Have you ever thought of yourself climbing out of your own grave? Well, neither did I until it happened to me.
The concept of an Author is one that has been evolving over time. Back in the days, the word Author evoked images of white haired intelligent looking men with reading glasses. Many generations later, and in a 21st century environment where the world is connected by the click of a mouse, the word Author finds new meaning.
I sat behind a desk at the Miami Library entrance and casually chatted with book lovers, telling them about my new book. My desk was situated next to the entrance and a cold autumn breeze mercilessly tore through my body every time someone walked through the door. On the floor to my right sat a huge cardboard drawing of myself wearing a blue suit and underneath were the words, ‘The Setting Sun’ by Author Dick Falcon.
“Excuse me?” A lady’s voice made me look up. “Are you the Author?” Her voice was innocent and yet all she had to do was look around and she would have her answer.
“Yes ma’am, I am the Author. Would you be interested in getting a copy of my book?”
But instead of replying, she scratched her head perturbed. “Aren’t you too young to be an Author?”
It wasn’t the first time that I had heard the question and I was gradually beginning to doubt myself. Maybe I should have waited until I was a little bit older to publish my book.
A fourteen-year-old boy walked over and told me that he wanted to be a writer one day. I wanted to tell him about the cold breeze coming through the door, but the innocent look on his face changed my mind.
“You read a lot of books?” I asked and he nodded. “Just keep reading because ten years from now, that stuff will be embedded in your mind and you wont even realize it until you start writing.” The boy smiled and I signed a free copy for him.
I looked at the time. I had one more hour to go. My book tour was part of the contract that I had signed with the publishers, but given a choice I would have loved to be at home next to the fireplace, typing my life away.
“Can you sign my book please?” a lady asked and I turned to look at her face. I paused and a look of confusion shadowed my eyes. Where had I seen that face before? I lowered my head to sign the book then quickly looked up in surprise. “Alice?” I said as I jumped to my feet. She laughed and we met in a warm embrace.
“Alice, I haven’t seen you since we were like fourteen years old. Oh my gosh, look at you now all grown!” She wore blue jeans and a sleeveless yellow blouse.
“Hi Dick,” she greeted. “Fancy meeting you like this.” She looked around me, at my desk. “An Author. The quiet kid from my class is now a great Author.”
I laughed. “Not great. Just an Author,” I corrected modestly.
Two more people signaled me with their eyes and I motioned them forward after asking Alice to wait. I was starting to sell books at a time when I didn’t want to. The sight of a beautiful Alice did wonders to my priorities and suddenly I just wanted to close shop.
“You wonna grab something to eat and get caught up?” I asked Alice and she agreed.
We went to the nearest restaurant and ordered burgers and fries, which we barely touched. Her presence intrigued and stirred me in ways I hadn’t felt in a long time.
“Your first book?” she asked as she carefully sipped her coke, taking care not to mess up her makeup.
“Yes, pretty exciting stuff. I learn new things everyday.” I had made a lot of mistakes with this book just like most new Authors.
“How?” she asked and I tried hard not to stare at her luscious lips. “At what point did you decide that you are going to write a book or become an Author?”
Her question gave me pause. “I don’t think it was a point or moment. I think it was more of a gradual process… the realization that I could do it and also enjoy doing it.” I pondered her question further then continued. “Let me tell you a story and just bare with me,” I signaled for her to pay attention and then began.
“A man ran through a nice neighborhood screaming that someone was trying to kill him. ‘Heeelp! He’s got a knife!’ the man screamed. The time was midnight and all was quiet but for the man’s screams. One house suddenly turned on its lights but they did nothing to help: in another house, a man opened a window and yelled at the top of his voice, ‘leave him alone!’ But nobody came to the victim’s aid.”
Suddenly Alice jumped in with a rush of questions. “Did he get killed? Did the man die?”
I smiled and she realized that I had trapped her. “I fell for that, didn’t I?” she said self-consciously.
