Pierre sat outside of the Extreme Caffeine Coffee House near downtown and waited for something, anything. The latte he had ordered a half an hour earlier was dwindling and cold. The large green canopy above sheltered the few studiers and paper browsers from a light rain that fell continuously through the sunlight.
He glanced at the faces around him: A nondescript young student, probably from the local university, her bespectacled face almost buried in a thick medical text. An older Indian man chopping away at a laptop in the corner. A rather large black man with a shocking white afro, wearing a white and red jumpsuit, staring off into space, maybe reminiscing about where his fifty or so odd years had gone.
Pierre found himself looking at the afroed man longer than normal, entranced by his choice of clothing and hairdo. The man shook out of his reverie and returned his stare. Pierre instinctually looked down at his drink.
Suddenly the man was upon him and taking a seat across the table. “Quite a bit of weather here, brother,” he said with the accent of a West African, although his English was quite clear and deep. “It’s always funny to me when it rains and the sun is still beating down. It shouldn’t be like this. Yet it is. Yet. . . It. . . Is. . .” he faded off into another small daze. Pierre watched him with interest. The man remained hypnotized by the rain for only a few seconds, and then returned with a big smile on his face and a giant hand outstretched.
“I’m sorry. My name is Cabba. I should have introduced myself first, maybe asked you if I could sit here at this table with you. Do you mind if I join you?”
“Not at all.” Pierre lifted his now cold drink in a gesture of welcome. He was glad to finally interact with someone.
“You see, where I come from we always start conversations with the weather. Or health. Or children. You know. But here in America it seems that I always have to ask to even start the conversation in the first place. People keep to themselves.” Cabba grunted noncommittally and took a seat.
“ Where are you from, Cabba?” Pierre reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of Camels, offering one to his new acquaintance.
Cabba leaned over and took a cigarette. “Oh, Turkish flavor. These are hard to get in Africa. Very bad habit. Bad habit. But a good one nonetheless. You know.” He lit the smoke with a book of matches from his jumpsuit pocket. “I am from Benin. Do you know where that is?”
“I think so. West Africa?”
“Oh yes. We invented Voodoo, you know. A tiny little country that nobody has ever heard of. They say we are so black there that no one can see us.”
Cabba laughed and then coughed violently, clearing his throat and continuing. “I’ve been here in America for just a year, cleaning rooms at the university, while my wife cleans offices in the Delta building.” He paused. “I don’t know why we really came now though, because I know she is cheating on me.”
Pierre shook his head and widened his eyes. “Cheating on you?”
Cabba suddenly appeared menacing, and Pierre noticed how bulky and hulking the man actually was underneath the gaudy jumpsuit. He looked like he could take down a medium-sized bear if need be. His voice had suddenly taken on a more serious and even deeper tone when he spoke: “Every week, a new man. That is no. . . what do you call it. . . Exaggeration. Every week. Guys in nice business suits. Guys in construction worker clothes. Guys and their sons, for Jesus’ sake! I try and make sense of it, but I cannot. What is she doing with these men? I imagine all sorts of disgusting things. . . I am a jealous man. . . And the thought of her making love with these other men is too much.”
“Have you confronted her?”
“Confronted her? You must be joking! I am a man! A man!”
Pierre shifted back in his seat and nodded. “So you confronted her, you’re saying?”
Cabba breathed a smile for a second, “You are a funny man. What is your name? I don’t think I asked, which is funny too. In a different way, you know. The English language is tricky, I think.” He had abruptly transformed back into the more easygoing man he had been seconds before.
“Pierre. My name is Pierre.”
“Sounds French. There were many Pierre back in West Africa. Many of them. In fact, I knew plenty of black ones and no white ones, so you must be the first white Pierre I’ve ever met.”
Pierre lit another cigarette and said, in a manner without sarcasm, “I’m honored.”
Cabba breathed in heavily. “Yes. Yes, you should be. So, let me continue, because I feel you should hear my story. You are an interesting, owlish-looking fellow. I bet you like stories.
“I was growing possessed, White Pierre. My mind could not escape the thought of Joyce with other men. I had to get drunk just to ease the pain I felt. She would say she had to go clean early, and as soon as she left, I pulled out the Johnny Walker and drank it right from the bottle. Sometimes, I would crash on the sofa and watch television. But sometimes I would grow itchy with the thought of her and these men, and I followed her. She always meets them right across the street here at this bar.” He pointed across the street at a dingy building with no visible signs, just an old wooden door with flaking blue paint. “I saw them go in and out, holding hands, kissing, walking around the corner.
“I tell you, one day it boiled over. I couldn’t ignore her infidelities any longer. I got up from this exact seat and trailed her. She had this short little old white man on her arm, clinging to her like she was his mother. He walked alongside her with great difficulty and a wooden cane in his free hand. The hand that wasn’t on Joyce’s behind. They turned down an alley, and when I got there, they were gone. There was just one door, on the left. . .” Cabba suddenly trailed off once again, taking a deep breath. He looked hard at Pierre. “Do you want to see the door?”
