Ride the Whirlwind
by Bob Brill
Table of Contents
Part 1, Part 2 appeared
in issue 231.
About eleven o’clock the following morning, Djaminko and Viloshiana climbed the stairs of a modest hotel in Pan City, the capital of the neighboring country of Arlawop. They had been given some currency and advised to wait for further news.
Room 418 proved to be drab and cramped, but the novelty of their situation was so powerful that they found it charming and immediately decided to try out the bed. It sagged woefully, but they did not notice this till much later.
It was early evening when hunger finally impelled them to descend to the street. In a small restaurant nearby they ordered a simple meal. The food was mediocre, the wine execrable.
“Delicious, wasn’t it?” said Djaminko.
“Superb,” replied Viloshiana.
They burst out laughing. “You know,” said Djaminko, “back home we would have hated such a meal, but here everything is just perfect. What more could we want? This must be the happiness that everyone always talks about.”
“I have given almost no thought to my old life, BTN.”
“Before the noose. And I’ve given no thought to what might be ahead either. It’s enough just to sit here and drink this abominable wine and enjoy the smile on your face.”
Djaminko noticed that they had drawn the attention of another diner, a tall man with large hands, a long narrow head with a nose like the blade of a hatchet. When the man realized that Djaminko had caught him staring, he rose and came over to their table.
“I hope you’ll excuse my eavesdropping. I couldn’t help but observe that you are countrymen of mine, recently arrived from home. I don’t know if you are aware of it, but there is quite a colony of us Prasnovians living here in exile.” As he spoke the man’s large graceful hands carved a series of sinuous paths through the air.
“I’m not surprised to hear it,” said Djaminko. “How long have you been in Arlawop?”
“About six months.” He illustrated this time period with a broad opening gesture of both hands. “I had a nice little business back home. Custom carpentry.” The big hands described a curve as though he were caressing a woman’s body or perhaps it was meant to be the back of a beautiful sofa. “His majesty ordered a massive desk which I made to his exact specifications.” The hands described this desk. Big, heavy, imposing. “But he didn’t like it. He changed the specs on the spot and cussed me out for not delivering what he wanted instead of what he ordered.”
The hand gestures that accompanied this story were continuous, sweeping from one movement to the next without pause, so that Djaminko and Viloshiana were fascinated to watch this graceful pas de deux. From this alone one could easily imagine that the man’s carpentry was exquisitely rendered. “The royal nincompoop ordered me hanged.”
“Then you took a ride in a mobile apartment and found yourself here,” Djaminko rounded out the tale.
“Exactly. I take it that your experience was similar.”
“Oh, yes. Very nice way to travel once you get loose from the noose.”
“In my case the accommodations were a bit cramped. I had to share the place with six others. The king had had a vexing day. Would you like to meet some of our Prasnovians in exile?”
Djaminko and Viloshiana exchanged a glance and Viloshiana said, “Yes, why not? We just arrived and don’t know a soul as yet. Except you,” she added graciously.
“My name is Erno Huckabuff. Let me take you to a place where Prasnovian émigrés like to hang out. It’s called the Dancing Boy Café. It should be getting lively just about now.”
They walked a few blocks, turned into an alley, and upon entering an unmarked doorway, they descended a half flight of stairs into a large green room whose low ceiling trapped infinite furbelows of rising sweet-smelling smoke and sent them down on the heads of the smokers. One corner of the room was a raised platform covered in straw mats and cushions. Here some musicians sat like tailors, circling a round brass tea tray.
The dominating sound came from two twanging stringed instruments. A fiddle played a drone part. The fiddler held his instrument like a cello, propped on the mat before him, and holding his bow horizontal he rocked the fiddle back and forth along the bow. A lute-like oud wove its gentler voice among the others and numerous pairs of bare hands beat the goatskin heads of half a dozen different size clay drums.
The rest of the room was given over to rows of long tables occupied by the public, at least a hundred strong and mostly male. No private tables here. All sat on the long benches and cheap folding chairs at the same bare board communal tables.