I shook my head. “It wasn’t a trick story Alice. You reacted like any normal being. But a writer would ask a different question. For example, why didn’t anybody help the man? What if there was only one house in the neighborhood? Would that have made a difference for the home occupants to know that they were the only ones who could help the victim?”
“I get your point,” Alice said as she bit into the burger.
“Which is what?” I challenged.
“Writers are weird people.”
It was the way that she said it that made me burst out laughing. Her words were carelessly uttered in a funny way.
“Yes, we writers are eccentric,” I agreed. “But we provide entertainment, a quiet moment under a tree or library. We help to pass on stories from generation to generation.” She couldn’t argue with that.
We talked about the good old days and our childhood friends and it felt great having a real conversation. We exchanged phone numbers and promised to stay in touch. I went home in high spirits that day thinking about the fate that had brought us together. I wasn’t going to waste this chance.
The following day, I took off my suit and donned my dungarees. It was time to get back to the real life … to my daytime job. I worked for a construction company and my duties ranged from mixing cement to setting rebar, to any other duties assigned to me. It was hard work, a no brainer job. But it was brutal in terms of weight lifted and the environment; too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. The American economy was at its most delicate in the century and jobs were hard to come across for college dropouts like myself. Most writers had been through this same ordeal. John Grisham for example had sold his books from the trunk of his car, and now his books have been made into movies; Barrack Obama’s first book didn’t sell that many copies until he was elected President. These were their journeys, their stories….and this was mine. It’s our day-to-day jobs and personal lives that fuel our writing… give us something to write about: the traffic on the highway; the way the sun lights the sky in the morning, the employee who got fired, the assignment we didn’t finish, the botched contract …
After work and a quick shower, I rushed to the Church on Boulevard Avenue for a book reading. Afterwards, the Reverend, an older woman with a beautiful smile pulled me to the side and thanked me for the good job I was doing. “My mum and dad are gone, most of their generation is gone,” the Reverend said as we walked down the pews. “All we have left is their stories.” She stopped walking and turned to look at me. “The stories you write will be read by future generations just like we grew up reading about Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King and all other people who have shaped the history of our country.” The Reverend suddenly took me by surprise and hugged me goodbye. The hug warmed up my heart and I knew that I would remember her words for a long time.
On Friday and after a long week at work, I called Alice to see whether she was available to hang out. She said that she was driving to the countryside but I was welcome to join her.
I exhaled when I saw her and how beautiful she looked. She was stunning in a green flowery dress that reached slightly above her knees: fashion sunglasses and open sandals. She looked like a woman ready for vacation.
“You look great,” I said as I pecked her on the cheek.
“You look like a tennis player,” she said with a giggle and I realized that she was right when I took a second look at myself: white shorts and a white polo t-shirt. It was fall in Miami and the weather was always unpredictable: the end of summer clashing with an approaching winter. My way of dressing was born out of habit. I had grown up by the beach wearing shorts and I barely remember wearing a shirt until I was like twenty years old.
We drove by the beach in her open convertible and the cool breeze from the Atlantic Ocean massaged our faces. Miami was beautiful when the sun came out: half naked folks held hands on the beach; and in the distance, I saw smoke rise into the sky from a sailing ship. Miami had been ranked the cleanest city in America in 2009 for its year round good quality air, vast green spaces, clean drinking water, clean streets and city wide recycling programs.
The destination was a ranch in the country and I was awed by the size of the house and compound.
“You live here?” I asked her.
“Yes… sometimes.” Alice simply replied and offered no further explanation. It was the way that she said it that discouraged me from pursuing the conversation. I wanted to ask her about what she did in life and how she made her money but I didn’t think that the timing was right.
The house was a single story, U-shaped design with four bedrooms and a separate living area. The outside was brick and a beige carpet cushioned the living room floor.