“Yes. And the room behind it, of course.”
Pierre wasn’t sure what to think. “Um. . . Sure.”
Cabba stood and slapped him on the shoulder in a reassuring manner. “Don’t be scared, my friend” he said, “Come. Let’s go.”
They walked merely a couple of blocks, the thick African accentuated by a shocking little afro, and the skinny white American of mixed French and English blood. Cabba led the way, whistling some odd tune that held rhythm with his confident stride. Pierre followed, walking clumsily as his legs stretched to keep up the pace. They turned down the alley, which was exceptionally dark considering the time of day. The skinniness of the pathway kept the rain from falling on their heads as they approached the door. It was nondescript, just a simple iron alley door. A bag of old trash lay next to it, torn into and dispersed by alley cats and raccoons.
“This is the place. Nothing special, eh?”
Pierre touched the rusted knob. “Nothing special.”
“Open it, White Pierre.”
Pierre turned the knob and pushed. The door opened easily.
“This is the place where she takes the men.” Cabba said, his voice slightly audible.
They moved to the center of an expansive white room, which was really not too big, but seemed spacious due to the high ceilings that were painted blue. Clouds that were exquisitely rendered splashed across the blue, and seemed to be moving.
“Are they. . .” Pierre began, pointing.
“Yes and no. Of course they aren’t moving. Those clouds are painted. Yet, as you can see, they are being blown by a gentle wind.”
“I don’t understand.” Pierre said, now looking at the walls, which were a pristine white. He couldn’t tell exactly how far away they were. The depth of the room kept shifting. There was no furniture, and the floor was as white as the walls.
“I know!” Cabba exclaimed. “It is like being drunk, no?”
“Something like that. I don’t feel tipsy, though. I feel very sober. I think I’m hallucinating.”
“Would you like to sit?” Cabba began walking to the far corner of the room.
Cabba stood in the corner for a second, his jumpsuit merging and emerging from the wall, the red stripes swaying like a snake. He began pulling something, and Pierre moved over to help him pull on whatever the hell he had found, which turned out to be a large blue leather couch. It looked so pristine that Pierre was absurdly tempted to bite it. They dragged it to the center of the room, where they both sat and moaned in pleasure.
“So, White Pierre, just relax. Do you feel better? Yes? Good. You look like you just made love to a beautiful woman.
“I will continue now. This room was not like this when I first saw it. The ceiling was still like the sky during a summer day, but nothing else was the same. I swear to you, I saw a clearing in a forest. Trees everywhere, little animals running around, and perfectly shaped grass in the center. You should have smelled it. It was like smelling something pure and sweet and natural. Not a room off an alleyway in this dirty city.
“It wasn’t a room at all, White Pierre. It was somewhere else.”
Pierre draped himself into the couch as Cabba told his story, feeling like he was slowly slipping into warm invisible hole.
“And there she was, with this old man, seated on a picnic blanket. They were tossing a giant beetle back and forth, and the thing was squirming and hissing. A giant beetle. The size of a small dog, I swear to you. They couldn’t see me, or hear me when I almost got sick, because they were both naked. It looked like this beetle was spraying milk from the face and all over the both of them. Can you imagine it?”
Pierre tilted his head toward Cabba, who was staring at him with an intense sort of stare. Pierre gestured that he couldn’t imagine such a thing.
“Good, because I saw it, and I still couldn’t imagine it. I was frozen, and they let the beetle run off into the forest, then the little old man crawled on top of my wife and started. . . Making love to her. It was disgusting, my friend.
“I began to say something, White Pierre, but I couldn’t. My mouth was frozen. I saw the beetle, which was the size of a small dog, leaning on my feet and looking up at me. It talked too me, White Pierre. It said, over and over again, in very slow French, you are a witness and the witnessed. You are a witness and the witnessed.”
“It didn’t move. I had to watch, frozen, until the old man grunted and they finished. He stood up, kissed her forehead as she sat there, walked past me- without seeing me I think- and left. The beetle too was now gone. Joyce stood on the blanket, rubbed her eyes, looked at me, and said ‘Cabba?’”
‘You bitch of a woman’ I said to her. ‘How could you do this to me? You are my wife!’
“She said ‘I am nothing to you, and everything to them. You cannot say differently’
“Then she too left, and I just stood there, in the forest, not knowing what to do. When the door shut behind her, I blinked, and here I was, in this empty white room with the blue sky. Do you believe me, White Pierre?”
Pierre sat up from his daze, turned to Cabba, who was now standing at the base of the couch, and said “Believe is too strong of a word.”
“Ha! I love your humor! Come. Let’s go from this place.”
And they left the room together, forms and shapes blending behind them as the door clicked shut. Pierre tried to turn it again from the outside, but it was locked.
