Below is the opening chapter to my novel, from the pages of a finished PASSPORT:
Answering the Interruptor
Washington, D.C. November 2016
“How much for two weeks of your time? I could use a translator if you’re interested…”
“Hey, who is this?” – Patrick
“It’s Myles. I’m leaving the country for a few weeks and could use some help with my Spanish. You up for it?“
If you know me, you may be surprised to hear how close I actually came to answering with a no when I first saw his message that morning. And I might have done just that if he hadn’t caught me at such a bad time. Though it’s not like a better moment in my day should have been enough to suddenly switch up the plans in my life. At least not so soon after landing my first serious job since graduating college nearly ten years ago. Which isn’t to say I hadn’t been working in the meantime, it just never felt like work was the right word for what I had been doing. And that’s probably why a few friends of mine had even tried talking me out of taking that gap year to teach English down in Latin America before going to grad school. Seems they knew me more than myself, but I don’t think even they could have guessed that my second International flight ever would turn into a decade of living on the go. And while that time abroad may have qualified me for his request, it still struck me as an odd way for someone who hadn’t seen me in such a long time to reach out again. With that consideration I delayed an answer and shelved the message in my mind as I went about solving the first real problem in my way that morning. This city’s parking situation had become a literal joke and now it was making me late for someone who knew me to be a more punctual person than the world was allowing me to be. Once I had found a spot I was still a good ten minutes from where Renata had chosen for us to meet and all I had was a pair of dress shoes for the sprint ahead. Bundled in a warm jacket I started my dash and it wasn’t until I was halted at a crosswalk minutes later that the crisp November air finally set in and the two remaining blocks started to feel further away than the previous ten. As patient as one can look in such a situation I stood at the edge of the curb waiting until the signals changed in our favor and the streamline of cars stopped at my feet. At which point I darted my way through the oncoming walkers until I arrived under the awning of a cafe at the edge of 14th street in the heart of D.C.
When I made it inside it only took a moment before I spotted Renata and that notorious mane of soft dark curls spiraling down her shoulder and over the collar of her jacket. Greeting her I took a seat at a small table she had found, alongside a bay window which had been decorated in pale holiday lighting and a series of mini-wreaths with bright red flowers and deep green thistles. As I took off my coat she did little to hide the void of friendly curiosity behind her attempts at meeting up and quickly got to her point. See, her fiancé had been my way in at this new job and while I had provided for a six-month bonus, I was close to making him one more check if I managed to hit a few of the right numbers. Which I could tell she was also eagerly awaiting after our last conversation revealed they had decided to combine their savings for a downpayment on their first home, to be purchased this summer. All before paying for the luxuries one hopes for when dreaming of their still unscheduled wedding. With a glow to her face she looked at me and started where I knew she would.
“Not like you to be late.” – Renata
“I know, I know. My bad.”
“No worries, I ordered for you. Still no coffee right?”
“That’s right. Cleaning up my life. Just espresso.”
“You’re ridiculous. I don’t see how it’s any different.”
“Are you kidding? It’s so different. Same caffeine, but way less time in the bathroom. And ridiculous is that Halloween latte order you had me get last time. Marcus must keep a cheatsheet in his phone with all types of shit like that for reference. I couldn’t do it on my own.”
With a roll of her eyes she looked back at me and countered.
“I got a tea this time thank you very much.”
“Glad you decided to go with simple.”
“Whatever. Now since you mentioned Marcus. Don’t tell him you know, but he’s really glad they hired you. Said you’re really doing well. They’re gonna give you some type of promotion here soon.”
“Always good to have fans.”
“Well you’ve got one in him. So how are you liking everything?”
“It’s cool. Just taking it day by day.”
“Cool? That’s all you have to say?”
“I mean it’s cool. Just not what I’m used to.”
“Which part? Finally making money?”
“I hate you. No. It’s just, I know it’s a professional environment and all, but the dress code is fucking crazy. They’ve been annoying the hell out of me lately.”
“Yeah. Well you can’t be surprised your boss is asking you to dress nice. That’s just how it is around here. Plus you look great in a suit. I don’t know why you’re complaining.”
