She could feel the weight of it in her bag; the mass of it somehow increased by its power over lives, its potential for misery. He wanted her to carry it to the bus station for him, and on to the drop point. He would take her to the place and be with her the whole way.
‘Women are less conspicuous,’ he said, ‘and you look so innocent.’
So she hung it in the crook of her arm and followed him from the motel room. He swaggered in the same way that had caused her to hook up with him at the train station, all those weeks ago. He had seen the reason she was there: crumpled clothes, one small bag, the fear in her eyes – a wife on the run.
‘Come,’ he had said, offering his hand, lifting her up, ‘travel with me. I know my way around.’
At first, she was surprised at the fierceness of the love making – his gratification felt like theft. That empty feeling that had become as much as she could expect. But this man had bound her to him somehow, hypnotized her perhaps. She hoped it bound him to her; she was banking on it.
‘It takes time for me to trust anyone’, he had said, ‘I carry packages for a drug cartel: pick up, drop off, that’s all. It’s not dangerous, you just have to be careful.’ She had watched him place the package in her bag and cover it with her coat. He said it was vacuum sealed so the dogs could not smell it.
He bought the tickets and they waited at the edge of the road for the bus. She ran her eyes up and down his long legs and marvelled at her newly discovered daring. A crowd gathered around them: mothers with children, old people with plastic bags, more people than could be seated on the bus. There would be strap hangers for sure.
When the bus pulled up, he made way for the women and children, the old people, and then ushered her forward to the head of the throng that would be standing. The crowd edged down the aisle behind her, but somehow he got held up at the door. He was helping everyone on and looked like he would be the last to board. She put her bag between her legs and stood on her toes to see him. The doors hissed closed and the bus pulled out from the kerb before she realized he was not on board.
She called his name, yelled to the driver to wait, but the engine drowned out her protest. The bus sidled into the centre lane and picked up speed. Through the back window, she saw him running towards a side street, punching a number into his mobile phone.
She felt the crush of people hemming her in, cutting off all hope of escape, chaining her to the bag sandwiched between her legs. Her animal whimper, the final measure of her ultimate foolishness.
I have finally gone beyond self-harm, she thought, I have become a weapon.
As if they could read thoughts, those close by turned to face her, realization and panic blooming on their faces. She took one last look around at the people as they were, but would never be again. She saw the digital signal leaping from his mobile, up to the nearest phone tower and down to the waiting detonator circuit, sealed within the package in her bag.
This story is grim, it will not uplift you, but it is a tale of our times. It is not for the genteel who seek a happy ending. It is a story of any place, but most definitely of our time.
“The Final Measure” is a collaboration with Irina Székely using her photograph [ they knew – - she k n e w ] . Despite the grim nature of this story she was gracious and allowed me to use her photograph at the head of my story. Thank you Irina, I hope you find the art in my story.
I find her photograph evocative and mysterious, and I have no idea how it could have inspired “The Final Measure”. But that’s what came up and so here it is.
I apologize for the severity of this story, but this is what happens when we cannot escape the daily news, when we cannot summon enough joy to drown out the misery makers of this world.
And a special thanks to Jan Timmons for correcting a little spelling error in my description which was so embarrassing, but could have been worse :-[ I am forever grateful.
I had the image below at the head of the story until I discovered that Irina and Silviu Székely had returned to RedBubble and now Irina has allowed me to display her photograph.