Wednesday, June 27, 2012


I was ten minutes early.  The cheery interior contrasted the wintry experience outside.  I walked around the cafe, looking for her.  There were people on laptops and iPads and people reading books and chatting quietly to old acquaintances but she wasn’t there.  There was barely any noise.  I thought, When she shows up our conversation is going to be very loud in juxtaposition to this.  

There was no line.  The barista ignored me for two minutes but it was the only time in my life that it didn’t irritate me.  I like my coffee black, so I asked for one.  It cost $2.44.  She didn’t ask me what size I wanted, or what kind of roast I liked.  I liked that.  She gave me my coffee in a modest white mug.  No markings on it.  I thought it was too small but I liked how clean it looked.  It almost gleamed, had value.  I put 56 cents in a ceramic bowl next to the cash register.

The ceramic bowl had a handmade sign taped to it.  This is what it said:


The 56 cents made the same sound a thousand keys are making in a thousand places on earth at any given time, readying themselves in steady hands to serve their common purpose.  The barista turned her back to the noise; I thought it was courteous of her not to look.  I would have been more curious in her place.  I wondered how the staff split the tips.  I wondered if they resented looking at so many pennies and nickels.  Do they feel irrational thoughts attributing their self-worth to people’s unwanted petty change?  I thought.  And most of all I wondered if it was annoying to count all that change when calculating tips.

I sat at a table facing the front door.  It was a perfect view.  There’s no way I won’t see her come in.  I thought this despite the darkening horizon, despite the windows that became increasingly opaque minute by minute, despite the distractions I would inevitably create for myself.  I got up to get a newspaper and then sat back down.  I tested the coffee.  It was too hot and burned the right side of my upper lip.  A woman on her cell phone stood next to the door and leaned on it, just short of opening it.  After a few minutes I deduced that she was speaking to her boss about some project she had to do for him.  For some reason I found myself wishing that she hadn’t brought her work into the cafe.  I suppose you would tell me that most people use cafes for that purpose, though.  I opened up the newspaper and read bits of pieces about things.  Things like l’état des orphelins de Duplessis and Les discussions sont lancées entre les étudiants et Line Beauchamp.  Things that were important, things that were pertinent, things that commanded my attention.  But none were as relevant as her.

I looked at the time.  It was three minutes past the time we had planned to meet.  7:18.  19h18.  I didn’t mind.  I took a sip of coffee and it didn’t burn.  It was hot, black, perfect.
Then she was there.  It happened in a flash, unexpectedly.  I just looked up and she was there, standing to my right.  Just like that.  I hadn’t seen her come in.  She was beautiful.  In a fraction of a second, everything opened.  Before any words were spoken.  Neurotransmitters fired.  I didn’t know which ones and didn’t care.  What is this? Dopamine? Testosterone? Why is everything in slow motion?  I wondered.  And it was.  I had time to appreciate every facet of her being, to simultaneously take it all in at once while focusing on specific – almost molecular – aspects of her loveliness.

Most prominent was that one salient, striking feature about her – her eyes.  The same shape and colour as large almonds, they gazed through her glasses and into their comparatively inferior counterparts.  There were also her legs, her smile, her outfit, her everything – my brain demanded that I concentrate on them all – but the eyes were more powerful in the end.

Her voice pierced the air and time sped up again.  “Sorry I’m late,” she said.  I smiled.  “You’re only three minutes late.  I checked.  It’s okay.”

She ordered something to drink.  She came back and I caressed her hand as she drank.  We talked for a long time.  Too long.  She needed to study but I kept her from studying for as long as I could – a delicate balancing act as I was aware of the risk that she would resent me if she did poorly on her exams due to my distracting her from her studies.  Time flew too fast.  It always does when you’re not waiting for things to happen.

Her voice – there was just something about it.  I remember at one point she stopped talking and looked at me.  She sighed and said, “I really want to kiss you.”  I don’t know how to explain this part to you.  You probably wouldn’t understand no matter how many fancy words I try to use.  But her voice had such a charming quality to it.  Her voice rang.  I don’t think you really get it, but maybe you do.  But that was the moment when it fully dawned on me.  The moment I really believed it.  She was going to stick around, this one.  For me.  Well, it seemed that way, anyway.  This brilliant creature, sticking around for me.  Me.  What a wonderful feeling that was.  At any rate, I smiled and told her, “Then you should.”  Then we leaned over the table and kissed.  It couldn’t have gone any other way.  And I know you are just going to say that of course it couldn’t have gone any other way because that is what ended up happening and there isn’t some kind of parallel universe thing going on, but I promise you that we had the most fun in that cafe.