With a grin for her compliment I looked ahead and continued tapping the soles of my feet in accordance with a twitch that had started from an internal disagreement of sorts regarding her previous statement. To be frank I never enjoyed that phrase. The how it is to life was always a result of how we had made it, but in most places not even we, just someone before us. And don’t get me wrong I knew they weren’t going to let me show up to work in sandals, but it had taken everything in me not to walk out after a few wrinkles on my shirt turned into a five minute lecture about looking more professional. And I didn’t understand why it mattered how me or anyone else dressed if we were locked away in our offices all day. I understood when I was working out front, but now that they had me in the back I didn’t see why the outfit mattered. And that leads me to something else she should have known without having to ask. I wasn’t a fan of the recent change in trajectory which had been assigned to me by her man and his higher ups. Being up front may not have paid the best, but it had been a fun chance to interact with a flood of rotating guests and residents while providing the opportunity to continue using my Spanish. The property was located around the corner from embassy row and their primary concern had seemed to be finding someone who could communicate with as many guests as possible. Now why they wanted to move that person into managing accounts didn’t make much sense from where I was standing. Plus the ability speak to three was the entire reason they had hired me and the only compelling reason I had applied, aside from the assurance that her fiancé would get me an interview and a favorable review. Nonetheless I knew I was lucky to have found a job so quickly after returning home, especially at a place that wanted to move me up, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t annoyed by my own fortune once in a while. And while I appreciated the fact that I had someone looking out for me, the burden of appreciation was becoming a bit much.
“Don’t you miss when you didn’t have anyone breathing down your neck about your outfit all day?”
“All day? Speak for yourself. I’ve never needed anyone to remind me to dress right and neither should you.”
“So much for the sympathy of an old friend.”
“I don’t have to be nice. You skipped out on dinner invites from Marcus and I twice now.”
“I didn’t skip. I was busy.”
As the steam danced away from her cup of Chai I moved my attention to the cup of espresso at my fingertips and must have kept it in my focus a bit too long for her liking. A point which she kindly made me aware by reaching across the table to push my shoulder and throw me off balance.
“What’s up with you? Why are you so distracted?”
“Sorry. Just thinking about a text I got earlier.”
“Anything you wanna talk about?”
“No it’s nothing like that. Just something outta left field. This guy I know hit me up about taking some kind of trip. And he hit me up on my old international number. It was weird.”
“You still have that?”
“It just forwards to my WhatsApp. I don’t even know how he would have gotten that. Or maybe he never deleted it. Who knows?”
“Well where’s he wanna go?”
“He didn’t say. All he said was he needs a translator for Spanish. So somewhere south of the border I guess.”
“So what’s the problem? That sounds awesome.”
“I don’t know. My head just tells me not to go. He started by saying something about a few weeks. And that just sounds like a lot of time to take off right now regardless of what else he’s got to say.”
“Well does he need you? Maybe it’s an emergency?”
“I doubt it.”
“What’s he do for work?”
“Something in solar. Installation last I heard. I can’t see any reason he would be venturing out of the country for that though.”
“Sounds like you might have found someone willing to pay you to frolic around in sandals after all.”
“Ya know…my Spanish is still pretty decent. You should keep me in mind for some extra help if you end up going down there.”
“I thought you decided not to keep up with Spanish after you left. Isn’t Portuguese your thing now? Isn’t that why you still take those dance lessons?”
“Well it’s not like I forgot everything. I still listen to a lot of the music when I’m at salsa class.”
“Ehh even so. I think one translator is enough.”
“You don’t wanna travel with me? Is that what it is?”
“No. I just don’t like to combine my headaches.”
“Rude. I’m not a headache!”
“Calm yourself. I know you’re not, but traveling with you and traveling with an old friend would be two very different times. Both of which I’m not 100% sure I wanna mix. And you don’t wanna travel with two guys anyhow. We’re probably harder to deal with than I’d like to admit. I’m my own headache to travel with. Trust me.”
“Did you forget I have kids? I think I can handle two guys.”
“Yeah you say that now.”
“Well get me onboard and you won’t have any problems with Marcus when you gotta take off all that time. I know how to distract him from his headaches with the schedule.”
“Thanks, but you don’t need to blackmail me to take a vacation. Why don’t you just go somewhere with Marcus?”
