avoiding him.
Not easy. The photographer’s bent on exposure, laying trip-wires for the unwary. On the street, he addresses me in a foreign language, of which I catch the word ‘svenske’. What’s the game? I feign indifference, but he’s attracting and scaring me in equal measure.
During the night of the electric storm, thunder echoing round the valleys, a flash of lightning, his silhouette framed by the cabin window. After I’ve died of fright and recovered, what’s left but to resign myself to his bursting in and taking me? I’m in bed, ready, willing, his. That’s not Jan’s style. When I finally dare step onto the verandah, nothing.
A night of mounting dread.
Next morning, even the brass band swinging full-toot in the plaza, can’t lift my mood. I’m desolate well before the announcement on the radio. That's crazy - Yod’s dead? His jeep, plus eight Israeli passengers veered off the road, on the way back from Rurren last night, at the high pass, a mere thirty minutes from La Paz. Asleep at the wheel, the sources surmise. A journey too far and no-one to roll that crucial, homecoming joint, I know. And rat that I am, my first, unworthy thought is of racing to the city to comfort Tzipi.
My head's spinning. I have to get away from people, fast. Uchumachi, the cloud-forest on the hill, is suitably sombre. I can be there in a few hours. Yeah, here’s the church and the cows (wrong type, don’t see any cubensis in the dung), the pasture of golden bees coming next. I’m climbing up the last steep section, on the lookout for orchids and wondering whether Yod could have been my phantom midnight visitor, when I see Jan exiting from the thicket below.
With a photographer’s sense of location, Jan’s chosen an awesome backdrop for the ceremonial showdown. Put on a spurt of speed, James. What’s the point, the guy’s super-fit? Damn! I’m convinced I don’t want to talk to him, not now or ever.
Deeper within the silent misty woods, I select the spot and wait.
The man fromVoid saunters into the clearing, already half-naked. Wordlessly my czech-mate undresses me.
Later, much later, I receive instructions.
“They’re probably not far from here. Make contact,” he says.. “I’ve arranged matters with the Bolivians. They were moving to arrest you last week, you know.”
“And if I refuse?”
“Wouldn’t do that, Jimmy boy. There’d be health risks involved.”
The chopping motion of his little finger is all the more threatening for being so minimal.
Damned if I will; dead if I don't.
Srta. Sarah. I found this packet among the belongings of my aunt, Sra. Asunta Mamani, recently deceased. Joven Jaime left $20 to cover postage and I am mailing the document, as requested, to you at Mayola Road, London.
EPILOGUE Chapter One.
He punched the code in automatically, raced up the narrow staircase to her flat and bursting through the door, found Tzipi surrounded by her own people. Only later did he realize that the assembly was immersed in the traditional Jewish ritual of mourning; they were sitting shiva for the week, although Jim could be forgiven for feeling he’d entered El Lobo restaurant itself, with its pools of animated conversationists millling around the packed room.
Except for Tzipi who sat alone, upright in a wooden chair, not the muse he’d rushed over the mountain-pass to worship but a reigning queen of Shiva, the queen-bee, attended by a court of co-religionists whom she was ignoring. Dressed in an ill-fitting dark sweater, tatty skirt and slippers, her hair dishevelled, face puffy with tears and, even so, to Jim, she was still regal, regaling his presence with a single, proud glance before withdrawing again.
Here were all Israelis and he the one outsider, yet they barely glanced his way,as if they didn’t care less or had even been expecting him. And, of course, he willingly accepted the corner of the old orange sofa that a skull-capped traveller vacated, accepted the basic food they offered, the tinned sardine, the boiled eggs, the bread and coffee, accepted the providential and fleeting as his right - that would always be his style. From the moment he positioned himself in front of the mourner-in-chief wrapped in her solemn majesty, Jim felt absurdly secure in this sanctuary he’d managed to reach.
Several days to pluck up courage to break cover and risk the journey to La Paz. He hadn’t invented the scrutiny at the Unduavi control-point beside the mountain summit nor that on entering the city limits. A hesitation, a shrug and then they’d let him by; so maybe the official heat was off, as his contact had indeed implied, though his arrival was registered. Whatever their motives, little doubt about his. He intended to claim Tzipi and she hadn’t sent him packing, yet. Not that she’d encouraged him either.
Despite the impropiety, Jim Stalker took to staring at his prey, his prize, his goal, insisting, until, eventually, late evening, he was ushered out of the vigil. Yet, without question, they granted him camping rights, sleeping quarters being arranged next door in the room of the Havana Gila, the Cuban sidekick, who has survived the car accident and was apparently recovering in a local hospital.. Jim laid his sleeping-bag on the vacant bed, his room mates set out theirs on the dusty linoleum. The snores, the coughing, the rustling. After months of solitude, no wonder Jim dreamt that night of being back at San Pedro prison.
In the following days, he endured the extended elegy, unabashed, biding his time, a puppy curled doggedly at her feet, dozing off, coming awake to resume fixing her with that hang-dog look. Daylight filtering dustily in and nobody talking to Jim in any tongue he could understand, english/spanish/aymara, whatever, though he undoubtedly felt they were using their hebrew to comment on him. It hardly mattered who these other people were, whether Tzipi’s friends or mere random back-pack by-passers present from solidarity or obligation. The hermetic group, for reasons unknown, had accepted him. He was not required to play-act in front of this bunch of babbling strangers, though it always shocked him each time the congregation unexpectedly bounced to its feet in postures of mumbled prayer. Apart from which, he found himself fitting comfortabaly, as of right, into this temporary scene.