Eventually I had to go.  When I got up to leave, she looked at me and said, “Make it count.”  We kissed for a long time but not long enough.

She walked to the bathroom before I left.  I think you’ll be able to relate to this next part.  As she walked away I drank in everything I could, like some sick glutton.  I wanted to burn her into my memory.  I had been with her two hours and wouldn’t see her for nearly eight days.  I didn’t want to forget, even though I didn’t think I would.  But you know, part of the glutton’s appeal is that he never knows if he will ever eat again.  Or maybe you’ll tell me that he has no appeal because he eats despite knowing he will eat again.  So I drank her in, and she walked away, and for some reason the thought of her turning around to look at me one last time was just as bad as the thought of her not turning around to look at me one last time.  So I left.

I walked to the metro.  Mont-Royal metro.  For a few blocks I lived a diminished life.  And then I remembered something and held onto it.

“I really want to kiss you.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


When you don’t know what a man is thinking, you judge him on his actions.

Drunk, he threw his alarm clock at the wall and smiled when he heard the familiar sound of the battery case breaking off.  He picked up his cell phone to throw it, but paused and saw her text message from earlier in the day:  “How are you doing?  I’m worried about you.”  The girl was clearly concerned.  He sat down and texted her back, saying that he’s a piece of shit and worthless.  He thought it was true.  She texted him back, saying that it wasn't.  He dialled her and she picked up.  She was worried.  She asked him to come over so that she could take care of him.  He said okay, he would be on his way.  He hung up and looked for his flask of whiskey.  It wasn’t where it usually was.  He threw everything off of the dresser out of frustration.  Then there it was on the ground, among the mess.  He grabbed it and shook it to see if it was full.  It was half full.  Or half empty.  Good enough.  He took a swig and kicked his garbage can over for good measure.  Semen-encrusted tissues, old newspapers, banana peels and pieces of plastic junk joined the clutter.

He put his sunglasses on and grabbed his flask and his cell phone and 5 dollars and his keys and some Kleenex tissues and stuffed them all in his pockets.  He put his shoes on and paused to look at his friends lying on the futon in the living room.  They were asleep.  He took a swig.

He pressed a button and waited for the elevator to appear.  Once in the elevator he stared at himself in the mirror.  He tried to see if he could see his eyes through his sunglasses but he couldn’t.  Mirrored lenses.  His eyes were now mirrors, and all he saw was himself staring back at himself staring back at himself staring back at himself.

He left the building and took another swig of his flask.  It didn’t burn going down anymore, but he felt warmer.  It was dark, and the people on the sidewalk were frightened of him.  He knew they were.  Their faces shifted and the women clung to their men.  He liked how they avoided him so methodically.  The five-metre bubble surrounding him amused him.  He smiled.  He staggered down the ten blocks to her apartment.

He rang the buzzer and she came downstairs and greeted him.  He followed her up the stairs.  He sloppily took his shoes off and plopped down on the couch and picked up a cat and hugged it.  It squirmed out of his hands and ran away.  He stared at the ground and felt pathetic.  She told him he wasn’t and offered him evidence supporting her theory.  He tried to deny it but he knew a lot of it was true, he wasn’t a complete piece of shit.  He had done a great thing once or twice in his life at least.

He asked her to hug him over and over again, and each time she did.  He asked her if she loved him and she hesitated but then she said yes.  He smiled and said nothing.  He was drunk but he still remembered that most people wouldn’t ever dare tell a drunk what he didn’t want to hear.  He started to talk about what was bugging him but then he couldn’t.  It was too hard.  He knew she wouldn’t really understand.  It would get awkward.  He started to feel like a burden.  Going there was a mistake.  He considered leaving but he was exhausted and he knew it would just worry her even more.  It would only make both of them feel worse.

He asked if he could go to sleep and she said yes.  He took his clothes off and awkwardly stumbled into her bed.  He shut his eyes.  It felt good to lie there.  She took her clothes off and joined him soon after.  He grabbed her wrist and draped her arm over his torso.  “I want to be little spoon,” he said.  

