The second one came in the middle of the night. There was a hill in it, three-dozen onlookers, and a punch that sent the small kid flying. His words of surprise were in Spanish.
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?Break it up.? The bald older man stopped the spectacle. There were no other sounds but his voice. The sunburned kid with the attitude pulled the gun; and the shot, now only an echo, was loud enough to wake the dead.
(You?re dreaming. Wake up.)
It was three-thirty. The only light that came through the bent blinds was the neon sign illuminating the bar across the street. Tomás flinched and felt a cramp in his skinny legs, only an extension of his thin body. He murmured to himself in Spanish before getting his usual drink of water?after those dreams his throat was always dry. He did get it, feeling the foul taste of his tap water and the headache that had become traditional. He went back to sleep.
He checked the newspaper when he awoke again, thanking God he didn?t have another dream in between. It was enough to experience one a night; he didn?t need more. Sure enough, there it was: ?Young man killed by police officers? located in the top right of the front page, the first spot his eyes focused on. The dream the morning before was much darker than the last one, ephemeral, but still clear in its message: those were cops beating that man, cursing and spitting and knocking the crack residue from his nose and letting blood wash the drug away. Then he realized he was one of the ones beating. That?s when Tomás woke, wished he?d stayed in Colombia even if it meant seeing his children kidnapped in the streets. It was the same here, except his wife, and not a guerilla, did the kidnapping. (But what could he do?)
When he arrived at work it was eleven. The restaurant was not more than two miles from his apartment, but he didn?t have to start early so he never minded the walk. It was the walk at midnight or one or two he despised, feeling awful as he made his way past the urine and the prostitutes and the emptiness occupying the neighborhood.
The first customers of the day were the couple?they always came in on Tuesdays. They left no tip but said thank-you profusely. He would have to pour glasses and glasses of ice and water for the ?gentleman,? who never ordered a drink but was always thirsty for free.
Tomás had decided his second day at work he would speak only when spoken to?feeling everything else was unnecessary and would just cause trouble.
At three he was silent as he thought about the bald teacher and that whole dream. He replayed it like a carefully chosen reverie, and debated in his mind. (He didn?t ever know where to look?even if he wanted to do something?and what he could he do, really?) He did have a break today, from three to four. But he usually spent that choosing a discounted menu item to eat, saving his money and pooling it to send to his kids, or reading a book and hoping never to forget Spanish.
(There was a high school nearby, wasn?t there?)
He didn?t eat today. He would save more money. Over his break he instead walked over to the school and found kids standing around, waiting, kids walking or arguing or kissing or doing whatever they pleased. He felt out of place. There was nothing here like in his dream. He went back to work.
He exited the restaurant at the back after his shift was over, finding his way through puddle-filled alleyways with aplomb brought on by routine. The rest of the walk was routine too, in a sense, but the presence of dealers or police officers (or both) or gangs or anyone bent on exploiting a few dollars was up to fatuity.
?And how are you tonight?? A woman, parlaying her body and plucking her cigarette from her blood-red lips, ushered herself closer to Tomás.
?Fine.? He turned and walked off. Tomás heard the same apply to the next man just a few feet behind him. But this man stopped; Tomás turned the corner and heard no more. He saw a man sitting right below him on the sidewalk; he had to avoid him by stepping over. This attracted the man?s attention?but he only looked up, he only widened his eyes just slightly. Tomás passed him silently, and they both turned their eyes to the concrete sidewalk. The rest of the time all he had to do was avoid eye contact, and he would almost certainly avoid trouble. The stairs leading up to his apartment groaned. After getting ready to sleep, reading, watching television (but he had missed the news), praying, and delaying the inevitable, he finally turned off all the lights and surrendered to his exhaustion.
He woke up about an hour later to the sounds of a horn honking and the screech of tires.
No dream yet.
He wanted to stay awake the rest of the night?but he had nothing to do; there was only sleeping, dreaming, and work.
(It would be better if there was only work?especially now.)
He drifted off to sleep: to a winding, empty hallway. He advanced further, gliding, not walking, toward an open door. The apartment was small. There was a small child crawling around naked and a woman lying on the floor. The curtains were on fire.
(You?re dreaming. Wake up.)
It was already morning. He dressed and walked down to the corner newspaper stand, purchasing one again out of pure curiosity.
(Maybe he should subscribe?)
?Teacher killed after breaking up fight.? Sure enough, just below the fold.
He cursed, and bought it.
He took it back to his apartment and found out the school was across town.
(What could he do? Dios, what could he do? Forget his children? Forget his work?)
