On tense stand-offs

I was in the Right Place at the Wrong Time.

I was many scores of miles from anywhere with a name I recognised. The shroud of blackness was pierced only by the fire’s thin flame. While it drew us in like moths – the gaze of the demons of my imagination were perhaps drawn to us huddled in the shadows.

While pretending to contemplate the distant hills, I assessed my situation. My thinking was clouded by the reality that this was exactly what I had meticulously planned to avoid. The bus-stop was more an outpost on the 10-hour drive to the Colombian border than an actual place. A solitary foreigner in a sleeping village – my options were limited.

A rotund man with an extravagant moustache slouched against a wall – his face glowing in and out of focus with each drag on his cigarette. ‘I can take you across the border …’ he growled, ‘… for a price’. I appeared to have been transported into a Spaghetti Western. The growling man wore no bandolier, but looked like a gun would suit him. Time stood still, while the eyes of the other men fell expectantly on me.

During such moments of tense stand-off, it feels best to simply do something decisively. If nothing else, to extinguish the scent of fear so easily detected by the jackals of humanity. So, minutes later, I boarded his creaking jalopy with feigned nonchalance. We set off into the unchartered gloom towards what he – Omar – assured me was Colombia.

His price was $25 – an expensive taxi ride in these parts, but acceptable if he was telling the truth. With insufficient data to process my decision properly, I set the odds of an incident free journey at 50-50. I figured that if he reached into the glove box I could elbow him in the face before he could turn a gun on me. Luckily, he didn’t keep his music cassettes in there.

‘I’m a Christian – you can trust me,’ Omar assured me gruffly as we pulled onto a quiet mountain road – a vista unblemished by a single twinkling life-signifying light. Seconds later, he screamed ‘Hija de puta!’ at a passing driver, whom, as far as I can remember, we had almost forced off the road and didn’t – to my untutored eyes – resemble the daughter of a prostitute.