Darkness of Heart

In moving to Don Jon we'd upgraded from a site to a suite and while Filippo and Valerio cozied up in the king-size bed I was relegated to a saggy trundle in the entrance hall. Ordinarily it wouldn't have bothered me: most nights I was so exhausted that I'd be gone in sixty seconds and sleep through until I woke up totally confused about where I was (that one bed-bug-ridden night in south-eastern Morocco being the exception). But on this fateful night in November I was uncharacteristically hot, bothered and restless.

I didn't have any evidence to support my hypothesis, but I knew something was up with Roma. Like an elite sportsman, subconsciously able to predict the trajectory of an approaching projectile based on a prior twitch in his opponent's eyelid, a life of analysing what people thought of me at the highest levels of the sport told me that something had changed—even if the intuition was too subtle to describe to a casual spectator.

I got up and (phone clasped in hand) wandered out on to the landing that overlooked a moonlit courtyard where some tired garden furniture was plonked between two majestic palms which towered over the hotel building. It was a calm, peaceful night and I could hear the soft hush of the ocean—though I wasn't soothed.

I spent some time lamely sleuthing around the little back-lit communal space that was the screen in my hand, compulsively looking up Roma's location on Find My Friends while trying to piece together a convincing narrative based on the last-read times of WhatsApp messages and contents of social media posts. But there weren't any clues, let alone anything close to Exhibit A. This would have to be dealt with the old fashioned way.

Having incrementally increased the intensity of its beat over the recent hours I felt my heart thump forcefully as my thumb hovered over the phone, coming to rest on the familiar green "call" button. I quietly hoped the process that little tap set in motion would yield some assurance that my generalised paranoia was just that: I was being silly and should stop worrying and get some sleep.

No answer.

I hadn't really considered that as a possible outcome of the bet. What to do now? Double-down with another missed call lined up behind the first one on her screen, signalling to me just as much as her that my panic was officially full-blown? Or talk myself down and wait it out with my cards clutched close to my chest?

I tried again. And again. Each attempt fast-forwarded the parallel plot-lines in my head to their various disastrous conclusions. The fourth time I called, she picked up.



"Hey, what's up?"

"Where are you? What are you doing?"

"I'm on my way to work."

"Right. OK. What's going on? Why haven't you been responding?"


I become aware of my elevated heartbeat again.

"Who is he?"

A gamble, out of the blue and out of character for me, but the question seemed to ask itself.

"It's not like that, Dave."

That short, ambiguous phrase, dripping in discomfort and guilt, told me everything I needed to know. I felt myself retracing all my assumptions, questions, doubts and delusions in that instant, like a row of dominoes un-falling in a reversal of time.

Surprisingly, the first feeling was relief: I wasn't losing my mind. My judgement was sound. I felt briefly together with a clear understanding of what had happened and about what would—the moment between the pop of the detonator and the rumbling, controlled collapse of the building. In that infinite instant I was unfazed—not processing, somehow protected. I wasn't angry or upset—or anything, really.

I took the phone from my ear and looked at the screen blankly for a moment, then ended the call and stared for a little while longer at that small, black rectangular portal to my life back home. I'd come to the end of a chapter in a tragedy I didn't know I was reading. The portal was closing and with it the cold reality of the distance between where I was and where I'd come from started rising up in me.

I stared wistfully through the palm trees at the moonlit ocean with a forlorn look on my face—unable to think of anything better to do. I tried that for a few minutes but I'm sure unlike Charlie & Ewan's experience nobody hurried out to respectfully capture the gravitas of the moment. I crept back into the room and snuck a cigarette out of Valerio's personal collection, thinking that might add some wistfulness to the scene. I hadn't smoked seriously in years but I thought it was a great time dust off that old weakness.

I fidgeted back and forth between the room's balcony and the palm-framed table and chairs in the courtyard. I may even have taken a pensive walk along the beach. I was up for hours thinking myself in knots while waiting on an imaginary platform for a metaphorical train that was on its way to run me over. As was probably typical of Senegalese trains it seemed to have been delayed. It was a long and disappointing night.

Eventually, I gave up waiting for the pain train. Nobody was around to express outrage, incredulity or sympathy so there wasn't much point in emitting the signals that might inspire them and I didn't have it in me to open the worm-can that was breaking the news to everyone at home.

I slumped back to the room and let myself be distracted by sleep—but not before dealing with the unfortunate outcome of the stimulative side-effect of all that nicotine. As quietly as I could, I unleashed upon the rickety toilet in the doorless bathroom beside the sweetly sleeping Italian couple.

I was mortified to find that there was no water in the cistern when I tried to expunge my impolite output. It seemed that the next morning would impose upon all three of us the pleasure of dealing with someone else's shit.

© David Baskind · 2022