Wordcarpenter Books

Chapter Twenty-eight

The Great Pilgrimage

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            Bypassing weakens but engaging elevates. Neglecting moments limit the depth of emotion, and rejecting possibility hinders the power of creation, but stepping forward enables enlightenment, and partaking in the scrum fosters and fortifies. To embrace is to strengthen and improve but to ignore is to deflate and decay. To create is to build and grow but to destroy is to injure and impair. To consider stirs imagination and possibility but to refuse causes regret and resentment. To say yes brings fortune and opportunity but to say no castrates and beguiles. Hope fosters and fuels but despair cripples and defeats. These were Noble's thoughts as he faced a new day with fresh lungs and windburn on his cheeks.

            The roar of the waves crashed and skirmished against the force of the moon in the early hours of daylight, coughing up a spray leaving an unmistakable chill. The sun, slow to rise and break free from cloud cover, hadn't yet warmed the air that left even the keenest bodysurfer tepid of the morning dip. Is not a swim designed for midday?

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            Noble slept long hours for many days, wiped out from the rich oxygen of sea level, drugged into a stupor by nature's own hand. He spent less time with his pipe and more time relaxing on the sand, choosing to swim and walk rather than freebase and party all night. He settled in with his Kit Carson biography and was mesmerized by the man's abilities and impact on American history, finally embittered by Kit Carson's unjust fate of falling off his horse at the age of 58. He was at the peak of his powers and had just brought the might Navajo Indians to their knees without firing one bullet.

            Mark the Irishman was going to get back to him about staying in his empty hostel to act as a property manager and policeman, but the idea didn't pull him in because the hostel was on the strip and beside the heart of the nightlife. With no mosquito net and filthy with mould and dead insects, the room was the opposite to his current room at the hotel, clean and well lit and void of equatorial bugs. Sure he was dying but he didn't want to be struck with the fever of malaria or dengue, two common afflictions to visitors to Canoa.

            His knees were brown with bruising, noticeable when he walked down the strip in shorts, something a tan couldn't hide. But to Noble that was window dressing, not important to him in the slightest. What troubled him was the debris he was coughing up. So severe was the gunk that the fourth day he found blood. He knew that the disease had started on his lungs and that it wouldn't be long until he would suffocate from dead cells and collagen. It scared him to the quick but he put his chin up and refused to bow under the fright it caused. The taste of it reviled him, and caused him to think of returning to Quito where the thinner oxygen likely slowed down the spread of the nuclear antibodies because there was less oxygen to fuel the flames of destruction.

             He wasn't afraid of surfing but he did know how rough the surf was having been thrown around in the whitewater when he went bodysurfing. He had lost thirty-five pounds since his diagnosis almost six months ago, his chest now concave and his ribs defined like the tent on a wagon wheel. If he contracted Dengue he would be dead within weeks. With his immune system weakening each day, the chances of getting one of the countless tropical diseases here on the water increased, something that made him uncomfortable. And having so little meat on him the water was cold, which made bodysurfing more a chore than an event of joy. The sun seldom shone, at least not as much as in Quito, instead the overcast skies hiding the warmth of the sun, the wind and moisture creating a chill by the water that made him shiver. He didn't want to let his illness dictate what he did but with him coughing up blood in the denser air of the coast he had the tangible evidence that it had taken hold and was doing its best to destroy his organs. He knew he would die in Ecuador and that he would not tell any of his family, except for his sister. There was nothing back in America for him except memories of being stifled and impatient with the slow passing of time.

            Coming to terms with the reality of his physical condition changed Noble. He saw the surf as violent that brought fear into his heart. It was feeble of him to cower at the power of Mother Nature but he had to face the fact that he was diminishing, his own power waning with each passing day. His hands were frozen like a claw, fingers unmovable and fingertips dry and hard and lacking any sense of touch. His clothes were baggy on him and pants falling off his waist. Even with many new notches in his belt he couldn't keep his pants up. He even started growing a beard to hide his bony face. The Pacific Ocean had become a constant trumpet warning of the dangers lurking below the surface and beyond the break, the thundering and uncensored brutality producing shards of fear in his gut. He cringed at his own weakness and grew fervent to overcome his fear but he knew Mother Nature's power was greater than his, himself being only a part of her grand plan. The riptide in the crashing soup menaced him now, a monster waiting to pull him down and away without a witness. He felt small and helpless in her yaw, cold and scared, like an old man in the face of a typhoon.

