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“How do you feel today?” questioned the lady in the glasses and black, pencil skirt suit. She was leaning forward in her chair, positioned as if to pounce onto the couch on which Tip was uncomfortably sitting. When she bent forward a bit more, Tip automatically inched backwards.
“Fine.” Seeking mental assistance was not something Tip regularly did or supported doing. In fact, even seeing this psychiatrist was against his philosophy of life. Tip prized his independence; help was something he wished he did not need, but pity - he despised. He came to Pam looking for advice.
“How has your life been?” Pam looked into his eyes intently and then blinked.
Tip frowned at this question. Was he to sum up the happenings of his thirty-five years of life in one word? Could Pam analyze him with such a short response?
“How do you feel about that?”
“Interestingly.” Tip smiled to himself. He predicted where the conversation was going, and realized he would not mind taking part in some darling repartee.
“If you could sum your entire life in one word, what would it be?”
“Boring.” This answer made Pam purse her lips, yet she did not respond. Finally, she broke the silence.
“Why are you here, Tip?”
The directness of her question puzzled Tip. Why was he here? There were many answers to this question. “My life stinks and I wanted advice…”
“I wanted advice.”
“On umm…” He was struggling. “On how I can break my…” Tip decided to call his little problem, writer’s block. “Writer’s block.”
“I am no writer, Tip. I cannot fully relate to the frustration you must be going through inside. I need to know more about you to help you understand what you are doing wrong.”
Four seconds, four seconds, it took this woman to declare me emotionally struggling and deem my life ‘wrong’. Disgusting. “Well,” Tip began to reply, “Do you really want to know what my daily life is like?”
Pam’s eyes widened encouragingly.
“Okay. I’ll tell you. I wake up, I sit down for hours on end, and I try to write. And do you know what, Pam? Nothing, nothing ever gets written.”
“My, my, Tip. That sounds terrible.”
Tip sensed her pity and something inside him hardened. He did not want to tell this person his story. Pity was for the weak and Tip had vowed not to be that way, but this writer’s block was changing everything about him. Everything he had ever been had come tumbling down this past year of his life. I need aid; I need to tell her, how else will this work?
“Pam, about one year ago, I wrote this story you see…” Tip squinted; he was struggling, “It won a prize, the Warren Adler Prize. I loved it, Pam. It seemed so easy. One day I had just sat at my desk and started typing. The next thing I knew I had 1000 dollars and a lot of attention.” She had better give some good advice for what I am sharing with her. “I tried doing the same thing for about a year, but I am lost- it feels like I have nothing to write.” Tip took a breath.
“Tip, do not misunderstand me. You cannot just sit there and wait for life to come to you. You have to go experience things. Go do things yourself and then you will be inspired to write.”
Tip squinted and his entire countenance was distorted. His eyebrows were frowning; his mouth was twisted along with his nose. This was a rip-off. What sort of advice is “go do things, it was worth nothing. From between clenched teeth, he sarcastically muttered, “And what sort of ‘things’ do you suppose I go out and do?”
Pam’s eyes widened once more. “Travel.”
Tip got up and left. This was too much. He wanted to laugh and on the other hand, he wanted to cry because this entire institution was a sham.
Tip was in a state of denial. Of course, he would not follow the psychiatrist’s strange advice. Yet, what else could he do? He lay on his couch, tired and confused, for what seemed like ages.
“All flights to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland are delayed because of an ice storm. Sorry for the inconvenience. Thanks again for flying United Airlines,” Tip heard over the loudspeaker. He slouched into his plastic seat in the Toronto Pearson International Airport. Why, why do I get all of the bad luck? Though he did not wish to admit it, Tip had been looking forward to traveling to an exotic place with so many different things to write about. He had even heard that polar bears live in Greenland- that might have made a fascinating story. But time passed too slowly in airports. He dozed off.
“Flights have resumed,” was all Tip heard as he rubbed his eyes, grabbed his backpack and followed all the other passengers onto the plane. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry- even the ticket attendant didn’t bother to check if people had the right tickets. He didn’t blame her. The angry, late mob was fervently cramming onto the airplane. Tip found a seat and sat down.
“Welcome, passengers to Flight #123. Please buckle in quickly as the plane will leave the gate in one minute.”
Tip turned his head and looked out the window. The clouds are fascinating- maybe I shall write a poem about it. After about five minutes of sitting with a notebook and pen in hand, Tip gave up. He closed his eyes. The plane persisted to push against the slowly cooling air. It was silent except for the occasional clattering of the flight attendant’s juice cart going down the aisle.
The plane had landed and Tip awoke to find himself somewhere that did not exactly look like it had just gone through an ice storm. He blinked and then pinched himself - he was not sleeping. Either global warming had taken over Greenland, or this place wasn’t Greenland.
“Where am I?” Tip asked the person next to him.
“Yo no hablo Inglés, voy a mi casa, Cuba…”
“What!” Tip was utterly confused. The person he was speaking with shoved him and went about his way. The only thing Tip had understood from the other man’s end of the conversation was “Cuba”- but that was enough! “How in the world did I end up in Cuba?” he wondered. Soon, a wave of passengers came flooding by him; he got caught in the current and floated out of the plane with the others.
“Where will I go now?” Tip realized this was an adventure, he would let fate dictate where he ended up. He had heard that the best stories wrote themselves, a good writer merely found the right opportunity to put the story on paper.
As he was at the passport check, the security guard eyed him suspiciously once he saw his Canadian passport. He wrote something down and then gruffly nodded, indicating for Tip to go forward.
“Hi, I am Jose; where would you like me to take you?”
Tip stepped into the taxi. This thing could sure use a cleaning. The cab was partly cream, partly faux wood, and partly black. You could barely tell which color was the original, and what colors were the replacement parts. It was a 1950’s Ford.
