Shades

Image

Victor Rams met Nadia one summer afternoon on a Greek island.

Nadia was only fifteen. But that didn’t matter to Victor Rams.

He had a lot of money — clearly — and on that particular day was wearing a white silk tussore suit and polished two-tone saddle shoes.

Nadia was browning her back in the sun on a colorful blanket. The straps of her black bikini top lay at her elbows in the hot sand.

She had come to the island with her brother, Vikram. Vikram ignored her; he was interested only in Greek girlfriends.

Their mother was Indian; their father, British. They’d both stayed behind in London.

Nadia was bored in Greece. She hadn’t made any friends. She didn’t go dancing in the discos — or, if she did, she remained cool, unimpressed by the noise and laughter.

People seemed to avoid her, especially the boys — although she was beautiful. Maybe it was something in her gaze.

Victor saw her on the beach, browning her back in the sun though she was already deeply bronzed. She didn’t notice him. Her eyes were shut. Maybe she was asleep.

Later he saw her sipping Coke in a dismal little cafe. He approached her. She swung her bare legs, lazily.

And her eyes looked at him. Victor sat down at the table. He smiled at her. She said:

-Take off your shades, won’t you?

He did. He put them on the table. They looked at each other. The waitress came over. Victor ordered an ouzo.

It seemed to him that his desire for Nadia heightened everything and that he would remember every single detail of this afternoon — the cafe, the cheap posters, the cane chairs, the metal topped table — along with the shape of Nadia’s scowling lips, forever.

As dusk fell, as the sun sank into the Ionian sea, Victor was looking at Nadia’s ear and at the dark hair curled behind it and feeling extremely drunk, when her voice said:

-Have you ever wanted to kill someone?

Victor said he had.

She scowled.

-No, she said, not someone you know. Just pick someone, for no reason in particular, then stalk and kill him. Or her.

They sat in silence watching groups of people wander past. Some were on their way to discos, some to bars and cafes, and some were just coming back from the beach.

Victor licked his lips. Finally, he said under his breath, as if exclaiming only for his own benefit:

Quelle idee! (What an idea!)

His voice suffused with raw admiration.

-Want to try it? Nadia asked.

-Why not, Victor said. Who?

They were silent. Two Greek men walked past holding hands. Then a bare breasted girl in sandals and a red skirt.

-Anyone at all, Nadia said, shrugging. It doesn’t matter.

The One-Armed Man in the Military Greatcoat

I talked with a young man in a military greatcoat. His right sleeve was pinned to the shoulder. He was rolling a cigarette one handed as I approached him. He offered me one. I don’t smoke, but I took it and put it in my dry lips. He lit it for me. I couldn’t follow how he managed that. He was holding a matchbox in his one hand, and then out came a match and his fingers struck it into flame. I bent to let him light the hand rolled cigarette for me. The yellow chamois tobacco pouch lay in his lap. He blew out the match and tossed it away smoking. Nearby us a Japanese girl was playing with a red ball. The man in the greatcoat said he’d picked her up in the Empty Lands. I asked what that was, and where. He said: It’s a barren place, mostly just grasses and low hills, but sometimes you see a broken tower, or even a dome that turns out to be a ruined astral observatory. I asked him what other creatures he had met there. He said: A blue eyed coyote. A big raven holding a red thread in its beak. A few white owls. And this little girl here. She was walking around dazed. I took her along with me although I didn’t know where I was heading. Eventually we reached a kind of ampitheater. We walked around it. There were old broken statues in niches. It was twilight, but it’s always twilight in the Empty Lands. I saw bats shooting overhead. Then I saw a shooting star. It was night. The starry sky was vast and it took my breath away. But it didn’t look real. It was different than the starry sky here on earth. I tried to find the constellations. Couldn’t. Where was the Big Dipper? Orion? Gone. In their place were other stars in other relationships.

I asked him where he’d lost the arm. He said: At the Somme. It was probably still there. In the mud. Maybe the rats ate it. He laughed. The little girl dashed to us and crawled onto his lap. I asked her name. The man in the greatcoat said he didn’t know; didn’t even know his own. I asked the little girl where her parents where. She said, In a car. In a car where? The girl’s eyes looked at me. Upside down, she said. Then she jumped from the lap and dashed off, her bare legs red from the cold. I sat down next to the man in the greatcoat. I asked: Do you feel anything strange is happening here? He laughed. Who knows? It was strange to see my arm lying in the mud. After that, nothing seemed strange.

I asked how he’d thought to come back. He drew in a hiss of air through his nostrils. Then laughed. Thought? Yes, I said, picking a shred of tobacco from my lips. He shook his head slowly. He bit his lower lip, released it. Then he said. I really don’t know. We walked around for what seemed like years. Then I saw a town. In the distance. There was a beach, a boardwalk, like Atlantic City. A big lit up ferris wheel. There were people, eating ice cream. They were strangely dressed. A man playing an accordion, with a monkey jumping around holding out a hat for coins. It felt like home. We walked into the ocean, the little girl and I. We stood there in the waves. It felt good. Clean. Cool. We were both laughing. When we came back we got on a small train. When we got out of the train, here we were.

Mexican Killing Ballads

MEXICAN KILLING BALLADS by Okamoto is available as a shocking and beautifully crafted little e-book from Amazon/Kindle.

How can you decide if you want to read this dark, gory, poetic and rather crazy little book of stories and micro-stories?

Do you like violence and mayhem told in a morose, sensitive, melancholy and lyrical way?

This despairing little book contains a “planed-down-to-bareness” story that is one of my own personal favorites of all I’ve written over the years: “The Coffin Maker’s Son.”