We sat naked on the bed and stared ahead at the vacant wall.

           “You know that I love my wife?” I said.

           “You have a funny way of showing it,” she replied.

 

The Broken Arrow

 

           
The music on the dance floor blared to hip-hop and I watched the girl waltz and wiggle her body. She knew that I was watching and the performance was meant for my eyes.

           “So are you going to do it?” A voice beside me asked.

            I turned and smiled at the captain, but said nothing.

           “The boys are betting that you can’t,” the captain continued. I turned and saw the other soccer players watching me. Each of them had a girl in his arms and I was the last man standing.

           “I can do it,” I told the captain. And then to prove myself walked confidently into the dance floor and started dancing with the girl I had been watching. She smiled and upgraded her performance to something more erotic. I turned and saw the captain walking back to the table, a complacent look on his face.

           We were five hours away from home and spending the night in a hotel after winning a tough soccer game. Most of the players ranged between the age of twenty two and thirty five, some married and others single. But tonight, none
of that mattered. We would all forget about our other lives and be boys again. Those things that had been denied to us by the institution of marriage, we would relish in them and have a great time. Here, and five hours away from
home, we lived by one code and one code only, 'what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas'. It was why the boys were nervous when I didn’t join their charade. We were a team to the end, in both the good and the bad times, on and off the
field.

           The hotel did not allow unregistered guests and so my girl and I sneaked in through the back door and walked hurriedly down the dimly lit corridors to my room. Conversation was minimal as we slowly took off our clothes, my actions
bereft of reasoning.

           “You have never done this before?” she asked as her blouse fell on the carpet.

           “How do you know?” I asked defiantly.

           “Your hands are shaking.” Her voice was calm and unrushed as she took the baseball cap off my head. She was in her element and had done this countless of times.

           I pursed my lips and wiped the beads of sweat pouring down my face, my faded jeans dropped to the floor. We sat on the bed naked and stared ahead in awkward silence, and it was only a second later that she realized that I wasn't going to initiate the next move.

           “Will it help if I turn off the lights?” she asked.

           “Yes,” I replied.

           I woke up at 5am and shook her awake. “You have to go now!” I whispered and realized that I didn’t know her name.

            "It's too early," she protested.

            "The coach is coming to check our rooms," I lied. "You have to go!"

            "You have my money?" she asked as she grabbed her clothes.

            I shoved some green paper into her hand then walked her down the corridors. A cleaning lady smiled at me and I quickly looked away. A few minutes later in my room, I leaned against the door and sighed in relief. I was glad that nobody
else had seen me.

           My cell phone went off and I ran across the room and looked at the caller ID. It was my wife Mercy. I didn’t want to talk to her in the state of mind that I was in and so I jumped into the shower and stayed there for a very long time wondering about my broken moral compass. All my life, I had been very outspoken about infidelity.

           My lotion and deodorants were in the bag. I stepped out of the shower and clumsily grabbed the contents from inside the sports bag. A white envelope floated in the air and landed softly on the bathroom floor. I stared at it with a blank expression as I tried to imagine where it had come from. I had done my own packing and that envelope had not been in the mix. I picked it up with a puzzled expression and ripped it open. Inside was a single pink card with one
sentence inscribed.

From your loving wife Mercy, I love you
so much.

 

        Towel around my waist, I sat on the toilet seat and stared at the words. The tears came shortly after and I buried my face in my hands and wept. What had I done? How could I have been so
stupid?

           Back on the team bus, the boys whistled and gave me hi fives.

           “You the man Henry!” they yelled.

           I managed a wry smile and headed for the back window seat: a five hour drive in a world full of worry and guilt. Life whizzed by outside the bus window but all I saw was a blur.

           The decision to buy flowers on my way home was impulsive but it was a perfectly
normal gesture in saying thank you for the card. Mercy squealed when she saw the red roses.

           “They are beautiful honey,” she said as she took them from me.

           “Ouch!” I suddenly yelled.

           “What is it?” she asked in a worried tone.

           “The rose pricked my finger.” I sucked at my thumb and my wife narrowed her eyes at me.

