“The Passeur” by E.E. Lyons – story #18 of Deal Me “IN” 2016


The Card: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥Nine of Hearts

The Suit: For 2016, Hearts is my suit for “stories from Indiana-related literary magazines and literary journals”

The Selection: “The Passeur” from the Winter 2015 issue of Indiana Review. This story was also the winner of The Indiana Review’s 2014 Fiction Prize.

The Author: E.E. Lyons lives in Washington D.C.  An interview with the author may be found here Author picture from Indiana Review.

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What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/storylegacy project seal of approval 2roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is now also officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

 

“The Passeur”

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(above: generic airport security checkpoint. Photo from Forbes here)

In today’s world, almost all of us have gone through a security checkpoint, whether it’s at the airport prior to gaining access to the terminal, or as we’re entering a major public sporting event, or in many cases when entering a public building. The main feelings I can remember having in such cases are frustration and impatience. I’ve never felt fear, though. Fear like the characters in this excellent story must experience on their trek from Kigali, Rwanda to Bokavu in the Democratice Republic of the Congo.

A pair of American medical professionals are on their way to a hospital in the far-eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their cargo includes both knowledge of a life-improving medical procedure and, more dangerously, some modern video camera equipment which will help them record conditions there to ’raise awareness’ in the west, something that the authorities in the DRC would not be happy about. Their journey includes two border checks, one when leaving Rwanda, which they awaited with the greater anxiety and a second when they enter the DRC, which they expected would be less perilous. It would have been so if it weren’t for one of the passengers, Madame Engel, and her inability to keep her mouth shut and just “hold it” by waiting until they reached their final destination to use the restroom.

(Below: I’m not 100% sure, but this may be the ‘rickety’ bridge described in the story which the characters cross over from Rwanda to DRC. Photo found here.)


Their “native guide” – and driver of their Hyundai – is named Oudry and does his best to help them pass, ’negotiating’ on their behalf with the officer in charge on the DRC side. This officer is hard-hearted at first and tells Madame Engel that they have no restroom.  Then he sees her assistant in the car, who happens to just then be using her inhaler.  Suddenly he has a change of heart and offers her use of his restroom.  Quite relieved she asks which building it is in, but learns he means the restroom at his home, “just two kilometers” away, but a rugged 30 minute drive from the checkpoint…

Oudry, the most interesting character in the story, is frustrated with his passengers’ making things more difficult than they need be, and is not sure of the officer’s motives. At the officer’s house, Madame Engel’s assistant also finally is heard from:

“What’s happening? Does he want something from us?”

“I don’t know.” said Oudry.

“Are we in trouble?”

“I don’t know.”

This agitated her more.  “Do you know him?” she asked. “Did you plan this?”

“No.”

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(above: hey, my nine of hearts “Indiana” card features a bridge too – just like the story…)

The story does a great job of imparting the fear and the tension that the travelers are experiencing to the reader, and I even caught myself holding my breath at one point. I found it to be very effectively written, and I can see why this story was honored with a writing prize.

Curious about the literary journal “Indiana Review?’  Learn more about them at their website.

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Next up in Deal Me “IN” 2016: “Siddhartha” by Abe Amidor.