Humorous adventure set in Hollywoodized Africa involving hostile over reaction to the theft of a idol's valuable eye.
It was dark as the inside of a boot and yet as cool as a cucumber. And it was quiet, TOO quiet. You could almost feel the cliches going bump in the night, as they crept around in the dark, like dark thoughts inside a shrunken head.
Suddenly, the quiet was shattered like breaking a Pepsi bottle before they were made of plastic! The whole village, men, women, children, visiting relatives and dogs came running and screaming out of the dark. Have you ever heard a dog scream? It's enough to make the hair on your neck stand up! Unable to sleep with all that noise, I too got up (like my hair) and ran for my life. Instinctively, senses sharpened by, what we call out here, jungle smarts, I knew this maddened village was after me. Just because I had stolen their lousy idol's eye! I felt like a kid again; it had taken a whole village to raise me!
They came for me like wild piranha after a domesticated gold fish with a Big Mac in its mouth! Not a bad analogy, I thought wryly, shaping mouth to thought, since I had their precious idol's Golden Eye. Big deal! Hadn't these guys ever listened in Sunday School? Idol's can't SEE, for crying out loud! It wasn't like I made him blind or anything! Running as fast as I could, heart racing wildly, I somberly reflected on the events that led up to this mad dash for safety.
It had all begun in a seedy bar called The Palace, in a no-where, run down section of a small jungle village named Grenco. The Palace was owned and presided over by an unsavory character (are there savory characters? How does one tell?) called King. King ruled his Palace with a plastic hand; no, really ! He had a new type of prosthetic where his right hand used to be, now curled into a sort of permanent fist.
At least the new hand had clean fingernails, unlike its real, live mate . Some say he lost his hand to a shark as mean as himself. Others whisper the tale of a drug-laden small plane being manually started on a moonless night by a drunk spinning its prop. Some say King had a hand in it. Whatever the case, King was in charge of The Palace, a fact enforced by the many hard-eyed dudes that made up his Palace guard. I didn't know their names so I called each of them "sir", since I was raised to be polite.
I sat contemplating my resources at a greasy table while I nursed a sick drink, surrounded by a thick cloud of rank tobacco smoke. Slipping tenses easily, I notice the run-down clientele shuffling in and out, buying over-priced seed (I told you it was a seedy bar) (pay attention or there will be a lot more parenthetical statements) for the up-coming harvest season.
The Grenco natives were always one season out of step, which made for a real dip in their agricultural output due to their chronic seasonal confusion. Many a time, a Grencoite would arrive to harvest his crops only to find his well-intentioned neighbor plowing them under to prepare the field for planting.
On their way to The Palace, the farmers often insisted on walking in the middle of the road, in absolute defiance of the crazy drivers of Grenco. These drivers were a strange bunch, with their easy flashing eyes, cramped broad smiles and braggadocio bravado. They were bound together by an unwritten code, which meshed nicely with their illiteracy.
The code was known as "El Crunca", a term that loosely translated means; "mangle the pedestrians" or "make pavement for the roads of Grenco from their ground-up bones". The slang term for El Crunca is "kill".
And indeed, these drivers lived to kill, patrolling the entire turnpike system (some two miles) of Grenco, 24/7, alert for the unwary, the defiant and the merely stupid.. In any case, the El Cruncos were happy to accommodate any such by running them down.
Actually, the El Gruncos' owned the single car (cars don't wed in Grenco) in all of Grenco yet there were over 30,000 El Cruncos hungry for a little excitement, standing in line to get their greasy hands on the wheel, many for the first time ever. Grown men were often turned away, weeping openly, spirits broken from long days in the car line. Despairing of ever being charged with vehicle homicide, many wandered blindly into the street where they were promptly run over by a lucky, more patient El Grunco from Grenco.
Anyway, I counted my money silently, the quiet only occasionally broken by the noise of a hit and run accident of some kind in the background. I had thirteen dollars and fifty cents American and 10 million in local money! That was enough U. S. money to buy all of Grenco, and with the leftover local currency, a cup of coffee. The buy would include the car and drivers thrown in ...or pushed in ... sometimes the car wouldn't start, and it's a toll call to A to say the least. We're too remote for AAA, in case you're wondering.
But I had ambitions beyond merely buying Grenco, I wanted to transform it! I would need to invest this money in something that would pay off big ... and quick! I liked that thought; it was unique and oh, so me!
Feeling good, Beach Boy tunes blasting on the beach inside my head, I looked unapologetically through the sorry opening that passed for a rude window. The Palace allowed a good view of downtown Grenco, since it sat on a hill of elephant dung. Apparently, having a place to go when they die is not their only "special" location to go. I was grateful for the ranked cigarette smoke (about 8 on a scale of 1 to 10) that made the elephant ordure odor in The Palace partially bearable.
