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She stormed off down the hill, her heels click-clacking on the white cobblestones. It was pointless to go after her. When Amy is angry, there's nothing anyone can say to her to calm her down. She'll walk around for half an hour, perhaps kick a couple of walls, and then she'll return to a state of mind in which she can think rationally. I don't want to give the impression that it was completely her fault; it was as much mine, and possibly mostly mine. Sometimes I open my mouth at the wrong time, or don't think about the consequences of what I'm doing. I suppose everyone does, now and again.

I could see by her posture how angry she was as she scattered some goats that were on their way to the lake to drink. She turned a corner and disappeared into the village square. For my part, I was more bemused than angry. A discussion about Amy's family doesn't seem to me to be the kind of topic that should turn into an argument; nevertheless, it was a mistake to call Amy's mother a criminal. She may not be – her trial for fraud and embezzlement hasn't been heard yet – but speculation about her mother doing time is not the kind of thing that Amy takes lightly. I admit that I made a mistake.

So all I could do was sit at the café, and wait for her to come back. I ordered another drink, an incredibly intoxicating local brew of various liquors and fruit juices, sat in the sun, watched the leisurely pace of the village, and listened to three old men chatter in their native language.

After awhile, I got thinking about how really stupid it was of me to talk to Amy like that. Occasionally, I become deliberately antagonistic. It probably comes from the frustrating atmosphere of my work, and I take these frustrations out on Amy, my family, the people I work with – the very people I shouldn't antagonize, the very people I don't want to antagonize. But I do. And why? Because sometimes I don't think. Recognizing the problem is not half of the solution. Recognition counts for very little. I've been trying to quit smoking for years.

Thinking about stupid things I've said to Amy made me think of other things I've done and said. When I was a boy, I was once on a beach throwing rocks at seagulls flying by. My father came over and asked me what I was doing. I said I wasn't likely to hit one, and my father said, "But suppose you do?"

When I was a teenager, our Geography class took a trip around the Mediterranean – Italy, Egypt, Greece, and Israel. In Israel, there were poor Arab children everywhere, begging us to buy postcards, fruit, trinkets. They became really annoying after a while, but that wasn't a good reason to throw orange peels all over them from the window of the bus. It seemed like an appropriate response at the time. To this day, I don't remember if it was me or someone else who threw the orange peels.

One of the girls on that trip was a short, chunky redhead named Suzy Scott, who I haven't seen in fifteen years. As I think back, it seems to me that Suzy was rather an unexceptional normal average girl, but for some reason everyone had it in for her. There was a rumour that she had had intercourse with three boys one night when she was thirteen, but it must have been untrue because no-one ever claimed to have been there. Still, the rumour persisted, and people used to make up all kinds of stories about her, making her out to be the school whore. One afternoon, several of us were in the cafeteria, wasting time, telling stories about Suzy. I told a story, and the boys listened, although I doubt any of them believed anything I said. Near the end of my story, strange looks came over all their faces. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but as I finished, I heard crying, and turned around quickly to see Suzy, red-faced, sobbing uncontrollably. Flustered, I said something to the effect that if she didn't want stories told about her, then she shouldn't be sleazy at parties. I don't know what happened to her after she finished school; I saw her in a restaurant a couple of years later, and she just glared at me. I still think about her. Does she remember what we said twenty years ago? Is she scarred?

I shook my head to stop remembering. When you think of one stupid thing you've done, all of the others come flooding back, and then you get really down on yourself. I'm not that bad a person, really.

I got another drink and waited for Amy, but after an hour she still hadn't come back. She had never stayed away that long before. So I sat there, and made myself enjoy what I could. After all, in three days, I would be back in a cold climate, doing a job I didn't like, living for weekends and holidays. The goatherd went past me the other way up the hill, urging on his flock or pack or whatever they're called, and I wondered if I could be happy doing that kind of work.

Following the goatherd and the goats was a girl carrying a bundle on her head. As she walked past me, she looked at me, did a double-take, stopped, and stared at me. I smiled. She walked toward me, leaning her head forward, as if to look more closely while keeping her body away. Her brow furrowed, her nostrils flared, and she began shouting at me. I couldn't understand a word she said, and I looked from her to the native men, shaking my head in confusion. The men chuckled among themselves, and the girl yelled something at them before turning back to me and continuing her tirade. I told her that I didn't understand what she was saying, but I sensed she knew that, and it didn't matter. A couple of times, she banged her hand on my table, spilling my drink, and I thought she was going to hit me. Finally, seeing that I wasn't responding to her at all, she stopped yelling, and went briskly up the hill.

I looked at the three men and they were smiling at me. One of them put a forefinger near his temple, and moved it in a circular motion. This was apparently an international gesture; I smiled at him and nodded, repeating the gesture.

"Loco," he said, and laughed.

Thinking that one of them might speak English, I went over to them, and said, "What was she saying?"

They talked among themselves, then looked back at me blankly.

"What did she say?" I said very slowly, as one does, thinking that speaking more slowly will help you to be understood.

"Ah!" said one of them, obviously understanding what I had said. "She says... uh... you... uh... daddy."

"Daddy?" I asked. "Father?"

"Yes, yes," said the man. "Father."

There was no question that I was old enough to be her father, but there was no possible way I could have been. I'd never been in that part of the world before.

"She crazy," said the man. "You good bloke. Buy me drink?"

"Yes," I said, laughing. "I'll buy you all a drink."

As I did so, I saw the girl again out of the corner of my eye. She had three men with her, and holding onto her hand was a boy about four years old. He was half-white and looked like me.

The girl and the little boy stopped in the street, and her three friends continued walking toward me. The three old men scattered quickly, taking their drinks with them. One of the young men, who looked so much like the girl that he must have been her brother, said something to me. I didn't understand what he said, but I didn't need to understand to know what he meant. I thought that I would say, "It wasn't me," but I knew it wouldn't do any good.

The brother grabbed me by the shirt, pulled me out into the street, and punched me in the stomach. One of the others hit me in the kidneys, and I fell to the ground. The three punched and kicked me. I looked up at them, squinting into the sun, and saw the little Arab boys covered in orange peels. I thought about Suzy Scott, and said, "It was me. It was me. It was me."


My stories, plays, and comedy sketches have been published and/or produced in Canada, the U.S., Holland, Ireland, and the U.K. Recent stories of mine were published in Writer's Block, The Blue Nib, and Ripples In Space, and I have stories forthcoming in Yellow Mama, 34 Orchard, The Bookends Review, Worthing Flash, and Revolute.


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