e told me to come to him. He told me to trust him. He told me I would live. I didn't listen.
Every night I lie awake in the dark, and I watch the shifting pattern of starlight against my wall. I listen to the dark, and I ask for forgiveness. I hear the wind in the trees, its gentle whisper, and I know that when sleep takes me, I will have my only escape from my thoughts.
It had been dry. The air, thick with blowing sand and dust, left me breathless. When I entered the building, the sudden stillness of air nearly threw me off balance, and I quickly righted myself, smoothing sand from the creases. I sat at my regular chair -stiff and unforgiving -and had my regular coffee, also stiff and unforgiving, and I waited with undeniable patience. Of course, it didn't take long.
The boy was tall and thin. Next to him lay a gym bag, packed senselessly with an array of sweaty items. His name was Pedrico. His red hair was curly and everyone assumed it was from his mother's constant solitary trips to Scotland.
An old man passed me, dragging a bad leg that almost hit me. Had that defective stump touched me, I surely would have let that man know his fault. I let him hobble on, old, dying. I watched him leave, and his passing into obscurity made way for the sight of a woman. She glanced left, then right, before scratching her crotch like a man. My eyes widened and I felt a growing rumble in my stomach. I did not vomit, however.
The city streets are lined with the incestuous flock of peasants, glaring with renewed wonder at the sight of Juan Pedro Almirez. On every wall of every building, at every street corner where every whore stands, there is a poster. The large face of the grim and unsmiling Almirez stares forth into our city and declares it wordlessly to be his. His crimes have reached mythic proportions, and both men and women sleep with conviction that he will visit them next.
My thoughts were interrupted by an insignificant-looking man. "Hey," he called, and I slowly realized he was addressing me.
"Look at this---500 thousand pesetas for information that leads to the capture of Almirez! Do you know what I'd do with 500 thousand pesetas?" he asked, and a devious grin spread across his ugly face. I hoped that if I nodded, it would signify my acknowledgment of his presence and that he would leave me alone. I was wrong. Instead, he stayed and talked of the dry weather and of never having seen the ocean and how his mother once spanked him so hard he thought he saw the blue sea. I could not concentrate. He talked and talked, unceasingly; it seemed I would see the end of the world. God would come to rain fire on this diseased earth and he would still be here talking of his mother. Then a heavy drop of water fell on the table and he backed away with fear. He looked at me accusingly. His chubby finger rose to point at me, then a drop fell on his head and he looked up into the grey and endless sky, and rain fell for the first time in a month and eight days.
The woman with the itchy crotch was there again. She wasn't scratching, and we were the only two in the building. Without a plan, I made my way toward her. Outside the rain continued, and the streets turned to mud. She looked up as I came near, and said hesitantly, showing me her newspaper, "Almirez was caught." It seems this city has a fascination with criminals, their only words are of the scum Almirez. When they kill him, I will sleep more soundly, I thought. But my thoughts were not only of Almirez. With an extravagant gesture, I made an attempt to introduce myself, but her glass of water was too close to my hand, and it was tipped. She made a silly laugh and picked up the glass. When she looked back at me, I was gone, my scornful look not worth her sight.
It was the third day of rain when people had begun to worry. They were afraid that it would not stop. Their feeble minds first thought it would never rain, and now when it has, they fear it has no end. I stayed home, feeling sick, and I closed the blinds to turn off the world.
Only my arms were able to move. My weakness has spread though my body, and I tried to drink some water to keep from dehydrating. The humidity in my room was stifling, and I waited for the end of my pain-whether it was my healing or my death. I turned on the radio to distract my mind, but it only gave it more pain. Since Almirez's capture, the new focus was rain and the minor flood it was bringing. I turned off the radio and slowly the pattering of the rain put me to sleep.
I rose from my bed with weak limbs and a dry mouth. Unable to fully open my eyes, I squinted at my dank room that had become all too familiar in the days since my sickness. I opened the blinds, and at first I saw nothing. Then, in mounting fear, I understood what I saw. In the distance, water, filled with mud and dirt, swirled around with hateful vengeance, moving and rushing around houses, pulling cars into its unclenching grasp. Far away, in horrifying pantomime, a screaming family held onto their roof. Others spun away into the madness, spun away to their death, their hands clasping onto the gritty wood.
I rushed to the radio, my hands shaking in their weakness, and the voice told me that entire neighbourhoods had been destroyed, the police department and prison were in ruins. The wind had risen, and my area was next.
I ran downstairs and started my car. I drove on empty streets, turning almost on instinct. Then the water came. I could only hear it at first, and I opened the door and stood straining to hear its origin. Then I saw the water surging toward me, and fear took hold of my body. I closed the door and I climbed to the roof of my car, and held on. The twisting waves hit me with such force that I was nearly thrown from the car. I floated away, my eyes closed and my heart pounding.
The car hit against a wall and the thrusting waves pushed me against it. I reached up and slowly, and with all my strength, I pulled myself to the top. I was safe. But the water was rising.
I waited, watching as my car disappeared under the water. Time gradually passed, and my arms were weak from holding onto the wall when waves hit. When I saw him at first, I didn't recognize who he was. He was crouched on a plank of wood, his skin was dark and his clothes were torn. Tired and haggard, his eyes looked at me, bloodshot from the splashing water, and I saw his shoulder was bleeding. Around him, the water splashed, and he seemed to control it as he looked down furiously at the remorseless waves. He seemed invincible. Then I recognized him. It was Juan Pedro Almirez, and I remembered that the police department and prison were in ruins. His hand reached out, and he spoke, "Come to me." The water had risen since his arrival, and it was increasingly difficult to stay on the wall. I only looked at him. I didn't move.
"Trust me." His voice was not the voice of reason or understanding. I only heard my own fear. "You will live." And I closed my eyes and saw the hate that he represented; I shut away my mind and I heard only his voice and the water and death.
Then water splashed and flew, and the noise of water echoed through my head. Almirez rose on a great wave, his eyes glaring. The water flung him towards me. He pulled me onto his raft and was swept in an instant away into the darkness. And the rain stopped.
My area was untouched by the disaster. In three days the flood was completely finished. The city has changed forever; I have changed forever. He told me to come to him and I would live. Instead, he came to me. Every night I look up into starry skies, and I know I'll always remember.
© 2003 The Richmond Hill Public Library Board