Chapter Twenty-Nine: Considering
Chapter Twenty-Eight can be found here.
Though he ached through his legs and forearms and was beginning to stiffen, Paul forced himself up from the bed and jumped in the shower before Sam could, then quickly dressed and stepped out across the darkened road to the bar across the street, shouting to Sam, who was now in the shower, where he would be as he closed the door to the room. The water was cold, but he expected Sam would want to take his time getting clean even so. He didn’t want to wait that long before having another beer. More accurately, he also wanted some time away from Sam, and to give Sam some time away from him. And he knew that Sam was not going to venture out alone.
Now that he’d gotten him to Bobo, Paul felt that his responsibility to Sam was quite diminished. The burden that had been close to overwhelming him ever since that first bomb fell and he imagined that he had been leading Sam to destruction rather than salvation was finally lifting. All he owed him was to make sure that he got to Abidjan. An easy task, considering where they now were and after what they had been through.
The bar, a place Paul had been to before of course, during one of his trips to Bobo, was almost as dark as the street, but business was still going on, with a man at the door keeping his eye out for passing patrols. A couple of customers sat inside, sipping beer and chatting quietly while the barman wiped off glasses he had just rinsed in a pot on the floor. A candle stub, well away from the door, provided the only light. Paul pulled a low, backless stool to a table and ordered a beer. He hadn’t had much of a chance to reflect on what had happened that day, of course, with the necessity have been of moving, not thinking. And, now, when he had the leisure, he stared into his glass, frustrated. He found he couldn’t put it together into any sort of coherent framework. Perhaps, he told himself, he was just too tired. His body ached more and more as he sat, and his hands felt as though they had turned permanently into claws.
What had happened? What kind of craziness had they just come through? He thought back over it, but realized he didn’t really know anything at all about their past fifteen hours. He had experienced them, yes, but all he had were images, and most of them lacked cohesion. Oh, and his aches. He sure had those, but they told him little. How much danger had they been in? He couldn’t tell. Maybe they had been close to death. He sure had imagined they were. Or, maybe it all had been an idiot comedy. Either way, it was too much to think about right now. He drained his beer and ordered another.
More than anything else, he didn’t want to think about the things that could have happened to Sam, things that would have been his fault. After all, he was the one who had suggested Sam tag along. He had nearly failed in the responsibility he had taken on, failed due to his own arrogance and ignorance. That much he was sure of. Paul wasn’t certain he should have tried to handle any sort of disaster for the other man, even getting him out of Mopti. Just the thought of what he’d done, what he shouldn’t have done, made him shudder. What a mistake. Stupidly, he hadn’t thought about the implications of what he was doing when he had asked him along. It had simply flattered his ego to know that he could help someone as obviously moneyed and successful as Sam. What a fool.
Well, they had made it, but no thanks to Paul. Dumb luck, is all. And soon he would be rid of Sam, one way or another. Luck again. He drank his beer, glad it was cold. He had told Sam he would get him to Abidjan. He wouldn’t back out on that. It would be a quick goodbye, though. It was time, and it had been too much responsibility.
But he couldn’t let go of it. He swallowed another mouthful of beer. Sometimes, he told himself, he just didn’t think. In dangerous situations, take care of yourself. Don’t think you can help others, especially when you don’t really know what’s going on at all.
After his second beer, however, Paul was feeling guilty about something else—this time, though, simply for leaving Sam alone in the room for so long. So, he cursed his own weakness, stood up, and went back to the room for him.
“Come on. Let’s go across the street for a bit, where I’ve been. Relax a bit.”
Sam shrugged, and followed Paul back to the bar.
He saw Paul through the third, then excused himself and walked back to the room. He had said hardly a word while there. He seemed subdued, withdrawn. Paul shrugged and ordered another drink. Let Sam think what he would, Paul thought, transferring a bit of his anger to the other man. It was Paul, after all, who had gotten him through, gotten him out of Mali in one piece, he thought, contradicting his earlier self-castigation. He could be what he wanted; he had proven himself. He didn’t have to worry about what anyone else thought, least of all someone he’d helped as much as he’d helped Sam.
But, he asked himself again, after the other left, not wanting to share the question with him, not even silently, what had happened? Stand back from it: people of two of the poorest countries in the world fighting each other. Killing. And, he shuddered, bringing it back to the personal, maybe even killing him. And what for? Why were people dying? Stupid questions? Well, yeah. Hell, why were people living? Why was he living?
What nonsense. maybe these questions could be useful for another type of person. Not for him, though, not for him. He drank some more and tried to think about other things.
He wondered about Sam, about his reaction to it all. What was the man thinking about now, back in the room? Was he asking these same sorts of questions? Did he realize what a spot they had been in? Did he understand that Paul had come close, perhaps, to getting them killed? Did he have any idea what they’d just gone through? Did he know what he had been saved from? Had he been saved from anything, anyhow? Probably not, Paul thought. After all, Paul wasn’t sure about anything in his own mind, so what could he expect from Sam? Paul began to resent Sam and his ignorance once more. The man knew neither his danger nor his salvation. Now more than a little drunk—after all, these were liter bottles—his thinking was getting a little confused.
Wouldn’t that have been ironic, though, Paul asked himself, if he had gotten Sam killed while trying to save him. How would he have explained it? Claimed he was only trying to help? He would be seen as the idiot he obviously was.
It was time to go. Time to stop. His stool crashed over backwards as Paul rose. He righted it and apologized to the barman, who had stopped his perpetual washing to watch.
Outside, he stared at the vast, silent darkness that Bobo-Diallasso had become. He felt, for a moment, like he should go back inside and have another drink. He wasn’t drunk enough to be able to handle this. But, after a slight hesitation, he started walking toward the hotel.
As he crossed the street, a police patrol stopped him, telling him to raise his hands, pointing guns at him. He did as he was told.
This was too much. He was too tired; he’d been through more that day than… well, he didn’t want to go through any more. He sighed, too drunk and tired to be scared any more, only annoyed, but almost to the point of tears of exhaustion.
“My passport is in my shirt pocket. I can’t get it with my hands in the air. So, look, I am going to lower my right hand. Look, I am lowering my right hand. Now, I’m going to reach into my pocket. Look, I’m reaching into my pocket. Now, I’m going to pull out my passport. Look, I’m pulling out my passport.” He felt frustrated, and heard a tremor in his voice. This was too much, way too much.
The three policemen kept their guns on him, one reaching a hand over for the passport. He flicked his gun barrel. Paul understood, and raised his right hand once again over his head. They kept him standing there like that for a couple of minutes while the one flipped through the pages of the passport. He closed it.
“You may go.” The men lowered their guns.
Suddenly feeling deflated and defeated, Paul accepted his passport and turned to walk up to the room.
Chapter Thirty can be found here.