It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on here, so I want to apologise to all my die-hard fans (mum). I’ve been distracted, I guess. But I do have a story to tell, and here it is.
I was nervous as hell on the bus. I was worried they might harvest our organs, or worse, take all my money. Boxhead had set the whole thing up. He’d been talking to M non-stop for days. They’d been thinking up a strategy to get me to El Salvador, since at this point I didn’t really want to go, and they knew I especially wouldn’t want to go if I was going to be a lemon. So M persuaded one of her friends to meet me. Boxhead told me about all of this and said that we could leave two days later. I agreed to go, those pictures of M’s friend in my head.
“But she doesn’t speak any English, M’s friend?” I’d asked Boxhead.
“No, but I told them that you speak Spanish” he said.
“You’ve really stitched me up here haven’t you…”
I spent our final day in Antigua, Guatemala, revising as much of the language as I could, and I sat in a café on the corner of the main square, alone, scared, looking at the stick in front of me with my order number on. It reminded me of sitting in a café back home with mum.
On the bus I tried remembering words, and silently worked my mouth warming up for the pronunciation.
“Are you all right? You’re gurning like a hippo”
“What? Yeah, I’m fine… Encantando, no wait, encantado…”
We were on a nice bus for a change so at the border a woman came on to collect our passports and sort that out for us. She disappeared and when she returned she told us that we could stay six days in El Salvador.
“That’s very generous of you”, I said
I thought this might happen. Almost three months earlier we’d entered Nicaragua and the CA-4 region. Our 90 day visas were almost up. El Salvador is the only country that seems to follow the rules when it comes to the CA-4 Agreement. We’d received new 90 day visas on entering both Honduras and Guatemala and told not to worry, but El Salvador will only recognise the stamp you received on entering the region for the first time. After six days, we’d have to leave the region and go to Mexico, or extend our visas in San Salvador (or just go back to Honduras or Guatemala).
It would be almost another two hours before we arrived in San Salvador. We pulled up alongside the Tica Bus terminal and I could see the girls already upstairs. Oh my god. We collected our bags from underneath the bus and turned around and there they were, there she was.
Holy mother of god. She was just as gorgeous as in the pictures Boxhead had shown me. Her name was Maria. I didn’t manage to spit out what I had been planning to say for the past five hours on the bus, god dammit. M was driving and we got in the car. They laughed at us in the back because we wore seat belts. They said we looked like little kids. They took us to a restaurant at Los Planes de Renderos that overlooked the city. The city flickered down below, simple and too pretty.
We ate pupusas and talked. It was easy. It was cold at the altitude and I watched the lights of the cars on the freeway below. We drove back into the city, dropped Maria home then headed to M’s place. Her mum had waited up. She showed us around. The house was enormous. We had our own en suite room. How did this happen?
The next day the four of us went to the beach together. Maria skipped classes to come with us. We drank a little and talked some more. She had somehow eluded the other men. I was lucky. I asked her if she had been nervous yesterday and she’d said yes, then she asked me the same question.
“Yes, there was much shit in my trousers”
“Why don’t you have a boyfriend?” I asked, “I just don’t understand it. You are so beautiful.”
I pointed to the spot bulging out on Boxhead’s neck. You could almost hear it rumbling anticipating its eruption. “Have you seen Boxhead’s second head?” I said.
I looked at her. She looked wonderful. “Is that hair really all yours?”
“AND WHERE DID YOU GET THOSE LIPS!”
We went out to a bar the next day, after she finished university. I don’t speak Spanish too good and she doesn’t speak a word of English but we seemed to talk a lot. I didn’t see her for three days then. It was difficult. The first night Boxhead, M and I played pool and I kept saying don’t fall to pieces man, it’s been one fucking day, but I was falling to pieces.
We passed the three days going to malls, eating fast food. We left our passports at the immigration office to have our visas extended. They said come back in six days. The city seemed different to me. The bars and razor wire were still there. But the music on the radio was from America and England and there were almost no taxis on the road. Fast food restaurants were everywhere.
Saturday it was M’s mum’s birthday, so we went out with the family in the evening for dinner. We’d already been to the beach for lunch and Don Mario had started early. He hadn’t stopped in the meantime and in the car on the way to the restaurant he kept turning in his seat and shouting at me.
“JON! THOSE (VODKA) LEMONADES AT THE BEACH WERE STRONG!”
“Ha ha, yes, they certainly were…”
I went back to my thoughts, briefly
“JON! JON! I WANT YOU TO STAY WITH ME ONE YEAR!”
Don Mario loved me and I loved him.
There was a Mariachi band on stage. They were terrible. They did a version of Livin’ La Vida Loca by Ricky Martin and it might have been The Worst Thing I Have Ever Seen. The music was too loud for any conversation. I wasn’t surprised. There is no quiet in Latin America, always noise, as if everybody is trying to forget. I remember in Santa Marta in Colombia, there was music blaring outside in celebration of a neighbours 15th birthday, a big deal in this part of the world, and when we looked out they were all just sat there, not talking, not dancing, just sitting there, and they were still sitting there with the music blaring when we returned at 3am.
Anyway, we were sat there in the restaurant being deafened when a message came through on M’s phone. It was Maria. She said that her mum wouldn’t let her come away with us the following day. We had been planning to go away to Suchitoto to celebrate Independence Day, when El Salvador separated from Spain in 1821 along with the rest of Central America. I was desperate to see her again. But her message had come through and my mood dropped like a fucking brick and I thought, that’s it then, we’re Romeo and Juliet. We paid shortly after and left.
We were driving home. Don Mario was even drunker.