She let him be little spoon.

Monday, September 20, 2010


It was still daylight.  The three of us were walking down Ste-Catherine street when some guy, a gaunt weasel of a man wearing a motorcycle jacket and a shitty comb-over, waved at us.  Neon bulbs splashed senseless colours in random patterns onto the building behind him.  The sign above him read SEX APPEAL.  A strip club.   I’ve always thought it was bizarre for a business to waste money during the day on superfluous electricity.

“You guys wanna see a lesbian show?” the man asked.

“Yes,” I blurted

The man puffed on his cigarette.  Paul puffed on his cigarette too.  The smoke clouds met briefly.  I couldn’t quite explain it, but I was disgusted by the sight of that.  The smoke clouds touching.  It made me think that Paul and the weasel man were maybe not all that different and that sickened me.

“You guys eighteen?” he asked.

“Fuck yeah,” Paul said.  Jeff grinned and nodded enthusiastically.

“So whatcha waiting for then?  Come inside.  It’s all waiting for you inside.”

“Just give us a minute,” I told the man. 

We huddled into a circle and debated whether we should go into the strip club.  None of us were single and we knew none of our girlfriends would approve.  It took us all but ten seconds to decide that we would be idiots if we didn’t go in.  Paul and I had never been inside of a strip club.  Jeff had only been in one before.

“It’s not like we’re cheating,” Jeff said.  He paused.  “But whatever we do decide to do tonight, we shouldn’t tell our girlfriends.”

Paul made us swear an oath that whatever we were doing that night would stay a secret forever.  I was unsure but agreed to it anyway.

“What will we have to hide, though?” I said nervously.  “We’re not doing anything wrong, right?”

“Don’t worry,” Jeff said, smirking.  “It isn’t cheating.”

“Yeah, Marc,” Paul said.  “Stop being a fucking pussy.”

That seemed good enough for me. 

“We’ll be right back,” I said, turning back to the weasel.  “Just gotta take out money.”

“Take your time,” he said.  “And hey, while you’re at it, could you get me a chocolate bar or something?”

Paul and Jeff laughed as I waved at the man dismissively.  We walked to a pharmacy and found an ATM.  Jeff took out one hundred dollars.  I took out one hundred dollars as well.  Paul had no money.  We teased Paul and threatened to go inside without him.  He started to get angry and when he gets angry he gets violent so I agreed to pay for his cover if it was less than ten dollars.

Before leaving the pharmacy, I bought a Snickers bar, thinking it would be funny to give to the man outside the strip club.

We walked back and I offered the Snickers to weasel man. 

“I’m allergic to peanuts,” he said, disappointed.  “But thanks anyway.”

Paul and Jeff laughed as I re-pocketed the Snickers bar.  I planned on eating it later.  Waste not, want not.  We paid the cover – I paid for Paul’s as I’d promised – and descended down the stairs of the strip club.  Twenty bucks poorer.  It was dark.  Really dark.  A large man in a suit greeted us at the bottom.  He didn’t seem surprised at our appearance – I was wearing combat boots, was flaunting a 4 gauge, stainless steel circular barbell as septum jewellery, and sported a 16-inch mohawk.  Jeff had a black-blonde bihawk atop his head and Paul’s teeth were chipped to such a degree that he might as well have owned fangs.  The strippers immediately screamed in delight when they saw us.  Half a dozen of them ran up to us and squealed, petting our hair.  Some of them were topless, and nearly all of them were gilded with various types of glitter.  Paul’s jaw slackened as he stared at their tits.  Jeff and I just smiled and enjoyed the girls petting our hair. 

“Hello, ladies,” I said.  The girls squealed again.

“How do you get your hair to stay up like that?” one asked.

“By spending 45 minutes upside down,” I said.  “And using a lot of hair spray.”  One of the girls laughed. 

“Hey,” Paul said.  “It’s not like you spend any less time on your hair.”

On cue, they giggled.  We felt good.  I felt good.

