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Nick Lawrence
Brooklyn, 2008

 

Several months later Victor Kamara entered my home. If there is a hint of menace in the phrasing, a suggestion of breaking and entering, that is not wholly inaccurate.

It was one of those winter nights when the electric-lit glow of one’s flat becomes a world of its own. When I opened the door, I saw that it had started to snow. Erika came up behind me.

“It’s Victor, darling. Victor Kamara,” I said quickly.

Did I mention that my wife is a person of great self-possession? When I met her, I considered her cold but she is quite the opposite. She is deliberate and very, very strong.

“Please come in,” Erika said, glancing at me quickly as she motioned him in. “You must be freezing.”

“I don’t want to interrupt.”

“You’re not interrupting anything,” she said.

I moved aside and Victor followed her into the living room, where the TV was blaring, and Aidan was stretched out on the couch bopping along to his iPod. As I watched him take in the woodwork, the Bokhara rug, the custom-built bookshelves, I realized that I had always visited Victor on his turf. Bohemian luxury, Erika and I joked, assuaging our guilt by talking about how relieved we were to finally have a home after years of camping in hotel rooms and aid worker apartments.

Erika tapped Aidan on the shoulder, pointing to her ear. He took out his earbuds and rose to shake hands with Victor.

Picking up the remote from the table, Erika paused, listening to Rachel Maddow. "Last summer, around the time California’s budget crisis led it to pay state workers in scrip because the state’s coffers were bare..."

“Nick has such a crush on this woman,” Erika exclaimed in mock complaint. “Do you know her? The one with the short hair?”

“She’s a lesbian, Mom,” Aidan said.

“We know that, honey,” Erika said.

“You mom was being delicate,” I said to Aidan. “It’s her charts. The graphs. Dazzling stuff.”

Erika smiled, shaking her head, and clicked off the TV with a flourish. We were performing for Victor. Doing our married couple routine.

“Aidan is a very promising footballer,” she said to Victor. “His coach is from Cote D’Ivoire.”

“Like Drogba,” Aidan said.

“Oh, Didier,” said Victor. “I met him once.”

They chattered on about sport for a while. I remember Victor looking at Aidan with a keen attention.

“What grade are you in?” he asked.

“Eighth.”

Victor nodded. “My youngest son is a year behind you.”

“Seventh.”

“Yes. Seventh grade. He studies World History.”

“We did that in sixth,” Aidan said.

“You’ve got geometry on your plate at the moment,” Erika said.

“Random,” Aidan said. “I hate it.”

Victor, Erika, and I smiled at each other in the beleaguered way of parents.

“Upstairs, young man,” Erika said. “It’s geometry time.”

“I have plenty of time,” Aidan complained.

“Go,” I ordered.

Aidan gave us a mournful look. Erika took him by the shoulder.

“We’ll leave you two alone,” she said.

“It’s truly a pleasure meeting you,” Victor said. “Nick has managed to find a woman whose intelligence is equal to his. That couldn’t have been easy.”

Erika smiled, inclining her head. I could tell that Victor’s well-considered compliment had landed. I also knew how quickly Erika would discard it and concentrate on what it revealed about Victor. Giving me a little wave, she headed upstairs.

“Aidan is…precocious,” I apologized, gesturing at the couch. As Victor sat down, I saw his face twist for a moment. His social charm had evanesced along with his audience and for a moment, he looked distraught.

“A good boy,” Victor said. He sighed. “James has only recently turned thirteen and he is thirteen with a vengeance. You met him the night you came for dinner.”

“He seemed very bright,” I said. Bright, but troubled. Victor’s youngest boy had made an impression on me, if only because the tension, and attraction, between the two of them was so palpable. When I thought about the boy later, I wondered if I’d sensed a certain fragility.

“It’s a difficult age,” I said lamely.

“I shouldn’t confess this, but I have a special feeling for him,” Victor said. “He knows it, and takes advantage of the fact.”

Victor’s eyes, sunk deep in their hollows, reminded me of how he had looked in the helicopter depot. Once again, Victor Kamara was my friend. Glittering darkness surrounded us, the clasping yellow fog, the sharpness of jet fuel, the mingled odors of rotting trash, woodsmoke, and human flesh.

“So now you’ll be taking him back to Grand Mare?”

No point beating around the bush. I hadn’t come through for him, and it seemed more ethical to simply acknowledge it.