“JON! Do you want to go to the Zona Rosa with me and dance with some girls?”
“JON! I AM VERY HAPPY YOU ARE HERE!” shouted Don Mario
“I’m very happy to be here too”, I said, crying silently.
Back at the house, he fell into his chair heavier than lead. Toy the dog jumped onto his lap. “My best friend”, he said, stroking his head.
I walked into the bedroom, slumping into ruin, my head hanging loose from my neck like I just shot up dope, I was thinking about putting my face into the fan when Boxhead came in and told me that Maria could make it after all. My mood was back up again, like I just shot up dope.
The next day we left for Suchitoto in the afternoon. I don’t remember much of the journey, probably because I was using every drop of concentration to think of something witty to say in Spanish,
“Uh… qué lindo culo que tenés, Mamìta!”
Maria looked at me shocked. M looked at me in the mirror, disgusted.
“YOU CAN’T SAY THAT!”
Sputtering: “Uh… it’s the language thing, you see, I don’t know what I’m saying… I’m sorry… I’m a poet in my own language, really…”
One thing I remember is that I wanted to hold her hand across the seat for so long, but I didn’t because I was shy, I was afraid. Eventually she took mine in hers.
The hotel was nice. We watched the Independence Day parade, the kids dancing and marching past, I have no idea what the costumes represented, and we walked through the centre of the crowd and everybody watched us, staring. Every time I was out in public with her, I felt some pride but I could never get used to those stares, everybody judging me. Everywhere we had been there were stares, but this was different.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do”, I told her. “Boxhead is going to go home for Christmas, but me, I don’t know. It’s strange, I am completely free. I don’t need to be anywhere.”
We ate at the hotel.
I didn’t like the pictures we took, my big fat face. It was funny. My confidence was low but here I was with my arm around a beauty queen. It rained and we didn’t go out till late, lying in the dark, outside filled with rain and thunder. At midnight the storm had slackened a little so we went out. I didn’t want to go out. I was happy. The gentle joy that simply comes from lying next to somebody.
In the morning the sky was clear and I stood looking at the view we’d paid for but not bothered with at all. Maria stood next to me on the balcony. Her phone went. After she hung it up she sighed.
“I’m happy” she said.
“You’re happy?” I figured because she was stood there with me on that balcony.
“Yes, I have a new puppy”
We drove back to the city after lunch. I put my face in her lap, tired. It felt like a Sunday back home, like I had to go to work in the morning, like something good was over. I felt like lying down and giving it all up. It was weird. Like the concept of being totally free to do what I wanted.
I remember that I was sat in the hairdressers, and I saw a young girl walk past carrying a barrel of tea on her back, lugging it about the hot streets, I watched her, poor thing, we were living in a completely different world in San Salvador, even more so than usual, completely removed from it all, privileged. I didn’t feel as though I’d seen anything really. I saw it through the glass of the car window, seeing the crowded roads, listening to the music on the radio, I saw the hookers, some of them women, I saw the tin shacks opposite the Multiplaza mall. Multiplaza expensive and exclusive, the shacks too poor to even grasp. I saw the same people on the same roads every day with their placards and begging cups and deformities. I didn’t see any police. I saw the names of the dead spray painted on walls and doorways. I saw cracked streets. I saw bright colours faded into depression.
I was bored, bored of going to malls, eating junk food, not doing anything, waiting. Starbucks. While we were waiting. God, I was bored of Starbucks. We’d gone eight months without seeing Starbucks and then we were going every day.
I watched the girl sell some tea to some workmen next door then hump it all back up the street. It made me sad. Life is such a god damn slog for some people. We complain and we complain, we have no idea. The fumes of the nail polish remover made my head hurt.
Each time that I said goodbye to Maria, the thought that I might not see her again had me feeling sick in my stomach. Waiting to see her, I couldn’t handle it. Sometimes you’re just not equal to something. I was high then I was low, like I had bipolar. It was killing me.
I was in the back of the car listening to the radio, watching the same streets, the same buildings blow past, when I decided that it was time, I was going to let it all come out.
We were on our way to pick her up. We were going bowling.
M looked at me in the mirror. “My dad said that when you leave, a piece of him will leave too.”
“He wouldn’t stop talking about you. It makes me so mad! It’s all the time…”
“Jon hates bowling”, Boxhead said
“Really? You don’t like it?” M asked me
We braked outside of Maria’s place. She got in.
“You look nice.” I said. Nice wasn’t the word, it didn’t do her justice. “Is this part of the city dangerous?” I asked, looking at the graffiti all around.
“Yes, there are maras here”
“Really…” I pictured the gangsters that I’d seen on the television with the tattooed faces.
“Yes, I’ve been robbed at gunpoint three times on the bus”
“Jesus…” I said.
I waited until after bowling, when we went to a restaurant to say what I had to say. The moment arrived.
“Listen” I said, “the only reason I am still here is you. I like you a lot. Boxhead and I have talked about staying, we collected our passports today and our visas have been extended by two months. We can stay until November. I would like to take some more Spanish classes, we’ll get an apartment, I’ll start working out again… But more than anything I want to see you. Tell me what you want me to do. Should I stay?”
She didn’t hesitate.
“Huh… you don’t want to think about it?”
So we drank, talked, laughed, Boxhead and I arm-wrestled. It was fun, like relief. We were staying. Yeah, baby.
Well, we found an apartment and a Spanish school and I did join a gym to try to get my muscles back. I saw her even less, nothing like enough. Was I happy? I don’t know. But I read something the other day that says it perfect.
It said you must kill ten hours to make two hours live.