“Because! He never wants to go anywhere. Ugh. He’s so boring sometimes. I love him, but just. Ugh.”
“Then go by yourself. I’m sure you’ve got plenty of leave.”
“No. I’m not doing that. I hate traveling alone.”
“Then just keep saving your time and take a long honeymoon, or stay later once he leaves.”
“Ugh. Why do you have to be like this? I don’t wanna wait that long. We haven’t even planned our wedding yet.”
“That’s not my problem.”
“Come on. Just ask him and see what he says.”
At that I threw in one more roadblock hoping to counter her logic with the emotion of not wanting difficulties down the road.
“Marcus isn’t gonna love the idea of you going all that way with some guy he’s never met. I don’t know that I would do that so close to my wedding if I were you.”
With a look of defiance that combined to say a bit of nobody tells me what to do and a bit of whatever, she glared at me and firmly stated her feelings.
“He doesn’t tell me what to do. And if he won’t take me on an adventure, I’ll go on my own. Would you please just ask your friend if the opportunity presents itself? I can just meet you down there and I’ll go off and do my own thing from time to time.”
“I’ll run it by him and see what he thinks, but I’m not gonna make any promises until I know what he’s got in mind.”
“Why don’t you just give me his number and I’ll take your spot.”
“Love the enthusiasm, but that’ll be a negative Thanks though.”
“I’m not paying for your coffee.”
We were finally able to get the conversation away from her protesting and back onto business for the next thirty minutes, but she still found time to throw in her interest once more when we got to our goodbyes.
“So lemme know when I need to start packing.”
“Yeah yeah. Good seeing ya. We’ll talk soon.”
When I left I found myself lost in the daydreams of warmer weather as a series of cold gusts shocked every exposed nerve on my face and a light drizzle started coming down without any warning. One which carried a bone chilling moisture just a degree too warm to have been made into snow. The worst of all the precipitations and a harsh reminder of the winters I had gone without for so long. I had missed a lot of things while I was away, but the cold winters promised by the NorthEast had not been one of those things.
As I thought about factors other than the weather, two weeks away under such conditions was not something any sane person would normally debate, but my free time had never been harder to come by and if I took it, that would be it for the year. Which in some weird way made me nervous. I hated knowing that I wouldn’t have the option to do anything else on my own if I wanted to later on in the year. Something about that felt crippling on it’s own and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit my only free time to someone else’s agenda. And even though I had earned that time, I didn’t feel like I had been there long enough to ask to use it. As many times before the words of an old neighbor echoed in my mind as I was urged to remember the phrase look kid, always protect your time. He had tried drilling that into my head when I was younger, but I never understood what the hell he meant back then. Nor did I really appreciate the passing of time, so how could I have expected to? But before I could know for sure if I was protecting my time or wasting it I had to see what he thought it was worth.
“Sorry for the delay. It’s been a crazy day. “
“No sweat bro. I got your number offline. Hope you don’t mind.
“Not at all dude. How goes it?”
“It’s good man. Busy working as always. Where you at?”
“Going into work”
“No, I mean what country?”
“Oh. I’m back in the states man. Up around D.C.”
“Oh. Ok then. That’ll make this even easier.”
“So what’s up? Lemme hear the details.”
“Simple shit dude. I’m looking for someone who can stay at my side while I do some fishing and see some sights. Easy work.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Was thinking Costa Rica. You been there before right?”
See, this is what I was talking about, he knew I had been there, he even had the postage to prove it. But that didn’t mean I knew Costa Rica. I was likely to know more people than towns. The last time I was there I had entered without the proper stamps or the money to leave so I didn’t get much time to explore the spots one normally does when they go for the Pura Vida experience. Nonetheless, I understood the ways of a coastal Caribbean town enough to feel at home in most of the region. That and I could always trust to know someone somewhere who had been there to help me out if I needed some advice. My delay prompted him to reach out again, but this time with a bit more to say.
“Look man it’s cool if you don’t wanna go. I can always do a vacation in the Bahamas or something like that, but I figured it would be fun to explore somewhere new and you’re the only person I know down there.”
“I get that. I just don’t know that I’m really qualified.”
