Travel Thursday: Small Towns Are No Fun

(Continuation of Copper Canyon)

Eleven o’clock at night, and all was NOT right with the world.
I stepped out of the stuffy bus station to catch some of the gentle sea breeze. Los Mochis, on the northwestern coast of Mexico, was a humid place, but not nearly as bad as inside the bus station, where I had been camped out for two hours now, waiting for a bus that was already an hour late.
Out of habit I stared back, to see if anyone was watching, or in case I had forgotten something, then stepped out the doorway of the bus station to look past the palm trees and into the street, watchful for anything that might seem out of the ordinary.
I had a right to feel jittery, I told myself. In the past few years the state of Sinaloa had become the drug capital of the country, not so much here in the northern end, but close enough so that I didn’t want to be mistaken as either a druggie to the incredibly corrupt cops or a narc to the incredibly violent druggies.
The train station had looked so nice, I lamented as I looked around this area. Instead of taking some rest, I came right off the Copper Canyon train to the bus station, and was now waiting for the twenty hour bus ride to the American border. . . if the goddamn bus ever showed up.
I chuckled nastily as I glanced down the street again, startling the row of prostitutes hanging out against the walls of the bus station. I was regretting not going to the airport instead, figuring I’d have an easier time there. I had the money, so what was I doing hanging around here, waiting for a bus that would never show up? Why, I could just charter a plane to get me out of the area quickly, at least to some other city, where I would be away from the drug area and require a much shorter bus ride to the border. Of course, any pilot in this area might be a drug runner, but that had to be worth the risk, right?
I’m not good at handling these types of delays, which were mostly caused by inefficiency or downright laziness from the locals. Not that the United States was all that much more efficient, but at least there, if you complained, you could expect action. . . eventually. Here they would look sympathetic and obsequious, then forget about you as soon as you turned around. I know I have infinite patience with those who try their best, but I often got murderous–or at least looked it, which often had the same effect–when those who didn’t care also lied about it.
I’d been through this plenty of times in this country and further south, as well as Africa and Eastern Europe, but it never got any easier. . .
Turning, I headed back into the hot bus station. As I walked to the door, the prostitutes gave me a welcoming smile, then quickly looked away after a glance at my face. I’m sure I didn’t seem like the type who would patronize them anyway–I hoped–but more importantly they were well enough versed in their trade to know it would be a dumb idea to approach me right now.
Another quick look around the building: in front of me, the ticket agent was taking a nap; going clockwise, the guy at the counter of the snack bar was going through the inventory for the thousandth time, reminding me of one of my favorite science-fiction writers, just as short and acerbic; all he needed was the dark glasses. Against the far wall, underneath the public telephones, two street kids were laid out, sleeping on carton. The only other person in the station was just to the left of the ticket agent, a young guy listening to headphones and reading a comic book. Even from this distance I could hear the dreaded Norteño music–more like feedback, to my delicate ears–blaring into the guy’s head.
Looking to the left, I was disappointed that the little store was closed for the night. Through the mesh I spotted a few passable Spanish novels I could use to whittle away the time. I still hadn’t gotten halfway through Walden, but if I tried to read that right now, I’m sure I would fall asleep in a place I couldn’t afford to fall asleep in.
Now I looked at the ads on the wall of the store, again focused on one. The gal on the right, of the two in the tight red dresses, looked damned familiar, but I just couldn’t figure out who it was. This time I was determined to study on the problem until I solved it.
I had it down to three–no, make that two–possibilities. For a second I entertained the notion that it might be Talia, whom I had met in Mexico City, but she wasn’t a model. It did look a lot like Laura, who was a relatively famous model down here. It was still a strong chance, but the gal pitching the tobacco wasn’t as beautiful as her, though she had a touch better body, something I would never admit to an obviously indignant Laura.
So it had to be Patricia, whom I’d shot in Puerto Rico. Most likely the brand of cigs was also sold there, so it was certainly possible. Yes, it had to be her, I smiled triumphantly.
Suddenly I shook my head quickly; for some completely unknown reason, I had started to hum “Little Drummer Boy.” I hated these events, things that I had no conscious awareness of doing. I was steadfast about staying in control of both my mind and body, which was one of the primary reasons I don’t drink or do drugs–there are more important ones, though–so I was understandably upset when lapses like this occurred. I must be pretty damned bored. . .
Well, enough of that, I told myself as I cut out the Drummer Boy and reached for my headphones. I flicked on the play button, where as usual the volume was too loud–having last been played during the noisy day–so I had to rapidly search for the volume control before I figured out it was Ottmar Leibert in my ears.
My foot immediately started tapping to the beat of the flamenco guitar, but that didn’t last long; the last thing I wanted to do was expend more energy now. I would get tired too quickly, and I certainly didn’t want to have to fight the urge to get up and dance, so with a sigh I reached down to the controls and chose a soft songs mix.
Yes, that was much better now. . . at least for a while. I’d listened to an excerpt from Swan Lake and something from Mannheim’s second Christmas album–luckily not “Little Drummer Boy”–when I realized I wasn’t in the mood for this either. Every moment that damned bus didn’t show, I was getting angrier, and to hell with patience. I would steal a plane if I had to. . .
