A magical guest post by Freeborn Aiden
“Dude you might wanna go and fix that.”
Max’s default expression of belligerent aggression has transformed to something resembling genuine concern as he stares intently into the middle of my face.
I feel the tepid stream coursing down my top lip before tasting the blood as it enters my mouth. I lower my head and dash straight to the toilet. Thankfully it’s unoccupied so I wrestle it open, slam it shut behind me and turn to face the mirror.
I’m not prone to nosebleeds. No, this is the somewhat inevitable consequence of tonight’s adventure. Between us, Max and I have snorted at least 3 grams of cocaine. It’s Saturday night and we’re backpacking in Colombia so what else would we be doing right now?
The bleeding stops pretty quickly. I wash my face and try to rub off the little red specks on my white shirt to no avail. “…and the stuff out here is supposed to be pure…I bet they cut it with fucking crushed up glass,” I think to myself. The wooden door frame suddenly shakes on its rickety hinges;
“Dude, its Max let me in.”
I open the door and he squeezes in. The cubicle is tiny and we’re pretty much pressed up against one another. He takes out his baggie, sticks his key into and raises it to his nose inhaling hard.
“You want one?” he says offering me the bag.
I’m tempted, but no. “Shit no I best not man…in fact I’m getting out of here. See you later.”
I bid Max a good night and contort out of the door but not before twisting my torso back around its frame, putting my little finger in his bag and rubbing it on my gum; may as well have one the for road after all.
I make my way out of the bar and the sounds of endless salsa fade. I know that the bleeding has stopped but coke paranoia can be pretty insistent, and I’m obsessively checking and rubbing my hand across my face.
Gethsemane’s colonial streets are awash with revellers, beggars and cops on every corner. I lower my head and speed past them. Really, this only risks drawing attention and suspicion to myself but at this point, after God knows how many shots of aguardiente, Aguila’s, keys and lines, who the hell is thinking straight?
I get to my hostel and head for the bathroom. The bleeding is still clear so I throw my clothes down and climb into my bed bunk.
Twist & Turn
5, 10 or 30 minutes pass but sleep just will not come. I’m far too wired and feel my legs twitching. A silhouette in the bed across stirs impatiently and it occurs to me that my tossing and twitching may be bothering my room mates. I decide to get up; I mean I’m wide awake and besides that it can’t be much after midnight and I can still hear the reggaeton pounding from the nearby bars and clubs.
I dress (blooded shirt and all) and before I know it I’m back on the streets. I’m more sober now than I was an hour ago and I feel out of sync with the beautiful chaos around me. Night town’s subtle, omnipresent undercurrent of menace (which revellers use all manner of psychoactive substances to blot out) steadily creeps in.
I head back to the bar but Max has gone. The crowd has also thinned out and the party has evidently moved on but I can’t be bothered trying to find out where to.
I buy an aguila beer from a corner tienda and head for the old town. The streets are still teeming with bar-bq’s and the stench of frying meat forces its way through my burned nostrils. Around me I catch falling fragments of conversations in Spanish, English and Spanglish but nothing I can hook onto and interrupt. I leave Gethsemane behind and cross the main road towards the old town. Look left, look right listen and look again.The roads are pretty quiet at this hour but one can never be too sure with the driving standards out here.
I pass under the clock tower and find an unoccupied bench. It’s christmas and the grand old streets are illuminated by reels of pretty twinkling fairy lights but right now the sweeping romance of Cartagena is completely wasted on me. I sink the beer and immediately feel the gas rise in my stomach. The alcohol floods me fast and once again time loses all track of me as the seconds and minutes bleed into one another. It occurs to me that my apparent return to some level of sobriety was illusory and in fact I remain totally high and utterly fucking fucked. I hold onto the bench to make sure I don’t fall off.
A woman is now sat on the bench talking to me. Her skin is dark and her eyes bloodshot red but this is a detail I don’t quite notice at this point. I can’t recall how she got here beside me or how long I have been speaking to her but in my best-bad Spanish I am now explaining that unfortunately I have a shared hostel dorm, I have already woken my dorm mates once this evening but that I’m sure we can find an hourly rental motel without too much hassle; afterall, this is Colombia.
With that we’re up and headed down the narrow cobbled streets of Cartagena’s Old Town. We turn the corner towards the Bolivar Plaza where there are a row of hotels. My arm moves down from around her waist and my hand creeps up the bottom of her low cut dress before the sound of a nearing engine abruptly kills the moment.
Police & Thieves
Two cops, sharing one bike, pull up beside me. They move the woman aside and usher me against the wall to search me, hands against the ancient brickwork and legs spread as they skim my body and toss my pockets inside out.
The woman is now cursing and screaming at the officers and for the first time under the light from the police bike I notice the bloodshot in her eyes. “Hey tranquilla!” I say imploring her to calm down, there is nothing to worry about here, the officers are just doing their job searching Gringo’s for drugs and it’s not like I’m carrying anything after all…
…Except then it hits me. I am. The blood drains fast from my face as I realise my folly. Earlier that night, before setting off out, I had left the bag in one of the pockets inside my wallet. I had bought 5 grams earlier that day, siphoned off what I estimated to be 2 into a rolled up note to take out (which me and Max promptly put away) and left the remaining 3 in the bag locked in my backpack. But then I’d forgotten to lock it away in my backpack and in fact it’s still here in the inside pocket of my wallet along with my condoms and the emergency viagra which the officer is now riffling through.