He thought about if and what they were: coincidences, fate, his reveries or a tangle in his mind. He read the article several more times, slowing down each time, inducing more of a wrest deep inside; a horn honked, and Tomás ignored it, studying the picture near the article of the teacher?s face. The horn honked again. There was yelling. Sirens. He finally rose and looked out the window: the apartment building across the street was on fire. The sirens blared and the crowd gathered; the residents sat on the sidewalk just below his window.
The feeling overtook him now. Usually in these instances he would just feel nauseous, but now it forced him to vomit. He couldn?t get to the bathroom in time, and he left a dotted trail staring him in the eye as he sat next to the toilet. He began to pray, saying as many ?Hail Mary?s? as he could until more vomit interrupted. He flushed the toilet after he finished. He wouldn?t get a paper tomorrow morning. He hurried off to work without brushing his teeth.
He was always called ?Thomas? at work. He had stopped correcting everyone on it the third day he?d started at the restaurant, not more than a few weeks ago. The couple came in again, though they were there before Tomás arrived. During his break, the fat manager chided him?mispronouncing Tomás?s name over and again?for not being ?friendly? enough. He was interrupted by a phone call. It was his wife.
Without any preparation or apology, she said she and the kids were moving because she had a new job. She spoke in rapid Spanish, almost too fast for Tomás to comprehend it. They were going to drive to a nearby town to look at apartments the next day.
?Pero, mi amor.?
She said it was final and they had to?that it was the best option for his two sons. He begged her to reconsider. She seemed resolute: ?Adios, Tomás.?
He wanted to tell her about the dreams but couldn?t.
Her goodbye was the most crushing thing: she meant everything of ?Adios.? She meant she wouldn?t see him in a long time?she didn?t want to see him in a long time. It was completely different than ?Hasta luego.? The rest of his shift was muted and blurred like his dreams.
And that?s when he came to Cassandra, and told her everything. She was one of the few people he never hesitated to state opinions or ideas to, to discuss with, or be forthright about feeling. (As much as he would.) She worked at the restaurant with him, and by her friendly comments, had struck up a relationship quickly. He was never really sure why, though, he talked with her more than he ever did with his own wife.
?And why should I believe you?? She and Tomás were sitting on her couch. The wind howled through the closed windows, enough to cause Cassandra?s dark curly hair to sway.
?You shouldn?t. But?I am?haunted.? He stood up and sat down frequently, pacing from her kitchen to her bedroom to her living room, mumbling in Spanish. She sat on the couch with her hands on her knees, leaning over the edge.
?It is like something out of our history.?
?What kinda history??
?My country?Colombia?s history?it has many strange events.?
She nodded. ?Maybe you should take some time off work. We can get along fine without you for a couple of days??
?I need to work.?
He started pacing again, this time silently, letting the rush of a thousand thoughts cascade. ?Maybe they?ll stop.?
?Maybe. You know?if you want to stay on the couch??
He looked up ?I miss my life.?
?Stay.? She knew about his wife and his situation only from a direct line of questioning a week ago when she stood pale and naked in front of him wondering why he wouldn?t sleep with her. She wondered what would happen to him tonight, what dream would come. She fixed the couch up: a woolen blanket and an extra pillow, the remote control for the television and a glass of water?recalling nights together. He came in fifteen minutes later.
?What do you need??
?I can?t sleep, Cassandra.?
?I?m the one who can?t sleep. But Tomás, you won?t.?
He didn?t reply; he only shifted his weight. He knew she was right.
Cassandra figured she would try something. ?What if I said your dream would help??
?I don?t believe?you.? He started to approach the bed. He could see the faint glisten of her distilled blue eyes.
?Why wouldn?t you believe me??
?You are not cursed like me.?
?Your dreams can help.?
?None of my dreams have helped.?
He climbed into her bed and lay next to her. She turned the lamp next to her bed on. ?How do you know??
?Do you believe me??
?Yes. Then why won?t you believe me??
?I don?t know.? He kissed her cheek.
?Just stay with me.?
?I?m sorry.? He smiled a half-smile and went back into the other room.
She heard the television on and saw the light beneath her door until she fell asleep though she wanted to stay awake. When she woke up, it was just past dawn, her night had been dreamless, and when she was out of bed she saw Tomás sitting on the couch watching television, his eyes wide open.
?Were you up all night??
?How?d you do it??
Cassandra was also there, later on in the day when the phone call came, when the manager?s eyes sulked and his mouth dropped, and when Tomás found out his wife and kids had been killed in a car accident.
(You?re not dreaming. Wake up.)