Chapter 1 – Truck stop.
I was about to disappear in the shadow of the building. My back was hard against the wall while I was staring at the washed-out colours on the billboard opposite. The number of the long-awaited truck, or at least its hazy silhouette, reads “Land Fall 49.” It was difficult to think; the infernal heat pressed down on me.
Aramberri was deserted. A desolate spot, vile and corrupt. The landscape is barren: haze and dust when you leave the truck, and dust and sweat accompanies you into the bathroom. The dirt and heat are inescapable. It keeps you in a permanent state of fatigue.
The door to the building was open, I could have sworn that the place had been abandoned for ten years, the facade was way beyond worn and faded. A large man of about fifty, with white hair and yellow teeth, stood just inside the entrance. He scratched his belly, then scratched his balls, mumbled something unintelligible to the guy behind the counter, then walked out. I turned watching him leave, blinking my eyes against the sunlight. A half starved dog creeped slowly past the doorway, stopping to lift it’s head and smell the stale odour emanating from inside, before moving on uninterested.
A handful of people were gathered inside, most sitting on the dirty wooden plank that served as a seat next to the entrance. They looked lifeless, like ghosts merging into the faded sepia tone that enveloped everything inside. I stared out through the grey window at a parasol with writing that once proclaimed some brand of soft drink. Beneath the meagre shade sat a young boy selling candy or some local fruit, the child was called Jabez (the native Mayan name means grief), but they all said his name was John.
Another boy with long straight black hair opened the cooler across from the counter and lifted a can, quickly re-closing the lid as a mist of coolness evaporated without leaving a trace. He wore faded red shorts, a washed out T shirt and blue plastic sandals, he had a scab on one knee, the left.
“What do you want?” The fat man asked from behind the counter. He had wiry black hair, a thin moustache and small beady eyes that darted about. He wore a dirty white shirt, half open, the top buttons were missing, the lower half was stretched taught around his ample stomach. The same black wiry hair curled around his chest disappearing behind his shirt. I watched, my view fixed on a tiny bead of sweat that was about to fall as he leaned forward on the counter. The globule of body fluid teetered precariously then dropped only to be caught on the edge of one bushy eyebrow before falling off and splattering a dirty droplet onto the discoloured newspaper he had on the counter in front of him.
“You got any tamarind?” He asked the man.
He shifted his head to the left, it was the least possible movement necessary to indicate to the boy where to look. “Over there,” he said.
As if every word, every gesture or movement required an enormous expense of energy, practically nothing was said, nothing moved. Only the boy seemed possessed with enough force to move and gather the tamarind.
I followed the sign indicating the bathroom and exited through a back door out into the searing heat. Two women in their twenties cut across the street at the end of the ally. I could picture the heads of the men sitting inside, turning instinctively to follow the women, devouring their bodies. Dressed in exotic colours their mini-skirts were so short as to barely cover them, there legs appeared longer with so much skin exposed. They were gone as quickly as they had appeared, a splash of colour leaving nothing behind, an exotic touch amidst the desolation.
I entered the stinking bathroom, the smell was enough to make you wretch, but after the journey here I needed to relieve myself. The toilet was a brown splattered porcelain tray which I stood as far away from as possible attempting to hold my breath, which was impossible. I unzipped myself and arched my back letting out a long hot stream of yellow liquid that cascaded onto the filthy porcelain. I wondered how many disease laboured microbes lurked inches from my feet, I concentrated my aim to try to avoid splashes, the relief of emptying my bladder gave a satisfying feeling of well being.
Back inside I walked past the fat man at the counter who had his head down reading the newspaper. The boy in the faded red shorts had left with his drink and the tamarind. The bench by the window was unchanged, the people sitting there had not moved, it was almost surreal.
Through a curtain was a room with chairs and tables, the bar, occupied by a few people with the money to buy a drink. At the table next to where I had entered a man in a crumpled beige coloured suit with slicked back hair was talking to the person opposite him.
“She wants drugs,” he was saying. “They will do anything here for a little cash. I’ve been through here before and stopped in a hundred other places just the same. She’ll suck you in a little room out back or if you have the energy in all this heat, you can fuck her, but wear a condom, that’s my advice.” The man opposite nodded with a sort of complicity, but he had an air of total disinterest, as if sex was just another item on the menu as unappetising as the bland food they served for lunch.
