On meeting the locals

An urbane, suited and moustachioed American invited me to join a throng being assembled at the bar. He admitted to being an oilman who had once been Scottish.

Further details were not forthcoming; he was more at ease drawing other strangers together and subtly conducting the flow of conversation from a distance, almost as if he wasn’t up to no good. Something Machiavellian in his dark piercing eyes could not be fully shrouded by his warm and persuasive manner. If a pub had a secret service, he was undoubtedly its ‘M’.

Unsurprisingly, I have no memory of his name. With incontestable insistence, he asked me about my greatest journalist achievement. Put on the spot amongst a crowd of strangers, I stated that I had none worthy of the boast, but he wouldn’t relent. When I awkwardly muttered about my recent ‘talking live about a guinea pig beauty contest’ on Radio 5, his expressive eyes widened in disbelief.

‘But really?’ he responded with incredulity. Grasping to offer something more substantial, I stammered about an interest in human rights. He held his hands up in mock horror before comically clamping them over his ears. He gave the impression, for all his genial demeanour, that he found the concept of humans with rights quite beyond the pale. Later, the oilman made a suave exit. He wished us well with sinister charm and a significant look – perhaps the mere tip of the iceberg that concealed its true nature. My impression was that the next time things might not go so smoothly for us. 

Returning home, I was interrupted when entering my room. A near-naked middle-aged Ecuadorian man was descending the stairs from the floor above. Momentarily surprised to be caught wearing little more than a self-satisfied smile, he paused, before drawing himself up with all the dignity he could muster. Our eyes met and narrowed together in recognition. A few days earlier, he had approached me, very drunk, in a café, and asked me to be his blood brother. He looked uncertain, not quite placing me, before reverting to bluster.

‘I apologise for my appearance,’ he said with typical Latin sensitivity for appropriate sartorial elegance and deportment. ‘But I am going downstairs to have sex with the lady on the second floor.’

And with his head held high, he passed on by.