Wrong Stop

Mark Rudman

The public bus into Santo Domingo, sheer
Delight, rocking chaos of stops and starts,
And a Dominican woman, thin, potentially
Attractive, sits on an impromptu jump seat
Facing the passengers, her expression at first
Impassive, sombre, carved as she moves her fingers
Across her forehead to wipe away her burdens,
And responds to a remark we can’t hear with a brief broad smile,
Which takes ten years off her face –
I wish I knew what she did in life –
But the bus stops a good mile short of our
Destination, Zona Centrale, and what else is there
To do but walk, or hitch a ride
In the back of a donkey-powered kid-driven cart
Loaded with immense jungular plantains,
A walk of mounting desperation through desperate streets,
Third world fourth world antediluvian
When I am accosted by a man
Claiming to be a guide, a Velcro bodyguard I can’t shake off
Despite the lack of any adhesive clothing:
The word ‘no’ doesn’t translate into Dominican –
(Because we’ve been let off in Port-au-Prince, not Santo Domingo) –
When another of my new
Best friends, taller, leaner, darker, stronger, appears
And puts his arm around my shoulder,
And when I vigorously remove it says
‘No problem,’ the other guide will vouch for him,
When I’m dying to be left alone and take in
The local colour that has scrambled towards shadows under canopies
To escape the direct
Uncompromising sun I feel on my neck and the sweat I’ve worked up
In no time at all, desperate to be where I am,
Mocked by a blanco – Charles Gould’s great grandson? –
With his elbows on the balustrade of some disused once
White colonial mansion;
And now my new best friends are girls,
Whores, pale-skinned, indistinguishable from the reputable
Tanned contingent glancing at their watches at
The café in Zona Centrale; pleasant, well-
Spoken, they offer anything and everything I might desire,
Which gives rise to a fantasy of going up to one of their
Rooms, paying and leaving, as I’ve seen it done
By worn-down diplomats in films,
And not just because my wife,
Absorbed in her guidebooks and maps,
Is a mere three feet behind me, just because,
In the fantasy, it might lead one of these
Handsome young women, no matter how
Impoverished, not to give up, give in – to become,
Become what, if not somebody, somebody else.