On my way back to the apartment, I stopped at the American Express office to see if there was mail. The clerk asked me to spell my last name, as if he’d seen it before but couldn’t remember where, and told me to wait, which I did, ten minutes, before he returned with a letter that had arrived a long time ago. They’d kept it on the off-chance that someday someone would come and ask for it. In the space where there should have been a return address, there was the single word: Rafael
Rafael. The cocaine wholesaler I’d met years earlier. I opened it. It was handwritten.
Dear Mystic Knight of the Sea:
I hope you’re well.
I’m writing to let you know that I’m launching a business venture and you’d be perfect for it. I’ve bought a motor boat that can go really fast. It’s being fitted out with special equipment.
I’m looking for a crew. I need a professional, someone I can trust, someone who’s used to spending long stretches at sea. And someone who knows how to keep his mouth shut in a pinch, I’m sure you’re good at that as well. It might be risky, but taking risks never stopped you before, right? Anyway, if all goes well, a big payoff is in store. You can keep drifting for the rest of your life without any money worries.
If you’re up for it, let me know. I didn’t put my address on the envelope, or in the letter, but if you still have it, you can write me there. If not, send it care of American Express, La Paz.
Tu hermano perdido,
So, Rafael wanted me to work as a deck hand on a boat carrying… cocaine? From South America to where? California? I’d never carried contraband, but I’d worked on ships carrying napalm, so really, it wasn’t a big leap to dope-runner. I liked the idea of shared risk, like a platoon in wartime, and I also liked the possibility of getting together with Rafael again.
Beti could get along without me. Sure, I’ll send a note to Rafael, telling him…
No. Can’t do that.
So, what do I tell him?
The truth? That I’d decided, only minutes before reading his letter, to be a father? To raise a child and be there for him or her? That I was embarking on a different kind of adventure, one that was at least as risky as dope-smuggling?
In the end, I sent him a note thanking him, without mentioning Beti, telling him I was no longer available for that kind of work. As I walked back to the apartment, my mind was churning:
Is this, then, how a life gets its permanent form? You carve out a life for yourself, spend years wandering, then one day you get stoned, go out, walk around, watch the flow of humanity, and you say, well, okay, I’m going to do this from now on and not that. I’ve been a drifter and now I’ll be father and husband. Is that how we decide what becomes of us?
So it’s all a series of random events, like atoms smashing against one another, then smashing into other atoms. It’s endless, the randomness of it, the arbitrariness of it. Like two flutes answering one another in the dark, on a rust-free steamboat crossing Lake Titicaca.