The place was relatively dead, with only about a dozen people other than us sitting around.  Most of them had white hair and sat alone.  We sat down at a table and two strippers sat down with us.  One sat next to Jeff and one next to Paul.  The one talking to Jeff could only speak French, which he couldn’t speak.  He told her so, and she switched places with the stripper that had been talking to Paul.  I noticed some bright white specks in my peripheral vision.  I looked down at my shirt.  I was wearing all black, and the black lights in the establishment revealed an embarrassing amount of dandruff, lint, and fluff on my clothing.  It made me uncomfortable.

The stripper talking to me and Paul introduced herself. 

“My name is Melanie,” she said as she shook our hands.

I smiled.  “No it isn’t,” I said.

Paul leaned in close to me. 

“Shut the fuck up,” he growled.  “And quit being an asshole.”  I did.

I leaned in to hear their conversation.  Melanie was chatting with Paul about Canadian politics.  I rolled my eyes.

The stripper talking to Jeff was a little hotter than Melanie.  She had a tight white top on and a glittery purple tie.  I turned my attention to her.  She introduced herself as Tiffany.  I asked her what her background was.  She was half Jamaican and half Quebecoise.  She bit her lip and raised her eyebrows at Jeff when he talked, as if she was concentrating on a specific aspect of his face.

I turned back to Paul and Melanie and joined in on their Canadian political debate.  It wasn’t long until the inevitable question came.  The question I was terrified of hearing but wanted to hear all the same.  The question we had paid ten dollars each – save for Paul – to hear over and over and over and over.  Melanie leaned back in her chair, looked at us, and asked, “So, do you guys want a dance?”

I nodded.  “Yes,” I said.

She turned to Paul.  “You?”

He looked down sheepishly.  “I don’t have any money,” he said.

“But I do,” I smiled.  Paul frowned, envious.

Melanie stood up and grabbed my hand.  I followed her through several dark corridors and into a small booth.

Are you sure you want to do this?  It’s not too late to turn back, a voice in my head protested.

Melanie removed her thong and top.  I looked her up and down.  Okay, now it’s too late to turn back.

“Is this your first time at a strip club?” she asked.

I nodded wordlessly.

“Here’s how it works.  You can touch everything except my crotch and my face.  It’s ten dollars for every song.  Easy, huh?”

I nodded again.

“Okay, so let’s start,” she said.

Du Hast by Rammstein came on the sound system.

She sat on my lap and grinded her ass into my crotch.  I instantly got hard.  She took her time, slowly dragging her ass across my face to the beat of the music.  Like a metronome.  I reached over and grabbed her boobs and pulled her down on my lap.  She turned around to give me a better look at them.  They were milky white.  I could tell they were fake.  I wasn’t a boob guy but I squeezed them anyway.  They didn’t feel that different from real boobs.

I started to feel a bit out of my element.  A bit guilty, even.  To fight the feeling, I asked, “Where are you from?”

“Rimouski,” she answered, still dancing.

“Cool,” I said as I gripped her ass.  I felt better.  Injecting some normal conversation into the lap dance helped ease my guilt and insecurity.  “Between Rivière-du-Loup and Gaspé, right?”

She turned around and took her thong off.  Her cunt was right there.  I tried not to stare at it.  I grabbed her left ass cheek and gripped it harder.

“Yeah, that’s right.”

The song finished and her body suddenly stiffened.

“Do you want to continue for another song?” she asked.  I was surprised at how frank she was.  It abruptly struck me that a lap dance was just like going to the arcades.  Insert credit to continue.

“Not right now,” I said, feeling increasingly guilty.  I didn’t want to think about why.  “Maybe later.”

She stood there, looking at me.

“What?” I asked.

“The dance.  It’s not free, sweetie.”

“Oh.  Right.”

I took out 12 dollars and handed it to her.  “Here you go.”

A small coin purse appeared out of nothingness and she stuffed the money inside.  “Thanks,” she said, smiling.  She grabbed my hand and led me back to the table.

32 dollars poorer.

“I’m going to go freshen up.  I’ll be back though.  I like talking to you.”

“Okay,” I said.

I sat down.  Paul had his head in his hands.  “Dude, I’m so fucking jealous,” he said.  “What happened?”

“She got naked.”

“Whoa, man.  I’m so fucking jealous.  What else?  Did you see her tits?”


“Did you get to touch them?”


“Did you lick them?”


“Whoa.  Fuck, man.  That’s awesome.  And metal was playing too.  That’s fucking awesome.  Or it must have been.  That chick’s really cool too.  You know she’s a separatist, eh?”