And with that thought, I got up and strapped my large backpack into carrying position, the anger giving my tired muscles power. Immediately I was besieged by one of the prostitutes, a lady who was probably the best looking one there, though still overweight–just not as much as the others. She also knew a little English, and used it to the best of her abilities as she ran both her body and her hands against me.
“No thank you,” I told her in Spanish. “I’m trying to cut down.” And yes, I was glad no one who knew me was there to hear that. . .
I was almost to the only cab in sight–of course the driver was sleeping–when I caught sight of the flashing lights. At the corner of the street where the station was located, there was just enough light for me to see the restaurant. My till-now dormant stomach suddenly remembered I hadn’t had dinner yet, so with an inward moan the rest of my body started moving in that direction, with seemingly no prodding from my brain.
Since it was well past dinnertime, in fact almost midnight, the restaurant wasn’t very crowded. Still, those in attendance glanced curiously at the foreigner. I can usually pass as a light-skinned Mexican, but the backpack gave me away. Still, they had to be used to tourists at the end of the Copper Canyon railroad, although they might not come to this part of town very often.
Except for some local toughs who sneered at me but made no move, no one bothered me as I sat facing the door. The far wall was completely occupied, and the other walls were glass, so this was the best I could do as far as safety precautions went. The plank table was painted the usual shade of indigo blue, reminding me of the local notion that flies hated the color. It might be true; I’ve never taken the time to count flies on any tables in this country, of any color. Or any country, for that matter.
Instead of checking the menu, I figured I’d ask the waitress if they had what I was in the mood for. . . and as soon as the waitress came over, I saw SHE was exactly what I was in the mood for.
The girl who came to my table was wearing olive-green pants and blouse, covered by an unusually clean white apron. I could tell she was both slim and somewhat curvy at the same time, and also short, a fact that made her look a little voluptuous and completely desirable, especially after the run-in with the prostitutes outside.
“What would you like?” she asked in a clear and very regal Spanish voice. Her soft-spoken tone told me she would be a bit shy at first, yet at the same time confident in her dealings. She had long dark hair in a sleek ponytail that reminded me of Dax from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
With a start, I realized that was it; she was probably more than a foot shorter, and maybe as much as fifteen years younger, but she reminded him of Terry Farrell, one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. No wonder she’d gripped me so hard; things were beginning to click into place.
Then I looked down at her hand, patiently waiting to write something on her little pad. She’s left-handed! When I reached for the menu with my left hand, she noticed and gave me a private smile, making me idly wonder about the Spanish word for “perky.”
She ran a hand through her hair as she graced me with a broader smile that made my heart leap.
“Do you have milanesa?” I asked carefully, knowing it was a long shot that a place like this, in a town like this, would have chicken-fried steak, or schnitzel, or whatever it was called in other parts of the world. To my surprise, the girl looked as if she wanted to cry, her face contorting into a picture of sadness as she softly informed me they didn’t have it.
I tried not to grin as I told her to make it quesadillas instead. I’d found out all I needed to know about her.
I couldn’t help following her movements behind the counter. She walked gracefully, like a ballet dancer, with a manner that made me wonder if she might be part-Japanese: very precise, almost like a geisha. As she waited for the order to be filled, she took up a broom and swept the floor behind the counter; she even did that gracefully, I couldn’t help but think. I hoped I was being sincere in my thoughts, because the alternative–that I was so smitten by her that I was beginning to lose control of his mind, like the little drummer boy thing–did not beat contemplation.
The chef called out for Clarissa, and the girl turned to get the order. Clarissa! Luckily I didn’t comment aloud about it being a lovely name, thus sparing myself some embarrassment. Still, I smiled like a schoolboy at her as I gave her thanks for bringing my food. She smiled back and went to her place behind the counter, where she placed an elbow down and crooked her chin into her hand to stare out the window. . .
Not wanting to be too obvious and caught staring at her, I set my gaze above and to her side, where I noticed a parrot perched on a rack of empty soda bottles. . . yet all I could think about was its plumage matching the color of Clarissa’s clothes. Yup, I was officially smitten. . .
When I was finally done–yes, I’d drawn it out as long possible–Clarissa came over to pick up the dishes, bumping into my arm as I was draining the last of the soda. Thanks to the fact that I’d been watching her every move, I managed to change the angle of the bottle enough to avoid the spill.
“Sorry,” she blushed. “Luckily you have quick reflexes.” I grinned, not about to correct her. “Would you like another one?”
“I’d prefer tea, if you have it.”
Again with that sad look. “I ‘m sorry, we don’t.”
On an impulse, I reached for her hand, the one not busy with the dirty dishes. “You don’t like to say no, do you?”
This time she blushed fiercely, but made no move to free her hand. I stroked it gently a few times before letting go, but did not stop staring at her as she walked away. She turned her head to look back at me, bumping against the corner of the counter and almost spilling the dishes, much to my delight.
A few minutes later, obviously trying to prove something to herself, she came back over and sat across from me, without asking; it made me grin. I let her go ahead and babble, since I’d already decided to get a hotel room and try for the morning bus. . . after breakfast here, but only if she told me she worked that shift too.
When she started talking about poetry, involuntarily–as involuntarily as “Little Drummer Boy” had been–I began reciting my favorite Spanish poem.

“Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,
When you surrender, you stretch out like the world.
My body, savage and peasant, undermines you and makes a son leap in the bottom of the earth.
I was lonely as a tunnel. Birds flew from me.
And night invaded me with her powerful army.
To survive I forged you like a weapon,
like an arrow for my bow, or a stone for my sling.
But now the hour of revenge falls, and I love you.
Body of skin, of moss, of firm and thirsty milk!
And the cups of your breasts! And your eyes full of absence!
And the roses of your mound! And your voice slow and sad!
Body of my woman, I will live on through your marvelousness.
My thirst, my desire without end, my wavering road!
Dark river beds down which the eternal thirst is flowing,
and the fatigue is flowing, and the grief without shore.”

{Neruda always works. . .}

“That’s beautiful,” she sniffed. “It is almost too much to hope those are your own words.”
“Pablo Neruda, I’m afraid. But I should get some credit for memorizing it, don’t you think?”
Clarissa murmured happily, “You have the heart of a poet.”
“And the rest of me?”
Her smile was neither shy nor demure, but she let it be her only answer to my question. Instead she wistfully sighed, “Soñar no cuesta nada,” which is Spanish for “Dreams cost nothing.”
I didn’t know which dream the gal was talking about, but whatever dream it was, it sure sounded sad. . .



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