Excerpt, Facing the Son
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Matt Reiser, from Fort Wayne, Indiana, landed in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, on a May evening in 1979. He woke the next morning with a terrible headache.
He rubbed his neck, his skin hot, gritty, and sticky, and blinked directly into a bright parched wall. He sat up with a jerk. “Ow!” His back. He twisted himself upright, confused, on a hard pack street. A group of strange people stood over him. A short heavy bald man in a horizontally striped shirt dangled a cigarette from his lips. A severe woman with critical eyes held a headless chicken by its feet. Several ill-dressed men looked on from behind.
“Get away from me!” Matt waved his arms to shoo the crowd. “What are you looking at?” He meant to shout but coughed. He was groggy. His body didn’t respond. He needed to focus. “Where am I?”
Matt struggled to his feet and felt the blood fall from his head, placed his palms on the wall for balance. The wall felt warm and rough, and he waited for the dizziness to pass before turning to see where the hell he was. The sun caught him in the face. Too bright. Couldn’t see. Shaded his eyes.
Who were these people? The bald man stared at Matt. Made him aware of his heavy, crumpled sport coat. Matt pressed his lower back to stand straight.
“Where is this?” He stepped away from the wall, turned his attention to the area around the building, and stumbled into the street, splashing through a curbside rivulet.
“The hell?” He looked at his wet socks. “Where are my shoes?” He looked around and saw tenements running the length of the street in both directions. Weeds, spindly bushes, even a short tree, poked through the broken road. Trash lay in scattered piles. An old cane chair with a busted seat butted up against a wall. A mangy mongrel rummaged through the trash at the corner of a building. Nothing like Le Grande Hôtel here. Le Grande Hôtel. The idea of it burnt brightly in Matt’s yawning consciousness with the promise of cleanliness, a cool shower, and an air-conditioned room with a view. And security.
“Police,” Matt said, his anger taking shape. “I want the police!” he shouted. “The police! Do you hear me? Get the police!”
The old woman knocked the bald man in the shoulder and uttered something.
“My bags!” Coming to, Matt looked back at the empty space around the square building. “My bags were in the trunk of the car.” He slapped his pockets with growing panic. “My money!” Then he slapped his chest to feel for his passport and rammed his hands inside his jacket pockets. “I can’t believe this! They took everything!” He threw his arms out and traipsed toward the onlookers. He couldn’t imagine going home empty handed, returning to his wife’s everlasting disappointment.
A moped skidded to a halt beside the commotion. The rider, a teenage boy with an Afro and wearing an orange and green soccer jersey, stayed seated, his feet as kickstand, watching. The boy looked fresh, as if he just woke up and was on his way to school, or work, or whatever it was these people did around here.
The group gave Matt space and watched him strut.
“I don’t speak French,” he asserted. “No parlez français.”
The scruffy cur, suspicious of the strange man’s nervous energy, dropped his head and snarled and Matt kept the mutt in sight in case it lunged at him. Was it rabid? How much worse could this get?
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