06 March 2006

The Off Ramp to Terra Azul


Justice Putnam

“If it were possible to know the outcome of every journey, few journeys would be undertaken,” Farouk Hazim said into the cell phone. “But I know the outcome of this journey. There is nothing mysterious about it. So I just hit the turn signal and turn right at the end of the off ramp.”

I could hear an angry buzz in reply from the cell as Farouk held it away from his ear. He looked at me and smiled. After several moments he let a small silence elapse and then put the cell back to his ear,

“Do not worry. I will off-load by 10 am,” Farouk was grinning, “I have my top helper today.”

Farouk closed his cell and put it in the holder. He shifted the big semi and changed lanes. He checked both side mirrors and continued our conversation.

“It’s all a matter of what you first notice in life,” he said, “at each benchmark, what do you notice?’

I didn’t hear his statement as a question at first, but finally I realized his request,

“I wrote a poem about that issue,” I proclaimed, unconsciously full of myself, “I wrote about an argument of which came first; Light or Sound. For me the first sound was a heartbeat.”

“Aha!” Farouk Hazim exclaimed loudly, “That is very important. You are a Romantic, be very careful my friend,” he lowered his voice in seriousness, “as strong and intelligent as you are, Romantics have a high death rate.”

He laughed in his singular, Farouk Hazim manner. If you didn’t know that Farouk came from Lebanon, you’d think he was descended from Zorba the Greek.

“None of us escape what we’re born into,” Farouk continued, “we can move from place to place, we can rub elbows with people of different classes, one can do any number of things to escape. But we can never escape.”

“I always felt the great equalizer,” I interjected, “is education. Social mobility is attained with education.”

Farouk laughed loud and long again. His eyes were gleaming when he responded,

“Yes!” he was breathless, “You are very correct. The thing about education, though, is that the more of it you have, the more you know that we can never escape that which we’re born into!” Farouk laughed and laughed.

“But I don’t understand,” I said, truly confused. “I always cite you as an example of what can be attained. I mean, look at you, ten years ago you were cleaning offices and now you own your own trucking firm. Your kids go to private schools, your wife is beautiful.”

“It still does not matter,” Farouk Hazim was shaking his head, “ there is no escape. Not for you, not for me, not for my children or my beautiful wife.”

Farouk checked his side mirror as he shifted gears. He was silent for a long moment and then continued,

“The first sounds I heard were bombs exploding in my village. The first pain I had was from shrapnel in my leg. The first thing I saw was a rifle firing. The first time I met other people was at a funeral. Aha!” Farouk suddenly said, “we have arrived!”

I looked up and saw the exit sign. Farouk turned right at the end of the off ramp. He slowly built compression in the big semi and shifted gears as we approached the city limit sign, welcoming us to Terra Azul. Everything looked familiar, as if I was born into it.

We passed the sign and I had a sinking feeling.

Written in small, graffiti-like letters next to the Chamber of Commerce plaque was the invocation,

“Death to All Who Enter Here.”

© 2006 by Justice Putnam and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

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