Anyway, fondly fingering the fortune folded in my flight jacket pocket flap, I gazed fixedly, not at what I saw, but what I would cause Grenco to become! Some would have seen merely 15 squalid huts, the herd of wandering pigs, the simple natives, the Mr.. Softie Ice Cream, the Son of Sam's Place, the numerous burned out remains of dozens of small drug trafficker's aircraft, and the other 10 herds of wandering pigs. They would have seen only the drizzling rain and simply smelled the sinus-searing pungent odors. Perhaps they would reflect thoughtfully for a moment or two on the many Grenco pedestrians fallen in the knee-deep mud, tire tracks still visible on their bodies.
But through the shimmering heat waves and the gaseous cloud enveloping me (can you get high on methane?) I saw broad, paved roads leading to an international airport alive with the comings and goings of the beautiful people of the world. I saw schools and hospitals, factories, bars, cars, stars, restaurants, radio and TV stations. I saw the smokestacks of industry spewing out enormous clouds spelling out ... POLLUTION! I saw ... wait a minute! I saw EVERYTHING that made me leave New York city in the first place! But I calmed down; THIS pollution and all its riches would be MY pollution! What a difference ownership makes, no matter what it is one owns!
I remember a kid in our town had the worst riding, hardest peddling, ugliest bike you ever saw. Besides being aesthetically challenged, it had a nasty habit of its brakes seizing up and throwing Louie (that's the kid that owned this piece of junk) over its handlebars every other day or so. We all used to laugh at him and his weird wheels. He was always wearing Band Aids and riding funny because his glasses were broken, held together by a duct tape silver hinge.
One day, just he and I were sitting in front of the village store, waiting for the other guys to show up. Louie looked lonely, lost and lackadaisical. I felt sorry for him and as I was experiencing this novel emotion, wondering what it was, Louie spoke.
"Billy", he said, looking though his duct-taped glasses, " you're a really smart guy."
Just by his simple honesty, Louie had my attention and had won my admiration for his ability to correctly size people up. " I know, Louie", I replied. He might as well have said the sun was hot, another undeniable fact. I looked at my new friend and admirer closely. He was CRYING, for --- well, for crying out loud!
"Billy", he struggled between out-right sobs, "this bike has got me beat! Everyone in town knows it! They all think I'm a fool! Do you think I'm a fool, Billy?"
These statements had started out with Louie's head hanging down, then slowly lifting until his eyes (his amazingly blue eyes; I had never noticed them before while ridiculing him) met mine. This happened as the last word in the question was asked and seemed to pierce my brain, propelled by an intense sincerity that demanded reciprocation from me, its target. Bulls eye!
"No, I don't, Louie", I answered. In reality, five minutes ago I thought Louie had the mental capacities of a small, used, Dunkin' Donuts cup. Now I knew him as a deeply perceptive person who had developed enough as a human being to evoke sympathy, or whatever this mysterious thing was, in the heart of an astute individual such as myself. Louie was definitely the product of an intellectual evolution in my mind, most of it occurring in the last few minutes, right before my astonished eyes.
"Well then, buy my bike and sell me yours, Billy!"
"What? Are you crazy? That things a piece of junk! You should THROW it away!"
"You're right, I know, but my mother gave me this bike! She paid for it with her
welfare check! I CAN'T throw it away! Did you know my mother is in a wheel chair and she will never walk again? What kind of a son would do that to his poor old mother? But she would understand and admire me if I traded up!"
I was going to remind Louie that his mother, (though I had never met her) was probably about 25 years old but I thought he must mean poor, like "poor in spirit", like in the Bible. But Louie's tears were flowing like Niagara, tons of water falling with great power, eroding the rocks below. Louie may have been evolving on this day, but the rock that had been in my chest was definitely eroding. I think I fought back a tear ...
I held out though, I didn't buy Louie's bike. Instead I half-traded him mine, convinced by him that I was smart enough to "beat the bike" as he called it. By half-traded, I mean I traded half and gave the other half to get Louie to stop crying. Besides, our community admired sympathetic people but was a town without pity for folks who were foolish, especially in business. That new compassion thing was growing, but it needed to be managed.
It died in me forever, at least in regard to Louie, right after we traded bikes, spit in our palms and shook hands, making it a done deal forever in our world. Louie was smiling through his tears as he straddled my three month old Schwinn with all the bells, horns and whistles. Real bikes in those days were BUILT and could come out completely intact after a head on collision with a Winnebago!
Just then, as the contractual spit on my hand was still wet, an attractive young lady went jogging by and said "Hi" to Louie, reminding him to be home on time for supper... as he was to wash the new car afterwards ...
"Hi Mom, OK ", said Louie. Then he clapped his hand over his mouth, his blue eyes looking at me with terror and dismay. Then he was gone quicker than a politician's promise after election day.
I couldn't catch him using his old bike that day or any other in the weeks that followed.. It was hard to pedal Louie's bike, especially when the brakes work so well. And so suddenly. Thoughtfully, I traced the scar on the wrist I broke the first week I owned Louie's bike ...all these years and I still have never been able to call Louie's bike mine ... Louie never had any such problem with my bike. He went on to build an empire of used car lots all over North America. "Catch a break with Louie" is his national slogan. It has a different meaning to me than the one intended by Louie's well paid advertising agency.
As I thought about that long-ago experience, I realized that it had prepared me for a whole bunch of Louie's in my present position and I brightened up. I was ready for them!