“Would you rather see her naked or talk more about separatist politics with her?”

Paul sipped his beer and thought it over.  “I guess I’d rather just see her ass, man.”

I took a 20 dollar bill out of the wad in my pocket.  “Here you go,” I said.  “Have fun.  You owe me, though.”  52 dollars poorer.

Paul’s eyes practically welled up with tears.  “Dude.  Dude.  Thanks so much.  You have no fucking idea.  Thanks so much.”

Melanie came back and Paul struck up another conversation with her about Canada-Quebec relations like I knew he would.

I smelled my arm.  It smelled like cheap perfume but it smelled good.  I sniffed it again.  Over at the other side of the table, Tiffany and Jeff were still talking.  She seemed engrossed in whatever he had to say.  Her chin in her hands.  Leaning forward.  He was talking about the crackwhores in Toronto he’d met.

I ordered a beer.  Jeff soon got up and followed Tiffany to the back.  Shortly after, Melanie and Paul did the same.  I was alone at the table.  My beer came.  With tip, it cost me $11.50.  63 and a half dollars poorer.  There was some wretched, aged thing up on stage.  I couldn’t see how she got the gig.  Matted red hair, enormous flanks, outdated attire.  The years of experience were apparent in more ways than one, though.  She knew how to dance.  The older patrons were into her and threw money at the stage.  Some clown threw change and was kicked out.  She finished her dance and picked up the money – even the change.  Then she walked over and sat next to me.

She spoke to me in French.  “Hey sexy, want to buy me a beer?”

“Not really,” I said.  I kept my eyes on the awful porn movie playing on the TV in the corner.

“Wanna give me a sip of yours, then?”

I looked at her lips and then at my beer again.  I took another sip.  “Listen, I don’t want a dance.”

“You don’t know that yet.  You haven’t even given me a chance.”  She leaned in.  “You know, they say I’m the acrobatic one in here.”  She winked at me.

“Really?  That’s nice.  Were you in the Olympics?”

“Haha.  You’re funny.  So, can you give a girl a break and buy a dance?”

“I don’t have any money.”

“How did you buy that beer, then?”

“My friend bought it for me.”

“Come on, give a girl a break, honey.  Why won’t you help a girl out?”

“I don’t know.  Can you give a guy a break and leave him alone?  I’m just waiting for my friends.”

“I’ll be your friend.  I can give you the best break you’ve ever had.”

I sighed.  “Listen, unless your body is actually a costume that comes off and you’re magically twenty pounds lighter and twenty years younger under there, I’m not interested in what you’re selling.  Right now you’re just annoying me.  Please leave me alone.”

She gasped and struck me on the shoulder with her purse.  It didn’t hurt.

“Fucking idiot.  You look like a bull, anyway.  Or a horse.  You’re ugly as shit.”  She pointed at my septum piercing.  “Christ, you’re like a fucking farm animal.  Mooooooooooo.

It took some effort not to flinch.  I didn’t like hearing that, but I felt like I deserved it.  I took another sip and looked at her.


She ambled her thick ass away from me.  She went over to a bouncer; I couldn’t hear her but she was gesticulating wildly and pointing at me.  He shook his head and laughed and shoved her away.  She flipped him off and disappeared.  What a world, I thought.   

I put my hand up and ordered another beer.  The waitress was pretty but not pretty enough to be a stripper.

It was taking them a long time.  I was starting to feel pretty lonely.  I wondered if Tiffany was falling for Jeff.  Or if Paul was in that booth and talking politics instead of enjoying Melanie’s ass.  Their girlfriends would be pissed.  Well, mine too.  For a second I wondered what my girlfriend was doing, six hundred kilometres away.  Probably studying or thinking about me or something.  Maybe cheating.  Probably not.  I missed her.  The beer came and I pushed the thought out of my head. 

I paid the girl.

I drank the beer.

I pulled out the Snickers bar.  It was crushed and melted.  I ate it and wiped my fingers on one of the empty beer bottles.

I was 75 dollars poorer.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Man in the Yellow Shirt (Part 4)

¿Está vivo?” I asked. Is he alive? Gonzalez widened his eyes momentarily at that, and exploded into raucous laughter. The other policemen laughed with him. “¿Habla francés o inglés?” I asked. They continued laughing.

