Friday, January 29, 2010

Suing for Peace with José Napoleón Duarte

For strictly legal reasons, I am required to present this story as a work of fiction. However, all other stories I write can still be considered truthful. I would never lie to you, babe.

“You should bring it,” she said. She crossed her arms. “Just leave it in your bag and we’ll walk across.”

I had a better idea. “How about we just don’t bring it with us? Wouldn’t that be the simplest solution? If we’re just going to argue about this anyway, let’s just ditch it here or something. It cost us like, ten fucking Belizean dollars,” I said. "It’s not worth the risk, seriously.”

“Well, it’s your fault that we didn’t finish it all in Guatemala in the first place, and I put it in your bag when we crossed to Guatemala from Belize and nothing happened. If I get caught, I can’t go to law school. For you it won’t be such a big deal if you get caught,” she argued.

I was stunned. “You put that shit in my fucking bag without my knowing? And what the fuck are you talking about, that it won’t be a big deal if I get caught? I want to be a goddamn teacher, not a fucking prisoner! I can’t teach if I have a criminal record!” I yelled.

She was unmoved. “Lawyers are more important than teachers. I stand to lose a lot more than you if I get caught with it,” she said.

“Yeah? Like what?” I asked.

She rolled her eyes. “Like I can’t take the BAR exam,” she said. “Duh.” I wanted to punch her teeth in.

The wad of Belizean weed was inside of a Ziploc bag that was inside of a sock that was inside my duffel bag. I put the bag down, pulled the sock out and thrust it in her hands.

“Listen, if one of us gets caught, we’re probably both in fucking shit. So this time, you’re taking it,” I said, gritting my teeth. “I’ve had the fucking switchblade on me since the start of this trip, and I still have it now. You haven’t risked fucking shit. So you’re taking it. If there’s any left by the time we get to the next border crossing, maybe I’ll take it. I’ll even think about it. But right now, you want this shit so fucking bad? You’re taking it.” My eyes were wide with rage. She grimaced and bared her teeth.

We were standing on a commercial road on the Guatemalan side of the Guatemala/El Salvador border, about 75 metres downhill of the customs building. A handful of semi trucks were lined up next to us, waiting for their turn at customs. Saying I was worried would have been an understatement. In the eventuality that we were to be caught with the drugs on the Salvadoran side, one of us – or both of us – would certainly go to jail. In El Salvador, being arrested automatically carried with it a mandatory minimum sentence of three days in jail, regardless of the crime. I had a feeling that being caught transporting illegal drugs across an international border would carry a much harsher reprimand than just three days in jail. I didn’t even want to think about what the punishment was for cross-border trafficking in Guatemala.

Jen took the plastic bag of weed out of the sock and put it into her left sock, the one she was wearing. She handed me my sock back.

I looked at the Salvadoran guard patrolling the border not 50 metres away. He was standing on a large concrete square next to the customs building; I assumed that the edge of the concrete signified the start of his nation’s boundary. “Nice going,” I said. “Very discrete. You deserve a prize.”

She flipped me off. “It’s almost 8 pm, it’s dark enough for him not to see.”

“Yeah, it’s dark, but they’re not fucking blind,” I said.

I turned around and started to walk away. Maybe I’ll calm down if we get some space from each other for a minute, I thought. Out of nowhere, I felt a deep pain in my left shoulder, and then heard a distinct, tinny clanging noise. To my left rolled an empty nalgene bottle. On the side was printed, “The Onion: I Will Never Take This Camping.” I did not find it amusing. I grabbed the bottle and circled back towards Jen, who was headed for the border.

I sprinted up to her. “Don’t you ever do anything like that again,” I said. “You can’t fucking hurt me.” I grabbed her arm. “Are you listening to me? You cannot hurt me if you want to be in this relationship.”

She twisted her arm away and said nothing. I grunted out of frustration, and then made as if to give her the nalgene bottle. When she went to grab it, I threw it as hard as I could towards the border. “You’re being overdramatic,” Jen said. The border guard suddenly took a great interest in us. He walked as close to us as he could, taking care not to step over to the Guatemalan side. He pointed his pump shotgun at the ground. “And so is he,” she said.

