15 MAY 2014

GABO by Samir Sanbar

I stood at the western corner of 47th Street and Second Avenue; he stood on the opposite one. I was waiting to catch a cab to the airport; he was observing me, then waved for a cab. I went in my building and brought my luggage; he dipped in and out of the other building and produced a large briefcase. On the way to JFK, I could notice he was not far behind. I hurried into the terminal, only to notice he was watching me from a nearby counter. I purposely took a detour to the gate for Madrid, only to discover once inside the plane that he was evaluating me from two seats behind.

For seven hours over 30,000 feet I was pretending very obviously that he wasn't there. So was he. Who was he? I wondered. He didn't look like an informer; more like a third world combatant. With a stretch of imagination, his thick mustache and short portly mannerism would allow him the rank of chief ideologue; or maybe interim chief of security pending the next military coup when he will have to take refuge in exile.

What was his likely assignment on me? What have I done lately? Mediation visits accompanying the Secretary General to Baghdad and Tehran to help stop Iran; Iraq war; helped arrange a discreet dinner between fighting parties in the San Salvador war; was assigned to find out who kidnapped U.N. hostage Alec Collett, and how he could be freed; visited Beirut via Damascus and Cairo; spoke to the Spaniards, Algerians and Moroccans about Western Sahara; called my ailing mother in London; had a long angry telephone conversation with a former girlfriend in Buenos Aires; had a short pleasant phone conversation with a friend in Marbella. I am actually en route to Marbella. Who was that man and why was he following me?

Arriving in Madrid, I rushed to pick up my luggage; his shoulder-strapped briefcase was smack next to mine. He slowly picked it up, as if waiting for my next move, then distinctly shook his head as he was swiftly escorted out by a uniformed airline official. After a relaxing nap in my hotel, I went to a late lunch there only to find none other than that same man who constantly glanced my way while talking to his similarly mustachioed visitors. Most likely, he was pointing me out. But what for?

Imagining all options, I selected to sleep off my jet lag but only after deciding to confront my suspicious observer in the lobby first thing in the morning.

Ready for a new day, I looked at Madrid's El Pais next to my breakfast table. There he was: Gabriel Garcia Marquez visiting the Spanish capital to launch his new book. Suddenly, I wondered what he had thought of me. After all, his imagination is by far much wider and wilder than mine.