Frustrated, I shook my head and looked up at the fluorescent lights. Jen and I were sitting in dusty office chairs in the Managua National Police Force’s headquarters. The walls were painted a chartreuse yellow that made me nauseous. We were constantly shivering; the building was over-air-conditioned and freezing. The cops didn’t seem to mind. Some of them looked busy, but the majority of them hovered around us and made small talk to each other. They were like school-children; they persistently made fart noises at each other, mocked my Spanish, and threw racist insults at Jen.

Every time I tried to stand up and say something in protest, Gonzalez and his partner Rodriguez – a man who never laughed or smiled, sported an imposing mustache, and frequently furrowed his eyebrows at me – placed their hands on my shoulders and gently forced me back onto the chair. After I did it enough times, they resigned themselves to keeping their hands on my shoulders, which I repeatedly tried to shake off. Jen and I barely said anything to each other while we waited. She asked me a few times if I was okay and I would answer with a numb, faraway expression on my face that no, I was not really okay.

After what seemed like an hour, Gonzalez and his partner motioned for us to get up and follow them. We walked with them through the building and into the unit’s homicide detective’s office. The office was small and painted the same disgusting chartreuse yellow as the room we had just left. The detective was sitting in a computer chair. He was built like a truck, but he slouched to the point that his neck was touching the top of the chair. He didn’t bother to introduce himself. He just pointed at a computer monitor in front of him and asked me to identify anyone who looked familiar to me.

He began scrolling through pictures that he’d taken of criminals arrested in the past. I said, “No,” every time a new man showed up. It was an asinine task. After a while, I let out a laugh in spite of myself. They all looked the same. Every one of them had a mustache, and almost all of them wore wife-beaters. I told the detective that they all looked the same to me; he asked me to describe the men who robbed me in great detail. As I told the story of my mugging, he looked into my eyes, feigning attention, and sporadically glimpsed at the computer screen. I couldn’t help but notice that whenever he caught me making eye contact with him and not looking at the monitor, he would click on the computer mouse as many times as he could in order to go through the pictures faster. I couldn’t tell if he was naïve enough to really believe that I’d been tricked, or if he was just blatantly trying to get rid of me. I decided to just stare at him until he was done. He rapidly went through the rest of the photos. The detective said something to Gonzalez, who tapped me on the shoulder and motioned for us to follow him.

As we walked out I turned around to see what the detective had been up to before we’d bothered him. He was playing solitaire.

Gonzalez led us out of the detective’s office and into his own office. Rodriguez stood in the doorway and watched us. We sat in front of Gonzalez’s desk; I had my arms crossed and was still shivering. “Frío,” I told Gonzalez. His face showed no emotion. “Demasiado frío,” Jen added helpfully. Too cold. He gave her a weak smile but said nothing. He turned on his computer and looked out the window while it loaded.

His computer was slow. It took a long time.

Once his computer was turned on, he began asking me questions about the mugging. I answered to the best of my abilities but was somewhat reluctant to cooperate fully – I was still in shock at what they had done to the man in the yellow shirt – but I knew I needed the police report in order to apply for a new passport at the embassy. After I answered all of his questions, he printed out a copy of the police report and stamped it. He handed it to me and told me to sign it. I did. He signed the space next to my name. My sloppy signature looked like beautiful calligraphy compared to his own childish signature. He told me to bring it to the Canadian embassy. I nodded.

Jen asked Gonzalez if we could leave the police station now. He told her that there was one last thing for us to do before going. Rodriguez led us outside to a concrete walkway. The cracked concrete slabs led to a small jail. Rodriguez asked me to follow him but insisted that Jen stay with Gonzalez. I shrugged and followed him to the jail. He opened up a slot in the front door and asked me to peer into it. I did.

The man in the yellow shirt was in there. Except his yellow shirt wasn’t really yellow anymore. It was a mixture of colours and textures, of magenta, crimson, sand and soil. There were pieces of it missing. However, if he hadn’t been wearing the shirt I wouldn’t have recognized him. His face was brutally swollen. His eyes hid inside the puffy skin of his temples and cheeks. His jaw was set an awkward angle, and his leg, broken at the tibia, sagged away from him. There was sand and dirt in his wounds. He hopped a little on his good leg in order to keep himself balanced. Rodriguez yelled something and the man in the yellow shirt shuffled around until he was standing at a 90 degree angle from us. I looked back at Rodriguez and said, “No. Este hombre no robó.” This was not the man who robbed me. He was not pleased at my statement. He did an about turn and rushed back to Gonzalez and Jen at the other end of the concrete walkway.