           “Are you okay?” she asked. She looked flawless.

           “Ya. Thanks for the card. That was a lovely surprise.”

           She leaned over and kissed my lips. “You know that I love you right?”

           “I do. But I love you more.”

           We stared into each other’s eyes and at that moment I knew that I could never love anybody else as much as I loved her.

 

           She found the condom a week later at the bottom of my traveling bag just as I was beginning to think that everything would be okay. I found her on the porch swinging on the patio furniture staring at our lovely garden. She looked up when I walked through the door.

           “Is there anything I need to know Henry?” she asked in a dead calm voice.

           A look of confusion crossed my face until I saw the rubber cradled in her hand. “Oh that,” I said carelessly. “The boys were trying to hook me up with one of the girls but I told them that I was married. Was that in my bag? I’m sorry honey, I should have thrown it away.”

           Her eyes bore through me and I felt my nerves jump. I could tell that she was
very upset.

           “You wouldn’t lie to me now, would you?” she asked.

           I cut the space between us and took her hand into mine. “No Mercy! You have to believe me. I swear. Why would I try to hurt you like that?”

           She pulled her hand away and slowly stood up. I knew better not to follow her and so slumped into a chair and watched her walk around the garden as though admiring her years of sweat. The flower beds looked pretty but the lonely sight
of her was very disturbing. Suddenly, she buckled her knees and started uprooting the flowers, throwing them all over the place. The mud caught her clothes and smeared her face in the process. I ran over and grabbed her in a bear hug, wrestled her to the ground under the tree. When she realized that she couldn’t budge, she stopped struggling and started crying.

           “I’m sorry Mercy,” I whispered in a tremulous voice. “I’m sorry for hurting you. But I didn’t do anything. I didn’t cheat on you. I swear!”

           We stayed like that for an hour, crying and whispering and when she finally ran out of tears, her body went limp and she just lay there. The time was 7pm as dusk gradually evolved into night. I picked up her limp body and carried her to the bathroom. I ran warm water into the bathtub, took off her clothes and placed her gently in the water. The water instantly turned brown from the mud and I was forced to drain it twice to make sure that she was clean. The bed creaked as I placed her lifeless body on top and draped her with silk linen. She started crying again and I wrapped my arms around her and held her, cooing softly into her ears the whole time. She cried copiously and fell asleep with tear stains on her
face. I was her red zone, her last line of defense, and I had not protected her. I felt like the scam of the earth.

 

           The following day when I came home she was gone, and so were her things. I called her phone but it was switched off. I called her mother and she confirmed that her daughter was with her.

           “She doesn’t want to be bothered Henry. Please stay away.” The warning was loud
and clear.

           I drove over to her mother’s house and banged on the door despite the warning. “Mercy!” I yelled. “Mercy!”

           The door opened and her big brother appeared, blocking every inch of the entrance so I could not see inside.

           “I want to see her Jake! I need to see her.”

           Jake was a body builder who spoke little. “Listen here Henry,” he said as he stepped outside and closed the door. “I have always liked you. You know that. But this is my sister we are talking about. If you come here again, I will call the cops and we will get a restraining order on you.”

           I knew enough about retraining orders and so I took a quick step back. “Please Jake, just tell her that I love her. Just tell her that for me, will you?”

           Big brother nodded sympathetically and watched me drive away.

           
The next month was the worst in my life. I put my head down and tunneled my way through the days. The captain found me one day sitting alone on the bus after a tough game.

           “Nice game Henry,” he congratulated as he sat next to me.

           I nodded without saying a word.

           “Your wife hasn’t returned yet?” he asked in a concerned voice.

           “No,” I replied with a sad expression.

           “I’m sorry Henry. It’s all our fault for placing you in this position.”

           “No,” I said. “I’m a grown man. I messed up. Peer pressure is not an excuse.”

           The captain looked up as the other boys walked into the bus and I could see him
struggling for words of closure. I laughed suddenly and he looked surprised.

            “You know what’s funny?” I asked.

           “What’s that?”