Jim was content to bask in the wash of lamenting voices, study Tzipi’s immobile face and when she did ocassionally utter a few words, register her new tone, not exactly timid but leached of emotion. The protective circle around Tzipi allowed them no discourse, but, well, fair enough; the woman had just lost her lover, Yod, in a car crash. Jeeze, as the hebrews don’t say, give her credit in the circumstances, for not cracking up.
But one should maybe wonder why Jim, usually so cunning a scribbler, doesn’t refer in that infamous diary of his to the totally inappropriate thoughts he was already succumbing to. Instead, in the copy I have to hand, he merely praises her poise and invents inane fantasies of her need for support or, more lyrically, yearning for a shoulder io cry on. But the company present must have registered the indelicacy of the situation, tolerating his gawking awkwardness for Tzipi’s sake. Occasionally Jim would glance with a sense of relief at the mirrors, which had all been hidden behind black cloth as a token of mourning, because right now, like the mirrors, it suited our ludicrous hero not to reflect.
By the fifth day, the group had stirred itself and made some effort to tidy and clean the bombed-out flat, under the command of the doughty Naomi, who commandeered Jim’s services in the enterprise, whilst freezing him out as she had done at their previous meetings.
Clean-up or clear-out? No coincidence that officialdom arrived that afternoon, not Bolivian, oh definitely not, more likely their embassy staff. They offered brief condolences and joined in a brief chant before pushing through the crowd to retrieve various boxes of equipment. Jim they registered with a shrug and a rhetorical comment in Hebrew.
The shiva, that period of intermittent conversation, of profound silences, of Yod the dead lover, present and yet not, hovering on the threshold of everyone’s awareness (even Jim’s, although his diary refuses to acknowledge this as yet), finally drew to an end. The seventh day of mourning called short to allow for the arrival of the holy Sabbath, culminated in more prayers led by a curly-bearded, leather-clad rabbi who arrived clutching a motorbike helmet.
Only then did Tzipi make steady eye-contact with Jim the intruder.
For the solemn leave-taking, she recovered her voice, thanking the guests but ordering them out now, once and for all, quickly. And despite his pig-headed, unkosher stubbornness, Jim surely felt that would also include him. Instead, in the first words in English he’d heard all week; she imperiously declared, “You stay, of course."
The end of shiva, sending shivers down his spine.
Jim had unpacked his scant belongings, clutching the notebooks and sheets of paper that he called the treasure of his life; and they were, constituting a ripe section of the now famous/infamous book. “The spider receives me with open tentacles)”, being a typical entry from the man-child who still enjoyed apeing the scatterbrain, though he never dared to show her what he was writing and she didn’t ask to see it. Not the only topic off-limits. Her bedroom she denied to Jim. Anyway, she never slept in the old bed now, merely using her room to select a change of clothes. Their affair unfolded on a field of gold, or rather the illusion of one created by the golden brocade cloth with which Tzipi covered their double bed in the living room, actually the dingy orange sofa now joined to a camp-bed of almost equivalent height. Likewise forbidden was all mention of the deceased Israeli beau, although memories persisted. Within these confines, however, Tzipi was dedicating herself freely to her newly chosen regent.
Those readers who appreciate Jim’s pimply prose, will doubtless relish the atmosphere of the pair’s love-den. The single-bar electric fire radiating heat during their waking hours. The thick plastic curtains pinned shut, admitting a phantasmal half-light, rain or shine, while as backdrop, the traffic below throbbed unheeded. No visitors to the lair, the phone disconnected, provisions announced by a tentative, coded pull on the bell and left downstairs. Zero communication with the outside world; just the messy living room with its musty odours, low lighting cast from a single lamp shaded by the same green and gold brocade and Tzipi prowling between the discarded piles of clothing.
For after a while, she was hardly bothering to dress - a slip, a sleeveless vest and those silky blue pantaloons of yore, our slinky Scherezade bestowing a 1,001 favours on a 101 days and nights. Softer now, almost gentle, that was her ploy. And between the spells of love-making, more often languorous than frenzied, a slow, silence reigning. Not conducive to serious soul-searching, but that seems to have been another essential part of her technique.
And should Jim threaten a conversation or (heaven forbid) want to discuss personal matters, her soft fingers would hush his lips. So, instead, he kept on writing, whilst she used another notepad to design rhythmic pencil sketches of spirals, ferns, clouds, storm patterns, distant cities, horsemen galloping along a plain.
Readers of his journal (though some prefer to term it a novel) always ask why, given her strange behaviour, Jim failed to record any misgivings. One possible excuse is, as yet, he was stuck in fanatsy-mode. And loving him to exhaustion was indeed a part of her scheme, though not the heart of the matter. Note her deliberate intent to build up the intensity. Once the course was under way, once she had him smothered in her bubble-world, then initiation commenced.
Early one morning she emerged from the bathroom, clad in a long purple robe. Before Jim could comment, Tzipi lay down by his side.
“You know about the Khazaris?”
“Never heard of them.” But he had.