“No,” I said. “I’m not. I’m being sane. You know you’ve got a huge anger management problem?”

“You know you’ve got an annoying problem?” she countered.

I struggled to keep my composure. I sat down on my duffel bag and took out a bottle of purified water. I noticed that my hands trembled as I drank from the bottle. I looked around. There was nothing but farms around us, and a few concrete buildings. I could hear farm animals making noise nearby. I was anxious to get the hell out of Guatemala and go to sleep in a presumably superior Salvadoran hostel. When I turned to my right, I saw Jen standing at the border. The border guard was talking to her. Holy shit, I thought. That probably isn't good news. I hurriedly put the bottle back into the duffel bag and attempted to saunter inconspicuously towards her and the guard.

The guard stopped talking when I approached. He was wearing black pants and a white shirt. He was as short as Jen, about 5' 4". Under regular circumstances I would probably have found that incredibly humorous. “Buenas,” I said.

Buenas,” he said, smiling.

Jen continued to speak to him – I couldn’t follow any of it, as her Spanish was much better and faster than mine. The guard grabbed my shoulder and guided me towards an open window in the customs building. “Su pasaporte, por favor,” he said. I complied and offered him my passport. “No,” he said, pointing at the window. “Oh,” I said. “Gracias.” Jen gave her passport first. I waited until she was done, and then offered the customs agent inside my passport. He didn’t bother to look at me; he simply swiped my passport and looked at a computer screen. He stamped my passport and handed it back to me. The whole process lasted less than 30 seconds.

I looked at Jen. “What were you talking to the guard about?” I asked.

“He was calling you a maricón because of how you threw the bottle back at me,” she said.

“A what?” I asked, irritated.

Maricón,” she said. “It means faggot.” She smiled at me. “Cause you’re a faggot.”

I laughed uncontrollably. I laughed partly because of the absurdity of the situation and partly because there was nothing else I could do to make me experience a semblance of normalcy. I didn’t feel like feeling insulted; I didn’t have enough energy to get angry again. I looked at the customs agent through the window. He looked unimpressed. “Va chier toé too,” I said, even though he had never called me a maricón. I smiled. He smiled back.

I put my passport in my pocket and turned to Jen. “So, where do you think the bus stop is?” I asked. I picked up my duffel bag.

“I don’t know, let me ask the guard if there’s one around,” Jen said.

While Jen and the guard exchanged words, I noticed that Jen was fuming and the guard was clearly amused. I didn’t know what they were saying, except that the guard kept repeating, “No, no, no. Mañana, mañana.” Tomorrow, tomorrow.

“Fuck,” I said, biting my lip. “It’s not good, is it?”

“No, it isn’t,” said Jen. “The buses aren’t running anymore. They stopped at 6 pm.”

“Can’t we just walk to a hostel or something close by?” I asked.

“I asked him,” she said. “And he said that it’s too dangerous at night to recommend doing anything like that.”

“Fuck,” I said again. I looked at the sky and put my hands behind my head. The stars were starting to come out. “Looks like we’re going to have to try some place on the Guatemalan side, then.”

“Yeah,” said Jen. She spoke briefly with the guard again. “He says that if there’s nothing on the Guatemalan side, that it’s cool if we cross the border to El Salvador again tonight,” she said.

I laughed sardonically. “Great,” I said, still staring at the sky. “I’ve always dreamed of having two Salvadoran stamps in my passport.”

We slowly made our way back down the hill towards one of the buildings on the Guatemalan side. The guard snickered as we passed him. “Oh, shut up,” I said under my breath. Jen laughed and grabbed my hand. I looked at her. “Meow,” she said. That was her way of trying to make up: meowing. I knew I would never get an apology and that this was the best I could expect. The sole cry of a cat.

“Meow,” I said back.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Leaving Chiriquí

There was a tarantula in our bed.