It was afternoon when we finally settled in and after a good lunch, which Alice made, we walked through the sliding backdoor into the stable. Here, I was astonished by the size of the horses, five of them to be more specific. She led a white mare into the open and asked me to climb up. I was scared but wasn’t ready to admit it. She showed me how to hold the reigns and ride on a slow trot and it didn’t take long for me to learn. My face flashed with excitement and she laughed at me.
“You look like a little boy.”
I half looked at her and smiled. My groin hurt already but I hadn’t been this happy in a long time. She jumped on a black stallion and side-by-side we trotted through the ranch. She cut an impressive figure on top of the horse.
“Who takes care of the horses?” I asked.
“The neighbors,” she replied again in that cut tone that said I don’t want to talk about it. I decided to stick to more open topics that we could both enjoy, like childhood stories for example.
“I hate the way they treat horses in the movies,” Alice said at one point.
“I don’t understand.”
She sighed. “You have to know horses to see it.” She paused. “Most of the actors are taught to ride horses for the sake of the movie, and you can tell by the way they hold the reigns and yank at the ropes. They hurt the horses and it angers me.”
I had never thought about it and her passion for horses touched me immensely.
She continued. “Have you ever watched the Lord of the Rings?”
I laughed. “Only a thousand times.” I owned the movie.
She smiled. “Watch the way Viggo Mortensen rides his horse. That’s the way everybody should ride. He holds the reigns ever so gently and you can tell by the way the horse trots that it’s at ease with its rider.”
Alice fascinated me in ways that I had never imagined. “Were you always this interesting as a kid?” I asked her and she laughed.
“It feels like a long time ago.” She looked happy and I imagined that I looked the same.
We dismounted, held hands and walked through the trees. “I expected the hands of a writer to be soft,” she said and I silently cursed my construction job.
In the evening she cooked dinner and we watched the Lord of the Rings Movie together by the fireplace, and later on crept into her bed. We talked deep into the night and the thought of making love never once crossed my mind. Being with her was all that mattered to me. She made me feel alive and worthy. She reminded me of who I used to be, before the world changed me.
After two days with Alice, I knew that I couldn’t live without her. She was the woman that I had been waiting for all my life.
“I love you Alice,” I told her on Sunday right before we drove back.
She looked uneasy for the first time and I realized that I had overstepped my boundary. “Love is a big word Dick.” She revved the gas and swung into the highway.
I was quiet. She glanced at me and then asked. “How do you know?”
I looked at the countryside slipping beside me. “Its like my grandma used to tell me, you will know when it happens to you. Nobody can explain the feeling. You only know when it happens to you.”
Alice didn’t reply and so we drove on in silence. I thought the car was moving too fast. I wanted to cling on to her presence for as long as I could.
I kissed Alice goodbye when we arrived back and she looked me in the eye with a searching expression.
“Did you mean what you said back there?” she asked. I nodded and she pursed her lips.
“I had fun with you Dick,” she said. “One day you will meet someone special who will give you the kind of love that you deserve.”
“Are you saying goodbye to me?” I asked in astonishment. I couldn’t believe her words.
She took a step back. “I have to go now. Take care of yourself my childhood friend.” She ran into her car and sped away.
I stood there for a long time trying to understand what had happened. I replayed the time we had spent together in the ranch and tried to find fault in what I had said or done wrong, but I couldn’t figure out anything. I shook my head in dilemma and went home.
They came for me that night at 10pm just when I was getting ready for bed. Five men burst through my front door, pistols and scorpion machine guns in their hands. I stood there and watched them in shock, my brain furiously trying to digest what was happening. The first man got to me and rammed his machine gun into my stomach forcing me to double over. He slammed a big fist into my head and the ground rushed to meet me as I fell. They grabbed me by my right hand and dragged me across the floor and the friction from the carpet burned through my pants. I could hear them ransacking through the house, going from room to room, from drawer to drawer… searching for something. My brain was incapable of comprehending anything and I became numb when they threw me in the trunk of a car. I knew then that they were going to kill me.
How many times had I seen this happening in the movies? The ending was never pretty. Who were these men and what had I done to deserve this?
