Vagabond Dreams Outtakes # 8—Caught Between Pity and Retribution


Vagabond Dreams Outtakes are “deleted scenes” from my book. Think of them as a “Special Features” disc of outtakes and curios. This incident took place in the highlands of Guatemala…

One night, sitting in my room, I heard a woman sobbing. It echoed through the courtyard, sounding heartbroken and forlorn. I imagined a lover’s quarrel or a breakup, a young girl weeping alone in a dirty backstreet hotel. In my loneliness I even fantasized that I might rescue her; take her away from that place and set out on the open promise of the road together. An hour later I heard shouting from the same direction: a man’s drunken badgering and a woman’s sobbing refusal. Then she began to shout louder. I decided to take a walk on the pretext of buying a bottle of water.

Near the end of the hall, a middle aged woman had collapsed to her knees on the grimy floor. She was halfway out the door of her room, gripping the frame with white-knuckled fingers. A drunken man in a disheveled white t-shirt was trying to drag her back inside by a fistful of her hair. Her face was puffy and damp from crying, and contorted with pain. She didn’t say anything. She just sat there whimpering, trying to hold on. He didn’t say anything either. It was a strangely silent struggle.

Our eyes met, and the man looked at me with disinterest as I walked past. I wondered briefly if I really wanted to get involved. After all, this was a domestic dispute in a country where I didn’t speak the language, and where so many people carried machetes. But I couldn’t just sit there and watch that, and I couldn’t pretend I hadn’t seen. I paused for a moment, then took a step back.

“What the fuck are you doing, man?” I said in a soft, tired voice.

He just looked at me and continued to pull. I couldn’t understand why her hair didn’t tear out from the roots.

I resigned myself to a minimal use of force and turned back in the dark hallway to face them. He didn’t release her until I took two steps towards him. Even in his blind drunkenness he must have sensed my intentions.

The woman wrenched herself away and ran blindly down the hall to collapse in a sobbing heap in the stairwell. The man stumbled back into the room and shoved the door closed behind him. I felt nothing, neither anger at the man’s behavior nor relief at a fight avoided. The immediate situation had been diffused, that was all.

I purchased my water downstairs at the front desk, next to the courtyard. The rooms all faced inwards and the woman’s cries had echoed through that space, amplified by the walls and carried to every room. The workers acted as though nothing was wrong. They’d done nothing to help, though they had of course heard everything.



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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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