Excerpts

FROM CHAPTER TWO OF THE RISK OF RETURNING:

I remained outside, gazing at the empty wet street while the damp air enveloped me.  The benign silence had returned, the only sound the squeak of the metal signs in the breeze. A bony dog nosed its way down the gutter.  Other than that, I was alone, until my eye caught a single figure on the farther sidewalk, a young man, maybe a boy, wearing a straw hat with the brims rolled up, walking quickly, close to the buildings, head down, shoulders heaving, as if he had been running.

I watched him for a few seconds, then headed back to the room.  I had crossed the threshold of the French doors when I heard the snort of car brakes and a yell and turned in time to see a white van, a Chevy, I thought (snub-nosed), which had apparently stopped in the street, gather speed and swing with a roar around the next corner.  The man who had been walking was nowhere in sight.

That was it.  You could say I saw nothing, or that there was nothing to see anyway, or nothing ominous.  A man was walking, a vehicle came by and stopped, and the man was gone.  I knew there were abductions here. But it seemed hardly likely I’d witness one on my first night, as if the country had arranged it for my orientation.  Nevertheless, the effect was total.  I felt blind-sided, hit by a board.  The incident had found a match in the molecules of my own inner state and linked up perfectly.  I slipped back inside and sat on the bed.  My breathing filled the room.

I should report it, shouldn’t I?  That was the next question, a rational one, I thought.  I reached for the phone.  But who did I think I would call?  The front desk?  Police? To tell them what?  Any idea that I ought to do something about it was naïve.  I was just an over-reacting tourist, and—I felt with deep visceral conviction—I shouldn’t be here anyway.  I should leave right now, get a taxi to the airport and stand by for the first empty seat I could get to the States.  I took a shower, considering that possibility, to go back.  Then toweling off, I acknowledged another question.  Back to what?