           “I didn’t even do it.” I laughed again. “I didn’t cheat on my wife. We were there in the dark room and the moment she reached for me, I said no. I paid her yes, but I didn’t cheat on my wife.”

           The captain smiled. “We know.”

           I turned and fixed him with a rigid gaze. “You knew all this time?”

           “She’s a regular. She told us.”

 

 

           
July 4th Independence Day 9.30pm

 

           I sat on the apartment balcony and watched the fireworks in the distance. My
phone went off for the hundredth time and I ignored it. I knew that it was the coach looking for me and wondering why I hadn’t shown up for the big match against the Red Bulls of New York. It was a game that every player on the team had dreamt off, especially so because the legendary Thiery from
France played for the opponent side. A sell out stadium was every soccer player's dream come true: to imagine the eyes of 70,000 fans watching your every move and hear their voices rise like thunder as you make that magic cross over dance, leaving an opponent lying eagle spread on the grass.

           My thrill for competition was gone. I reached down for my tenth beer and took a long swig. It felt good being drunk. It dulled my senses and made me feel light in the head. Somewhere in the distance, a cannon ball exploded and I envisioned the cloud of gunpowder smoke rising from the artillery.

           I woke up at 11pm and found myself asleep on the balcony’s hardwood floor, my body cold. I picked myself up and trudged over to the bedroom but when I tried to sleep, my eyes
wouldn’t stay shut. Images of my crying wife started dancing around the room and everywhere I turned she was there: a sad face, a broken heart. I had failed her. I had let her down.

           And then I had another vision, this one far worse than anything I could fathom. I saw her in the arms of another man, happily married. She waved at me and told me that we should try and be friends. And that, I could not take. Friends? How could I make her believe in me again? What was life without her?

           My mind was in a very dark place as I slid naked into the bathtub. I wasn’t sure what I was doing but the voices in my head were full of conviction. I looked at our wedding photograph for the last time and then set the framed picture aside. There was only one way to prove my love to her. My breath came in short swells as I took the blade and slit my wrist, and then slowly slid into the water. Better days were nothing but a dream.

It wasn't the quickest way to go but eventually the heart would realize that no more blood was coming and it would switch gears to an irregular beat. Cardiac arrest would follow shortly. I smiled sadly. Finally, I could see my way ahead
clearly… freedom… sanctuary… Independence Day. Somewhere in the other room, my cell phone went off again.

            

           

           The voices around me were distant, the faces blurry. I tried to raise my head but someone pushed it down. I heard a voice and saw the flickering lights and it dawned on me that I was inside an ambulance.

           I woke up the following day and white linens immediately alerted me of my location. I turned and saw my parents looking down at me with tears in their eyes.

           “Mum, dad?” I whispered and they cut the distance and hugged me.

           “How did I get here?” I asked.

           “The soccer coach sent someone to come and find you. They saw the empty beer bottles on your balcony and jumped into your room. Good thing you don’t live on the third floor.” Pause. “Why son? Why would you do this yourself?”

           They knew the answer but they dared not mention her, especially not now.

           “Does she know?” I asked.

           “Yes she does,” dad replied solemnly. I searched the room over their shoulders with
expectant eyes but did not see her.

           “She’s not here,” mum said in a chagrin voice. And there it was, the painful truth, the end of a relationship.

           
The police came and I was committed to a psychiatric ward or what they called a crisis stabilizing unit. While other wards specialized in the treatment of serious mental disorders, such as clinical depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, I was purely termed as a danger to myself and my duration of stay would be determined by how I responded to treatment.

           Her name was Nurse Mary and at six feet and two hundred pounds, I couldn’t tell whether she was a woman or a man. And, I didn’t want to find out either and so I stayed quiet and obedient in the hope that they would eventually let me go home. It didn’t take long for me to understand the meaning of the word freedom: it’s a lot easier to understand freedom when it’s taken away. The security in the hospital was basic and designed to keep patients inside through digital codes on the doors. But as basic as it was, I felt trapped.

           The days ahead were full of remorse and I felt ashamed at my behavior. I still remembered the look on my parents' faces at the hospital and now realized that below all the layers of love and relief, there had been something else there: the word here is shame. My parents were ashamed of my cowardly choice of facing life's challenges.