“Long, long ago, in a far away land……,” she chanted.
“Don’t do that, dearest. You’re hypnotizing me.”
“Of course. Of course.” Her intention precisely. Jim the stalker being stalked. “….. there lived a people who moved west out of the Asian plains and settled and built cities and prospered” His eyes were glazing.
“Yet, the king was not content. He considered his people barbarians because they prayed to so many gods and spirits. But he’d learnt that in the neighbouring countries, other folk…..”
Suddenly, Jim was awake. He’d come across some such tale quite recently.
“What century are we talking about?”
“Dunno,” Tzipi shrugged. “Eighth, ninth.”
“BC or AD?”
“Before or after Christ.”
“Ah. We don’t call him by that name. To us, he’s known as ‘That Man’. But, yes, after him.”
“And the king was so taken by the idea of monotheism that he called wise men from neighbouring countries to advise him how they worshipped the one God.”
“Ah, you know the story. Good, I felt you did. Yes, the rabbi, the mullah and the bishop debated the virtues of their grand religions for so long that the king got bored and became more confused than ever.”
“Then the king had a great idea.”
“No, it was the Queen who did!” Upon which, Tzipi hoisted her purple robe and mounted her lover. But what planet desire was this? From Jim’s angle, straddled and impaled, he knew he was being manoeuvred beyond infatuation into obsession. Next stop, abject servitude? Yet he was helpless in her grip and so, floating on the rip-tides, he let it flow and, his mind clouding, strove to remember the full story.
Out with it. “The question she put separately ........ to each representative,” Jim gasped gamely, “if not your own .......which of the other religions do you recommend. The mullah and the bishop chose Judaism and so…”
“The independent Jewish state of Khazaria came to be. The queen’s plan was perfect,” sighed Tzipi, as she rocked him gently him on to climax.
Yes, and finally he was recalling just who had sold him this idiotic tale. Koff, it was, the friend who had created his new ID and passport, forgeries which had fooledprecious few. Here’s to hoping that Tzipi’s fables were more reliable. “A glorious time in our history,” she cried, nursing her own climax.
But, in his post-orgasmic netherland, Jim already cradled doubts. Bad choice by little queenie, he wrote later, not at all logical. Doorkeepers of the Caucasus, charging tribute to all who passed through. The Khazaris, locked between Byzantium and Baghdad, between Christianity and Islam, were priming themselves for centuries of persecution. You see, they weren’t the Chosen People; the masochists had chosen this fate for themselves. I remember Koff putting that ironic slant of his tale. Jim didn’t speak his thoughts out immediately, though he should have. Sure, the laid-back Tzipi only played at scissoring him these days, but the sense of dread remained. Caught between a hard bed and a sultry mistress, Jim savoured more than ever being trapped in her power.
And Tzipi, in portraying herself as a Khazari queen reborn, clearly had reasons for initiating the new regent into her belief system. And methods too, such as burning foul black-smoke incense, and like playing scratchy cassettes of black-earth music (flute/pipes, stringy pluckings) on an antiquated tape-recorder, which Jim vaguely recognized - Hi Yod, (poor Jim often found himself addressing remarks to his predecessor’s spectral presence), remember your telling me once you’d traipsed that sound machine through desert campaigns in the Negev.. Oh spooky pal, do I now have your approval as replacement?
From symbolist poet Osip Mandlestam, she read Jim odes in fractured English via Russian and Hebrew to patches of cold Kharazi land. I can take this on board, Jim reasoned in the diary. Steppe by steppe, I’m being led into some crazy training programme, he joked. But oh these silly quips of his added nothing to an understanding of the situation, only serving to stifle his intelligence. I do it for love he claimed (oh yeah?).
So, he consented to the course of sexual healing, as she deemed it, loved the love-making and overlooked the commitment being demanded. And yet, somewhere along the way, Tzipi did somehow manage to transform him from a merely Lucky Jim to the Lord Jim we now recognise.
After months of rigorous training, Tzipi gave Jim leave to travel. With so much at stake (from her perspective), she could hardly risk boredom or antagonism to creep in. Even though Jim appreciated her regime of detached majesty, limited doses were sufficient. And released temporarily from the mental headlocks and tantric calisthenics, Jim took to roaming, no problem.
First he returned to the eastern slopes of the Andes, the Yungas, ostensibly to sample the saya dancing, the rhythms brought over by unwilling African slaves and conserved within the black communities as their heritage until the rest of Bolivia finally discovered the beat. He scoured the festival for sight of his friend and contact, Lidia, but couldn’t risk making enquiries. He hoped the Network (if it existed) would register his presence.
Then to the altiplano for the winter solstice at the mysterious ruins of Tiwanaku. The Aymaran New Year celebrations had seemed a fine opportunity to encounter old associates too. But the winter night on the high plain at an archaeological site (bonfires forbidden), proved unbearably long, and the sun eventually rose over a huddle of frozen tourists and shivering middle-class city-dwellers, whilst the genuine celebrants conveyed their contempt for the onlookers in low-toned Aymara.
So Jim journeyed to the lowland city of Santa Cruz, once cow pasture, now the financial centre of the thriving oil industry, to see for himself what the neoliberal worldbank cronies were claiming as the model for a modern Bolivia. The place was fast and crass, not at all what he’d came those thousands of miles to experience. No wonder the dictactor Banzer and his unsavoury pals had launched their dubious fortunes from here.