            There was such a sadness in his heart that he didn't move from his spot on the beach for some time, letting the rain wet him and the wind chill him, as he profoundly respected the forces of nature, morose that he didn't have more time to explore her mysteries. He knew it would be something he would miss. He ruminated on the irony of finding this haven in the world that he had seen before in the landscapes of his dreams, only to be too ill to savor and enjoy it. He wasn't bitter but rather grateful he had found it and experienced its special vibe, thankful he had chosen to come here from reading the signs.

            He sat for hours and pondered his life. He thought of the Dane and the good times he had had in Quito, missing that camaraderie and the security he felt from the love of friends he had made on his own in the last six months, a new life opposite to his old life in the States. It was the saving grace of a wasted life, a balm to his person from the ramifications of taking the wrong path chosen using emotion rather than wisdom. He had wished he had read more books that could have inspired him to choose a path where others feared to tread, and taken advantage of the canon of art that emoted through stories and works of art about the tragedy of mortal life, and songs of love that celebrated the joy of having fun and feeling safe. He had always been a little boy, no one around who cared enough to make him snap out of it and take the first step to becoming who he was. He had stopped when an obstacle was insurmountable, not knowing he could have gone around it and kept forward working on a solution to overcome it with his own hand. He had been a man who had remained a boy, an insecure voice demanding respect but lacking the grace that came from empirical knowledge, a man-boy with a flaw in his life philosophy, mired in his own immaturity.

            He had been lonely, as if through choice, preferring safety and softness to the rigors of the scrum. The unavailability of sharing had been the cause of silencing the sugarcoated lips of Reno, an emoting vitality that thrived on sharing his wit. Instead the ghost of indifference, the most unwanted of all dispositions, cut him off from his audience and atrophied his tongue. He had castrated himself, soon withering on the vine so that he prayed for rain rather than hoped for sun. He could have followed the voice of Reno the philosopher he heard speaking sometimes, the slow diction and tenor of a sage, prompting consideration to change and provoking new thoughts that threatened his belief system. But the paradigm shift never came, the flush of courage never came to his cheek, and the adventure that lay hidden behind the door was never had because the door was ignored. He had never reached his tipping point, to change and evolve, to face the hardships of an original life, and to ignore cynics who cut your legs and watch you stumble on your outlandish path towards oblivion. He never taxed his character arising from challenges and obstacles, and never traversed alone knowing the transitory nature of life.

            He wondered if there are not two worlds that co-exist, side-by-side in time, one world full of those on their Great Pilgrimage to find the answers to life's mysteries, and those who never left their cozy nest mired in their inertia and unwilling to go forth. Two communities of peoples living according to different principles and interpretations of the compass, different orientations on opposing poles only overlapping along zero latitude. It had taken a fatal disease to push him out of his community to the other side where people grew flowers and went to bullfights, drove like rally drivers and flew helicopters, and created religions and drilled for oil. Unique in aspect and novel in form, it was an eccentric and strange world of creators and explorers long accustomed to the tougher gravity and bumpier ground that was the playing field of the Great Game.

            And who were these people who lived in this world of the Great Pilgrimage? They were producers of art that inspired man, people of insight and opinion, unorthodox and unsung in frayed collars, forgotten and overlooked, yet totally immersed in the Powerful Play. They were the lifeline and lifeblood, people of sincerity and patience, founders and builders, visionaries and scholars, and providers of sustenance for the universal spirit and at home in their anonymity. There were unwavering in purpose and self-belief, dedicated to their dreams with infirmaries untended, carpenters and painters impervious to skeptics, originators and teachers of knowledge and craft, who laughed and waited for the rest of humanity to catch up. These were Noble's thoughts as he savored the sunset and rose hue behind the clouds, grabbing his knees to ward off the Pacific offshore chill.