Erno spied some friends and room was made for them at the table. This required sending the word down the line and slowly, like a great centipede passing a wave down its body, the crowd adjusted itself and the newcomers took their seats. Introductions were made, but as they were all seated together on one side of the table, it was hard to speak, hard to see each other, and hard to hear amid the babble of voices and the penetrating music.
Djaminko found himself caught up in the trance-like, repeating rhythm of the music. The people across the table began to sway in unison and this movement passed down the length of the table, then up the other side.
Suddenly Djaminko was swept into motion and became part of a great swell of shared emotion. After a few intense minutes the wave subsided and broke apart. Such waves came and went as listeners dropped into and out of the trance, supplying a constant background murmur, talking and calling to friends, ordering tea, buying kief from the old man in the corner whose fingers were constantly chopping and cleaning kief into small paper packets.
The musicians too dropped into and out of the song. Some stopped to light their pipes or sip their tea. Some left the platform and their places were taken by others. The number of players and instruments slowly varied, introducing new moods, new melodies, new rhythmic changes, but the song and its grip on the swaying multitude continued unceasingly.
Anonymous donors in the crowd passed lighted pipes to Djaminko and Viloshiana, who coughed on the harsh mixture of kief and uncured tobacco. Erno drew out his own pipe and demonstrated that he had mastered the challenge of inhaling the stuff.
As the kief swam through his veins, Djaminko fell deeper under the spell of the music: the heartbeat of the drums, the ever droning strings, the scraping melodic line passionately articulating its inscrutable story. If those voices could be comprehended, thought Djaminko, they might be revealing the destiny of the world. Holy inspired musicians receiving and transmuting to song tomorrow’s page from the book where all is written, weaving the interlocking tale of mankind with fervent commentary. Celebrating the blessing in the making, lamenting the dead to be.
Djaminko felt drawn right into the heart of this mystery and closing his eyes he began drumming on the table, his hands contributing their signal to the message of the music. Gradually, he noticed that someone was trying to get his attention. Hands tugged at him. Oh no, he thought, they’re going to throw me out. But no, they were guiding him up onto the platform, beckoning him to sit down, thrusting a drum into his hands. Oh yes, he thought, I love it! He picked up the beat and slipped right back into the trance.
On awakening the following morning, Djaminko and Viloshiana realized that the bed in Room 418 was not all that supportive. Not for sleeping anyway.
“Today I’m going to find a job,” said Djaminko.
“Me too,” said Viloshiana.
“Then we’ll get a nice apartment with a good bed.”
The phone rang. It was the desk clerk reporting that Lord Flagellum was waiting in the lobby. Djaminko put his hand over the mouthpiece. Turning to Viloshiana he said, “The king’s science advisor is downstairs. He wants to see us.”
“Is it safe?”
“I think so. He defended me at the king’s banquet. Besides, he knows we’re here, so he may as well come up.”
“Send him up,” said Djaminko to the desk clerk.
Moments later Lord Flagellum swept into the room. He was wore a green T-shirt advertising Flomo Beer, bright blue shorts and sandals. “Welcome to Pan City, my friends. This is a fun place.”
He seized Viloshiana’s head in both hands, squeezed her cheeks and planted a kiss on her forehead. Then he did the same to Djaminko. “A new life begins for you. Your lives have been turned upside down, but you have landed on your feet. Must be your lives were inverted to start with.”
The man couldn’t stand still. He paced the tiny room as he talked. “Here, I’ve got some money for you.” He pulled out a wad of bills and threw them on the table. “You’d better get jobs. When this is gone you’ll need to be feeding yourselves. Oh, and here are your passports.” He flung them on the table. “These are bona fide, real, official. Usually takes six to ten weeks to get them, but in these perilous times, we’ve learned how to cut the red tape.” He sat on the bed, jumped up, kept walking. “Any ideas on what you might do next?”
“Not really,” said Djaminko. “We were just talking about going out today to look for work.”
“Let me make some suggestions. Almost all the men who come here from Prasnovia are driving taxis. Almost all the women are waiting tables. What do you think? I don’t know why, but for some reason that’s the way it’s working out. By the way, I’d like to take you to lunch. I’ve got a limo waiting downstairs.”