After which, he returned home, grateful for Tzipi’s welcome and, because of the shield she seemed to provide, increasingly careless of his safety. In which frame of mind, Jim one day decided to venture up to his old haunts in the Alto. “Going out!” was all he replied to his consort’s question (see, they were already slipping in a humdrum relationship of sorts). But don’t label him the unfeeling macho; the intention was to surprise her with an exotic gift and the sprawling open-air ‘16 de julio’ market was where he reckoned to find such a treasure.
Exempt from reality, untouchable, he was foolishly wandering round the streets of the Ceja mid-day, savouring anew the stench of refuse, watching last revellers being ejected from the clip joints, when the assault came. This being the Alto, the wastes of the Ceja, no place for a lonesome gringo to test his immunity. There were thieves about, remember, and right now a couple of them have lassoed your neck, Jim, and are throttling you with a thick, coarse rope.
Our hero on the threshold of black-out.. Did his life pass before him in slow motion or simply flash by? Not exactly; Jim recounts that he suddenly saw the foetid streets of the Ceja change into the banner emblazoned battlements of Atil (where on earth did that name come from?) and a black-clad figure uncannily like Yod lift the two riff-raff ruffians by their collars and gallop them off (on a steed, on rollerblades?), out through the city gates (what city gates would those be?).
While he sat restoring the circulation by massaging his neck, a young girl started applauding from the doorway of a bar, a bowler-hat cholita laughed and shook her head, a drunk offered him a celebratory swig of cane alcohol from a plastic bag. All had truly enjoyed the rousing adventure and were waving to the leather-jacketed Yod-like figure leaning against a lamppost in the distance, who acknowledged their homage. To Jim, he looked like one of those private security guards that had taken over protecting property since the latest round of privatizations and no longer seemed to bear much resemblance to Yod. Not that Jim had much chance to study the man; a dust-cloud on the horizon was rapidly transforming itself into a violent hailstorm and the public were dispersing indoors or busy protecting themselves under plastic sheets. So, what was that about, then, wondered Jim, doubting his senses and perhaps his sanity?
He paused momentarily, disturbed at how completely he’d incorporated Tzipi’s bizarre landscapes (Atil, capital of the old Khazari kingdom, no less), which brought on other considerations; the ease with which he was fitting into the regent-role at her bidding - the king is dead, long live the regent –nonsense. Compared to Yod, he was just an infatuated stripling. Actually, he missed Yod, the guardian angel who had just rescued him (or had he?). Tzipi‘s ability to take him as an substitute lover immediately also worried him – now, whatever her game, that was one insensitive move. Yes, some salutary thoughts he’d been repressing too long. Time to break the trance of the last months – for a moment.
But instead of breaking loose, he indulged himself in savouring the afterglow of that vision of medieval Atil, the moment in the movie when the valiant young rescuer dashes through the crowd in the market and ..........
.........with a jolt, Jim found himself back in the modern-day Alto of La Paz. Deep in thought, he’d automatically walked all the way to the Sunday market. Spread over acres, block after block of stalls selling doors, stoves, curtains, shoes, clothes, mining equipment, electrical goods, CDs, VCDs etc, smuggled from the Pacific, pirated versions or originals according to the resources of the pulsing crowds searching for bargains. Anything the modern household might want or need, except that Jim, this latter-day purist, was not impressed. He struggled on, street by muddy Alto street, past the rows of used cars, behind the domestic pets (cats/dogs, of course, through rabbits to parrots to goldfish), through the teeming market - a trader’s dream, Jim’s personal nightmare. He shook his head in disbelief; the monumental acreage was a monument to greed. Why should the consumimg public require all this trash? On all sides he saw ordinary householders adrift in a spendthrift ocean. Who could save us from the stupid market economy?
Yet even he was not immune to the charms of consumerdom. Jim had come here to try and locate the section devoted to house plants and herbs, where he hoped to find a bloom exotic enough to tempt his consort.
A slight touch on his shoulder had Jim whirling around in fear of another assault, but he detected no menace in the jostling crowd. Yet, an undulating whistle that he almost recognized made him turn again and this time he saw a known figure ducking behind an alleyway of kiosks. Stupified, he followed the call. A hand pulled him in to a covered stall.
“Pancho, what are you doing here?” was a valid enough question, but the wrong one to renew their acquaintance with. A thin, blue, plastic sheet was all that separated them from the traders and shoppers on the outside. Pancho lifted the sheet a fraction and pointing to a faded brown door over the street, signalling five minutes on his wristwatch and was gone.
Ancient Caucasian citadels, the shade of a dead friend and now the fugitive leader; Jim blinked, and made an attempt at connecting these events. Perhaps, a tip-off after the assault had alerted Pancho to Jim’s re-appearance in the Alto? Or the attack and rescue only a pretext? A chance meeting or had he been trailed? Pancho himself an hallucination? Confusion – no choice but onwards.
The door gave to a simple push, clicked shut behind him, leaving Jim in total darkness.
That astute, deep voice: “Jaime, you lack commitment That’s what your problem is..”
Oddly enough, once jumpy Jim felt not the slightest fear. Tzipi’s hard-core training was obviously showing results.
