Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Worm in San Salvador

We walked down another random street, trying to figure out where the bus station was. San Salvador wasn't exactly the easiest place to navigate. I followed the five second rule, with her walking in front of me by about five metres. This made a lot of sense to me; I thought it was an easy way to avoid further conflict. Both of us were angry at the other. She was furious because we were lost, and her annoyance grew after discovering I could defend myself when she took her anger out on me. In turn, I was livid due to her unfair treatment of me as her scapegoat. Bitter or not, we had to find that bus station if we wanted to get to our host’s house outside of San Salvador.

About once every block, one of us entered a hotel or gas station and asked someone inside where the bus station was. When it was my turn to ask someone for directions, she followed and waited impatiently with crossed arms. Whenever it was her turn, I stared at my feet and leaned into whatever wall was closest. Apart from when one of us spoke to a hotel clerk or a gas station attendant for directions, neither of us uttered a word. It was just the sound of our feet hitting the cracked pavement alongside the honking of traffic.

Suddenly, I noticed a figure lying down on the sidewalk, far away. It was a man on his stomach. From my point of view it looked exactly like the man was doing the worm. I thought this was incredibly amusing and started giggling. He was on the other side of the street from us, and as we approached it looked more and more to me like he was doing the worm. I was convinced that he was dancing in order to make some money at the red light where the cars had to stop.

I couldn’t hold my laughter anymore. He looked utterly ridiculous to me.

“Check out that fucking clown over there,” I said. Jennifer looked towards where I was pointing, to the man who was now directly across the street.

Jennifer looked at me and gave me a stern look.

”What the hell is the matter with you?” she asked condescendingly. I didn’t understand why she was so upset.

“What the hell is the matter with you?” I replied. “It’s just a guy dancing.”

“What are you talking about? He’s a cripple. Look.”

I squinted through my glasses and got a better look. The man had no legs. He had a large, dank piece of cardboard underneath his abdomen. It jutted out to about a metre behind his body. I watched him carefully as he moved. To propel himself forward, he thrust his torso up with the aid of his arms as if he was doing a pushup, and then dragged his lower body against the cardboard so it would follow him. He repeated the action. It was as if it was going on in slow motion. My jaw dropped as the reality of what I was experiencing set in. A deep sense of discomfort settled into my entire being.

Simply put, I was mortified.

Jennifer gave me a dirty look and I stared at the ground. She walked ahead of me and continued the search for the bus station. I just stood where I was for a few seconds.

Was he in the civil war? What side did he fight for? Does it matter? I thought.

I had seen many veterans of the Salvadoran Civil War in El Salvador and even met a handful. However, the guilt I felt for having said what I said and for thinking what I thought outweighed anything rational in my mind at that moment. My disgrace kept me glued to the sidewalk. In the corner of my eye I could see Jennifer, orange from the reflection of the setting sun. She was looking at me and waiting for me to start walking. I slowly made my way towards her. Ten seconds went by, and I decided I had to look back one last time.

We found the bus station shortly after that. Eventually, we made it to our host’s house. I went to sleep soon after arriving there. The evening was a blur, filled with memories of shame,

The one memory that stands out in my mind from that day is what I felt when I looked that final time. I saw the silhouette of a man slowly and methodically dragging his disabled body towards the sunset. I thought about what that man went through, and how fortunate I was compared to him in every way. And I felt depraved, disgusting, and damned until the end of time.

Because despite all of that, to me he still looked like he was doing the worm.

Friday, January 30, 2009