I followed him back. Rodriguez shoved me towards Gonzalez and motioned for Jen to follow him. “It’s the guy they tortured,” I told her. “He’s in there. Rodriguez wants you to say that he’s the robber.” Rodriguez heard his name and pointed a finger in my face and screamed at me. I didn’t know what he was saying, but I assumed that he was telling me to shut up so that I wouldn’t bias Jen’s opinion on whether the man in the yellow shirt was a criminal or not.

Rodriguez asked Jen to walk in front of him to the jail. I watched as he stared at her ass and legs when she peered into the slot. It made me livid but I was too exhausted to even consider doing something about it. I turned away and looked at a pile of rocks leaning against a building. Then, Gonzalez spoke up.

Este hombre ha sido detenido antes. Es un ladrón y un mentiroso. Ha luchado a policía. El me ha luchado,” he said. This man has been arrested before. He is a thief and a liar. He has fought police. He has fought me. He smiled when he finished saying the last sentence.

I did not believe him. The urge to grab his pistol and shoot him was overwhelming. “Verdadero?” I asked. True?

Ah, si,” he said, chuckling. “Si.

Jen came back with Rodriguez following closely behind her. Tears rolled down her cheeks. He was still looking at her ass. He looked up and realized that I caught him in the act, but lowered his gaze at her thighs once more before Gonzalez barked, in English, “Come. Walk.”

Rodriguez crossed his arms and stood there, watching us. He furrowed his eyebrows at me again. I furrowed mine back at him. We followed Gonzalez into one end of a building and out the other end, back to the police station’s parking lot. He asked, “¿Quiere ir a la embajada canadiense?” I didn’t know what that meant, but I understood the words embajada and canadiense.

Canadian embassy.

Si,” I said quickly.

Gonzalez pointed at a young, bearded police officer standing next to a gold-coloured SUV. He motioned for us to go inside. I climbed into the front passenger seat next to the police officer. Jen sat in the back. Gonzalez leaned into the open window and told the driver to go to the Canadian embassy. The officer nodded silently.

Gonzalez stepped back and put his hands on his hips. “Goodbye,” he said in accented English. He smiled.

I smiled back.

Va chier mon tabarnak,” I said in French.

The driver stepped on the gas pedal and the SUV lurched out of the parking lot. I could see Gonzalez waving at us in the rear-view mirror. I sighed and slumped into my seat. Everything is going to get better from this moment on, I thought. I’m going to hang out in the embassy, get my passport shit sorted out, and get the fuck out of this hellhole.

As the truck drove onto the on-ramp to the highway, Jen tapped my shoulder from the back.

“Marc? There’s a gun back here,” she said.

I looked back. There was an M-60 machine gun sitting next to her on the backseat. There was a magazine clip in it and though I’d never shot an M-60 in the Canadian military, I immediately recognized that the safety on it was off. The M-60 was pointed right at her.

“Okay, Jen,” I said. “Listen to me carefully. See that little thing sticking out? That lever thing?”

“Can’t you just do it?” she asked. “I’m scared.”

“No, I don’t think this dude’s going to like watching me play around with his gun,” I said. “It’ll be less obvious if you just do it. Just flip that lever there and it’ll be done.”

“You promise it won’t shoot at me?”

“I promise.”

“This one?” she asked pointing at the safety lever. She sounded uneasy.

“Yeah, that one. Flip it up. Make sure it’s up and not down.”

“Will something happen to me if I flip it down?” Her voice cracked.

“No, nothing bad will happen. I swear.”

She fumbled at the safety lever until it finally went up with an audible click. The driver opened his eyes a little wider but didn’t look away from the road. I sighed and put my head in my hands. I looked at my ratty shoes through my fingers. I felt an intense desire to cry but found myself unable to.

After a while, the SUV grinded to a halt in front of a building surrounded by a barbed wire perimeter fence and dozens security cameras. A Canadian flag flew in the front yard of the building. A Nicaraguan man carrying a pump shotgun sat in a cabin on the street side of the fence.

