'Go away, clear off. This is not a freak show. Leave me alone . . .' And even as he speaks Leo's voice cracks and fades away. They have seen enough, they are ashamed and someone closes the door.
The episode triggers a thought in his clouded mind. Why do I recognize those people? He turns to the doctor.
'What is the date?'
'It is the second of April, señor.'
'The second of April?' He searches desperately inside for a connection.
'Where am I?'
Latacunga he knows the name. Yes, now he remembers that he has been through Latacunga before. There is a busy market in the town square. He changed buses there with Eleni to go into the mountains. He is in Ecuador.
'What date is it?'He forgets that he has just asked this question.
'It is the second of April.'
'The second of April? What happened?'
'You were in a bus crash, señor.'
Nowhere in his memory can he place this information. It does not even create the slightest ripple across his psyche. He sits with the idea for a moment. No, he does not remember a bus or a crash. The thought hangs outside him like an alien trying to gain entry. His brain refuses to connect this information to any synapse or nerve ending. And yet somewhere lost in the internal wreckage sits the little black box, the flight recorder which carries the truth of what happened. A strange protective mechanism has kicked in which prevents him getting too close to the epicentre of his trauma. Like a witness in a court case who is not obliged to give evidence which could implicate him, so the body refuses the mind access to the information which could damage it.
'What date is it?' He wonders if he has asked this question before.
'The second of April, señor,' the doctor repeats patiently.
Leo grapples with the year. He set off in 1991. When in 1991? The end, near the end. December 1991. So what happened over the last four months? A small light switches on and he sees himself lying on a beach with Eleni. It is New Year's Eve; they have taken a day trip from Cartagena in Colombia to a tropical island. Eleni is wearing her pink swimsuit. They lie there in sunbleached bliss with the surf at their feet. He turns to her and kisses her warm cheek.
'You know, I can't think of anything in the whole universe that I want. I've got you at my side and I love you and that's it. There's nothing more to life than this.'
Eleni smiles, leans over and kisses him. 'Let's photograph it,' she says. She takes out their small instant camera and holds it at arm's length above their heads and points it towards them. They check their positions in the reflection on the lens and take the picture. Click.
He looks down at her corpse. The memory acts like a pair of hands that plough through his breastbone, rip open his ribcage and expose his heart to the elements. His spine melts away and he stands before his dead lover like a piece of limp flesh. He cannot breathe. His only thought now is that he wants to die and go with her.
From nowhere he feels a shooting cramp through his leg. He looks down and notices his jeans are ripped and covered in blood. Next he feels a throb in his hands. They are cut and bleeding. Shards of glass stick out from the skin. For a moment he becomes quite self-absorbed picking out the splinters.
His right shoulder is badly bruised and his hip joint fires sharp warning shots up his back.He realizes that he has suffered injuries all down his right side. But worst of all is his right knee.He cannot bend it or even feel it. How could he not notice the pain until now?
What is the date? he wonders. He is too embarrassed to ask again. The door opens. The crowd has disappeared. A policeman enters and asks Leo to accompany him to the bus station to identify his bags. Leo is reluctant to leave Eleni's side but he is strangely open to suggestion. There is no fight left in him and he obediently follows the policeman out of the room. The doctor follows and Eleni is left in peace.
From Random Acts of Heroic Love. Copyright Danny Scheinmann 2008. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the pubilsher, St Martins.
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