Thursday, October 4, 2012

Short Story: "Archie"

When I was in college I lived in a house next to Archie. Archie was Swazi, and if you look on a map for Swaziland you will find what appears to be a small hole punched out of the north east of South Africa. This is Swaziland. It is a genuine monarchy where something like 90 percent of the people live on a dollar a day while the king lives an incredibly lavish lifestyle. The king practices polygamy and has dozens of children. I was never able to determine Archie’s connection to the king but they share the same last name so I assume they are related somehow. One in three Swazi’s have HIV putting Swaziland somewhere in the top three countries in prevalence of the disease. Somehow Archie got out of there and travelled to the US. He was a musician, a marimba player, and played all around the US.  He eventually settled in our small college city, surely out of complex reason and while I was curious why he lived here I never pressed the matter.
When we first moved in and he would come over on week nights, unannounced, just to hang out, or jam for a bit he would suddenly fall against the wall in the middle of an otherwise normal sentence. Looking back it seems obvious but for a few months we had to wonder why he did this. He was one hell of a cook though, loved making us vegetarian dishes. He wore red green and gold and talked about rastafi but I think this was just because the kids in our drunk small college city lumped him in with their go to musical/African archetype and just assumed he was Jamaican. Archie would busk with his marimba most weekend nights outside a bar downtown. The drunk bros loved him, would come up and sing with him and throw dollars in his case. Always respectful. At least he had that. He would spend the money on beer and stay up all night. He would stay up all night drunk on IPA or rum, too drunk to fall asleep, far past the point of vomiting. He got drunk like you wouldn’t believe. Archie would get full on dedicated to the core wasted and yet would usually stay on his feet. A few mornings I would wake up to Archie poundings on his marimbas at 5 am. I would look out my window and see him there banging on those marimbas and screaming the sky. I never saw him angry but I know that he was an unusually sad individual. His English was broken and so I a lot of people thought he was stupid. But he wasn’t stupid, he was just a drunk. Rumors suggested that at some point he had dated the heiress to the U-Haul fortune. They had broken up but she still held pity for him, or something. So even though Archie didn’t work, probably hadn’t for years, he lived in a 30 foot late model RV trailer and had money to buy food with every month. Archie was a hard drunk, one of those that drank all day but wouldn’t seem it. He loved children, really loved children more than anything in the world. He would busk at the weekend farmers market and the families would bring their kids over and he would beeline to them, hand them interments and have them sing along. His jaundiced eyes frightened them. He showed us a picture of his own son one time. A chubby kid who didn’t look much like Archie and lived in Hawaii.
After I moved away I only saw Archie infrequently, though he was still around. More often I would hear things about him. Heard one time that at a festival he smoked DMT. A week later his liver failed. Years of drinking rum all day and he blamed it on the DMT. Drunk logic. We confronted him one time, my friend Ana and I. Said Archie we love you and you hurt yourself and we don’t want to see you hurt yourself. He told us that if he didn’t drink he would have never spoken to us. It was hard to tell him that that would have been okay, the not drinking, not knowing him.
Every time I hear a story that starts “Did you hear what happened to Archie…?” I always think the story is going to be about his funeral. But somehow it never is. I saw him a few weeks ago, there on the street playing his marimbas. He says Hi, shakes my hand, says a few things but is shy. Probably sober. Gives me his CD. He knows everyone but doesn’t know their names.

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