“ I came back, Pancho, didn’t I? Why’ve you been avoiding me? I know you’re on the run, but at least some sign to guide me.”
“Hombre, why should I bother with you? I no longer know who you’re working for. Che believed in change. He died for it on Bolivian soil. What do believe in, Jaime?”
Jim almost blurted out ‘the Khazari nation’ but checked himself in time. Wouldn’t do to be thought crazy as well as unreliable. Instead, he said what’d been bugging him for too long now.
“Your people tricked me, set me up that morning at the airport. So I got lucky, didn’t kill anyone. I don’t believe in violence. I’m not a terrorist, Pancho.”
The hidden man laughed scornfully. “Tell that to your Zionist girlfriend and while we’re on the subject, remind her that we’re expecting a new consignment and the cash to back it.” A mobile phone beeped. Pancho replied, “OK, hold them off. We’re on our way out.”
Three cloaked, masked figures slipped from the door into the fading daylight. Another storm was threatening.
“Don’t ask me why, but I still almost trust you, joven Jaime.”
Wait, shouldn’t that be the other way round? I almost trsted you, Pancho.
A volley of firecrackers (or pistol shots), a rocket flash from a local wedding party, a clap of thunder for farewell applause. Pancho’s back-up squad were certainly laying on the background effects.
Jim Stalker left the room circumspectly; he couldn’t hope to spot all the agents and counter-agents circling the market like crazed Keystone cops, but he managed a final scathing look at all the street traders recycling counterfeit and pirated goods, before choosing an alternate route down, one that undercut the motorway and bypassed the Ceja. A boneshaker of a bus-ride, but measured enough for him to scribble down in his notebook some bottom-line reflections.
Dept of Home Truths:
“The disclaimer on the rocket attack – bullshit. A badly aimed missile, that’s all. Pure incompetence on their part. I didn’t kill a soul, except my own. But that still makes me a terrorist by proxy.
The bit where Pancho claimed his movement was vital and dangerous. He’s getting crazier
- and more careless. One can be pinpointed by using mobiles.
Nor do I accept his opinions on Che’s abiding legacy. You don’t catch me in the tangles of history.
I’m not such an idiot.
Except when it comes to being beguiled by a sweet and vicious Khazari tiger.
And talking about the the stalker being stalked. Who should have happened to receive a report of a wanted foreigner riding the Special bus up to the Alto but our old friend Waldo Ventura? It came complete with a digital photo (those mobile phone have such useful accessories). But didn’t Waldo know who’s side young Jim was on?
Rising early, Tzipi made a show of cutting her hair short and spiky, tom-boy style, then dying it red. Naturally, the new look suited her, bestowing a touch of Greek-style nimble youth to her already regal pose. She divine, gorgeous, part warrior, part instructix. But who was she kidding? Jim understood the point in exhuming the sexual, the worthy goal of kicking a lifetime’s habits of self-abuse, though the prospect of further lessons in love increasingly filled him with dread. They lessen love, he wanted to shout as she re-positioned the mattresses around the floor – for what benefit?
And those exercises were being followed by lectures on the Khazari nation, the myths and consequences thereof, a game requiring commitment and loyalty, a test Jim hadn't anticipated and which, try as he might, couldn’t quite take seriously. This would make a good Borges story. The Khazaris chose Judaism but weren’t the chosen people, not in the biblical sense. And after surviving a few commercially successful medieval centuries, holding on to the space between Constantinople to the west and Baghdad to south, they were then overrun - from the north, mauled by the Vikings sailing down the twin rivers Dnieper and Don, finally destroyed and dispersed by the Rus. so that even the Khazari survivors had lost the memory of their origins and were excluded from history, ran his notes. Yet how could he express these doubts to Tzipi when they were hardly conversing?
After this particular session, Jim slumped in despair. Gimme some reggae or rock, Jim thought. Laughter might help or roll me a joint of grass for that matter, but smoking would just open up another pit for them to tumble into. Anyway, abstinence prevailed; they were living without any stimulants, so that was a pipe-dream. It was Yod who had been the provider of dope and Yod was gone, not to mention unmentionable. The rescue in the Ceja skipped all reference to Yod but Tzipi gloated over the odd vision of Atil. “Yes,” she purred.
“Listen,” she ordered, putting on the same tape, sighing as the mournful flute evoked its patch of cold-earth. What are the modern Khazaris, if they actually exist, Jim wrote. Zealots and partisans who’ve lost the plot, rather like that other dreamer, Pancho. Which reminds me. I’ve yet to dare relay his message.
Tzipi had altered her routine recently to include a daily outing for their supplies from the corner store - bread, milk, tea, tinnedstuff; they were living frugally, another essential part of the training, she had emphasized. Alone for the moment, Jim fell to considering life under his merciless muse. If she’d softened somewhat, slight waves of flesh rounding out the muscle tone of her body, the eyes had hardened. From the teasing and tormenting to the supple and vicious, Tzipi has only two modes; when the eyes go vacant, she’s exercising her fabulous earth-mother power, when focused, wreaking her will.
Jim’s turn to sigh. And freeze.
A hollow cough from the stairs outside. Had she left the street-door open? Unless...... Jim whipped open the door and, inevitably, (that’s why he’d been conjuring up memories of dope and Yod) - there, leaning on metal crutches, skulked the Gila. Shit; the return of the Cuban sidekick, just released from his hospital ward. Due to the rigours of indoctrination, Tzipi had neglected the visits these past weeks, an oversight the Gila wore like a badge of misery.
