Cactus Land - Chapter XVI - Fiction

‘11111’. The number that wouldn’t go away. He had been looking at it since he saw the first newspaper over a shoulder on the train that morning. It was a headline. Almost all the websites he had been looking at that morning carried it on their home pages. Alex stirred his coffee leaning up against the beverage machine. “Hey guys, we are putting in ten each, we are going to buy as much as we can of ‘00000’.” Said one of the programmers.
“I’m in.” Alex passed him the bill, his name added to the list. No one was left out.
“Never happened, in any lottery in the world that there is a record of. That’s what the paper said.” Added Marc tentatively.
“The probability is exactly the same as any other number.” Said another programmer.

“But if tomorrow we win, I’m cashing in my chips and gettin the fuck at out of this place. For sure.” A web designer. A few giggles. Alex laughed. Marc went back to his office. “Hey Alex, want to go down stairs?” He quickly looked around him. “Smoke a firecracker, have a drink?” Alex nodded.
They walked silently towards the bar while smoking. “Have you heard from Carolina?”
“I got the email she sent everybody. Nothing else. Sounds like they are really out in the woods.”
“I would love that. I’d have a big dog, take walks, smoke herb, plant a garden. I’m sick of the city.” Said the programmer.
“I don’t know. I like knowing I can go downstairs and buy cigarettes, or have a drink. I would probably go stir crazy. And what if the girl starts driving you up the wall? I’ll stick to the city.” The programmer nodded unconvinced.
Alex navigated through the main city station as he did every afternoon. The same path, the same smells, the same jolts. The old station had been a turn of the century iron structure. A giant metal barn where the tracks came to an end. Now the barn was a tropical greenhouse, with a small frog pond. Benches of elderly people absorbing the warm moist air along with a few drunks and drug addicts looking for shelter. The hustle of a major train station converted into geriatric peace. Palm trees stood where the old locomotives would power their way into the station, slow and cocky after hours crossing the country, the engineers high above the crowds.
Alex stabbed his way toward his track, below the old structure, where the trains now crossed the station stopping only momentarily on their trek across the city before heading out towards Federation capitals. His train was smaller, covering a local grid. 19:18. The 19:21. Home by eight. The grocery store. A prepared meal. A bottle of wine. Fabian’s Journey. He remembered buying it. Matilde. He felt it in his chest as if two large slabs pushed against both sides of his ribs. It all reminded him of her. The train. The station. The rides home. The hope.
The double decker train slowed. The crowd swayed. The pushing. He looked. The faces bored him. He could read their lives, and he wasn’t interested. Two loud beeps and the doors closed.
A sweet face. A romantic novel. She was a vulgar Carolina. Not quite as pretty. The curves a little wrong. The color of the lipstick. She looked up from the book. Their eyes crossed. “Honey, get the children ready. We are having lunch at mum’s.” No, no. They were all too apparent. An interesting one, brown leather pants, a little big. Forties. Severe. Maybe angry. No. A head case for sure.
An older woman next to him. Probably a functionary. Smelled of cigarettes. He longed for home. For quite. For the abyss of alcohol, pills and the game. The voice reminded him of her. The voice was her. He enjoyed the torture of it. An immigrant boy. The hand on the strap of the backpack. He had taken a shower not long ago. Guess he didn’t work. Could be Matilde’s brother. Had that big kind of mouth. He was strong. Tee-shirt from his football team. Number of an historic player. Where was he going? Not too many immigrants in Zephr Hills. He was definitely not going to Zephr Hills. He knew what stop it was from the amount of people getting off. He could sit. 19.45. Thirteen minutes.
There were empty seats now. He could see in the reflection of the glass door between the cars Matilde’s brother. Why don’t they ever sit down? They are different. 19.51. His building in the distance. His window. Small. Serious. A sledge hammer into the center of his back. His nose on fire against the seat in front of him. No breath. Blackness.
The smell of gunpowder. A cacophony of cellular phones ringing. Light. Far too much light. Sirens. A face. No expression. Mouth open. An arm. He began to shake. Both hands trembling. The smell. It reminded him of military service, on the firing range. “I’m alive.” He moved both feet. The bubbling of his breath. A leg in brown leather. The pain from his forehead down to his nose. His hand could move. Toward his face, the nose. Something wrong. The breathing. The pain. The functionary. Facing him, mouth open. Eyes wide open. Hair back. Ashen.
A big rubber boot. “Can you move? We will help you down. Can you get up?” Careful. The arm on the ground, he pushed up. On his feet. Something in his eye. He touched. “Careful. Put your arm. Around me.” The plastic of the jacket, the helmet. The big hole, sheered metal. A blanket. Another fireman. Someone motioning for an ambulance. Maybe for him. Yes. The closed space. The strange smells. A hand on his wrist. A door shutting. Movement. A siren. Always a siren.
“Does it hurt to breath?” He nodded. There was no desire to speak. He didn’t know if he could. It felt like something foreign. A skill he had never pondered. He moved is mouth. Something pressing against his arm, gripping the forearm. Now loose. “You will be ok. Just sit tight.” A curve. She held his shoulder. He looked straight up, saw her eyes behind him, she looked like a strange creature. He looked at the door. The siren. Always the siren.
He woke touching the different bandages and tubes on him. His eyes danced around the room. A nurse moved close smiling. He wasn’t used to nurses being so friendly. It must have a been a bomb. The backpack. Matilde’s brother. “Am I ok?”
“Nothing serious, some bruises, your eye is ok, inflamed, but ok, a broken nose, and it looks like a few bruised ribs. You were very lucky. A smaller woman, no uniform, and a notepad. That forced smile that always made him nervous.
“Do you know what happened?” He nodded. “It was a terrorist attack. Where you with anyone on the train?” He shook his head. “There were several attacks, all the same. You will be seeing it on the television. Twelve bombs on trains in the capital. All suicide bombers. Be careful watching the TV. Don’t overdue it.”
“I saw who it was, he had a backpack on, shirt, number thirteen. My wallet and phone?”
“They are here. The police will be in later, you can tell them what you saw.” She opened the drawer.
“What time is it?”
“Twelve-thirty.” He lifted his head, than put it back slowly.
“Please, my phone, in the contacts. Mom. Press the call button. Pass it to me.” He was right. She had been worried. Very worried. When was he coming home. Time to leave the city. Soon. He made the necessary calls. They came to give him something to sleep. He wanted to tell them he needed a double dosage. No. He wanted to call Matilde. It was a way to break the ice. She would have to talk to him. He felt ashamed of thinking of it. Check the missed calls. No.
In the dark the smell came back to him. The gunpowder, the blood. The blankets. The faces he watched. They were no longer. The functionary. The smell of cigarette smoke. The open mouth. The ashen face. Just before falling asleep he remembered the ‘11111’.

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