At what cost do we sweep aside the negative decisions made behind the glass panes at the embassy. Another family denied entry.

Shaun made that decision daily. Beers at the ambassadors' mansion helped him forget the broken dreams.

Photo by OC Gonzalez on Unsplash

Nikki sat across the way, looked like she was knitting but wasn’t. She got stuck in mid/stitch. Just moments ago I’d a sworn she seemed happy and occupied.

We were alone in the space in front of the fireplace, a large round carpet held our chairs and our labs' cushion. The wind was barely blowing outside, just enough so that the little house occasionally creaked. Nikki had some sugared plantains in the stove, and the delicious aroma filled the house.

“What is it Nikki, you seem, you seem, um, like I don’t know, you were there a minute ago enjoying the fire, I…”

“I’m just thinking about the rent, where will that come from next month?” Nikki put her knitting on her lap, freeing her hands.

“Why worry about the things that are out of our reach.?” I smiled, knowing it took very little to get her to come around. Please do not misunderstand. It was easy to have her come around on an issue, not because it didn’t take much to convince her! Her compassion and wisdom placed her in that rare and admirable place amongst humans who knew to pick differences carefully, avoiding many heartaches and headaches. Somewhere she’d learned the art of letting go. Her official title should rightly be Madame Secretary-General for the United Nations. “Hey, I’m not too worried Nikki. Hell. My Social arrived a couple of days ago, so…”

“Sure, that’s great, but your ‘Socho’ will not cover us for the month. I’m going to look for work again. I don’t like feeling like we’re at the mercy of how much money we have coming in.” She picked up her knitting and made some halfhearted stabs at getting some more loops stitched in.

Nikki is Honduran and has refused to learn English throughout the years, ‘we live in Guatemala…’, a logic I can’t to this date find any fault in. She pronounces Social as ‘Socho’. For all the politically wrong reasons I love it, but god help me if I ever mimic her mispronunciation… Yes, I’ve made that stupid mistake.

She started knitting a short time ago to the families’ amusement. Nikki is one of the most active people I know. At first, when she sat to knit something inside me questioned what in the world was going to hell in a handbasket. The boys said it made her look gramma like way too soon. Now when she knits, I try my best not to see it as the activity of a restless soul. She’d cut through all of that with a smile and say: “I’m just trying something different, no cause for concern…”.

Observing her now in light of the current conversation, the fire glow, the knitting didn’t fit her.

Something underfoot, no question, could feel it, as though my wife was following up on a hidden agenda…

“Honey, I could always go back to doing what I did when I first met you. The Coronel is still in the embassy and my old boss oversees that part of the embassy. Nothing paid like that. Remember, you were the one who told me to stop doing that kind of work. I was the best, and the best meant and still means never getting too close.” The memories were always just around the corner. Mostly the eyes. They seemed to speak and say: ‘So this is it, huh? Have you ever wondered what it would be like being in my shoes?’

“Shaun, you know I could never ask you to go back to that, my god, what it must have done to you, I can’t even imagine. You’ve mentioned it, now, what, after how many years? I’ve always wanted to ask you if, if it affected, I mean, do you think about it, Shaun?” Nikki got on her knees and jabbed the flames with the poker. Sparks shook loose with a crackle and rose energized up the old brick chimney.

Those many years ago Nikki left to stay with her mother at Valle del Angel. She couldn’t ‘live with a racist…’ After two weeks her mother sent her back to me assuring and reminding Nikki I was not a bad man, perhaps confused and that I needed her.

“We agreed to never speak of those times, my dear. Having said that Nikki, I’m sure it would be the way out. I’m sure that all it would take is a call to the the embassy. That line of work will never go out of style.” My choosing of the word style, hardly applicable, stuck somewhere in my head.

“Shaun, you told me that, you assured me back then that the world was a better place because of the work you did. Do you believe that still?” She said in a low voice as though Franklin our old lab, sound asleep at Nikkis’ slippered feet might listen in. Her lowered voice also betrayed that she was immediately sorry about what she said.