“I am allowed in?”
“Of course,” Jim said, standing aside with exagerrated aplomb, absorbing the waves of bitterness that preceded the visitor. The Gila shuffled past Jim in search of a place to deposit his bulk, but chairs had been banished by the new regime, so Jim had to rearrange some of the cushions. “Good to see you on your feet again,” Jim lied to the figure slouched on the floor. “She’ll be right back,” and wished she would soon.
The injuries were obvious, likewise his state of mind. “Don’t pretend you’re pleased to see me.”
“Can I get you a coffee, er, um…….” trailing off as he realized that he couldn’t recall the Gila’s true name. (The origin of the pun concerned a Cuban who just happened to look like a lizard and associate with Israelis - resulting in the Havana Gila tag – ho-ho, Jim – in those days you’d had a keen sense of verbal wit– as even your victims were forced to admit).
Tzipi strode in laden. “Ernesto,” (that’s what she called him), she exclaimed with surprise, “my poor friend, how are you?”, and bent down to embrace the injured colleague, chucking the groceries at Jim, who contrived to fumble them all. The Gila snorted. Our hero blushed. Tzipi breezed into the kitchen to prepare the coffee Jim had failed to provide.
Yod’s two ex-associates stared at each other. The distended Sancho Panza, with one arm in plaster and a newly acquired limp, pouting as if he blamed the loss of his knight on this lanky English kid, who in turn was wondering how best to defend his investment in Tzipi against the intrusion that the Gila represented. Both men radiated enough wounded prideto coat the walls with poison.
One should really deny Jim the right to envy an invalid battered in a fatal crash high in the Andes, six dead including the lost leader. Indeed, one must censure Jim for his ignorance in considering Tzipi his private property. But do allow him to be upset as Tzipi honoured the newcomer by kneeling at his side and engaging him in the kind of eager conversation thus far denied to Jim. Any humiliation intended or merely the pleasure of greeting an old accomplice? Either way, Jim underestimated their ties and the sorrow shared. And he considered the Cuban such a shifty character that he intuitively began an interrogation.
“So, what do you remember of the accident, er .. ... er, Ernesto?”
Nothing. Dear Ernesto claimed to have recovered consciousnes in the ambulance accompanying Yod’s body on its way to the morgue and he laid on the odd sniffle to emphasize his loss.
Which was when the weight of surely too much memory activated the shade of the deceased. They shivered. And Tzipi said (Yod suggested?), “Shal we go to the Lobo, and score some dope!” and she And Jim exited, leaving the Gila stretched out on cushions and, weeping, would you believe?
Now, after the experiences in the Ceja, Pancho obviously had some fate in mind for him, Jim felt less sure of his status outdoors. With Tzipi at his side for protection, Jim should be safe, but what he failed to count on was their reception at the restaurant.
The tables were jam-packed with Israelis deep in raucous conversation that faded into silence. Several onlookers rose to greet Tzipi. Other travellers regarded the pair quizzically and speculated about the statuesque red-head in flowing robes and her shambling bejeaned escort who could halt proceedings in the busy café by their mere entrance. The manageress behind the bar scowled and reached beneath the counter for her cell-phone or perhaps an emergency button.
Meanwhile, Tzipi had ordered beer and set to renewing former acquaintances. Huddled in a corner, she did make room for Jim, even poured him a glass of beer, then launched into a fluent Hebrew that irrationally depressed him. Well, he hadn’t expected to be introduced and certainly couldn’t compete with her performance, but observing how her countenance changed as she fell into old habits - the breathless laughter, the flashing looks, the flowing hand gestures, and how consummately she was managing the regulars, the Yod squad of yore, all of whom obviously doted on her, Jim gagged.
Such fierce loyalties - – a mask or her game? - for whom?
The manageress immediately collared Jim as he emerged from the bathroom. “Get out. Just get out. We don’t want trash like you around,” she spluttered, her make-up cracking under the strain of anger. “Out, I say.”
Tzipi was between them now, facing down the gross manageress. For Jim’s benefit Tzipi summarized the argument in English. “He’s legitimate, I tell you. His father is Jewish.” What’s that got to do with the price of fried herring, thought Jim as he was dragged away from the scene.
Not a word on the way home. The Gila had taken up residence in his old bedroom. Tzipi checked he was asleep but, anyway, turned the key to lock him in. Still livid after the brush with the harridan of El Lobo, she tood a small package from a pocket and rolled the spliff with a vengeance.
The dope caught me unawares, Jim records. Floating out of my body, I saw the two of us as incompatible strangers, enthroned on our cushions, staring through each other.
“A Jewish dad,” he murmured
“Who you’ve never met,” she replied.
Oy veh – no way, josé – so, why didn’t Mum tell me? - bloody Joanne – she probably didn’t even notice – but should it matter? - what does it matter? –
“Because you’re a prince of the line, my dearest,” Tzipi said, picking up on his thoughts, the effect of the grass or her omniscience .
“ I can’t believe in any of this bullshit. Don’t go for the hereditary stuff. I’m an anarchist – when it’s convenient - And what’s more, remember I was a history teacher, and in all my studies I’ve never come across these Khazars and their legends.” - cloud cuckoo land.