 


 

Chapter Twenty-nine

A Purpose for Your Sins

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            Finite time is the foundation of life's inherent sadness, he thought to himself as he listened to the blonde Van Limburger, eyes bright with light.

            "It changes a man," she said, eyebrows barely discernable in the beach twilight. "You can see it. You can see how it takes it out of them." Van Limburger knew exactly what she was saying but he was equally shocked at how she had come to know this truth. She simply wasn't old enough. He thought of Jamul and the Dane.

            "Yes," he said, waiting to see if she had more.

            "It's different than the others. They say it's the hardest drug of them all." Van Limburger had to quell the storm before it morphed into a squall. The trouble was she was exactly right.

            "Well, put it this way, I've been working my entire life, since I was twelve with no summers off. I even had a paper route during the year." Images of predawn mornings crossed his mind, taking momentary delight in knowing he had mastered throwing the newspaper from the sidewalk.

            "So?"

            "So now I don't mind having my little drug phase. In fact I'm really enjoying my coke phase." The moxie didn't change her expression. She knew there wasn't any beef in his words. What he could see was the ancient expression of maternal concern in her eyes. She knew exactly where he was heading, and she knew precisely where he would end up if there weren't a stop to his sinful activities. For a moment, just for a moment, he screamed in his head at all the injustices that had beset his life, his brother, his lost love, his fatal illness, and the missed opportunities. He coughed and tasted the coppery taste of blood. He wondered if he had some dried blood around the corners of his mouth. He could feel his cotton shirt falling off the toothpick shoulders, its looseness baggy and cold.

            "What if you were at the end of your life, and you had the means and interest to experience the other side of life? And you know from books like that Keith Richard's biography that a small dabble for six months is nothing compared to thirty-five years of severe partaking." He was a puppy compared to Keith.

            "If it's the end of your life?" She pondered it.

            "Funny how time affects decisions isn't it? You have your whole life in front of you waiting to be tasted. It's wise not to delve into the White Lady without a purpose to your sins."

            "I suppose I would try it. I mean if I was dying I would. Sure, why not? As long I don't get hooked." Raised a good point.

            "So what if you liked it and used it out of choice rather than physiological dependence? Like drinking coffee in the morning. And afternoon. And night."

            "I don't know. I don't think I could because it wrecks you." She looked at his emaciated neck and shoulders. "Lose your appetite." He nodded.

            "Okay, let me ask you something then: If you had twelve months to live and were crippling worse with each passing day, would you partake and trade off maybe six months of your time left, or choose the slow death without an elixir?" He wanted to tell her cocoa has been medicine for arthritis for centuries.

            "But you're in a drugged stupor."

            "But what if it acted like a magic pill that took the pain away and brought you to a holy place in your spirit? So a clear and divine state." She laughed.

            "You're pretty set on this aren't you?"

            "What if it was a medicine? Would you trade in half your time?" Her eyes glimmered when she drank her Mojito, he boyfriend quiet, leaning back on his chair, stirring the mint leaves slowly.

            "So without the medicine it would be painful?"

            "Yes."

            "I don't know. That's a tough one."

            "I know what I'd do," said her boyfriend in a sudden thrust of assertion. "I would take it. No question. Why go out in pain? No man, take the medicine I say!" He raised his pint glass. "That's an easy one!" The guttural laughter hit Noble and silenced the screams in dormancy.

            Having purchased more base from a local surfer with dreadlocks, Noble was urged on by Reno and his mischief, trying to turn a day into a year. Van Limburger had gone for a walk under the full moon along the beach with her boyfriend so Noble found himself on a second-floor bar with a pool table, challenging for the table. An American from Chicago was there, eyeglass and well over six feet, with the words "GOOD LUCK" tattooed on the back of each finger below the knuckle. Reno, after taking the table from the locals challenged him to a game.

