I and two billion other people couldn’t get to sleep last night: marbles on a ship’s deck.
An image kept rolling in my mind, over and over again. It had to do with dogs, as are so many of my good and bad memories. Their names were Red and Blue; a pair of Irish Setters about three years old. They were from the same litter and had grown up together running wild on Dave’s 100 acre peach orchard. He’d taken a chance and planted north of the peach tree weather line, but he was way ahead of the curve on understanding how temperatures were warming.
Anyway, he was on a little hill overlooking the farm and the highway. He noticed Red sauntering out into the road, oblivious, and then within a moment a barreling truck crushed the dog and left only a lump of red fur in the middle of the four lanes. Dave could do nothing since he was a good quarter of a mile away. But then something sad and heroic happened. Blue ran out onto the highway and hunched down beside Red playing out an old story of companionship and genetic impulse. Dave jumped on his tractor and drove toward the farm gate, yelling at Blue, but before he could get there, another truck came along and hit Blue. When Dave got there, both dogs were dead.
I have often thought about those two dogs during my life and last night was no different. I got up and went into the kitchen. It was almost 3:00 a.m. and I poured a little glass of wine and fished out a Xanax. I took the pill and chased it down with the red wine. In bed I decided to read myself to sleep with a bit of R. Carver. He was talking about how inspiration came to him and at that precise moment a story appeared in my mind. It was from Rwanda. Red and Blue had sparked it. I knew I’d forget it if I went back to sleep, so I got up again and went into the kitchen and found the last check from my publisher: $0.00, an accounting trick no doubt.
On the back of the check I wrote these words: Kigali, booby traps, drivers, lies by omission.
Here is the story.
It was July and Paul Kagame and his army were just taking over Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. I was driving up from eastern Zaire with Martin, my trusted ex-French Foreign Legionary mate and employee. There were bodies in the ditches along the highway and they looked like piles of old clothing, scattered around, waiting for somebody to come along and collect them.
We were going to Kigali to meet seven Unimog Mercedes medium-sized trucks that our Bosnian program was sending to me. They didn’t want them anymore, since they had just bought new ones. Refugee disasters are all about personnel, supplies, timing, and security. The first three were falling into place as we moved across the landscape of this giant genocidal fuck up.
I knew the trucks had been sitting there and the drivers were burned out. They were all ex-ANZAC military, young, crazy and had been driving into Sarajevo over Mt. Igman for the past year. It was a tough job and Rwanda seemed like a vacation. I’d worked out a deal with NATO to fly the planes, fully packed with refugee supplies, from Aviano airbase to the Kigali airport. Flight clearance was given to me by the UNAMIR forces out at the airport and they said that things were so confused no one would notice another cargo plane with my supplies.
“Tex” was my contact at the airport. He carried ID’s from the State Department, UN, US Army, and the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. He told me over the radio, in our secret Texas language, that he’d take care of everything. He even offered to give me free diesel, since he was sitting on a vast storage capacity with few trucks to utilize it. Perfect, since part of what I ordered was a fuel tanker as well.
The delivery went off with no problem. The US embassy and all Americans had been evacuated months ago and I was one of the first American non-military, non-CIA moving around the place. We got an escort from some of Tex’s people and we drove over to the American sector of town, passing through a number of checkpoints and burning tires. There were still pockets of Hutus around and the RPF was shooting them on the spot.
We finally made it to our nice neighborhood on top of a hill: big houses, pools, flowered lawns, etc. We picked out one with a high compound wall and a green yard to park the trucks.
Before we took over the house, I sent two of the drivers, with bomb disposal experience, inside to look for booby-traps. We’d gotten word from Tex that some of the American properties had been rigged by the departing Hutu. After a while, the drivers came out and said they couldn’t find anything, although the place had been sacked and most of the doors and windows were broken.
It was almost dark and there was no electricity or water, so we got out some refugee MREs and built a fire out of broken chairs. I’d bought a small block of cheese and a jar of olives from an Indian trader on the road to Kigali. I cut the cheese and dumped the olives into a plate and passed everything around. There were five bedrooms in the house. Martin told the drivers to give me the master and they could go anywhere they wanted. After I looked around a bit, I told them that I would sleep in the storage room off the patio out back. They all found that funny and said, “Shit, you’re the boss. You need to sleep in the best bed. You got the pay grade.” I told them to fuck off and that I liked sleeping on the floor.
We stayed up late and drank ourselves into a stooper and then I went into the storage room. I could hear them talking, since the night was totally silent in the empty capital. Occasionally, there was the sound of an explosion or gun fire, but nothing too loud. One of them said he seems alright, giving us the cheese and all, and then not taking the best bed in the place.
As I lay there I thought about the truth of why I was in the storage room. I wasn’t trying to be one of the boys. No, that particular space had one of the only doors in the whole house with a working lock. It was a dead bolt in a metal door frame. Plus there was a cupboard over the door big enough for me to climb into and hide.
While waiting for a flight in London, I’d run into an old friend who told me about Chechnia. A group of aid workers were sleeping in a little abandoned hotel in the countryside, when some group of assholes slipped into the place early one morning and gone from door to door. If it was locked, they moved on to the next one. When they found one unlocked, they entered and slit the throats of whoever was in the room. They moved through the hotel like that, cutting throats, and then left without a sound. In the morning the people with locked doors came out to find twelve of their friends dead.
The Hutus were still around, as well as mad-dogs and other criminals, and so I took advantage of the way I thought about the world. I wasn’t a twenty-something, single, and crazy. One needed to be slightly nuts to drive on a regular basis into Sarajevo during the siege. Yes, I was a good guy, just like them. Right: lies by omission, selfishness, understanding the significance of a lock and a hole, maybe a touch of cowardice: all of that mixing together and I wasn’t anything like them.
Of course, we all made it that night and there were other far more dangerous things that happened over the next months. Two of the drivers ran over mines, one got thrown in jail, a Hutu interahamwe almost killed my on the Cyangugu bridge, Martin went insane and shot up a house full of people, and as for my friend and Chechnia…well, he was executed by the Russians or at least their henchmen. In fact, it was his execution that finally made me stop doing what I was doing, that and a bum heart.
Still I think of Red and Blue and what happened on the highway that day and somehow in my mind it’s related to Rwanda and me sleeping on the floor in the storage room. Maybe that concrete floor was the highway and I dreamed about those two dogs and the dream is still stuck somewhere in my mind. Maybe I left Red and Blue there on the storage room floor: two crumpled bodies in the midst of a genocide.
A stretch for sure: a flight of my imagination, but that’s the way things go at 3:00 a.m. in Mexico and you’ve got nothing but Carver, a shot of wine, a Xanax , and a royalty check for $0.00.
Some people call it inspiration. Maybe Carver would have understood and not thought me an idiot.