“One time, further down south, I had two together, a blond and a brunette. I’d picked up a commission from a business client and he directed me to a bar next to the truck stop. I spent the whole afternoon and fell asleep on the journey overnight. Well…” he continued recounting his adventure to his companion opposite. “You have to get it when you can.” Again the other person barely nodded an acknowledgement.
I moved away and sat down at a table far enough away so as not to be able to hear anymore of that man’s histories. After I sat down a thin man who had been seated behind the bar came over and asked if I wanted a beer, I think it was the only drink available. ” Una cerveza fría, sí (a cold beer, yes),” I replied, making sure to tell him I wanted it cold. I looked around the room, my gaze rested for a moment on the two colourful ladies I’d seen earlier who were chatting across the far side from me with two more men in suits. The rest of the room and tables were empty, the window onto the street looked out at nothingness, it was almost midday.
The thin man returned with my beer and I paid him. As he was pocketing the coins into his old waist coat, he learned forward over the table. “Would you like some company Señor?” He asked. “We have very nice private rooms. You can spend an agreeable time whilst you have to wait.” He deftly removed a bottle opener from his other pocket and flipped open the bottle top.
“No thank you,” I replied. “I would just like to drink my beer.” The thought had entered my head, he had placed it there, and now maybe I did want some sex, but not with either of the two colourful ladies.
This barman was a magician, a mind reader, that was his real occupation, tending a bar in this god forsaken hole in the middle of nowhere had only come about because he was obliged by circumstances to leave his previous situation and disappear from view. It was a well worn route, everyone knew that those who ended up here were, as they called it, ‘on vacation.’
He could read people this magician come barman, and he was persistent, everyone ‘on vacation’ needed to earn any amount they could, everybody was a winner from these sordid little transactions that sold sex in a back room of the truck stop. Best of all the clients would be gone by nightfall and the people who stayed behind knew everything and cared about nothing. “If you want you can have a boy, Señor, no problem here.”
I couldn’t get the idea to go away, I thought of the boy buying the tamarind and then my mind rested on John, the young candy seller. Was John the boy whose other occupation was to satisfy the sexual desires of passing strangers. Would he be called from his place under the parasol to have sex with who ever paid the barman for his company, and what would he have to do for these degenerates, suck their hot sweaty cocks, allow them to screw him? “No, no, it’s kind of you, but no thank you,” I repeated, so he was obliged to retreat back behind his bar. I wasn’t certain that it was the end of things, but I sipped my cold beer and enjoyed the transitory coolness.
Time seemed to almost stand still, nothing moved, nothing happened. I made up my mind that I needed to lie down, to get some sleep if that was possible. I needed some rest before taking the truck tonight. As these thoughts formed in my brain it occurred to me the barman would be happy to rent a room for the afternoon, he had no other customers for his rooms. He would not make as much as if he sold a room for sex, but he would still make money.
After I had finished my beer, which I did not hurry, I concluded the transaction with the barman. He didn’t even argue, but took the money and gave me a key, indicating the way to the rooms which were up a flight of stairs on the first floor. For once he had not been mean and had given me a room which faced north. Of course it was stiflingly hot, but at least the sun was not blazing through the window.
The room was as empty as everything else in this town, there was a bed, a dressing table with chair and an old curtain that hung lopsided from the pole that had fallen half off the wall above the window. I shut the door, put my bag in one corner and sat down on the bed. The mattress sagged and the springs beneath complained, making strange clanging noises, the only sound you could hear.
I removed my shoes then took the little dressing table chair and wedged it under the door handle. I had been in enough of these places to know not to leave easy access or you wake up with nothing, no bag, no shoes, no money. If you’re unlucky enough to wake up before you’ve been relieved of everything you possessed you could end up in a back alley with your throat cut. Worse, I heard one history of a young man who relied only on the key in the lock on his door, who woke to find two assailants in his room. He was unlucky, because his waking drew their attention and they easily over powered him, then they stripped off his clothes and took turns to rape him, but they didn’t kill him.
There was not much anyone could do about the intense heat, I took off my clothes, as I was doing so I looked through the grimy window, my eyes following a ball of tumble weed that some tiny breeze out of nowhere barely managed to move. I let myself relax on the bed and allowed my eyes to close, the only thing keeping me awake was the heat, but tiredness eventual overcame everything else.