The ride was bumpy and I hit my head a couple of times before we jolted to a stop. My plan was to run for it as soon as the trunk popped open. It did when the car stopped and I jumped through like a bullet. I don’t remember much of what happened next but am pretty sure that I met a fist with my face. I was down again being dragged through the grass. There was laughter around me, funny conversation. ‘The fool thought that we would fall for that!’
These were not ordinary men, I realized. They were battle-hardened spooks. They had been down this road before I could tell. Blood gushed from a cut on my face.
Finally we stopped and I knew that my time was up. They slapped me on the face and poured cold water over my head. “Oh Diiick, where are youuuu?” they sang playfully.
They knew my name! I was suddenly awake and focused. I could see them clearly, and more so the man in front of me. He looked Italian, American Italian with a big nose; smug face adorned with brown beard.
“Do you know a girl named Alice?” the man asked with a fake accent.
“Yes.” I said in a scared voice. I never saw him move but a pistol slammed into my jaw and I dropped on my knees shaking. My whole body began to spasm and blood trickled down my mouth. My jaw was broken! “Wrong answer!” the man calmly said. “I will ask you again. Do you know a girl called Alice?”
“No.” I replied in fear. “No I don’t!”
He sighed and lit a cigarette. “See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” The tone of a sadist.
“I didn’t touch her,” I mumbled.
“What was that? Did you say something?”
I searched for strength. “I di…n’t touch her.” I repeated.
“What are you saying Dick? That you don’t have a pair down there?”
I couldn’t answer and so I kept quiet and endured their laughter. Hot tears burned my face and no, I wasn’t a coward; I was just hurt and in shock.
The big man motioned to one of the goons and I heard something fall beside me. A spade? Yes it was.
“Dig?” The man ordered in a deep voice.
I stared at the spade in horror.
I heard the click of the gun and span around. “Dig! The man repeated and I knew that he wasn’t going to say it again. With one eye on the gun, I grabbed the spade and broke the ground. Blood dripped from the corner of my mouth and soaked my shirt, my whole body shook with pain but the sight of the gun gave me adrenaline and I dug like a madman. What was I doing? I asked myself. I was digging my own grave. Why? They would kill me anyway; why not let them dig the hole? It was the logic thing to do but I was beyond logic. I guess, a subconscious part of me understood that digging gave me a little more time to live… minutes…seconds.
I dug for hours in sheer drudgery until I vanished into the hole. My clothes and hair soaked in sweat and suddenly, I couldn’t see anything but darkness. I was six feet under, inside my own grave. I looked up and saw the stars and the moon, and the beauty of the constellation was lost on me. A claustrophobic feeling engulfed me but I was too exhausted to do anything else and so I dropped on my knees and waited for my death… for the bullet in the head… for the inevitable darkness. “Alice”, I whispered. Alice. I will see you again… someday… maybe.
Nothing happened. The gunshot never came. I couldn’t hear the men’s voices either. I was too scared to call and so I lay there for hours praying on the freshly dug soil… prayed that they had left. My body trembled both from fear and pain and I knew that I had lost too much blood too quickly.
Images flashed through my mind. At first it was Alice and then my parents. The images slipped away and were quickly replaced with those of my childhood friends and then those too vanished and my mind went blank. I was incapable of holding a single thought down. I started hearing incoherent voices in my head: Knock knock! Who’s there? Amos. Amos who? A mosquito… my name is Dick Falcon and am ten years old. Today I will recite a poem for you… Congratulations on your new book Mr. Falcon… I love you Alice …Why don’t you google your own girlfriend… Oh Diiiiiick! Where are yoouuu! I cuddled myself like a fetus and rocked myself like a child.
At dawn, and heart pounding, I entertained the first thought of living, and began the hard chore of crawling out of my own grave. The orange of the morning sun broke through the horizon and warm light bathed my skin. My head popped out of the hole and whirled around like a snake… searching… hoping for… holding my breath …
To be continued…
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...