Against His Will: Immersion
Introducing Jonas Martin
Jonas Martin was absent to everything around him. The grinding of the coffee beans. The clinking of cutlery. The brassy laughter. Animated conversations. Two quick sips of his lukewarm americano, then his focus was held again to the notebook on the table, his hand quickly speeding across the lined page. All his thoughts —fragmented and not necessarily logical — spilling out for him to make sense of later. And his hand involuntarily paused, too, each time he wrote down a question, and he checked the urged to answer it then. What is the biggest threat to our national security? Are NATO and the UN still relevant to the modern state? Somehow, he’d transform these scatterbrained notes into something coherent before his lecture that evening.
I never wanted to teach. He checked the time. Twenty-three minutes past seven. He picked up the white porcelain mug, drained the black liquid, and started writing again. There wasn’t much time left, not according to his rigid, self-imposed schedule. Even if he wasn’t finished, at seven thirty he’d pack everything up and head to work. An extended lunch hour, which he took most Tuesdays — and made up for later in the week — gave him time to organize his lesson. A ‘great professional development opportunity’ was how his boss, Ben Cummings, had phrased it. Translation: Ben wasn’t interested.
Despite his initial nervousness, students liked Jonas’s direct talk, his dry humour, and off-colour jokes that took aim at politically correct labels and isms. It was supposed to be a one-semester gig, but student feedback had the political science department asking him back for the winter session. That was three years ago. Maybe, too, when he started teaching his looks had something to do with his jampacked class. He was thirty then, or almost, and the soft features of his round face had yet to harden. The hope dancing in his brown eyes hid the torment finely chiselled into his temperament with the grace and detail afforded by a master woodcarver to his works. And always showing up for class impeccably dressed, mostly because he wore a suit and tie to work, had students believing he was somebody important and they lapped up his every word. He stood out among the other professors, too, because of his caramel skin, in a rather non-diverse department. He was, according to the departmental secretary who always unlocked the office he used to meet students, the hot prof everyone came to see.
The ear-piercing scraping of metal across the cement floor made Jonas look up. ‘In the zone,’ he’d been pulled back to reality by the man settled in across from him. Smooth olive skin, close-cropped brown hair speckled with grey and eyes that burned with purpose. No emotion, just a focused gaze on his target as if trying to communicate a message. Jonas closed his notebook. “Can I help you?”
“Yes.” The man’s husky voice paired perfectly with his stiff movements as he pointed to the door. “Let’s go for a walk.”
Jonas sat up straight and clutched his notebook, readying to bolt from the table. This was too creepy for an attempted pickup. And the man — wearing a blue three-piece Armani suit — wasn’t begging for change or food. He wanted to go for a walk! Jonas had seen too many episodes of Criminal Minds to agree that request. Besides, everything about this guy was settled and decisive. Determined. No, Jonas was done. He snatched his charcoal grey satchel off the floor and slipped his notebook inside. “You must have me confused with someone else.”
“No, Jonas, I don’t. But we need to talk, and this isn’t the place.”
Jonas’s body went rigid. “How do you know my name?”
“I know a lot of things,” was the matter-of-fact reply.
Holding the guy’s probing stare and unable to look away, Jonas hoped for some clue to reveal the identity of the stranger before him. Nada. He’d have known if they’d met because he remembered things. Everything. Adam Vinatieri’s forty-one-yard field goal, with only four seconds left, that gave the New England Patriots their second Super Bowl win in 2004. The rain pelting the ground on October 4, 2009, as his grandmother’s coffin was lowered into the ground. His grade seven math teacher, Ms. Tate, and her shrill voice telling him he’d never amount to anything. The words to every Nina Simone song. The raised three-inch scar on the left shoulder of the guy to whom he’d lost his virginity. Seven forty-five on Christmas Eve, 1999 … the last time his father hit him. “Look, I don’t know who you are or what you want, but —”
“My name is Brent,” the man cut in. “We’ve never met. Not officially, anyway.”
“I don’t know what that means. I don’t want to, either.”
“I’m a recruiter. A headhunter.” Brent paused, his thin lips attempting a smile that contorted his face into an unintentional scowl. “I’d like to talk to you about a job.”
“Got one,” Jonas spat.
“Yes. You’re a Senior Policy Analyst with the International Crime and Terrorism Unit at Foreign Affairs. And you teach at Carleton University. A course in intelligence and security.”
“How do you…” Jonas swallowed repeatedly, trying to purge the acidic taste in his mouth. “How do you know that?”
“Like I said, I know a lot of things.” Brent leaned back in his chair. “All I’m asking is that you hear me out.”
After slinging the strap of his satchel across his chest, Jonas stood. “Not interested.”
“Maybe you’re not who I thought you were.” Brent rose from his chair and pushed it into the table. Then he pulled out a beige business card from his inside jacket pocket and held it out. “In case you change your mind.”
They looked at each other, the stare-down lasting about ten seconds.
“If you’re at all curious, give me a call.” Brent tossed the card onto the table, shoved his hands into his pockets, and then walked away.
Jonas watched Brent edge his way through 217 Elgin Street. This was his ‘safe place,’ the always bustling café where he outlined his lectures in the morning. Unknown. Undisturbed. Invisible. Now it had been breached. What the fuck was that? he wondered, his gaze shifting to the card on the table. He plopped down onto his chair again, slid the card towards him and read the text. ‘Brent Reed. HR Specialist. Atlas World Corp.’ He looked up, scanning the faces and backs of heads for a glimpse of Brent, but he was gone. Nothing made sense. Not Brent Reed or his offer.
He remained at the table a few minutes longer, searching through his catalogue of memories but drew a blank. How did Brent know him? He shot out of his chair, took a step forward, then did a U-turn. Why couldn’t he just walk away? He pocketed the card, then stormed out of the café.
Crossing in front of the National War Memorial, something about it — the transaction at 217 Elgin Street with Brent — had Jonas thinking about an evening he’d spent with his grandmother. He was ten, pawned off again while his parents attended a wedding. Slurping up a bowl of homemade hamburger soup, he started asking questions. “Why does everyone call Aunt Aisha a ‘Coke Head?’” Then, without missing a beat, “Why did Uncle Carl go to jail?” And “I heard Dad say he loved the way Mom went down on him last night. What does he mean?” He raised his head when his grandmother coughed. “You okay, Grandma?”
“Just eat your soup,” she said with an edge. “And I’m gonna tell y’all something I want you to remember for a good, long time.” She leaned forward, pointing her soup spoon at him. “Curiosity didn’t jut kill the cat, it ripped out its intestines.”
A car horn honked as Jonas was about to step off the sidewalk, the air brushing against his face as a black Rav4 sped by. Then he looked in both directions before darting across the street.
Maybe Grandma was right. He stopped in front of a trash bin, reached into his pocket, pulled out the card and tossed it in.
His life was finally back on track, or mostly. And he didn’t need another distraction.
But in a moment, it’d begun. Without warning. While seated at his regular corner table at 217 Elgin Street and absent to everything around him. The grinding of the coffee beans. The clinking of cutlery. The brassy laughter. Animated conversations.
When no one was looking.
He’d been immersed.
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