“It was work that I still believe to this day, perhaps even more so still, and someone has to do it, Nikki.” A day didn’t go by, I didn’t think about it. Not so much of the necessity, rather the graphic images of completing the task. The look on their faces, the families when told no. As time went by, I believed in the merit of my former job less and less.

There are those who talk about fixing things, there are far fewer who do something about it. A family in a shack somewhere in Guatemala, a woman crying softly. Her man on the dirt floor passed out and full of shame and frustration. The small children crying, one child dumbstruck. This was every night, thousands, all in the name of the new and the positive changes that those in power promised. Someone had to make the face-to-face decision. That was me in the air-conditioned trenches.

They decided early in this new Administration in Washington to keep them out. I now ask if that’s right. Every nation has a right to control its borders but at this human expense? I don’t think so too much now.

It was to help bring these things to an end that I agreed to take part in. Before getting out of the military, I worked for the Coronel at the border. The Coronel assured me we fought the tsunami wave of crime and drugs. Another way to put it is it takes a monster to put down a monster. Now I wonder just who or what the monster is.

The same promises.

I realized so many years ago that for power to take hold, dark, evil power, to really and truly take hold there had to be violence. Were it not for the violence, then it always remained in the world of empty talk. Had there been no violence then it stayed in the university classrooms, the flowery and erudite spewing of the newly arrived young and recently minted professor. Or the long flowing blabbering of a grey-haired silverback prof who the authorities long before determined was not a threat. Good for him or her or they’d be dead sooner or later. Do you see? Theory is theory, simply words spoken, words written, and read.

But then whatever happened to free speech?

Often I would think about the ones who just spoke but did nothing. Too often these same ones eventually caused untold death and suffering. They didn’t care they were far away, in a comfortable place when the blade struck the stone and the sparks flew. The look in their eyes. The self-accommodating thinking so necessary. Others learned how to shut it out, compartmentalize, the strength available to youth, only to have ghosts rise in their chests years later, consumed, awakened sweating another nightmare away. Others tried to spit, and I knew why. A family climbing on the chicken bus on its last bit of money, the promised-land just placed out of their reach. More than likely forever.

Thanks to me.

On the other hand, next time you enjoy a pleasant evening meal, your wife kisses you, your children thank you for something. No one watching from a distance, you don’t have to cover up and what is yours is yours. These things remember, come at a price. They made a decision either yesterday, a year ago, or many decades ago, hundreds of years ago. Who is right? Who can say? You? Me? Them? Us? It comes down to that, and until the tides change once again, as they will always do, we thank those who did what was necessary.

Just look around at the failed experiments, grey and grime-covered monuments to an impossible utopia, the five-year plan, sugar for everyone…

The Coronel used to speak thus. He’d been my mentor, even after I left the service. Not so sure anymore about those things. Too much suffering.

“Nikki, it’s like this in a way: unless one raises a hand to stop something to make an impact, whatever that may be, it simply remains a part of a story, a fiction, a dream, and nothing more.” I never ventured into this sideways thinking anymore. We had determined all those years ago to find a way that assured us of a normal life.

Madame Secretary-General. I could feel her eyes upon me. Poor me. Not a chance for me in this exchange. She didn’t have to say a word. What I had done, no matter how righteous it felt then and still now, the argument to defend the activity didn’t exist. Deep inside, I accepted this. My retirement would’ve been from the embassy rather than sales. My Social Security monthlies would have been higher.

Ideology aside, the job was good and paid well.

That first phase of my life all started when I enlisted. Before I knew Nikki. Young, ideals driven and unusually skilled. It was just a couple years later, perhaps too late, that I gave up that kind of existence. I gave up that existence because it was wrong. Contrary to my Coronels always ready answers to life’s puzzles, how he explained the need for our kind of work fell on eager, younger ears. Then I grew older. Then I married Nikki.