Half an hour later they were seated on the patio at the Lubar Palace, drinking aperitifs. Since Djaminko and Viloshiana had not yet had breakfast, they were quickly feeling tipsy.
“I say, Lord Flagellum,” said Djaminko. “Have you informed my family that I am still alive?”
“No, and I’m sorry to tell you that the reason is that your wife cannot be trusted.”
“What in the world do you mean?”
“Oh dear. I knew this was going to come up. Well, no help for it. Our intelligence service has known for some time that your wife is the mistress of the finance minister, Barmleigh Shtoopen, who is a staunch defender of the king’s administration.”
“What are you saying? I can’t believe what you’re telling me. Are you quite sure of the facts?”
“Yes, I’m afraid those are the facts exactly.”
“But what a shock.”
“Yes, that’s life. Full of surprises, isn’t it? Well, I can’t tell you much, but I think you should understand that a secret party has formed in opposition to the king and his cronies. For now our operations, such as the rescue of unfortunates like yourselves, must remain covert. Your wife must be kept in the dark, and likewise I’m sorry to say, your innocent children. They suppose you to have been hanged.”
“That’s awful. My poor kids.”
Staring down at the table, Djaminko added, “I can’t say that I’ve been thinking overmuch about my wife. I’ve been too busy being happy for the first time in my life. And now that I know the truth about her, I shall make it a point to put her out of my mind altogether.”
There was a silence at the table. When Djaminko looked up, there were tears in his eyes. He said, “But I’m really upset about my kids.”
Three months later Djaminko and Viloshiana were living in a modest apartment. Djaminko worked as a cabdriver. He had quickly learned the city, its streets and its traffic patterns and was doing quite well. He was started on the night shift, but at his request he was moved to daytime driving, so that he could spend his evenings at the Dancing Boy Café, where he became expert at playing the drum.
Viloshiana declared early on that she would never return to kitchen work and held out for something better. Six weeks went by before she landed a job, but from the start she brought home twice the money that Djaminko earned. She became a fashion model and was soon in great demand.
Sometimes she joined Djaminko at the Dancing Boy Café and sat around smoking kief and listening to him play his drum. She liked to flirt with the men who flocked around her, but on these occasions she always went home arm in arm with Djaminko. Gradually, however, she put in fewer appearances and began spending her evenings and eventually her nights elsewhere.
One night as Viloshiana was preparing to go out for the evening, Djaminko said, “Viloshiana, my love, I’d like to know where you spend your nights and what you are doing and with whom and why?”
“Djaminko, my friend, all your questions can be answered very easily if you care to come with me and see for yourself. In fact, I invite you to join me and my friends this very night. The short answer is drugs and sex, but the details are endlessly fascinating. That is all the fashion world is interested in and I can truthfully assert that it’s a professional requirement of my job, but the greater truth is that the lifestyle suits me perfectly.”
“Well, if it suits you so well, it would be selfish of me to object, but I would prefer that you spend more nights with me. I am very fond of you and I miss the wonderful times that we’ve had.”
She put her arms around him and said, “My dear friend, I owe you my life. I’ll be forever grateful for that. But the life you saved belongs to me and it’s for me to choose how to live it.”
“Absolutely, dear Viloshiana. I have the same proprietary feelings about my own life, and although I have no particular ambitions or plans for how to live it, I do know that I have no interest in your fashionable friends or their pastimes.”
“That’s too bad, Djaminko, because I’m very fond of you too, and it would give me great pleasure to share my hobbies with you. That would afford me the best of both worlds. As it is, I’ll be seeing less and less of you, much to my regret.”
These may not have been the exact words that passed between them. In fact, they almost certainly weren’t. But after subtracting the jealousy on the one side and the guilt on the other, the end result was much the same. They parted as friends, their respect and fond feelings for each other unimpaired. Viloshiana began spending longer and longer periods away until finally it became clear that she was living elsewhere.
Copyright © 2007 by Bob Brill