            "No man, I don't plan of going back to Illinois. You kidding me? Too cold you know. I got married man, I'm here for the long haul." Hair falling in his eyes, Dan was terrible at billiards.

            "I hear you on that. How long you been married?" Reno stoned, sunglasses still on.

            "'Bout a year. Renewing my visa was pissing me off." The word ‘visa' reminded him he needed to renew his visa. He looked at his watch.

            "What's the date today?"

            "Who cares?"

            "Seriously. About the 15th?"

            "About that." He had three days.

            "Visas yeah. Pain in the ass."

            "Shame though." He looked closely at his swollen wrist. "Had a fight last night with my old lady. Almost puncher her. Hit the wall instead. Bad move though. Couldn't busted a bone." Dan had a runny nose he wiped with the back of his hand.

            "A wall has very little give."

            "But I love her man. I really do. I don't know why but she gets my goat sometimes. Keeps talking about moving to Chicago. I mean what's with that?"

            "You should be all right. I mean you have a positive vibe from those words on your fingers." The tattoo looked fresh.

            "They kinda wrecked the ‘G' here but all in all getting redone here for the third time was worth it."

            "Looks good to me dude." The letters huge on his big hands. "One ought to expect an Ecuadorian wife to emigrate to the States though. You know it's cooler here but she doesn't, and maybe never will."

            "I know."

            "She doesn't know that there's better technology here, higher quality I mean." Reno smoked. A cloud obscuring his face.

            "Technology, yeah."

            "The white tech."

            "Much better quality."

            "The base here is different than Quito. It's pink." Reno sank the eight ball for the victory.

            "That's ‘cause it comes from Columbia. All the blow here comes from up the coast. Very clean." Sniffed louder and with more purpose, no longer needing to hide it.

            "I came here to get away from it!" The irony.

            "Best in the world."

"Speaking of which."

            "Yes."

            They went outside and down the run where Dan deposited a small Mount Fugi of blow on the back of his hand and snorted. He offered to Reno.

            "Messy this technique." He attacked the small Cotopaxi with his left nostril. The acid burned the lining at the top of his sinus, like an acid, until the drop.

            "This is a great pipe," Reno said with reverence. "Served me well." The sugar-topped bowl on the tobacco bed went up in flames, disappearing into his bloodied lungs.

            "Don't smoke that shit. Fucks my lungs up to much."

            "Doesn't the blow make your nose bleed?" Soldiers comparing battle wounds.

            "Only if it's bad shit. But I have a good supplier. He'd never screw me." He waved his fist gently.

Quiet on the side street, dark and silent except barking and the splash of the surf.

            "I'm heading to the Surf Shak," said Reno, eyes sparkling.

            "Good, that's where I'm heading too. Meeting my wife later."

            They strolled down the street past the corner with locals hanging out, motorbikes parked in a line, shirtless and cocky. Tall and white, they two Americans veered to the sand and the line of palm trees shunning the wind.

            Taking advantage of two-for-one cocktails, they ordered banana and rum drinks and stayed at the bar inside. The winds and moisture made it cold outside. Each darted to the washroom to take a line or smoke a pipe throughout the night, no one taking notice or care, so by the time Dan's wife showed up she was pissed off. Dan's nose was like a waterfall and he kept running out of tissue.

            She was suspicious of Reno, his unshaven face and sunglasses, coke grin.

            "Where were you tonight?" The tone was enough for Reno to take his drink and go for a smoke outside.

            "There you are," said Mark the Irishman, sitting with his wife watching his daughter play with the dog.

            "Been adjusting to this air," he replied, truthfully.

            "Yeah, I know the difference. Hits you hard, that." Hair still cut in the military tradition, Mark could never seem to get the army out of him. His bearing was military, and so was his drinking. Fast-paced and snowballed with a blast of nicotine, Mark pursued his pint with vigor, like a thirsty old barman. 