Cabba stood at the counter of the deli and scrutinized the meat. His head craned back and forth as he inspected the honey ham and the honey turkey, the thinly sliced roast beef and the squishy pile of hamburger. After an excruciating amount of time, in which Pierre sat in the back of the dining area and patiently bided the minutes, Cabba turned and said “I just don’t know. I am so hungry that my judgment has gone somewhere else. What do we eat?”
“Turkey.” Replied Pierre.
The woman behind the counter finally stood up from watching the tiny television perched on top of a pile of boxes. “Turkey, then?” she said in a husky voice. Small black hairs poked from the bottom of her swinging chin.
Cabba clapped his hands together and smiled. “Yes. Turkey! I’m glad to have figured this out. We’ll have the whole tray.”
The woman looked confused and adjusted the plastic cap covering her head. “That will be, like, fifty dollars. Are you sure?”
Cabba turned and said to Pierre “Are we sure?”
“I don’t need that much, man. Just a little.”
“Ok, the whole tray,” concluded Cabba.
The woman mumbled something and begin stacking the meat on the scale, a process which took a while. When she had deposited the last scrap onto the metal tray, the price calculated at exactly fifty-six dollars. She looked at Cabba inquisitively.
“Oh yes. Here.” Cabba withdrew a hundred dollar bill from his jumpsuit pocket. Taking the large bag from her in both hands, he slung in under his arm and carried it toward the door as if he were hauling a bag of dry cement to a wheelbarrow. He motioned for Pierre to follow him out onto the street. The woman yelled that she had his change, but he ignored her and turned out of sight, the bells on the door jingling as it shut behind him. Pierre shrugged and exited shortly thereafter. The woman was left with two twenties and four singles in her outstretched hand, which she later spent on a treasured carton of Marlboro Lights.
“Joyce is at work,” Cabba said, gesturing for Pierre to take a seat. The living room of the apartment was sparsely decorated. There were two avocado green furnishings, a stiff looking couch and a ratty and doubtfully functioning recliner. A Zenith television from the stone-age sat on a TV tray in the corner. A chipped and dull wooden endtable held the only interesting object in the room: A rather large jade statue of the Hindu Goddess surrounded by glass flames.
“Cool piece.” Pierre said, taking a seat on the couch next to it and looking at it from different angles.
Cabba walked into the kitchen with his bag of meat and shouted back, “That is my wife’s. She talks to it. Calls it Durga. She asks it for things.”
“What does she ask for, if it’s any of my business?”
The sounds of plates crashing emerged from the kitchen with a brisk “Shit! She never does the dishes anymore!”
Pierre continued to examine the statue while Cabba banged around. It was certainly a scary piece of art. The look on her face was vicious. The long spiked tongue snaked out from a self-satisfying and terrible grin. She held severed heads, flames, and weapons in her many arms, and below her feet lay a deflated and demonic buffalo, jade blood oozing from its orifices. What would one ask of this intimidating God?
At that moment, Pierre fell asleep, as if overtaken by a severe case of narcolepsy. The dream came upon him immediately, drifting over his awereness like a gently descending silk sheet.
The first floor, flooded. We floated through and did not worry about breathing.
The lobby stretched to cover all the many stories of the hotel. We floated up to surface and noticed the golden stairs that led to glittering mezzanine. A restaurant, teeming with well-dressed people chatting.
Our room: number 227. I was disappointed that it wasn’t higher up, with a better view.
Suddenly, you were on top of me, naked, riding me, your dark skin glistening from the light pouring in from the bathroom. It was the most incredible sex, period. I felt like I was being eaten by ecstasy the way that an anaconda eats a large rodent.
Then I was outside the hotel, alone, looking at it from the side. It stretched on forever. A sign on the side read HOTEL KINGDOM, then flashed to HOTEL MAYA, back and forth.
“Ha! Wake up man! I have the sandwiches.” Pierre’s eyes focused to find the round cheeks and slight eyebrows of Cabba Achino dominating his vision. He jumped up from the couch and promptly sat back down and scrunched into an upright fetal position. Rubbing his eyes, he said, “Ohhhh, man. What? What did you say?”
Cabba laughed. “You are cute when you are sleepy. I have the sandwiches.” He pointed to the endtable, where two gigantic towers of turkey and white bread rested underneath the statue. Pierre shuddered.
“I hope you like white bread. I figured you would,” Cabba said.
“I don’t think I can eat just yet.”
“Oh, just take your time.” Cabba reached for one of the skyscraper sandwiches and sat down next to Pierre on the couch. Pierre looked away and cringed at the sound of food being messily eaten. He felt like he wanted to vomit.
Something wasn’t right, that much was obvious. He had just seen a real live holodeck, and if that wasn’t enough to put him on edge, he was sitting in the home of a strange African man he had just met, listening to the noises of the largest sandwich he had ever seen being ravaged under the fiery stare of the Goddess.