“Not qualified? You been down there how long now? I’m not asking you to translate a book. I just need someone who can help me get around.”
“Well help me understand what we’re doing. Are you trying to stay in one place or do you want to do a backpacking trip?”
“Honestly bro, it don’t matter. All I know is I got some new fishing rods and I’m fittin’ to use them. Maybe we can rent a house near the water.”
“That could be fun.”
“Exactly. So you comin’? I know we ain’t talked in a bit, but I just want someone I trust. Plus I know you’ll keep me from stressin’ down there.”
Although I appreciated the compliment I would never assure someone the luxury of no stress in such a situation, but I could promise not to contribute to any that should arise and he knew that. With the mention of his new fishing poles now’s probably the time to mention that any equipment he uses is likely to be the best stuff you can find. He wasn’t a Rockefeller or anything, but he had become pretty successful over the years and was never one to spare an expense if it was something he wanted. Which was a quality he supported by working all the time. He was very much a doer. When we were old enough to get jobs he worked his way up in the world of construction through a series of apprenticeships and absorbed a little bit of every trade he could. Eventually he found a combination which struck his interest and became the go to man for solar panels in our area. He had started off by getting some of the local turkey farms to convert their homes to solar paneling and soon enough he was leading the charge for farms in the area. Last I heard, he’s got a lock on anything within a hundred-mile radius of our hometown. Not too shabby for a boy from the hills.
But that same ambition was a bit of what made me hesitant to go in the first place. When we were kids he wasn’t just a high speed driver in his life. He was always pushing the dominos in one way or another, whether they were his or not. A trait which had touched my own existence when we ran with the idea of spending a summer making a short film after college. Unfortunately the whole thing went nowhere beyond some failed plans and unreasonable expectations. And when it was done it created a rift between us which had dragged on since. Not that my silence was a condition reserved only for him. I kinda fell off the map with everyone I knew back then and eventually my life was so scattered that I found it hard enough to relate to the people I met on the go, let alone those watching from home. And that same lack of relatability made me hesitant now. Of course it all sounded nice if you just thought about it on the surface. I was certainly never one to complain about being in the tropics, but two weeks with the same people wasn’t something I was suited for regardless of relatability. Even my grandma had once mentioned how much she admired how good I was at being alone as a child, but I’m not sure she ever realized that trait was more of a preference than an ability. One which became even more amplified after college as my life narrowed down a path of seemingly incoherent decisions. As my night went on I continued down a trail of thoughts about what to do with his request until another message came in meant to anchor me in with a different level of persuasion.
“Look. Things are going really well. I can pay you $3,000 plus the cost of the trip. It’ll be easy money. Just come along.”
From there the self-corrector inside of me took over did everything it could to make me realize that I would surely regret it if I turned this chance down. While also bringing to my attention that it was kind of a good deal on all fronts. Aside from traveling for free, it would also result in a doubling of my income over the that two weeks. That is if I understood the ins and outs of vacation leave. Even more if we’re being honest about what I was making in a usual two week pay period. And even if the numbers didn’t line up I would get to be barefoot and near the ocean for two weeks. Which was about all I needed to be sold. Surely basic metrics by most standards, but with four months left before any relief from winter I felt like the ability to satisfy those needs alone made the trip worth it. And as far as some time with my friend, I figured it would be a good chance to catch up with the guy. After all, that gap had only been strengthened by the passing of time we had both allowed, nothing else. There was no animosity towards the guy. And I had no reason to believe there was any from his side either. I just hadn’t been around to make any amends with him or anyone else for a while. And the truth was I probably needed to start rebuilding more than just the business side of my life.
