Finally they get their damn gate in a long row of planeless gates. The airport is a deserted affair of palatial, marble hallways, outfitted with gilded stucco like aged ivy. The symmetry gives it a degree of perfection the minister can respect. The sounds of the delegations’ dress shoes’ soles clicking along the marble is delicate as well as complex because there are six people going in and out of rhythm. Up ahead, most focused, are the special agents in the general colours of the country, which it would be difficult to pick out even for a local eye if they were moving in a crowd or oasis.
The convoy in the street just outside the main entry is again the humiliating minimum: two black stretch limousines of an old make accompanied by three monstrously fat motorcyclists, each of them waving an orange cone with one free hand. The minister loves approaching new cities by night when all of them are looking the same. He feels as though after a long time he is returning to a familiar stranger. Outside, closed storefronts and solitary figures glide by, everything has settled into the calm flow of nightlife. Then the convoy reaches the waterfront and drives parallelly alongside it. In the black distance across the waters he imagines his home country, a proud, advanced nation, which has always had a strained relationship with this nation over here. Something about mutual dependence that brings out the worst in a people.
The minister will show the public and his six useless fellow ministers that he is up to the task by resolving the impasse all on his own. This is against protocols of diplomacy, against the dictate of harmony, against received wisdom even but so what? When he returns having succeeded he will be celebrated like a hero. He will be a bit like the Ruler over here.
The convoy stops outside the city’s hotels for diplomats and heads of state. The driveway, gardens, fountains outside the main lobby look like a continuation of where Louis XIV left off in Versailles. The minister is given the presidential suite, which appeases him somewhat. Reclining on the huge bed he props his short legs up on three pillows. The dress pants recede, uncovering white hair shrouding thick blue veins. Outside of the suite stands a single bodyguard of near infinite patience. One minute, two minutes, the eyes’ lids begin descending, three minutes.
No calls was one of his requests but the minister had completely forgotten about his cellphone in his his suit. He rubs the bridge of his nose vexedly, gets up from bed and labors over to the wood-carved chair. In the typical trot of an old politician, slowly but purposefully. He checks the number: his beloved wife. The minister takes it
– Dear, dear, dear. So you’ve arrived safely. But listen, seriously listen to me dear: what for heaven’s sake do you think you will achieve by this?
– Are you calling me at this hour, Laura, to unload your tired, old criticism. Because if you are, I’m hanging up. I’m exhausted.
– Old criticism, dear? This is completely unprecedented. But one thing’s for certain: if you don’t achieve some spectacular results you’ll be burned at the stake. I mean, they are all just waiting for you to make a mistake, saying you’re this, you’re that, you’re not up to the task. Blahblahblah. Why would you even give them the least reason to claim they are justified? You’ve been doing a great job thus far, you don’t have to overreach just to show up a few wrong-headed critics.
– I’m not overreaching. I’ve planned this perfectly. I’ve had secret phone conferences with the Ruler. He’s made assurances he cannot go back on without losing face. Which over here, you know, it’s a big deal for these people. So when I succeed with this, which I will, it will be … glorious. It will shut all those critics up once and for all. Just be a bit more confident.
– I am confident. I’m confident that your enemies will stop at nothing to turn this against you. Even if you free the hostages and thaw the frozen relations and pluck the stars from out of the sky, they’ll still find some way to turn this against you in the public eye. Claiming you go against diplomatic common sense, that you jeopardize the council’s harmony, whatever fits their agenda. Listen if you haven’t signed anything yet, you can just take the jet back and do this the safe way.
– No, they’ve been playing this the safe way for months. Those six burros who I have to work with, who have no concept of how to move things forward. Let them be political animals if they want to. I have seen enough and I’ve definitely heard enough. Plus it’s too late to go back now anyway. The jet is booked on Government business. If I came back with no political achievements they’d definitely impale me on that. I have to go through with this now, I have to. And from the last talk I had with the Ruler, I am confident. Don’t worry love. This is just a matter of days.
– I hope you’re right. Irreversible you say. Well, then I wish you the best of luck with that son of a gun, you’ll need it. I’m sure you’ll do great… Ok then, good night.
– Thanks for calling. Night, night.
In his sleep the face of the minister’s wife hovers over the earth’s semi-circular night, lips kissing the ocean blue rim.