            "So that offer I made you mate, I have to take it back." He pointed with his thumb next door. "Just rented it out, to another Canadian, but he's just given me a hundred-thousand deposit so I think he's serious." It hadn't really crossed his mind. The salt and moisture and oxygen would probably drown him in his own blood.

            "I guess you've got the next round then." That crack caught the attention of Balmer, the local brew master.

            "That sounds like a good idea." He was drinking the wheat beer he made.

            "And get me some of that wheat beer will ya," Reno making himself at home on the patio. There was Pete the hand-glider and his wife Felicity, and James the old owner and Balmer the brew master.

            "All right, I need to tell you that I can out drink any of you. I'm open to challenges." Balmer had the swagger of a man from Milwaukee.

            "I'll take you on," said Pete the hand-glider, tanned features and flip flops worked in. The contest latest for a few seconds. Balmer just poured it down his throat. Pete was heaving and spilling. James ignored them but Mark the Irishman went to bat but also went down in flames. A fine effort nonetheless. So Reno threw his hat in the ring.

            "I'll challenge you then, see if I can oust you from your platform." Balmer showed signs of drunkenness already. Reno knew he couldn't quaff a beer but he played up to the bluff.

            "Let's see how they drink down in Texas," he retorted, beer foam in his moustache.

            It was Reno's moment of introduction to the Surf Shak gang, who had only seen the skinny Texan walking the beach for a week. James kept separate, brooding over his vodka.

             "All right, what's the time to beat?" Felicity kept score.

            "One-point-nine seconds," she said, happy to establish the bridge.

            "Ah, when I was at Rice I was unbeaten in my junior year." All lies. Reno had taken the turret with this rifle.

            "Well then it's two unbeaten masters going neck-and-neck," Mark hoping his friend will perform well. Even James looked up with attention.

            "So the victor picks up the next round?" Balmer looked at his plastic cup filled to the brim with the concoction he made everyday.

            "Um, I don't know if I need another."

            "Yes!" said Pete from the corner, cool and crisp, not about to let the free round pass.

            "Okay then." Reno removed his fleece for spillage and picked up his cup.

            "Ready, drink!"

            Balmer poured his beer into his gullet in one-point-seven seconds while Reno chugged his beer taking over eight seconds. It was his best shot.

            After all the hoopla, it was good to know a dying man could still bluff.

 
 

Table of Contents

  1. The Divine Elbow
  2. Just Surviving As Noble Intent
  3. Surpassing Neophobia
  4. The Middle of the World
  5. The Dane
  6. The Religion of Sfauism
  7. Celebrating Chemistry
  8. Connected Columbians
  9. Stuntmen and Dakar Motorcycle Groupies
  10. Into Amazon Waters
  11. A Beautiful Repressive Niche
  12. Canalazo de Naranilla
  13. Cajunes el grande
  14. A Noble Doppelgänger
  15. Reno Finds His Footing
  16. How to Make a Bomb Out of a Light Bulb
  17. The Impossible Black Lily
  18. The Boy Fascist
  19. Artistas
  20. The Art of Death
  21. The Earthquake Virgin
  22. Lambaster of Laughter
  23. The Sweet Cadence of Scheudenfreunden
  24. Matador: the Agent of Destiny
  25. Overfilling
  26. Mobile Piping
  27. Aristotle’s Character Years
  28. The Great Pilgrimage
  29. A Purpose for Your Sins
  30. Errol Flynn
  31. The Better Man
  32. The Addict’s Ladder
  33. The African Club
  34. The Dutch Hair Piece
  35. The Swiss Army Knife
  36. The Scent of Ammonia
  37. At the Mouth of the Amazon
  38. Broken and Renewed
  39. Seizing the Moment
  40. A Recent Past Discovered
  41. Pinned and Threatened by Fate
  42. Twice as Much in Half the Time
  43. The Assassination
  44. The Pledge
  45. Slandering Hamlet
  46. Stealing Time
  47. Hannibal at the Gates
  48. On the Old Contraband Trail

                  Epilogue

 

 
 

 

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