           Nurse Mary called me to her office for a beat down conversation and asked me if I had anything to say.

“No,” I replied in a timid voice.

“You have used up all your nine lives son. There will be no come back next time. Are you going to try and kill yourself again?” she asked with a scowl as she sipped on a starbucks cup of coffee. I noticed that her thick snowy hair was a wig.

           “No,” I replied. “It was foolish and selfish of me to do that. My wife is gone and I am to blame for it. But now I have to move on.” A patient screamed down the hall. Silence.

           The nurse gave me a curious look. “Are you yanking my chains boy?” she demanded.

           “No, no. I wouldn’t do that!”

 

           
Pandering: definition simplified… ah… to say what
someone else wants to hear… to indulge the Nurses' weakness… to make her feel in
control.

 

           
It was while I was in the nurse's office that I saw something that would turn my world around. I stood up and walked over to it. The nurse watched me with hawk eyes as my hand ran over the machine. “It’s beautiful,” I exclaimed.

           “It’s old,” she said.

           “You don’t find these things anymore,” I added.

           Silence. “Do you want to try it?” she asked.

           I reached out with my hand. “Not here!” she added, “I will have it send to your room.”

           She ran a tight ship and nothing happened in the ward without her knowledge or planning. I studied her face and for the first time saw what looked like a smile; realized that she wasn’t joking and so scampered down the corridors with a new bounce to my step.

           The old typewriter was delivered to my room later on in the day and I wound it up and started punching the keys. I had almost died, but my wife hadn’t come to see me. What if I had died?
Would she have come then?
It was all the material I needed.

 

           
A Broken Arrow

I punched the keys like a mad man and allowed free thoughts to flow into my fingers; my second chance at life a fuzzy reality. In a moment of inspiration, I was incapable of holding back and so I went on a limp and poured my heart out. Somewhere along the way, the words of
Maya Angelou found a home and I smiled as I typed
. Why does the caged bird sing? I asked myself.

 

    A caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
    his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
    his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
    so he opens his throat to sing

 

 

           
December 15, Barnes & Noble Bookstore, 2pm

 

           
Winter came and snow covered the ground like a blanket. The trees looked old and the birds chirped no more. The bookstore door opened and folks
casually walked in. A few came over to my table and bought my book.

           “Is it a true story?” they asked me.

           “Most of it,” I replied. “I hope you enjoy reading it.”

           I signed a few copies and constantly looked at my watch. I wanted to sell books
yes, but mostly I just wanted to go home and type. I wanted the money yes, but the joy of writing a good story could not be replaced by a coin. Writing was the very beat of my heart. It was like talking to someone but only better
because I could actually say what was in my mind without having to worry about other people’s reaction.

           
She walked in at exactly
3.45pm, the door smoothly closing behind her on well oiled hinges. She paused at the entrance and searched the room and then slowly advanced towards me. I felt the air clog in my throat and I knew for sure that my mind was playing tricks on me. It was my wife Mercy, looking radiant in a short red dress and winter boots.

           “Hi Henry,” she greeted as she picked up a copy of my book. “Congratulations,” she added, "You did good for yourself."

           “Tha…nk you,” I managed. I wanted to jump up and kiss her, hug her… tell her
how I had missed her and how sorry I was for breaking her heart.

           “Are you going to sign the copy for me?” she asked and I clumsily grabbed a pen and signed the book.

           “I see that you are still wearing the ring,” she noted.

           “Yes, old habits die hard,” I replied in a scared voice. And then quickly added, “Mercy, can I buy you a drink?”

           She picked up the book, slipped it into her purse and then turned to leave.

           I jumped to my feet in panic. “Mercy?” I called.

           She turned very slowly. “Well,” she said with a smile. “Are you coming?”

In the middle of a cold winter, the sun is up and the birds are once more singing. A ray of hope burns in my heart and stokes the fire. Without hope, we humans have nothing to look forward to, nothing to give purpose to life.

News

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

 

Contact

 

mrobertto@yahoo.com

Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...