This is the second half of the story El Camaron. To read the first part click here!
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Cover Photo credit: El Tiempo
My eyes fixed on the silhouette of my Dutch friend as he faded away through the wing mirror. We puttered down the boulevard, our bodies bouncing around the cab as its final breaths carried us down the rough pavement. The driver glanced at me through the rearview mirror, talking through a bluetooth earpiece. I stared back at him until he broke the silence.
“Where we going?” he asked. His accent resembled car exhaust, murky and muttered.
“Barrio El Centro. I’m looking for a bus to Santo Tomas.”
“Ah, Santo Tomas,” he wheezed.
“You know where to go?” I asked, fastening myself to the roof handle as he spun us around in a different direction.
“Of course, It’s–El Centro–and–” I couldn’t keep up with the conversation.
“Awesome. Great,” I replied, giddy from anxiety, “How much for the trip?”
“8.000 pesitos. It’s good.”
In an attempt to escape any future conversations, I fixed my attention towards the window, but I only saw myself in the dark tint, hollow eyes without definition. My heart ached and I became more on edge; my nerves shook with the rattling taxi. It had been two long months since I had seen Emily. Two months without her touch and two months without her scent. Two miserable months of wishing and crying and dreaming and regretting and–
“Gringo, where are you from?” the driver asked.
I remained silent until we approached a red light and stopped. “How much longer until we’re there?” I said, ignoring his question. I fiddled with the pesos in my front pocket.
He ungracefully brushed the air with his hand, “The buses are further ahead.” His eyes didn’t move from the mirror.
The light turned green, and the cab flowed along a tense thicket of wooden carts, fruit peddlers, pedestrians, and dead air.
“I’m from Florida. In the United States.”
“Ah, La Florida,” He announced. He pointed his finger up as he pronounced the word with Spanish phonetics once more but slower. “What brings a Gringo to Colombia?”
“I work in Sincelejo. I’m an English teacher.”
“Sincelejo,” he paused, “Oh, yes. Sincelejo. Very far away, isn’t it?”
“About four hours.”
“And why Santo Tomas?”
“No, she’s gringa,” I replied, confused.
“No, listen. Do you like Colombian women?”
“What about Colombian women?”
“Ah, come on, Gringo,” he said, slapping his knee, “Colombian women love gringos, right?” He raised his eyebrows.
“I don’t know. I don’t need a Colombian girlfriend.”
“My friend,” he moved one hand around, off the wheel, as he talked, “Look at you. Girls love foreigners. It’s easy for you. How long have you and your girlfriend been together?”
“A year,” I lied.
He gasped, “Plenty of time for a Colombian girlfriend.”
“I guess so,” I laughed nervously, “How much longer?”
“Relax, Gringo. That’s the bus,” He pointed at the corner down the street.
A doorman hung his body out of a blue and red bus with one arm attached to the door handle, waving for people to enter as the bus drove. He screamed the words, “Santo Tomas!” He wore the same outfit as the driver, a red and white Junior’s soccer jersey.
“Okay, stop the car,” I demanded, propping the door open.
The driver grabbed my arm and rubbed his fingers together before I could step out, “The money.”
“Right.” I pulled out the loose bills from my pocket and slapped them into his hand, darting out into the collage of traffic.
“Hey! Gringo. Remember what I said,” he yelled.
I kept my head down and moved along as his calls and cackles grew fainter. Before I touched the sidewalk, I caught sight of him, one last time, tongue out and hands free around the outlines of a woman. Drained from the encounter, I drew in the street musk to find solace.
I trained my attention towards the red and blue bus, maneuvering around the assemblage of fruit peddlers and dodging the pleas of business owners while they set up for the day, hastily arriving to a street full of traffic.
The streets of El Centro carried the blended scent of farm animals, petroleum, and urine. I studied the commuting stream of flimsy taxi cabs and beat up buses. Keeping track of my target, I stepped forward, but I was yanked back by a stranger as a donkey with a cart full of baby chicks raced by.
The strangers attempted to scold my neglect, but I ran back in, extending my arm to signal the bus—only in vain as the bus didn’t appear to stop. It slowed its pace down enough for me to jump aboard, using the handrail to pull myself in. So I did, entering as it accelerated, pushing my body into the nearest seat.
The driver sent everyone aboard into whiplash, and the doorman swung by the door handle. I dropped my bag and buckled myself down between two rows of seats, advancing to the driver’s seat to confirm if Santo Tomas was the final destination. And it was for only three thousand pesos. I shuffled back to my seat, pleased with myself.
Yet my fingers jittered atop my cramped kneecaps, and my eyes scrambled everywhere, watching the doorman flirt with a woman seated adjacent to me. He mimicked the taxi driver in every way, down to the hand motions, and my stomach fluttered as I thought about Emily taking the same capsule, the same harsh concoction of misogynistic egoism and Catholic hypocrisy.
My gaze followed the progression between the woman and doorman as she fumbled from hiding her blushed face. I pondered if Colombian women submitted to this behavior over time or if they were raised to accept it. I wondered if I would adopt it and how much longer until my love would be forced live with it.
My pocket startled me with a soft vibration, and I pulled out my phone to see the two missed calls and text message from Emily saying, “I hope you’re okay. I’m so excited to see you.”
I caressed the smooth edges of my phone, and stroked my temples as they ached. My eyes watered, exacerbated by my head smacking against the seat in front. The trance was broken.
The bus came to a complete stop, and I glanced back at the woman beside me as she demanded to be let off, swiftly avoiding anymore direct contact from the doorman.
I smiled at his misfortune, sending a quick text back to Emily reading, “I should arrive in thirty more minutes. I’m so excited to see you too,” and resting my head back. Losing myself in the tainted air quality and the clatter of junky automobiles, I closed my eyes.
We awaited the heat, noise, and claustrophobia, but not the attack on our values.