Somehow our devils are never quite what we expect when we meet them face to face.
– Nelson DeMille
We first noticed him leaning against the wall outside. It was warm that evening—upper 70s, I think. He was wearing baggy jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, sleeves rolled up to reveal arms covered in tats. He had pale skin, and large dark eyes enshrouded under heavy brows and a black knit cap.
Standing alone, he looked uncomfortable, restless maybe, sad and vulnerable somehow, and new. We had never seen him before. And to me, he looked odd—like a fish out of water.
Intrigued and giggling, my friend and I immediately dubbed him “fresh meat” and set to sneaking furtive, coy, what we thought were seductive glances in his direction. He never seemed to notice. His gaze barely scanned the crowd—he appeared to be deep in thought, brooding.
As my friend drank more, her interest in him grew, and I backed off from further spying. Finally, emboldened, she decided she would introduce herself to him. And I supported her.
“Do you have a cigarette?”
But apparently, we were too giddy to see him walk up to our group. Standing in front of me, he was much taller than I thought. And much less vulnerable; his question barked out like an accusation. He practically glowered down at me.
“Uh, no, I don’t smoke,” I said, and pointed to my friend. “But she does.”
I quickly walked away from the group, to avoid having to talk to him and cause dissension among the group for interfering with my friend’s efforts. Much to my horror, he came and found me anyway.
“What’s your name?” he asked, demanding and gruff, in his baritone urban drawl, with some sort of accent that was hard to place. He didn’t smile. He looked like he never smiled.
I mumbled a reply, my eyes averting his and nervously darting back to my friends. But he was persistent.
“What do you do?” he asked again, this time a little softer, sincere, curious. I finally looked him in the eye and answered.
“I write,” I said.
“I can write,” he said back. And then miraculously, he smiled. It was disarming. “Can I send you something?”
I got that all the time—people who say they write, but never actually follow through with submitting anything. So I said, Sure, go ahead, handed him my business card and pretty much wrote him off.
The next day, he sent his story. It was a discourse on the imprisonment of an American Muslim, a didactic tirade in which he also bashed leftist politics. It was smart—a bit wordy perhaps, apocalyptic and definitely cocky. I was surprised by its conservatism but it was extremely well written.
I agreed to meet with X the next day, as he said he also had photographs he’d wanted to show me. When I got to his place, he unloaded book after book of photos he’d taken in Seattle, New York and the Middle East. In the pictures, he focused on the gritty aspects of American cities, and illuminated the color and beauty of people in foreign lands.
There were lots of photos of children and old people. There were also tons of windows, doorways, alleys. And quite a few photos of young, beautiful women—his ex-girlfriend in Washington, some girls he met in Israel, a couple more he traveled with in Europe.
The photographs, like his writing, revealed someone who had depth, who was intelligent, and interested in the world. He saw beauty in unexpected places. He was passionate. But he also seemed disconnected somehow, and alone. In some strange way, I could relate with his freedom and with his isolation. He certainly wasn’t like anyone I had met on Maui. And I liked that.
After the photo exhibition, we ended up going to see some bands at a nearby club. We sat in the back, and he began rubbing my shoulders, his lips deliberately brushing my neck when he leaned in to speak, the rumbling bass of his voice tickling my ears, his hand inching forcefully up my short skirt.
I knew it was inappropriate. And yet, I didn’t want it to stop.
To be continued…
Samantha Campos is currently seeking treatment for the trauma inflicted by repeated listening of Barbara Streisand and Barry Gibb’s 1980 hit single, “Guilty.” MTW