Thinking back. Those days spent behind the thick, bulletproof glass, the decision yes or no all day long. Once a month they invited us to play volleyball at the ambassador’s mansion and drink Buds and Millers and eat hot dogs. Part of the team. Go on, have a beer on Uncle Sam and forget about it.

But now retired and getting my Social. My later work after I left the embassy was in sales. We have our family, love each other, have a few friends, a small house, what more could anyone ask for. But we need to figure out what next. How to support ourselves…

Back then it was when the powerful desired more, more was required so that the dead began to show on the sides of the lonely mountain roads throughout Central America.

Thunder rolled across the middle night, lightning flashes in the far distance, mountains lit up ever so briefly. Almost too obvious with all the symbolism. But then that’s what it was to be human, right? We attach things to things to shape meaning to reconcile our actions. How we explain away what we do or did. The wind picked up and a door slammed; the upper branches of our trees in non-stop motion.

“Really storming out there somewhere, my dear. The news said there was a front rolling through just north of us. The yard will appreciate a little rain.” I coughed and regarded Nikki's silence, I could tell she was down a road in thought, was she really considering such a thing? Concerned that I might take the old job back?

“The water reminds me of an idea they were talking about at the bookstore at rainbow Cafe, a not so new industry, getting real big, called hydroponics, freshest vegetables on the planet, no damage to the ecology and there’s an enormous market developing.” I glance at Nikki for a reaction.

She said: “I hope it rains, though not so much that the small farmers get washed out. Remember this time last year, that whole town came down the side of the volcano. Some are luckier, or some just miss the bad stuff.” Nikki was watching me, I sensed she wanted the previous thread of talk to continue, to unwind, or is it to unravel. A real difference, you know. Her choice of words were off to the side, though. She wasn’t thinking about flooding volcanos.

I tried to push it along. “Joe and Maria sure struggled with their latest birth. Well, I should say, Maria, I know. But you know what I mean, they’ve had a rough time with that. Someone’s email said earlier that they’d be home with their new baby girl tomorrow. We could go over there and…”

“We need to take care with the virus thing, Shaun. Not so much them rather more us, if one of us gets it, you know. They’re in the hospital, they say that’s the worst place to be. But we’ll get over to their house sometime, or you know, send them something. Renata is the baby’s name, which I absolutely love.” Nikki’s smile never failed to melt something in me, even after all these years. Rather than declining, it simply became more. I heard somewhere that as long as this melting continued, even grew in frequency, that this was the face of mature love.

“Renata, huh? Well, I mean, is there a nickname or…”

“Oh come on Shaun, don’t tell me you don’t like the name, it’s beautiful, exotic, just sort of rolls nicely.” She said nodding her head. Goes without saying that when Nikki says Renata in Spanish, it gives it a special feel.

Funny how those things are. The importance of talk, the need for carrying on the conversation. Years ago, I’d reached that rather lofty conclusion. To remain strong and vital, a couple needed to talk. Vital meaning like active, with life, to make it interesting. A couple had to push along the conversation! I recall seeing couples, of all ages, sitting in a restaurant across from each other and not a shared word. Even before the internet, silence. At least now you see them pecking away on their devices.

“Nikki, your monthly travel article is getting readers, and it’s been a real help. I remember you started it as a hobby and look at it now. Along with the two small rentals we have. That and my ‘Socho’. I think we’re going to be okay.”

Thunder cracked again after a flash of light. Franklin raised his beautiful and aging yellow head and looked over at me, set his soul tugging black eyes on me as though insinuating: Shaun, we know that deep down you aren’t the shit you present yourself as. Who was calming whom, I wondered. I wondered too what the hell that meant.

You know how sometimes a moment comes and then goes, gone forever as is the nature of time? A human thing. Conditioned. And surely you’ve also noticed as the moment passed it took something with it?



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Tom Jacobson

Tom Jacobson

Discovered the world of Medium some years ago. Amazing! Published first book, romantic adventure in Guatemala and Nicaragua, on Amazon. Title Lenka: Love Story.