“Facts,” she parried. “King Baldur chose.”
A fatal choice, legacies that lead to the ovens of Auschwitz.
“Have it your own way, Jim. But first you’ll have to free yourself.” And in a single sinuous movement, she was on her feet, disrobed and dropped into a crouch, eyes full of menace, a puma ready to spring.
“Oh come on, Tzipi. Not that.”
“The training. Use your training, or I must finish you if you’re no use to us.”
Return of the dread. A warrior or a shape-shifting monster? An utter monster, faithless to the memories of Yod and her God. How could she have taken me as a lover straight off? Return of the attraction. She looks so great in that pose, a gorgeous vision, a nimble crew-cut Greek youth, breasts tight within the vest, the lanky predatory thighs flexed, already tightening......
No, enough. When her wiles don’t affect me anymore, then I’m, free.
And I’ll be the warrior.
According all she’s been teaching, what’s needed is to break routines, turn unpredictable.
“You do know Pancho’s waiting for the next consignment.”
Her eyes glistened, then faded. She sat down abruptly on the green, velvet cushion and mumbled, “Yes, of course. He’s expecting it, isn’t he?”
Cut and thrust. Cloak and dagger. Discovering her weakness.
Tales of the Don
Not interested by the Yod as security goon, ‘if it had battlements’ had to be the fortress of Sarket,
But thirsting for every detail of Pancho’s appearance – refuses to tell.
They passed the night on separate cushions, awake and, remarkably enough, even attempting some sporadic conversations, recognising at last their inherent isolation. Jim recounted his non-stop roller-coaster ride from London to the Alto, the hapless work and hopeless connections that culminated in detention and San Pedro jail, back to London and a re-run to Bolivia, hiding out in the Yungas, searching for Pancho
“Ah yes, Pancho,” she repeated, shaking her head. “Eventually finding you, Tzipi. But I want companionship as well as love, you know,” immediately regretting the triteness of the emotion. “Friendship and sharing,” she mused, “ You set your sights too low, dear. Life is not a chat room.” And once more they lapsed into silence.
You entered into my dreamworld, Tzipi. Should have listemed to the Aymara wisdom. Dreams as warnings and this one out of control, turning to nightmare, fast ...”
“Stop that internal dialogue,” snapped Tzipi, “ I was trying to turn you into a warrior and you’ve blown it. You’ll be living alone from now on always and silence will be your inner weapon.” she stated firmly but also with respect, as a sign of confidence taking her turn to reveal some of her own background.
The tales; one set of grandparents escaping the Nazis of Vienna to arrive in Bolivia, the only place in the world that was offering visas to Jewish refugees at that time (the President thought the country required intellectual muscle to develop). ‘Hotel Bolivia’, she called it, because at the end of the war, the thousands relocated to the States or Israel. Then she told of the other grandfather, a Jewish policeman in the Warsaw ghetto
I know where this is leading, thought Jim - to the scourge of anti-semitism in history; I’ve heard it before. But it wasn’t. In the next breath, she shattered his image of her as a battle-hardened zionist.
“Israel is a thorn. That’s why evangelical Christians so love the state of Israel.”
“You’re not Mossad, then.”
“Only when it suits me. We’re Khazaris. There is a Christian plot to break the semitic alliance. We’d take up with Al Quaida if necessary.”
Yeah, yeah. Boggle,boggle swills the sewage in my mind. The vision of an anti-evangelical alliance was far too strange for me to assimilate. Makes little sense but may at least explains her thirst for action. Or is she just trying to unsettle me once again with her vaunted unpredictability.
Or tempt him.
He was almost expecting an oscar-winning line: “Come, my lover. One last time.” Starry Khazari night Collapsing stars. The final, farewell fuck before the fearful dawn. This time with tenderness and endearments. But not on the agenda; they maintained their discreet distance, beyond the flesh.
“What were you doing to me?”
“Sharpening your intent.” Another blank in his head, though as an admirer of Don Juan, he should have recognized the quote.
She pulls out her mobile-phone(didn’t know she had one) and dials a number from memory. So, had she been using it when out on those supposed grocery-runs? Who’s she contacting and what’s the urgency? “Ready. Come now,” she raps. But for the moment they are still alone.
Evidently she does not consider them ready enough yet. First, she must inflict some wanton damage on the room; a lamp standard broken, a cushion or two shredded, the plants uprooted, the confining plastic curtains ripped down, ripped up, the window flung open to admit the noiseof traffic, while Jim stalks impotently around. Then Tzipi enters her bedroom to rummage in the clothes-store, returning dressed for action. The belt, dagger and insignia give a ceremonial aspect to the outfit, her travelling cape and knapsack suggesta journey. She looks prepared and dangerous but, miraculously, the wicked attire fails to turn Jim on. Is the poor lad cured?
She drops to her cushion, indicates that Jim do the same. Motionless, they watch the door and wait.
Whoever he is, knows the code. A double ring and the masked intruder has burst in. Maximum points for drama. Jim glances over at Tzipi who stands to attention and executes a complex salute that the gunman repeats. Ditto for ceremonial impact. A gunman indeed, and his pistol pointed at Jim.
“Not yet,” Tzipi intervenes.
