Hours must have passed because my dreams fragmented and became more vivid, and were finally hijacked and corralled by a symphonic chorus of crickets. I opened my eyes to brilliant sunlight flooding my room at the Halcyon Suites. I groped for my phone and killed the insistent chirps. I couldn’t remember exactly how I’d made it back. The bathroom mirror and tentative fingers on my throat revealed nothing unusual. Looking out the window I saw my car three stories below, parked askew. The driver’s door was open, and a front wheel had mounted the curb and wedged itself in the glossy vinca minor.
My lecture was in an hour. I reviewed my slides over hurried chunks of buttered baguette and black coffee, and made it to the meeting room in West Hall A with minutes to spare. Pharma reps and postdocs gazed and tapped at their phones as I mounted the podium. My ruby laser danced across the screen highlighting details of bacterial pathology. But my thoughts were overrun by images of Fairouz and me skipping through thunder showers and nuzzling ardently to Di Sarli tangos. Fairouz breathed intimately into my ear, her crisp boleos and sensual barridas flawlessly reflected as we swept by the mirrors. Her joy in Tango was the universal joy of women free to be enfolded in love. I fielded a question or two, then headed out to the Islamic women’s rights convention.
I had long grown accustomed to inhabiting parallel lives that came and went as naturally as day follows night. My days usually began with imperfect recollection of evanescent dreams, followed by driving into the city across estuarine sea-marshes. One day I’d listen to a sober public news station and think about scholarly tasks awaiting me in my office. The next day, I’d listen to Argentine Tango Radio Budapest. The music diverted my thoughts into a life with clear priorities: to listen more intently, to dance perfectly aligned with my partner’s close embrace and her flying high heels, and carnal daydreams. And so I sensed a tangent into novel experience as I queried my phone and saw that women’s rights were in East Hall B.
For minutes on end I traversed glass-balconied concrete galleries and drifted down silent escalators, coming at last to East Hall B and a darkened packed auditorium. I made my way closer to the stage, and found a seat between an overweight lady who appeared to be asleep and an earnest young woman with her hair in corn-rows. I listened intently for a minute or two before realizing that Fairouz was up there, poised and matter-of-fact behind the podium. She was crisp and business-like in an ash gray jacket and skirt, and a tiny microphone was clipped to the creamy open collar of her blouse.
“Tens of thousands of my people died when Ethiopia invaded my homeland. Hundreds of thousands fled Mogadishu. To defenseless Somalis, the marauding aliens were incarnations of the Ethiopian vampire regime that sidelined horrific human rights violations by pursuing Al-Shabaab into South Somalia.”
Her laser pointer threw a fluorescent green stigma onto a grainy image of a desert landscape. Skeletal women and children huddled in the sparse shade of thorn trees. In the next slide a column of light tanks and SUVs bristling with machine guns and Kalashnikovs hurtled through an abandoned village of thatched huts. And then her laser picked out a young girl struggling in her mother’s arms as a turbanned elder probed between the child’s splayed legs with a curved and bloodied knife. I felt an uncomfortable stir in the darkened auditorium, and marveled at Fairouz’s composure as she recited statistics of genital cutting. Such things were not uppermost in the educated placid minds of her audience.
When the lights came up, the moribund lady on my right came to life and challenged Fairouz on US complicity in East African affairs. Fairouz cited her sources, thanked everyone for their attention, and turned towards the door. I followed her out to a terrace overlooking a marine theme park. Vivid blue waterslides towered over diminutive tiki bars and sun umbrellas lining the scalloped edges of a mega-pool. Shading her eyes, Fairouz leaned against the parapet and smiled. I remembered my involuntary recoil and easy surrender at her first tentative bite into my throat.
“Fairouz,” I said, “What did you mean, the Ethiopian vampire regime?”
“I took you back to the Halcyon Suites last night,” she said. “Sorry if I overshot the parking lot a little. You were completely out of it; you seemed to think that Tango infiltrates neural circuits involved in human emotion. Tango is pretty elemental, I agree, but really…? As for the Ethiopian vampires? An apt metaphor for everything that ails us.”
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