For a brief glorious second of hopefulness I think he’s missed it and the hope rises from the pit on my being before turning quickly to a burning despair. He’s found it.
He looks at me with a mix of triumph, satisfaction and bitter condemnation as he waves the bag in front of me. For a brief moment blind panic sets in as visions of being maimed in a Colombian jail overwhelm me. I take a deep breath compose myself and resolve that I have to get out of this situation immediately.
Nothing facilitates communication skills like utter desperation and somehow, despite my pathetically infantile Spanish, I summon the vocabulary to suggest to the officer that I will pay whatever fine they feel is appropriate in order to resolve this situation promptly. He takes the point and holding the confiscated baggy in his outreached left palm he explains “problem” before presenting his empty, outstretched right palm as “solution”. He now hands me my wallet back.
Sheepishly I open it up and peer inside. I count out four 50,000 Peso notes, take two of them out and hopefully hand them over to the unimpressed officer. He takes them from me but puts his hand out again. Feeling plucky I take out 1 more 50,000 bill and holding it out I explain that I need the remaining 50,000 as I have to check out of my hostel in the morning and need it to pay the tab. Amazingly he accepts my terms.
Under Heavy Duress
His colleague emerges from the shadow brandishing a clipboard which he hands to me. He has written up some kind of statement which he evidently wants me to sign, the thing it’s in Spanish and not in a particularly clear hand. He forces the pen into my mit and with “Toca, toca…” orders me to make my mark. I take the pen and applying the nib to the paper, scribble in my best, worst scrawl three barely intelligible worlds;
“Under Heavy Duress”.
If this document ever emerges I’ll say the police shook me down and forced me to sign whatever the hell I signed with a gun at my head.
The officers look it over and accept it. They jump back onto the bike and ride off into the night $75 richer. I’m free.
I collapse against the wall and breathe deeply, waves of relief wash through before the magnitude of what just passed befalls me. I breathe in and then exhale deeply sighing the relief out from the very depth of my being; I just narrowly avoided some quality Colombian jail time for $75, not a bad deal really.
By this point I’m not in the mood for luvving and besides that can’t really spare the money for the motel (not even for an hour). Furthermore the episode and flood of adrenaline has dragged me back to sobriety and flying quickly turned to falling. I explain to my companion that we’ll have to leave it for another time.
Not Over Yet
I turn to leave and she grabs the collar of my T-shirt;
She wants money. Again straining and stretching the limitations of my Spanish I tell her in the most polite terms I can muster to go and fuck herself, this wasn’t the arrangement and besides that nothing has even happened that would ever warrant the handing over of cash. She is now going crazy, fiercely grabbing my collar with one hand and going for my eyes with the other. Her eyes are wild and crazed and, now I see it, bloodshot red. She’s a crack-head and she clearly saw me as a way to fix, her plan had been to either demand money after the act or just to rob me. How could I not have seen this before? Because I was high and horny as hell, but now I’m neither; in fact I’m a wee bit terrified.
I try to walk away but she won’t let go of my shirt. I make my way through the cobbled street with her attached to me dragging behind; never underestimate the sheer strength and determination of a desperate crack addict, I think to myself. I struggle around the corner, her arm still fixed to my neck and her nails now digging into my skin. At the end of the street I see two cops chatting casually. It’s a different pair from the ones who busted me so I call out “Policia!”; my knights in green khaki.
Hello Again Officers
The officers are straight over and ask what’s going on. The woman lets go off me and unleashes a volley of words in rapid fire Spanish that I can’t comprehend. The officer looks briefly at me with suspicion “Drogas?!” he says. The bitch is telling them I have drugs on me.
Once again I face the wall and empty my pockets. Once again an officer searches my pockets and empties my wallet but this time there is of course nothing to find. He hands me my wallet back and I explain that I have been assaulted and this woman is trying to extort cash from me. I order them to arrest her or at least get her the fuck away from me.
I can tell that the Officers find this whole thing hilarious. Once again the woman is rapid fire screaming until she is ordered to shut up by one of the officers reaching for his baton.
“Escucha mi,” the officer is now telling us both to listen to him. He explains that the only way to resolve this is by “negociacion” and the implication is clear; they can’t be bothered to arrest this woman so I am going to have to pay her something. Initially I protest but it’s no use, I’m too tired to go on and it seems that the entire Colombian police force is determined that I return home completely fucking skint. I take out my last 50,000 note and hand it over contemptuously. She looks at it, puts it into her handbag before beginning the frenzied screaming again, she wants more, clearly she values her time very highly.
Thankfully at this point the Officers do intervene, they clearly agree that 50,000 is more than reasonable and tell her as much. I thank the Officers half sarcastic, half sincere, turn around and speed away as fast as my legs will take me convinced the bitch is probably pursuing me.
I cross the street again and snake my way through a now deserted Gethsemane. My hostel is now locked so I ring the bell and wake the night porter. I don’t go to my room but instead head to the communal area and collapse onto a bean bag. Through the long colonial windows I see that light is now breaking in the sky and just as morning is breaking I fall into a deep & depthless slumber.
Some hours later I am awoken by the bells ringing from Trinidad Church across the road. It’s Sunday morning now and time for mass. I pick myself up from the bean bag, throw on my stretched, bloodied shirt and set off for Church; I’m in need of some redemption.