That night I sent sent him a text letting him know to count me in, but as my response went unanswered for the next three days I began to wonder if my hesitation had caused him to seek the help of a certified professional. It wasn’t til nearly a week later that he finally responded and came back at me with some alterations to our trip made during his delay. Most notably he had expanded the guest list by inviting another friend from home, a guy named Austin who we had both grown up with. I liked the guy plenty and even kept up with him more than most over the years, but still I urged him to consider the realities of traveling as a group in such an unfamiliar atmosphere. As that did not discourage him I figured if he was going to add someone to the trip then that gave me the chance to throw in a few of my own alterations. I had dismissed her suggestions at first, but as the dynamic of the trip shifted I realized it could be fun to have Renata around. Not to mention, I kinda owed it to her. As much as one can owe it to anyone for being a friend. She had done more than could be expected when I decided to return to the states and if all truths were to be told, it wasn’t just this last year of my life she had made easier. When we first met in Mexico she was already in her second year of teaching and was more or less operating like a local. It was her tips on getting around town that had helped acclimating to my first year so easy. Which is funny because at first I was the one trying to tell her Mexico couldn’t be anything like Brazil had been and she didn’t know what she was talking about. Clearly I knew nothing. Truth was, none of us did. That’s why she had gone down there after college like the rest of us. No real plan, just an idea for something different. The only difference was her adventure stopped after three years when she decided to head back to the states and take a job in corporate recruiting. That and the birth of two kids kept her anchored from thereon out. While closing my internal debate on inviting her or not I received a final set of messages wrapping up our details.
“I’m shooting to go down somewhere after New Years. That cool?”
“Works for me. Just send me the flight details when you get them. And hey, I might have a friend meet us down there at some point.”
“Bring as many people as you want. Just as long as they understand we’re not changing any plans to do what they wanna do unless it’s somehow cooler than what I wanna do. Which probably ain’t happening bro.”
I spent the rest of the evening pacing around my apartment as I looked at a collection of mismatched souvenirs accrued during my time away. They were all I had to decorate the place which I now called home. Other than them the place still looked pretty empty. That’s why I had jumped at this furnished apartment downtown. Soon enough I would have to look through some boxes and see what I still had to work with for the trip as far as supplies went. Luckily wandering through a tropical setting was the easiest type of existence I knew. One only needed some light clothing and some money for walking around. Perhaps a thing of sunblock if your complexion so desires. The rest was optional. And my optional usually needed no more space than my pockets. I just needed a few notebooks and my passport to be good to go. Speaking of which, this would probably be my last trip with that particular little blue book. And as a man with no tattoos it was the closest thing I had to a collection of ink which spoke to who I was through a series of stamps all imprinted with varying levels of effort. Each time I glanced at those marks I saw a catalogue of my time abroad. I only wish they gave you a passport with a few extra pages between the stamps so you could list not just where you went, but what you saw, what you learned, and where it made you want to go next. Standing there flipping through the pages I couldn’t help but try to latch each stamp to a picture in the collage on my living room wall. A tasks which soon led me far from my hesitations about taking any sort of trip.
If I was going to live up to my job as translator I would eventually need to look up a few fishing terms and scribble them down for reference. Even though Spanish had become a part how I thought, it’s not like everything was as embedded as it could be. Especially not the things I had never found a reason to learn. That’s what happens when you learn via conversation. That being said I knew the simple stuff like pescado, and I knew we were looking for them in the rios, but if they needed information on some specific type of bait or some odd breed of fish I would likely find myself feeling more than lost. No worries though, there was still plenty of time to learn the words I needed before take off. In fact that part seemed kind of exciting. At least to me, I was always the type to have a few dictionaries laying around. Only now the stack included a broader set of languages than when I was a kid and now that I had started to make a habit out learning each word in three different tongues, they were getting much more use. It only made sense, I figured once I found the need for a new word in one language I might as well make sure that I had it covered in any others I was learning. Be that as it may, there were still more important tasks to take care of before getting to any new words. And before going to bed I did just that with a quick message to Renata letting her know she was welcome to come along.
“You’re gonna need off around the first of January. And so will I. I’ll get you the details as soon as I have them. You can thank me later.”
from the pages of
a finished PASSPORT
Answering the Interruptor
La Noche Antes
Day 1: Departure
Day 2: Adjusted Arrival
Day 3: Canal Street
Day 4: To Higher Grounds
Day 5: In the Clouds of El Peridido
Day 6: A Bus Over The Border
Day 7: As He Saw It
Day 8: The Cove of Jaco
Day 9: Inside The Lightning
Day 10: Solomente Yo
Day 11: Shore to Shore
Day 12: The Falls of Bribri
Day 13: Off the Trail
Day 14: A Left at Limón
Day 15: On The Return
A PDF Sample of the first chapter may also be downloaded here: