Weekly Photo: Reward

By Nora Vasconcelos

reward by NVS

Licencia Creative Commons

‘Your Best Bet’ – Short story

By Nora Vasconcelos

From his window on the plane, Marco saw the first hints of the Rivera Maya. It had been a long journey, visiting different countries in which he had intended to bring some international investors to collaborate with him in his business.

With more good wishes than concrete results, Marco had finished his trip and now it was only a matter of minutes for him to finally be home. He was really anxious to go out of the plane.

He couldn’t help it, any time he was on an aircraft the words of his father came to his mind, over and over: “Die young and die rich.”

What his dad wasn’t aware of was that one day, quite soon, his wish would come true when his jet crashed on a road close to Las Vegas, where he had hoped to repeat his last winning streak which had doubled his fortune with only one very lucky hand.

As a young adult, Marco had never been really interested in his family’s fortune, but it was perhaps because all his life he had been rich, thanks to the ravings of his father at the poker tables, the roulette, and even the slot machines. Gambling all the year-long around the world, money had flowed around his mansion in Rivera Maya, the same as if it were a river full of gold.

Marco often wondered what it’d be like if things were different. “How it’d be to have less money and a full-time dad?”

One day, the same as it’d happened with his father, life fulfilled Marco’s desire …sort of, because with his father’s death, money had stopped flowing and then it was time for him to take matters into his own hands. He and his mum sold their beach house, then they got an apartment in Cancun, and started an ecotourism business in Rivera Maya.

As the business grew, several trips a year were required. People seemed to like Marco’s style and hired him frequently to lead special tours in other countries when they wanted their foreign partners to be impressed so, they would open their wallets and invest in new business ventures. And for that, he had to overcome his aversion to flying.

The first time he got inside a plane -six months after his father’s death-, Marco was victim of an unusual dizziness. It was so strong that he thought he’d pass out in the middle of the flight.

However, continuous breathing exercises and a glass of Bordeaux helped him survived the rest of the trip. Anyway, memories of his dad’s death accompanied him the rest of the way.

Marco though he could remain in control until the plane landed, but it was just when the captain announced that they were about to touch land, when the nightmare began. He started to imagine the last moments in his father’s life. “Was he terribly frightened? Did he have enough time to say a final prayer?”

“For sure he was thinking about his family?” Marco thought, shaking his head. “Did he ever get time..?” He shivered.

Then he felt he couldn’t breathe and a flight attendant had to come close to him to calm him down and help him breathe normally. The plane finally landed, and Marco went on with his trip, knowing that the same terrible thoughts would torment him not only during his flight back, but also during the following flights for a long while.

In general, Marco was the spitting image his father. He had shared his taste for music, so he always enjoyed spending time at the club, listening to any new band that came to town. French wines were always present on the table and Sundays at the ballpark were a must.

Marco’s dad had also encouraged him to acquire all his wisdom regarding the cards and he had done it, but he didn’t enjoy it. However, Marco had always acknowledged his dad’s passion and dedication towards this activity, which he had considered a “real job full of entertainment and excitement.”

Gambling was out of the question for Marco, but he kept from his dad’s passion the complete dedication to his work. He also remembered frequently his father’s advice: “Look son, whenever you go to work be well prepared, measure your opponents in advance, find out what’s happening in the world, be a good conversationalist, dressed well because presence is important, but never look down on anyone just because you’re wearing a fancy suit.”

Marco had remained truthful to his dad’s advice ever since.

Now, several years later, although he ran a successful operation guiding tourists across the natural areas in the Yucatan Peninsula, Central America, and the Caribbean, keeping the business afloat had become more complicated since the problems with the global economy had caused that many people had to stay home for the holidays.

More money was needed, there was no doubt about that, but Marco refused to dismiss any of his employees, and even when he had inherited his dad’s ability at the gambling tables, he had refused to cash on it. So, he decided that finding some international investors would be his only option. “May be the foreign tourists he was taking on a trip tomorrow would be interested in a business deal?” He thought.

It was almost 6pm and the sunset was taking over the ocean view with its brilliant colors. For a few seconds, he fixed his eyes on the horizon. Several buildings were under construction along the bay. This bothered him a little, because all these new towers would block the sea view. But new hotels meant more tourists, and that was just what his business needed.

The following morning, Marco left his apartment very early to guide a group of 8 people who wanted to have a good sailing day on their way to the Caribbean islands where they had planned to spend some time doing business.

They had come from different countries and were interested in developing cruise-trip options for bays, marinas and small beaches not as popular or advertised as other places, but with lots of potential. Their plan was to use small boats that would allow them to offer luxury trips to people who wanted to explore new lands in style.

The first part of the trip was relaxing as the passengers mainly rested or had some snacks, leaving Marco alone. Then, as the vessel reached deeper waters, they seemed to have some interest in the way their guide dealt with the boat’s controls.

Finally, one of them said to him: “Hey, son. We’ve heard you run a good business here.”

Without taking his eyes apart from the horizon, Marco nodded, as the white boat continue getting the splash from the sea.

“We also know that you’re looking for some cash to sustain it,” the man, in shorts and a polo shirt, continued while trying to find a steady position. “What about coming to work with us. You would get some good money, and you can leave someone in charge of everything here,” he said with a hoarse voice.

Out of surprise, Marco seemed tempted for a second to turn his head, as if he wished to be sure that what he had heard was true. But he continued driving his boat steadily.

“What do you want me to do? What I mean is, what kind of job would pay me that much for me to have someone taking care of my business here while I work with you guys?” Marco asked, hoping this was the break he was waiting for.

One of the passengers, wearing a beach shirt and sunglasses, came close to Marco and told him almost in a whisper: “don’t play the fool with us, boy. We all know that you’re a much better player than your dad, he used to brag about it all the time, while we played cards together in Vegas. Finding you here running a legit business was surprising, but we’re sure this is just a front…”

It took a few minutes for Marco to bring the boat to a complete stop. Then he studied briefly all of his passengers, the same as if they were at the poker table, and with a firm voice he told them: “I don’t know what you’ve heard. Whatever my dad said about me being good at gambling, it’s just not true. I will take you to the next port and once there you’re on your own.”

“Come on boy!” The man wearing the polo shirt told him. “Don’t be like that. What’s the point on hiding your talents? You can be rich, the same as your dad was, and we need a talented man to run our casino business on our luxury mini cruises. It’s a win-win situation.”

“On the other hand,” the guy with the sunglasses intervened – getting very close to Marco -, “we’ve heard this is a deep dangerous sea for people who fall off their boats… why to risk it? Why don’t you come closer and tell us that you’ve decided to come to work with us boy…”

(To be continued next Wednesday on: http://www.obinnaudenwe.blogspot.mx/ )

* * *

croosover artwork OK
* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project

Licencia Creative Commons

Weekly Photo: Rule of Thirds

By Nora Vasconcelos

Flower by NVS

*The Rule of Thirds is a photography concept that puts the subject of the photograph off-center, which usually results in blurry space in the rest of the image.

Licencia Creative Commons

‘A Desolate Return from Mexico’ – Short Story

By Nora Vasconcelos

– – –
(Part 2)

A strong noise woke Daniel up.

Not sure of what was happening, he ran around the house looking for Adamma, calling hear aloud: “Where are you aunt?” “Where are you?”

Over and over, he called her until he found Addama leaning on the wall of her sitting room, looking scared and with her eyes fixed on the other corner of the chamber.

The fresh aroma of the acacia, the frangipanis, the oranges, and Queen of the Night had come into the apartment, filling it with all those aromas that were floating in the garden, recently washed up by a heavy rain. The same rainfall that had made the air feel cool and nice.

However, there was nothing cool and nice inside the room. Daniel’s dad rested lifeless on the floor, with his head broken in many pieces the same as one of Addama’s precious porcelain vases. They had been given to her as a present by a rich businessman who travelled often to China, and had brought them here, especially for her.

Horrified at the scene, Daniel didn’t know if he should run towards his dad’s body in case there was still something he could do for him, or if he should seek shelter in Addama’s arms. Instead, he did nothing. He remained where he was. Not able to cry, not even able to move.

Then, the police arrived. A ‘concerned’ neighbour who had happened to pass by, had heard some ‘strange noises’ coming from ‘that woman’s house’, as he had reported it to the dispatcher, when he called the police department.

Looking at the blood around the man’s head, they promptly assumed that Addama was the one to blame for such unspeakable act, and they arrested her seconds later, despite the fact that she claimed several times that she was innocent, that some robbers had come into the house thinking they could get some money from ‘the gentleman who came every afternoon to pick his son up, driving his fancy car.’

Before leaving the apartment, Addama saw how a police officer took Daniel, still in shock, to one of the patrol cars, while other officers inspected the body, the shattered vase and the pieces around, as well as the rest of the place.

Handcuffed, she was taken to the precinct where she was thrown into a crowded jail cell in which all those people who couldn’t afford elegant lawyers were put away until a public defender could take care of their cases, along with 15 or 20 others.

The brief freshness that had come from the strong rainfall, just a short time ago, had been overcome by a warm and humid weather which, inside the cell, became a nasty brew of strong odours that made the simple act of breathing, a very painful one.

The hours passed and Addama fell into a semi-unconscious state that allowed her only to be barely aware of the conversations around her, although she was still able to catch the looks of people, inside and outside the cell, who judged her, as her past was well known in all the town. It didn’t matter that she had quit years ago, even before she had arrived to Williams Island, she, for sure, should be guilty of whatever crime she was charged with.

As the night turned into morning, Addama woke up from a very light sleep that had brought pain and no rest to her body. The shock of the events of the previous day had passed and now that she was completely conscious, she had realized that her situation was a serious one. Would she leave this prison some day?

Wondering about her future made her shiver. And yet, she refused to speak when her attorney appeared. Her silence granted her another 24 hours inside that stinky place. It didn’t matter that the people she was sharing the cell with had changed, the rancid smell that came from everywhere stuck into her clothes the same as into her nose.

But the following morning something unexpected happened. Mr. Belonwu came to precinct. The oldest man in the island, carrying heavily all of those years on him, years that people said were close to one hundred, had asked to speak with Addama, and out of respect, his request was granted.

Without knowing what was happening, and handcuffed again, Addama was taken to a separate room, one with a table and two chairs, guarded by two police officers. Inside, Mr. Belonwu waited for her.

She was so surprised that some tears ran down her face.

As she took her seat, the old man asked the guards to leave them alone. Hesitant, the officers granted him, one more time, his wish.

“We’ve never had a chat, girl. Right?” He said while he handed her his handkerchief.

“I’ve come here to listen to you and then decide if I use my influence to help you go free or not,” he stated with a serious voice.

Addama told him all what had happened the day Daniel’s dad had been found death.

As she related the old man the events that had brought her here, her mind went back to those last minutes in her apartment when the rich man, that was supposed to take his son home, had made advances on her, demanding the ‘benefits’ that he was sure he deserved since he was one of the wealthiest men in the island and there was no way she had quit her old job.

Except that she had, she assured him over and over, as the man tried to overpowered her. Then, with her not even realizing how it had happened, as if someone else had taken over her will, she saw her hand and arm swinging the heavy vase over the man’s head.

It was fast. May be no more than five seconds. The porcelain piece crushed her attacker’s skull with an easiness that it might have seem given only to a hammer hitting a nail. Next thing she knew, Daniel’s dad was there, lying on the floor, death in a blink, with his bloody head and the pieces of the vase all around him. Right after that, Daniel came from the other room and the police appeared.

She hadn’t meant to lie to the police about some robbers coming into the house, but when she saw Daniel’s face, she wasn’t able to let the poor boy know that aunty Addama had killed his father, and why. She only confessed this now to Mr. Belonwu because she knew that he was a wise and fair man who would do what was right.

“You have spoken the truth, I can see it in the clarity of your voice and the innocence in your eyes,” he said. “I’ll see that you’re released today but before I go, there’s something else I would like to hear from you…”

Addama smiled for the first time since the incident had happened, her eyes showing gratitude to the man who was going to set her free. “I’ll answer whatever questions you ask me,” she said.

“Why did you leave Mexico and how was it that you quit there both your old habits and your money?” His words let her know that his curiosity was a genuine one, out of concern and not coming from a morbid interest. So that, she narrated him her own story:

“After that rich merchant took me from Nigeria to Mexico, promising me he would make sure that I would live there as a queen, what it actually happened was that he sold me as cheap labour to one of his comrades that had established his business there. A sweatshop was my ‘home’ for 100 days and 100 nights, working 20 hours a day, sleeping on the floor, eating only once a day their putrid food, it was the same everyday until the authorities discovered his underground operation and closed his business down.

“Many people were arrested that day, many others, like me, we had no papers so we were sent back to our countries. The little money and property I had left here in Nigeria, all as a result of my glorious days, helped me go through until I settle down here, in Williams Island, the rest of my jewels, richness and dreams were taken away by those men who enchanted me with their false promises.”

A long silence filled the room before Mr. Belonwu asked Addama why she had never told her story to anyone in the island.

“When there are no physical injuries, people don’t believe you’ve been hurt. They say that it’s your own fault, that you provoked it, that you should have done something to stop it, after all, they assure, nobody was hitting you.

“But when your soul is hurt day after day, you know that you’re been abused, except that you show no bruises. That’s why I never told anyone my story. I came back here and acted as if that had never happened, after all, I knew nobody would believe me…”

“Well, dear,” Mr. Belonwu said, I believe you. And with those words, he left.

Hours later, Addama left the precinct feeling relief because she was free again but tormented for what she had done.

‘Would she ever be happy again?’ She wondered.

 

(To read the first part of this story you can visit: http://www.obinnaudenwe.blogspot.mx/2015/02/a-desolate-return-from-mexico.html)

* * *

croosover artwork OK
* This story is part of The Crosseover Mexico-Nigeria Project

Licencia Creative Commons

Weekly Photo: Symmetry

By Nora Vasconcelos

Symmetry by NVS

Licencia Creative Commons

“The violin man” – A St. Valentine’s Short Story

By Nora Vasconcelos

That winter morning the sunny sky gave everybody in the city the illusion that it’d be a warm day. But it was nothing more than that, just an illusion. The chilly wind that came from everywhere managed to cool people’s bones until the point it was unbearable to walk on the streets for more than just a few minutes.

“If only it snowed,” I said aloud, not worrying about the crowd that walked by my side in a hurry, after the train services had been cancelled due to technical problems.

Once again, the metro had failed. That had left me with 20 minutes to get to my office on Madero street. It should be enough time to walk from Hidalgo station to the Palace of Fine Arts station, crossing all the way from Reforma Avenue to the Eje Central Avenue, through the Alameda park.

It was the beginning of February, Saint Valentine’s day was close and the central park of Mexico city looked very colorful. Heart-shaped balloon vendors approached every one, the same as those who were trying to convince couples to buy rose bouquets, to celebrate the special day.

It would have been nice and charming if only I’d had time to buy that cup of coffee that was offered to me when I left the subway station, then I could have walked, warm and relaxed, across the park.

With that option out of reach now, I crossed my arms, pressing them against my coat, and continued walking, a bit faster this time.

It was then that I saw him, seated on a bench, holding a violin case that looked as frayed as his clothes. The man was asleep. Or at least, it seemed so. Nor the noise of the cars passing by Juarez Avenue, nor the constant murmur of people walking hastily around him, nothing seemed to disturb him.

“Was he dead?” I suddenly wondered.

The question came along with some anguish. I observed him for a few seconds. Then I saw him breathing. He looked quiet, serene, as if his sleep were a comfortable one.

Then, I realized that he was trembling. His body was responding to the intense cold weather.

If I had bought that coffee, I’d have given it to him.

For a few moments I didn’t know what to do. I still had five more minutes to get to my office. “Should I call someone? A police officer, may be? Should I wake him up? May be he was waiting for someone else to come…”

On the spur of the moment, I took my coat off and put it on him, gently, covering him from his shoulders up to his knees, with his violin covered as well, with the wooden fabric.

A chilly wind came around. It was time for me to go. Rubbing my hands, I felt relief when I saw my office building a few steps from where I was.

As soon as I entered the office, the warmth coming from the heater and the smell of fresh coffee made me feel well again.

A minute later, the incident in the park became a memory, at least for the hours I spent there, processing, one after the other, the insurance forms that had accumulated on my desk the previous day.

At five o’clock, it was time for me to go back home. My feet pointed toward the subway station. It should be open by then. However, a chilly wind that made me shiver for a few seconds reminded me that I had given my coat away to the violin man. Curiosity arouse, and I went back to the park. “Would he still be there?”

It wasn’t that I wanted my coat back. No way! I had given it to him and I was happy with that. In fact, I was intrigued by this man.

Five minutes later, I arrived to the place where I had seen him that morning. But he wasn’t there. I turned around, unable to locate him anywhere.

I sat on the bench for a few seconds to decide what to do, I could either return to the Palace of Fine Arts station, or walk all the way across the Alameda up to Hidalgo station. Perhaps I could find him somewhere in the park.

The cold weather made me opt for the shortest path.

When I was about to leave, I turned my face back as some pigeons started to fly very close to me. The violin man was there! I had found him!

About three meters away I could see him, standing with one end of his violin held by his left hand, allowing the rest of the instrument rest on his left shoulder, while his right arm rose and fell with a certain pace.

Certain pride came onto my smile when, in the distance, I recognized my coat on him, while he played his violin.

As I approached the man, I had to get through many people who were there, observing him. But for some reason, as I got closer, I wasn’t able to hear any music coming from his violin. Had he ceased to play?

Seconds later, I saw his face clearly for the first time. His skin, dry and wrinkled, concealed his youth, he should be no more than 35 years old. His frayed suit and his off-white shirt looked old, and his violin, which he played so passionately, was missing all its strings!

While I was trying to understand what had happened to him. The violinist ended his act.

People applauded. He took a bow and placed his violin back into its case and started to walk.

I thought I should follow him, but the weather told me that it was time to continue my journey. The evening sky had turned grey and cloudy.

Five minutes later I was inside the metro station.

If I had not walked to the Alameda to see the violin man, I would have avoided the rush hour. But by then, it was difficult to move among so many people, and even more difficult to enter the subway cars.

However, the warmth of the crowd felt good, and in a short time the heat had returned to my body.

As the train advanced slowly, dozens of people inside push everybody, over and over again, trying to get, at least, a little empty space to move and breathe freely.

Of course I was uncomfortable, but my mind kept bringing back all the memories of that man, playing his violin with no strings, and how he, with an instrument that produced no sound, managed to convey a sweet melody that everybody around could listen, not with their ears, but with their hearts.

“To whom he was playing with such deep sentiment? What had happen to him that he ended up like this, abandoned in the streets, wearing a suit and playing a violin without strings?”

All these questions hunted me not only on my way home, but all the night as well.

The next morning, the metro service didn’t report any problems, so I arrive at the office fifteen minutes before my check in time.

While I was having my coffee, I told my colleagues the story of the violin man. Touched by it, we all thought that we could put some money together to buy this man some new strings. For sure, somewhere around the city center we would be able to find them.

A quick search on the internet showed us a place to go, and we bought them during lunch time.

The time seemed to pass slower than usual, until the office hours were over.

As soon as it was five o’clock, I left the building and went straight to the place where I had found the violinist the previous day.

I sighed with relief when I saw him there, in the exact same place, playing the same tune with no music that he had played the previous day for a different audience.

This time I was warm and happy, wearing an old fashion coat I had kept in my wardrobe, for any use I could find for it. It looked a bit overworn, but it was warm all the same.

When the performance ended, and the people around left, I approached the man. To my surprise, he spoke to me first:

“Thank you for your coat,” he said.

Speechless, I gave him the violin strings. “My co-workers and I thought you’d like to have them.”

With the present in his hands, the man sighed deeply.

He remained silent for some moments. Then he set his brown eyes on the fountain that was a few meters away from there, right in front of the bench in which I had seen him for the first time.

A minute later, he said to me:

 

(To be continued next Wednesday on: http://www.obinnaudenwe.blogspot.mx/ )

* * *

croosover artwork OK
* This story is part of The Crosseover Mexico-Nigeria Project

Licencia Creative Commons