Marc Herman   photo of Marc Herman  


Ram Persaud, Mrs. Presaud's pleasant husband, had made clear I was to live cleanly and respectfully above their barbershop: no women, no drugs, no excessive noise. I'd agreed to all these things. But soon an English reporter named Matthew Falloon had somehow started living in the flat with me. Falloon become a neighborhood boy immediately. He was an accomplished guitarist. He played in a rock band in London. He had struck a dubious arrangement with a filmmaker in New York to provide the soundtrack to a movie. But his dreams of musical stardom ended, and he left London for a job covering the crime beat in Georgetown, Guyana. He missed the stage. He could be heard many days caterwauling his latest compositions from the window. His voice carried quite a distance accompanied by his guitar, far down the street, always audible as I returned home from another hopeless run at a government minister's office:

He came in out of the rain, the son of a king!

went one of the songs.

A group of orphans who lived in an abandoned truck along the median liked to stand outside the flat, in the gravel road, listening to Falloon sing. The eldest was a one-armed seventeen year old. He would clap after each song by slapping his remaining hand into his bare chest. He always praised Falloon's talent to me and made requests for songs, usually Top Forty from America. Falloon knew the songs. The boys loved him. We did not invite the boys in, however. They were thieves. Falloon was somewhat guileless about this. He kept singing his presence out the window in a bad neighborhood. After a while, associates of the orphans started mugging him, but they rarely hurt him in the process, because he was well-liked in the neighborhood.

One day I finished climbing the stairs, having been stood up for an appointment at the government statistical office, and found Falloon glum on the sofa. Falloon heard me on the stairs.

"We're in real trouble," he said.

I put down my bag and pulled my shirttails out of my pants. Falloon smoked, we drank too much, the music was often loud. I figured Persaud was evicting us already.

"We are?"

"Mandy and I. We're in real trouble."

Amanda was a reporter with a competing newspaper. The two had undertaken a torturous, on-and-off romance. Amanda had gained an impressive degree of control over her new boyfriend's emotions. She had done this with scarce effort: a few smiles, a few flashes of her ambition. I respected this, liked her enormously and enjoyed following the soap opera. I mixed a rum and coke, dropped into a rocking chair beside Falloon and listened to his woes. It seemed Amanda had reacted badly to threats of Falloon leaving town for Barbados.

"You're going to Barbados?"

"Don't know yet, man." He drank more.

It was only going to happen in the event he could make contact with pop star Eddie Grant. This seemed dubious. Falloon lit another cigarette. He had finagled some connection to Grant, he said.

He put his head in one hand and with the other ashed the cigarette. "She's really pissed off this time," he said, and inhaled, flattening the words. I imagined he'd recover, but felt awful for him. He offered more rum.

But it was a Wednesday, so there was no excessive drinking. Wednesday was the day I took an anti-malarial tablet called Larium. I had not taken anti-malarial medication on previous trips. This time a doctor had persuaded me to do so. Europeans distrust Larium but American doctors don't. The Europeans are right. It is an evil medicine that renders people imbeciles. The drug worked perfectly against the mosquito plague but its other effects were distracting — for short stretches debilitating. Two other friends in town and I were taking the drug. We had compared notes. We were each subject to paranoia and hallucinations. We were easily startled, after our weekly pill; there were also the Larium migraines, which felt like an animal gnawing with deliberateness at the back of the skull. It was better than contracting malaria, certainly, the doctor had reasoned. But Wednesdays were nevertheless lost days.

I took my Larium with the last of the clean water. I retreated to my bedroom, sealed the mosquito net around the mattress, lay back and heard the guitar start up again in the next room. I wished it wasn't Wednesday. I had notes to go over and plans to make. I was behind schedule. But malaria is scary. A blood parasite, the illness causes night sweats, mortal dehydration, liver damage and a sledgehammer-like pounding in the skull. Also, you can't move, because of joint pain. Some cases result in a rapid and fatal swelling of the brain. I took my pill and passed out.

Because foreigners spent a few hundred years running the show in Guyana, many of the buildings, including Mr. and Mrs. Persauds His and Her's Beauty Salon above which I lived, follow European colonial styles. The builder leaves the walls of the apartments purposely too short to promote circulation in the stifling heat. The gap between the top of the wall and the ceiling was usually about eight inches. The open space at the top of the wall meant privacy was relative. When the Larium began working on me, Falloon likely heard some thrashing around over the top of my bedroom wall. Unfortunately, he did nothing about it.

I awoke to a wild boar charging across the room. It leapt onto my bed. It hit me but I got it in the crook of my arm and was able to pin the creature to the decrepit mattress. When I had my body pressed to the animal's I was able to take a moment to consider the situation. It seemed like an unlikely problem — an angry boar in the apartment — but I could feel the animal's breath, sour, like a rotted lime, on my face and decided it was too risky to let go of the snout horns yet, until I knew precisely what I was dealing with. I looked around the room for weapons. The pocketknife was too far away on the bureau. I bitterly wished Falloon would stop singing in the living room and come pull the animal off me. It bucked and reared with its forelegs and I kicked and bit back at it. It was unclear how the boar had gotten to me through the mosquito net without tearing the fabric. I reflected on this for a moment and the boar also rested.

Before I could come up with a solution, the boar reared and broke one tusk from my grasp. In desperation, I hurled myself off the bed and through the mosquito net. Perhaps it was possible to trap it on the mattress by tucking the mosquito netting around the bedposts. I did this. It worked. The boar was caged on the bed. It paced. Soon it gave the netting an experimental bump with its forehead. The arrangement would only hold long enough to allow my escape to the bathroom.

I took a cold shower locked safely behind a Dutch door. I forgot about the boar for a moment. The shower was a trickle of rainwater.

Hooves clacked on the floorboard. Suddenly, the boar appeared inside the shower stall. It was a small space with nowhere to hide. I ran out of the stall. It chased. I got my knife off the bureau and whirled to finish the animal then and there. It was one of those multi-tool arrangements and it took a while to fold out the proper size knife for killing a boar. I was wet and naked. When the right blade was exposed in a manner I found suitably dangerous I whirled again and gave a quick stab where the animal almost certainly should have been leaping for me.

But the boar was gone. The mosquito net hung limp. The wind stirred the fabric. I lay down wet on the sheets and fell back asleep. The boar had given up and made for the stairs.

It is instructive to note that the only warning listed on my package of Larium, besides a tendency toward cottonmouth, is what the pharmacist's instructions refer to as "vivid dreams." Falloon said later he didn't notice anything unusual. I slept for the rest of the day. The next morning I woke at five, grossly unprepared for the Prime Minister.

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Photo credit: Kathe Hashimoto