The Invisible Man

(800 words)

It was late in the afternoon when the bus stuttered to a halt outside the old hotel in the foothills. The town square was deserted, save for a cow in the shade of the once-imposing colonial buildings, swishing its tail by a water trough.
Inside, we sat on worn leather sofas in a huge vestibule, cooled by the blades of an enormous fan above. “Buenos dias,” I heard a concierge say to our leader, West.
“What’s your name?” a bespectacled woman asked me. Her hair was held back in a grey ponytail and her bare legs and calves were brown and pudgy. “Mine’s Norma.”
“Oh, it’s Colin, pleased to meet you.” Though I wasn’t really.
“What do you do?”
“Oh, I’m a … I’m a plumber.”
“Oh, we’ll know who to come to if we have any leaks in our room then!” She gave a laugh like a car backfiring. “This place is rather quaint, isn’t it? Did you know there’s been a drugs war around here? West was telling me on the way. Seven killed in this village last month, he said.”
“Great. Actually, I thought it was further down the valley.”
“No, it was right here. But the bad men are in jail, or dead, most of them anyway, apparently.”
Just then I became aware of raised voices from the desk. After a while, I heard West say, “All right, I’ll tell him.”
He came over and addressed the walking party. “Manuel, the concierge, tells me you can all collect your keys. There’s a form to fill in, the usual passport number, date of birth, national insurance number etc.”
We all groaned.
“But, Colin, I’m afraid there’s a little problem. Could I speak to you in private, please?”
I looked out of the window down onto the town square, where a little brown boy in a yellow football shirt was poking the cow with a stick. In the room it was cool, but outside in the square, the flagstones were hot enough to fry a tortilla. I took a bottle of water and went to the bathroom to clean my teeth. “Don’t drink the tap water,” West had said, “and don’t use it to clean your teeth either, unless you want dysentery.”
I heeded West’s advice, all the while fuming at the impossible choice I’d been given. Seems everyone else was with a spouse or partner or friend. Only West and myself were travelling on our own and he had a room in the concierge’s house across the square. Due to an influx of mourners, the hotel was full and there was ‘no room at the inn.’ Manuel had been quite insistent on that. “Lo siento señor, lo siento mucho, er, I very sorry.” He’d given me a choice, I could sleep in the cowshed, “Is quiet there, señor, Bella she good cow, and hay is fresh.” Or I could share my room with Carlos, a student staying a week for his uncle’s funeral. The problem being that there was only one bed.
“Did you sleep well?” Norma asked me the following day, as we slogged up a muddy mountain track. It was the rainy season, apparently.
“I did, actually, thank you, Norma. There was a drip in the shower, but fortunately, I brought a monkey wrench and managed to fix it myself.”
“Clever you.” She gave a bright smile.
“Yes, and I tightened the tap washers too. One looked like it’d been fitted at least thirty years ago, but it was some weird size, not one I carry a spare of.”
“Er, I met Carlos at breakfast, he seems a nice lad, very, er … animated, he speaks good English too. Tells me he’s sharing your room.”
“That’s right, he’ll be getting his head down right around now. Then he’s up at four, he’ll change the bedding and tidy the room and clear off by five. He’s working overnight at a bar in the town for the week.”
Norma nodded. “Ah, all’s well then.”
“Hm. Apart from him washing his socks and underpants in the sink and leaving them hanging over the bath. Oh, and he didn’t bother to rinse the sink out afterwards either.”
Just then there came a sound like a machine gun. Norma grabbed my arm with a vice-like grip. “Did you hear that?” Her face was white.
Well, I wasn’t stone-deaf. “Don’t worry, it’s probably just a drugs gang fighting it out on the path up ahead.”
“Don’t worry everyone,” bellowed West. “That was only firecrackers, they’re having a little party at the next village. We’ve all been invited for a ‘breakfast tequila.’”
A general cheer went up as West began to hand out party hats and masks.
I took a green hat and skull mask in disbelief.
He laughed. “It’s a national holiday, the Day of the Dead!”

Featured in the book, Letters from Reuben and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Mirth

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3 thoughts on “The Invisible Man

  1. Did you know Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated November 1 & 2? Is it just a coincidence the feast day is nipping at our heels or did you bring this one crazy day to life intentionally? I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again: descriptive as hell, evocative, entertaining, relatable and funny. Your work here is a succulent hodgepodge of the believable and the fanciful, the mundane and the extraordinary. Whatever you put in this literary stew, it’s mighty tasty and I savored every mouthful. Can you just imagine having to share a room with a total stranger? And Carlos was indeed strange; I’d sooner sleep in the cowshed. After all, Bella she good cow. Muy bueno, Simon! Olé! 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟🌟

    1. ¡Muchisimas gracias, Nancy! Actually, I didn’t know, but now I do! I know El Dìa de los Muertos only from Under the Volcano (hence my story title Over the Volcano – groan!). So now I feel obliged to look it up online, especially as the graphics are ‘wow.’ The one I chose was the first one I saw and that is pretty damned unusual!

      Having been on a number of walking holidays and met many weird and zany characters, it wasn’t so hard to write, though I’ve been fortunate, so far, not to have met too many cocaine-fuelled drug gangs!

      1. El Dia de los Muertos is almost upon us. The wind is howling tonight here in NY and the moon is casting dark shadows – very spooky indeed. Yes, do beware encounters with cocaine-fueled drug gangs; nothing good can come from that!

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