A Street Scene by Chris Despas


On leaving my residence for the day ahead, in crossing the street, in the middle of the intersection I walk through a lingering cloud of gunpowder.  Police officers on foot, in pairs, are stationed at crossings in the vicinity of it on otherwise empty streets.  Gunpowder in the air makes it seem like the officers were here when a shooting took place.  Has a civilian been shot in armed robbery?  Unlikely here, where there happens to be a bright streetlight.  Besides, there’s no sign of trauma.  It’s peaceful, though it wasn’t when police perhaps exchanged gunfire during a car chase some twenty minutes ago.   

* * *

In the dark, a gust of wind cheerily scrapes curled brown leaves across the quai and into the Caspian Sea.  Meanwhile, as usual, inside my head early motets are playing in tuning systems that no longer apply in today’s world.  The three-pronged dilemma of Iran in the 1940s and ‘50s, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict strictly concerning Al-Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount) . . .  Have I walked past the only all-night coffee shop, so engrossed am I –  during this rare event of snow in Baku – in end-of-year cogitations concernant certains grands incidents internationaux?

Coffee hot and intense, what a welcome brain food now!  Cheers, everyone, I really do feel as though I am literally stepping off of this traumatic year.

Then, there’s the issue of the concealment here in Azerbaijan of Rogic, international muscle-for-hire accused of numerous crimes against humanity, who has been crossing frontiers to flee arrest and pending litigation in The Hague. 

Add to which, the SMS that’s arriving now.  In nearby Armenia, situated between hostile neighbours along her east-to-west axis in a region barely stabilized under conditions of cross-border competition between states for security at the frontiers against one other, inroads are being made by a new, as yet unidentified force who seem to want only to antagonize established enemies.

These are some of the many unfamiliar players and complications to sort my way through, to find Rogic.

For example, it has not taken long for me to realize that the friendly American tourist sitting across from me knows nothing about the religion hierarchy here, nor that he may be trying to socialize with a western Christian, namely me.  But if he knows nothing about me, then he wasn’t sent from a competing intelligence service.

His awkwardness seems genuine. Is he for real, though?  Or was he sent here only to read my thoughts. 

Because behind and above his head, directly in front of me on the house TV, a reporter is saying, ‘In Kiev, a new government assumes power two days after Kiev’s only major bombing.’

For all eyes to behold, yes?  However, what my mind perceives is a hostile proxy government seizing power in two days as a result of Kiev’s only major bombing.  For I have just fled Kiev in anticipation of this coup, powerless to intervene.  Until which time I was secretly dining with friends in the Kiev intelligentsia during the run-up to national elections. 

Armenia, the fall of Kiev, the hidden presence of Rogic: The simultaneity in time and space of these three events and how they could derail the local geopolitical order with disastrous side effects for my employer of the moment, Her Excellency, the President of the Russian Federation, is not obvious to the world yet but formulates in me a secret plan that I hasten to the locked vault of my mind where it cannot be read, all the while pretending not to, in reaching across the plastic red and white chequered table cloth for, and opening, an abandoned copy of the International Herald Tribune.        

In exiting the café I look cautiously around me, still seeing in mente the ancient little intersection and its trace of gunpowder from an hour ago. 

Perhaps ambushers had lain wait for me.  If merely possibly so, ought I not to act quickly lest the enemy regroup for a second attack?