Uno momento por favor,” I told the driver. I got out of the SUV and walked towards the cabin. Jen stayed in the truck.

“Are you open?” I asked the security guard.

“No,” said the guard in accented English. “Open Monday.”

“Okay,” I said, gritting my teeth. “Thanks.”

Discouraged, I walked back to the SUV, trying in vain to keep myself together. I got into the truck and looked at the driver. He looked back at me, waiting for me to say something.

“Can’t your shitty country have embassies that are open on a fucking Saturday?” I asked him. My hands were shaking. He looked at me, unsmiling.

Lo siento,” he said. “No entiendo.

“Yeah, no fucking kidding. None of you do,” I said. “You’re all too busy fighting crime, right? I bet McGruff leaves his machine gun loaded in his backseat, too.”

“Jesus, relax,” Jen said. “He didn’t do anything to you.”

I turned around to face Jen. “I don’t care about this guy. I cannot leave this country. I am stuck here. Until that changes, I’m going to treat this guy however the fuck I want.”

“Okay, but that isn’t going to open the fucking embassy any faster,” she said, rolling her eyes.

I shuddered at the realization that I was going to be stuck in Managua for a while. Two days at least. Probably more than that. Probably even a week. I crossed my arms and looked out the window at the embassy. I wanted nothing more than to be inside of it, to speak to my family, to feel safe again. I’d have slept on the floor if I were allowed to. I’d have starved for the privilege.

Jen asked the driver if he could drive us to a hostel in her Lonely Planet book. He nodded and stepped on the gas again. The ride to the hostel took a long time - he had to drive through the neighbourhood I’d just been mugged in. I couldn’t look out the window. I looked at my shoes again and didn’t look up until the SUV stopped in front of the hostel.

Jen thanked the police officer and we got out of the truck. Jen still had her bags. I had mine, minus my passport, camera, wallet, and money. I kept feeling my pockets just in case I hadn’t really been mugged. Each time I checked, I felt an intense wave of pain at the realization that I wasn’t getting my possessions back. I felt powerless. After remembering that the muggers had put their hands in my pockets, I hastily took my hands out and spit on them and furiously rubbed them against the ground or on my jeans. A family, presumably the owners of the hostel, watched as I did this. They looked amused.

We went inside the hostel and checked out one of the rooms. It had hot water, a rare luxury. We took it. There were no other tourists staying in the building; it would only be us and the family who owned it.

Jen paid for the room and immediately jumped in the shower. I sat on the front steps of the hostel and cradled my face in my hands again. Every time I closed my eyes I saw the man in the yellow shirt through that jail slot, looking back at me but not seeing me. I felt someone put their hand on my shoulder. I looked up and saw a Nicaraguan kid, probably about ten years old. I yelped involuntarily and put my hands up in reflexive defence. He stepped back and said, in English, “I am sorry.”

I realized that he was the hostel owners’ son. “Why are you sad?” he asked.

“Your English is really good,” I said stupidly.

“Thank you.” He smiled. “I go to school. Why are you sad?”

The boy’s grandmother came out to check on him and sat down next to me. For her benefit, I reconstructed the story of my mugging and the events that followed in broken Spanish. It was tough, and I had to ask the boy to help me translate parts of it. They listened impassively until my story was over.

“That’s why I’m sad,” I said.

The boy put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it.

“It will be okay,” he said.

They both stood up and wordlessly went back into the hostel. I was alone. I shoved my face into my hands again. I thought of the injustice of my being robbed, and then I remembered the man in the yellow shirt and felt like a fool, like a selfish, white, privileged fool. I wondered if he was ever going to get out. I doubted that he would have a normal life afterwards, if he did get out. I wondered if the robbers were happy, and I wished with all of my being that they would die, that they would die an excruciating and dreadful death. And then I remembered that once I got home, my quality of life would be exponentially better than any life those thieves could make for themselves, and I felt guilty again. They would probably die before me, and it wouldn’t necessarily be deserved. Not to mention the man in the yellow shirt. His death in jail, if it came, would be because of me, and he didn’t deserve to die.

I desperately needed to manifest my anguish into tears. I closed my eyes and tried to cry. I couldn’t. I never was able to.