PIPER PAYS

I make off with my hands covering my crotch like a defending football player at a free kick. I have to duck down and creep like an army commando past the desk at Reception so that the dark girl doesn’t see me. I stomp up the stairs and make it to my room. I lie down with my head buzzing around the word Imbécil.

What time is it? Time has stopped for me. I stagger as I get out of bed and make my way to the toilet. All I have to do is slip the noose, suitably fortified beforehand of course. Wait. What to wear? A terry cotton dressing gown in black and blue stripes is hanging on a hook behind the door. I quickly throw it over a pair of boxer shorts and a pink top. The lacing paratrooper boots will have to do, for now.

Suitably casual behaviour is called for, wild eyes darting hither and thither as I descend the short staircase towards Reception. There is no way to explain the terror I feel as I lurch up to the desk at Reception. The dark girl is not there. A door opens to the right of the counter and the person who enters is Armando.

“BUENOS DIAS, SENOR,” he bellows.

I almost collapse at the foot of the counter. Every cell in my brain and my body sags. No! I think. I must be hallucinating. This cocky little bantam whose black curly hair is a manadh, vision.

“SENOR! WAIT!”

“¿Que?” I lowered my head, too tired to resist.

“Debiste comprar, senor,” he says, shrugging.

All my well-rehearsed phrases fall apart under the man’s stony glare.

I reach into my wallet and take out a UK Driving Licence and the cheque book . . .Si, senor . . . acqui tiene mi plata . . . vale, vale . . . Haga el favor de traerme una cerveza . .. .”

Armando doesn’t blink. He tears out cheque after cheque, has me sign them, all the while mumbling numbers in Spanish.

“Quaranta . . . Dos cientos . . .Cuatro mil . . Ochocientos . . . Mil quinientos . . . Total: Dos mil setecientos colones.”

“Yes! Okay!” I shout. “Dame los cheques.” I lunge backwards with my book and leave La Pensión Bellavista with my dressing gown flapping at my calves and my heavy boots clacking on the wooden steps leading to the sandy path. I hitch my travel pack up onto one shoulder and hear the distinct sound of liquid sloshing around in a bottle. This is too much to absorb all a once. From freedom to prison to freedom once again. In full view of the ladies hurrying to market and a pack of barefoot boys in shorts playing football on the beach,  I haul the pint of Cuervo from the bag and take a massive swig. I hunker down on the sandy path, carefully adjusting the dressing gown, and fire up a cigarette. This will not be a happy run. The rum is beginning to kick in. I’m slowly getting the zombie feeling: three weeks of excess and an empty adrenaline tank will put anybody on their tòn. How much longer can I last?

There is really no choice. I shall have to press on and run the gauntlet. I shall go through all the bureaucratic gibberish at flight desks and emigration booths, get to Windsor, Ontario, borrow money from my cousin, Donald MacKinnon, secure a plane ticket for a plane to Scotland, all of it strength-sapping and totally debilitating, but it has to be done.

At the forefront of my consciousness I retain the Gaelic proverb: Ged is fad a-muigh Barraigh, ruigear e, Though Barra is far off, it can be reached.

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