I didn’t know what to think about this. I simply got out of bed as calmly as I could, pointed at the vague shape of an arachnid lurking underneath the sheets and quietly declared, “There’s a tarantula in the bed.”

What?” asked Jen. She had just come out of the shower, and was still wet and naked. She stopped brushing her hair and instinctively hugged her shoulders. “Where?”

I pointed at the lump moving underneath the sheets. “There,” I said.

I had never seen a tarantula in the wild before – if you could call the inside of my hostel room a wild environment. I looked at the window. It was wide open, confirming my suspicion that the spider had gotten in during the night and had presumably slept inside the bed with us. This did not bother me as much as I thought it would.

The tarantula emerged from underneath the sheets and began climbing over the covers. It was alert and moved in quick, jerky movements.

“Do something!” screamed Jen as she shuddered helplessly.

I grabbed a pillow and slowly descended it on the spider, sealing its fate. I waited a few seconds, with one hand still applying pressure over the pillow. I suddenly became aware of how ridiculous the scene looked. Although I was acutely aware of how harmless the tarantula really was, I could not help but feel vulnerable and exposed in my King Kong boxers. I knew that tarantulas weren’t venomous, but I still could not fight my impulsive urge to lean away from the bed as I continued to apply pressure.

It suddenly occurred to me that I might have been exerting too much pressure and out of curiosity, I slowly lifted the pillow up again to observe the state of the spider. It moved more slowly than before and it was obvious that I had injured it. It zigzagged erratically around the bed. I had no idea what to do. I grabbed one end of the covers and pulled it over the spider. The tarantula was quicker than me, however, and ran past where I dropped the covers. Almost mechanically, I grabbed one of the spider’s legs and pulled it underneath the covers. I then tucked the covers into the bed. There was nowhere for the spider to go. It was trapped.

“There you go! Dat’s it, dat’s all!” I said in a Quebecois accent. I clapped my hands dramatically. “Impressed?” I asked.

“Are you sure it’s stuck? I mean, did you make sure it won’t come out again?” asked Jen.

“I don’t think it’ll escape,” I said. “In any case, I’m not touching that thing again. That’s the best I can do.”

“Your best isn’t always good enough,” said Jen. She looked away and started brushing her hair.

I ignored her and looked at my watch. “Better hurry up,” I said. “The bus to David is leaving soon.”

I quickly got undressed and showered. Jen came into the bathroom with me and sat on the toilet, silent. It amused me that she was so frightened of something so small. How can something so small scare someone who routinely yells at local gang-bangers?

When we had all of our stuff ready to go, I checked the bed one last time to make sure the tarantula was still alive. I poked the lump. It moved. I started to feel guilty for leaving it there inside the bed, and for having hurt it. It hadn’t done anything wrong. I asked Jen what I should do. She insisted that we leave the bed the way it was, and that Pancho could deal with it later. I was quite keen on giving him some kind of revenge, especially after all of the trouble he got us into as a result of his horrifically careless advice concerning his paramilitary “amigos” that hosted us at the top of the volcano we climbed.

“I could have been raped,” said Jen. “Let him deal with the goddamn tarantula. I bet they deal with that type of shit all the time anyway.”

“Yeah, probably,” I said. I shouldered my duffel bag. “Let’s go,” I said.

Jen and I left the hostel room. I saw Pancho in the kitchen. He walked up to me and shook my hand heartily. “So, everything good?” he asked.
I gave him the keys to the hostel room. “Yeah. Everything’s good,” I said.

I thanked him for letting us keep some of our bags in the hostel free of charge while we climbed the volcano, and for reserving the room for us for when we came back. He smiled and put his hands on his hips. “No problemo,” he said. I felt bad. “We gotta go now,” Jen said all of a sudden. “To David. Adios.

“You are welcome here always. I see you maybe in Niagara Fall sometime, eh?” said Pancho.

I laughed. It didn’t sound very authentic.

“Yeah, maybe,” I said. Jen tugged on my hand. We walked the hell out of there.