1:35am. Archaic buses lumber past kicking up plumes of choking dust that stung my eyes. I was hungry and wanted quesadillas. Not having the ingredients at home, I decided to hike the six blocks late at night to the 24hr supermarket. The navy sky was awash with a blanket of stars which bathed the crumbling monolithic adobe dwellings in a sad gray light. Black trees which seemed dead from a harsh winter sporadically lined the smashed sidewalk littered with broken beer bottles and discarded trash. I cautiously made my way recalling how I sprained my ankle traversing that rubble three nights prior and was bed ridden for a day nursing a throbbing ankle. So it goes.
I hated to walk this route at night on account it was necessary to make my way under an overpassing train trellis/highway void of street lamps. The sewage drain was backed up and the way was mired in some black gooey mud which stank like a hobo’s halitosis. To add to that, the sidewalk ended and I was forced to hug the stone wall as rattling vehicles roared past. The one or two souls who did pass me going the opposite direction wore defensive grimaces on fear laden faces.
As usual, the grocery store was crowded with meandering families with howling children in tow. I snatched up a plastic carrying basket and made my way around the aisles, picking through assortments of prepackaged tortillas and the various types of offered cheeses. I made my way down the aisle which held a million assortment of salsas. Making note of the early twenty something boy in a tight white shirt and jeans. His muscular torso wrapped in an apron with a badge that read Javi pinned to his teat.
In my atrocious Spanish, I said, “I am going to make quesadillas at my house. What salsa do you suggest?”
He glanced at me as if he was being accosted by a madman. Then it dawned on me. Quesadillas: flour tortillas, salt, butter, cheese. What dingaling would add salsa? Me, I reckon. The Mad American. The Insane Writer. The Filthy Gringo.
“Salsa, senor?” He inquired with a raise of a thick yet perfectly manicured black eyebrow.
“Indeed. I add salsa for a kick in the taste. Thicker the better.” I grinned. A confident smirk meant to display old world charm and warmth but only came across as lecherously leering and discomforting.
He silently pointed toward a glass bottle of a product I usually purchase. I snatched the bottle off the shelf with nimble fingers and said, “Good taste. I like this one. Thank you.”
He curtly nodded with the slightest of smiles and quickly made his way down the aisle, disappearing around the far corner in an obvious attempt to distance himself from this deranged foreigner. I watched his sinuous backside in the same manner a predatory lizard scrutinized the movement of an insect.
Purchasing said objects, I made my way back out into the chilled night. As usual this time of year, a gusting storm had kicked up creating a fog of fine dust and debris to filter the already deadening light from the parking lots lamps into a sickly yellow haze. At the corner, before the sidewalk ended and the street sloped down under the overpass, I had to wait long moments as a train of antiquated buses rumbled by. I nearly choked on the amount of dislodged dust caused by their passing. My mouth was now dry and caked with grit.
Cursing at why I had returned to this miserable city, I began walking under the overpass. I noticed in the direct middle standing against the wall a silhouette of a seemingly feminine figure. The moment my dry eyes fell on the phantom, my nostrils were punched by the overwhelming reek of a million years of rotting sewage.
What the fuck is this madness, I thought. More concerned I needed to step to one side into oncoming traffic to bypass whatever or whoever that shadow belonged to. It wasn’t moving towards either side of the overpass, but simply standing there ankle deep in refuse. As I neared, I noticed it was a transvestite transfixed in the unlighted shadows. Immobile. Inert. Dazed? As each car passed, more details of this person was revealed with each passing headlight like a flashbulb of a camera. Ratty wig. Black halter top. Black miniskirt. Long, shiny legs smeared with grime and dust. When I reached an arm’s length, her Incan face – the face of someone in their early twenties, heavily made in almost kabuki fashion – turned to me with a countenance of such radiant dignity.
“Hey, meester, you got a smoke?” She quacked in near perfect English.
I stopped and automatically began fishing my pack of cigarettes from my pocket. “Yeah. I do.”
She took the cig, lit it with nails frayed and chewed to the skin. “You look so sad.” She stated nonchalantly in an almost monotone, blowing a plume of smoke which quickly disapated in the whirlwind of grit.
“I’m not sad.” I grinned. “Not terminally so.”
“You need to leave this place.” She continued as if I said nothing. “You need to find what gives you peace in your heart and in your mind. We should not exist for the sole virtue of comfort alone, but to deal with life. To face all its hardships and wonderful experiences it has to offer. You need to find love. Without love, we are no better than the dead rotting in a cemetery. You need to leave this place. What you want – want you need – is not here.”
“I don’t think you are in any position to…”
She silently marched away in the direction of the supermarket. I stood with face flushed in confusion and bewilderment as I watched her clomp up the ramping street. The wind began to howl and the fine dust ultimately obscured her in the iridescent, dull light of the street lamps.
I turned and made my way home. The wind moaned a sad aria and somewhere in the near distance the familiar rat-a-tat-tat of gunshots followed by the screech of car tires. Then silence. I sat in my lonely room munching on quesadillas with a glass of red wine listening to nothing and I thought, why not? What do I have to lose? Nothing. That’s what.