“You doing ok?”
I looked up from staring at my Old Fashioned sweating on the bar. Delany, the blonde Asian barmaid, lifted my drink and put a coaster under it. Usually this was met with a degree of scolding, but today she decided to let it slide.
“Yeah, I’m ok.”
“Yeah, no you’re not… what’s up?”
I sighed, and looked at her for a moment, deciding if I wanted to go through the narrative. A low din of conversation permeated the Habana Bar and a cool breeze blew through the open architecture. This fantasy environment, this sanitized version of Cuba, bore so little resemblance to the real thing. It was a fantasy version of what a bar in Havana should look like… more a normative experience than an empirical one.
But, it was a watering hole… a dangerous watering hole, a place where miscreants and lost souls gathered regularly to steal from one another. Some stole time, some of the more obvious spies stole information, and some were just looking to steal some degree of validation from anyone who might be similarly looking to engage in theft.
I glanced back down at my drink.
“I was in court today.”
“How did you do… did you lose?”
I flashed her a look of disdain, then relaxed a bit. It was a fair and obvious question.
“No… but I didn’t win. The judge punted and pushed the case out till next month.”
“So why are you so… moody?”
“My clients… there are actually two cases I have paired together… are both women. The State is denying their ability to acquire guns. There is literally no reason for the State to do this. They are not prohibited people; the DOJ just blew it, and classified them as prohibited. Now for months we’ve been trying to get their rights restored.”
“But you are eventually going to win, right?”
“Eventually, yes… but every day that goes by is a day they are being denied their ability to exercise a fundamental civil right.”
“Que buena suerte, Don Quixote.”
I raised my glass in a halfhearted toast, “Si, a la muerta de los molinos de viento en todas partes!”
“I don’t speak Spanish.”
I chuckled and took a sip, “No, Delany, no you don’t.”
I glanced over and saw the stranger sitting at the end of the bar. He was older than me, at least older than what I think I look like, dignified, even elegant. His pocket square flashed in brilliant color from his blazer jacket, instantly drawing your attention to it and, by definition, to him. He was a man I would have remembered seeing before.
“You speak of windmills; are you fighting them or giants?”
I put down my drink and looked at him intently.
“Giants, I think… I don’t know. Maybe they are just windmills. Maybe I’m just tired of fighting.”
He gently smiled at me; I nodded then looked away. Across on the other side of the bar two Chinese spies were doing their best to pretend to be investors and were peppering their American Joes for information about their companies. The Americans were clearly uncomfortable, and were looking around for a way to escape.
Behind them I could see a middle-aged couple in deep conspiratorial discussion. The woman held her fork as a prop and demonstrated prodding something in the air with it. For some reason I found this deeply disturbing.
“Glory does not come from vanquishing the giant, Steven; it comes from being willing to struggle with him.”
I looked back over towards the stranger and realized he was now seated next to me.
He offered me his hand.
I leaned back and reached out to shake his hand.
“Steven, but it looks like you already knew that.”
He just smiled.
“What do you mean, ‘struggle with him’? I don’t want to struggle with these giants, I just want them to go away.”
“Everything is struggle, my friend. You teach people how to shoot, no? You watch them struggle against their own expectations and the difficulty in mastering a skill. You defend them in court, you struggle against those who would seek to deprive them of their liberty. You struggle, as they struggle.”
I took another sip of my drink, “Yeah, it’s a calling.”
Gabriel laughed… ”You have no idea how correct you are, my friend.”
“Have I seen you here before? I think I would have remembered you.”
“You have… you just weren’t paying attention. I get that a lot.”
There was a moment of silence as we both sort of stared at the Chinese clearly failing in their mission.
“You said something… I don’t know… it kind of bothers me. Why does this all need to be a struggle? What sort of divine plan would call for such… I don’t know… Evil? Inefficiency? Despair? I mean, what is the point?”
“You are one of God’s soldiers, Steven.”
“Oh my God… I don’t know about that.”
Gabriel chuckled. “Don’t let that go to your head. We all are. But so are your enemies. They all believe in the righteousness of their cause, even if their cause is motivated by nothing more than greed and pride. Do you not see you are their windmill? You are their giant?”
I stared at him for a moment. Who was this guy?
“I once had a conversation, many years ago, with an artist. An Italian artist. You may have seen some of his work. He had lost his faith, but had been commissioned to provide the most beautiful of statues for the church. He was despondent. We met at a bar not so much different than this. A different time, but so many similarities.”
“And you told him what you told me?”
“Oh, no. Everyone gets a unique message, Steven. But the basics are the same. He needed to struggle with faith; I suspect that you do too.”
I sighed and sat back on my barstool. I had both hands on the counter and I looked at that woman still plying the air with her fork.
“Yeah, Gabriel, I suspect I do.”
I looked over and he was gone. Vanished. I looked around the bar and everything and everyone were oblivious to my presence, self-absorbed in their own individual schemes.
Delany gave me a quizzical look from the other side of the bar and walked over.
I looked at her.
“I think your clientele might be expanding.”
“Nah, it is pretty much the same. Miscreants like you… spies like them,” she said gesturing towards the Chinese. “A few demons seem to wander through… and, of course, the occasional angel.”