“He’s a double agent.”
“At least tie him up. They say he’s dangerous.”
Tzipi’s derisive laughter chills Jim’s soul to hell and back. He closes his eyes. Never has he felt so used, so utterly useless.
“Oh, in the long run, he’ll always prove useful,” chimes in a third voice. Jim starts, astonished to hear Pancho at his side and the unmistakable sound of Tzipi’s welcoming kiss. A smackeroo for Pancho. Where is all this leading? By the time Jim has regained his senses, the two conspirators are deep in conversation. “They’re no longer making a contribution, not pulling their weight. We’re going to make the difference,” he says. “Yes, it’s a question of strategy.”·she adds.
Oh the lure of empty phrases, how it unites them. Pancho is wearing his black hat, set at its usual jaunty angle, an altiplanic poncho, camouflage fatigues, and peasant sandals that emphasise his roots and will let in the rain. The lure of her power. The lure of his fascination. It’s mutual, isn’t it? His hand is resting affectionately on Tzipi’s shoulder. She’s smiling at him in open admiration. The masked guard is scanning the street.
Of course, for all his political savvy, Pancho assumed the test was still of power and strength, which he can’t really exercise on the run. Of course, if he’s pulled back from overt leadershipTzipi can provide another vision. Matching style and poise; not so much falling into each other’s arms as into each other’s lures. Of course, Jim would like to smash his smug face in and can’t possibly. And of course, they’ve already dismissed him........
“ ........... he’ll find a way of surviving, I’m sure,” she was saying and kissing Pancho full on the lips as long-term (or newly found) lovers will. They leave arm-in-arm without a backward glance, the glowering bodyguard ensuring that Jim commit no final act of rashness.
Which to indulge first, jealousy or sublimination?
He constructed a pyramid of the remaining cushions and stationed himself on top of the pile, surveying the wreckage of the dream. Out came the diary:
Mistrusted/ distrusted. Outsider/insider. Patriot/doppleganger, he recorded for posterity. Not honesty, that wasn’t in the game plan, product of abuse which breeds abuse, his fevered speculations steadily losing coherence as Jim attempted to make sense of his stay with the ninja-shrink.
Required to join a cause bequeathed by a father he’d never seen, a cause that were it ever to surface would upset the apple-cart of modern rivalries. Plum-bang in the middle of modern Chechenia where the Christians and Muslim are still slugging it out. Did they need these would-be Jews to muddy the waters? Asked to fight for a country he’d never heard of, whose heirs and survivors have no inkling of its existence.
Mind you, the Englishman in James reasoned, just who are we to talk? Consider England, a country that constitutionally does not exist (except in the mind of the world cup football organizers), whose patron saint George has been wiped off the list of saints by the Vatican because no proof of his ever existing exists, who achieved fame by killing an animal that also never existed. Talk about a land of imaginary beings.
Till the aftertaste of disgust changed to a sense of comedy as he contemplated the keystone cop exits and entrances of the key characters of his senseless adventure.
All morning he sat, in the dark yet, but surfacing slowly while he struggled to distance himself from Tzipi’s bubbleworld. But by afternoon he was suddenly unsettled, packed in a hurry and strode away, in which he displayed the renmants of solid intuition, because a mere half an hour later, his pal Ventura stormed in, also brandishing pistol, cop to the end, living out his own ambition, fantasies and fear, too late, alas, to have any impact on Jim’s fate.
Jim had copped out, opted for another movie. Or so he presumed.
As it could well have worked out, if only Jim hadn’t earlier taken the step of stashing that damned manuscript among his maid Asunta’s belongings and if Asunta’s niece hadn’t found it and then, following instructions, mailed the papers off to Sarah back in London.
On receiving the package just when she was stubbornly re-soldering (and eventually being compelled to discard) the skeletons of her latest, failed sculptures, furious at being alone and abandoned in the once thriving household, Sarah had brooded for a good stretch of time. She would later claim that the decision to push hard for the publishing of Jim’s work was inevitable and nothing to do with literary merit, nor to honour the writing’s honesty (as with any work of semi-fiction, she thought the novel/diary a pack of self-justifying near-truths). Creative and independent, but essentially a mean soul Sarah, was conceiving of a little plan, her motives based less on any clear strategy, more the product of personal frustration.
“Here take one and see what you make of this nonsense,” she’d say, offering copies to friends and contacts. She even financed the initial print-run herself, distributing enough rough zamisdat extracts to incite some enthusiasm and, then ( imagine her surprise) an escalating demand, whose impact caught her cold. Perhaps her point had been just to ridicule Jim’s posturings but she managed instead to complicate life by blowing his cover.
Because, in the event, she couldn’t block all those attractive bids from the serious publishing houses. Instead, she had to shrug her shoulders and, cursing Jim’s luck, decide to cash in, (in truth there were no longer any takers for of her holographic huntress series). Sarah ended up creating a modern myth round an individual whom she actually came to consider deeply repugnant. If that was the irony of her position, imagine Jim’s fate back in Bolivia, now stripped of his anonymity by Sarah’s misguided intervention, turning him into the subject-matter of a runaway but minor best-seller. And what timing; at the moment when that smarmy bastard Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and his English-speaking consultants had battled (many would prefer to say, schemed) Goni’s way to a second term in office as president of the republic.