“Jose, I am a tourist, take me somewhere fascinating.” The sense of adventure had engulfed Tip.
“Hey, touristo,” said Jose, “we are going to Habana Vieja, I am sure an…” he eyed Tip up and down, analyzing him, “…an American like you would like to have a true taste of real Cuba.”
Before Tip could reply to say that he was not American, Jose stopped driving.
“Are we here already?”
“Eh, what can I say, Cuba is a small country. Now, pay up, twenty dollars.”
Tip rolled his eyes and handed over 30 Canadian dollars.
Jose nodded, “Long live Fidel.” he said flatly.
Tip stepped out of the vehicle, dazed. He absorbed his surroundings as he stared at the chipped brick road he was standing on. Around him were busy people rushing about their day. Suddenly he felt a drop of water from above plop onto his forehead. What was that? He looked up to find no rain, no bird, only an apartment balcony. Tip then realized the dripping came from the soaking wet clothes hanging on a line to dry out on the balcony.
“This setting was such good material for a story. Why miss an opportunity that is yelling at you?” Tip said to himself. And he began to write about everything he saw.
The gray sky poorly lights the tattered buildings- all in rusted bronze colors with the original designs of the 1900s- once treasures, now have become trash, molded. The paint is chipping off the six-floor apartment building with a balcony mirroring all the other balconies in the alley- carrying drying clothing on a line. The clothing dances and sways whenever the wind decides to treat the sweating, tired, Cubans walking down the street with a chilly breeze. The Cubans are very edgy in their movements, they all are going in the same direction but no one seems brave enough to speak to one another. They do not even dare look at me, but they know I am here…
Tip felt that someone was behind him- following him. He immediately stopped and turned around. No one was there. He shook his head. I must be mental. Tip looked up and studied the street once more, taking notes furiously.
Che, the young spy, rushed back to the State Security Office.
“Commandant, Commandant Fidel! I must speak with you at once!”
Commandant frowned. Che was young and much of his frenzy probably came from boyish excitement of discovering something new. Reluctantly he asked, “What is it, Che?”
“Commandant, I just saw a suspicious man who looked very American in those trousers they wear and their collared shirts. But the sketchiest thing about him was that he was writing everything down.”
Tip was in a world of his own. He had never known there could ever be so much to not only take in, but put in words. Everything was different. Everyone behaved differently. Oddly, at times, as though they feared things that were in the trees or in the road. It seemed almost like paranoia. It was now 7 in the evening and Tip again had the feeling that someone was following him. It was getting darker, and the only light in the sweltering hot air came from the moon and the broken street lamps in the alley. Tip took notes about this, looked up, and took notes once more. Suddenly he heard footsteps. He spun around, eyeing the street carefully. No one was there. His heart began to beat frantically. Tip kept walking, writing, and then he heard a “pit-pat” from behind. He turned once more- as fast as he could- but Che and Fidel were faster and hid behind a leafy green palm tree. This was repeated several times during the evening. Finally, he sat down, for this obsession was annoying. He could not write at ease. Two men in black uniforms and red stars on their caps approached him.
“You are under arrest,” Fidel stated. He pulled out his Cuban Secret Service badge.
“Now!” Fidel cried, motioning to Che. Fidel grabbed Tip’s arms and Che captured Tip’s feet, and they mercilessly dragged him through the cobblestone street.
“Why are you arresting me?” Tip demanded, while trying to squirm out of their strong grips. “You must be mistaken! I am just a Canadian tourist!” Che kept tight hold of Tip’s arms from behind while Fidel pulled out a gun.
“No! You are a U.S. spy. Hand over your notebook now - or I will shoot!”
Tip fumbled with shaking hands to reach the notebook in his pocket.
Tip handed it over.
Fidel and Che shoved Tip along.
“Where exactly are we going, Commandant?” Che whispered.
“The crypt,” Fidel turned his head toward Che- his eyes widened and his mouth spread into a grin that could only suggest malice.
The building, as far as Tip could see, was a normal Cuban complex. The door into the complex creaked open- piercing his ears. It was pitch black inside. Without waiting for their eyes to adjust, Fidel and Che led Tip down into the basement. It was obvious that Fidel and Che had been here many times before. A light flashed on in the middle of the room. Tip could see a chair. It was steel and on it were straps. “Steel, straps… what else could there be….” Tip wondered. Then he saw a row of knives, each one was glistening at the tip of the blade. Tip felt cold hands clutching onto his shoulders- he jumped. Fidel pushed him back down onto the ground and thrust him into the chair. Che whizzed around the chair, strapping Tip’s neck, feet, torso. Tip was in a daze- the room was spinning round and round…. Is this real? The sound of Velcro sticking together constantly replayed in Tip’s ears.
“Which hand does he write with?” Fidel asked in a low, almost amused tone.
“The right one, commandant. I saw him!” Che piped. He kept excitedly rubbing his hands together and skipping around the room incongruously.
Fidel grabbed Tip’s right hand and then took one of the sparkling knives. “Ha-ha! Now you will never be able to write again, you spy!”
Tip broke out of his trance the moment he saw the knife about to cut into his index finger. “My finger! My finger!” Tip was yelling in agony, wriggling around the chair. The previously metallic room was to be stained red from what was about to be left of Tip’s finger. Tip tried to get up, but only managed to whack his body up and down the chair, held by the straps. “Get me out, get me out! My finger, ah!”
Tip opened his eyes. It took him a few minutes to realize where he was- on the couch in his home. What a nightmare…Exactly what I wanted! I must write this down before it slips away! Tip sprung up and started frantically typing. Toward the end of writing his story, something occurred to him: Sometimes the things you are looking for turn up in the most unexpected ways…