Mente vazia, oficina do diabo

By Nicole Renee

Looking out over the balcony and into the valley below - everything looks so small beneath waves of the sun. A sweet yellow bird clenches tight onto the branches of a tree as the wind sways his tiny body violently up and down until he finally can't take anymore, flying down and disappearing into the valley of miniatures. I too can relate to the rough feeling of the volatile swaying of a mysterious force that one cannot readily understand the mechanics of...

I wonder what I'll find down there today... During the corona virus quarantine and without any connections, I'm on a mission to find weed.1

While walking down the hill I map out where I'll start and what streets I should try before sunset. I'm surprised at how well I know this town and how much it feels like home. I've lived in other cities, other countries for longer, but no other people exist like the Costa Ricans.

Picking up the pace, I pass by the man who spends his time sitting on a recliner outside of his house. The recliner rests half in his garage and half on the sidewalk under a bright street lamp that makes him glow at night (giving me the visual image of poor film noir). I wave hello to couch man and he shouts back with the usual, "Cómo estás?" We exchange todo biens. He's a NPC of the city and reliably in his correct spot.

Turning the corner, I pass by the guy who makes clay pots in his garage. Often we exchange waves with one of his hands covered in clay and the other working the potter's wheel. His store is stacked with bowls, cups, and piggy banks of all sizes. (If I have to re-spawn then it better be here so that I can replace my lost items.) The street is lined with the brightest flowers, fruit (both on the vine and in the road), and the entire place has a pulse to it. I run past the plant nursery, because the old woman who runs it waters the plants by spraying the hose onto the sidewalk and in every direction. Pick up trucks pass me with their beds filled to the top with fig gourds and only stop when kids with wheelbarrows run over to pick up the supply. Any direction you turn is something different to look at and its much more entertaining than a TV could be. 2

I figure that one of the better places to scare up some weed would be down the street from an empty park and the rehabilitation center. I pass by two dudes, one of which is sitting on a bucket and they're passing a joint back and forth. (Kinda low effort hiding it and turning around when people come - making themselves look even more suspicious.) I ask if either of them speak English. They don't, but the kid on the bucket hops up and hands me his phone on translation while he moves to a car that's now stopped in front of us. Its clear that I choose the right road. The kid runs inside the house, leaving me with his phone, and his friend. Begrudgingly, I use his phone to get the conversation started and ask if I can hit his joint. He gives it to me, signals to finish it, confesses that he speaks a little English, and then gestures for me to sit on his bucket. Ditching the phone I take a bucket seat and use this opportunity to practice a second language. We negotiate the deal in broken Spanish and are interrupted often as his operation seems to be thriving during corona. Each time a car pulls up: he takes the order, runs inside to get it, and makes another trip inside to get change. I can't tell if there is a boss inside the house or if he's trying to keep absolutely nothing on him. Either would make sense...seeing as all of this is happening on a narrow sidewalk between the front door of his house and the street (barely room for two people to stand shoulder to shoulder). I get the stash, shake hands, say goodbye, and start walking away when I hear his friend say, "ingles importante" - I agree laughing, and tell him "muy importante"... The entire interaction took about fifteen minutes. Have I just made contact with the dangerous Costa Rican gang that everyone keeps warning me about? If so, these are the nicest and most defenseless gangsters I've ever met. While walking home I stop at the Mini-Super3 to buy rolling papers. Get this, the girl working the counter explains to me that you can buy the entire pack (like normal) or one paper at a time. A couple of high school age girls agree that that is how they purchase papers. I buy an entire pack and offer them each a few.

Let's see who else I can meet on this journey. I take the main road home so that I can people watch, but by doing so I pass by a man who was watching me. He starts shouting my name, and I remember that this was the guy I met at the buss stop the other day.4 Emanuel and I say hello and he asks me if I'm from Romania or Germany. The Romania reference freaks me out because as far as I know we haven't made the news here yet. I'm not from either country I tell him and then say goodbye. He jumps up to talk more but realizing that I'm leaving repeats okay while staring sadly at the ground. I walk home wondering what tragic story is behind this guy's life.

One of the better parts of coming home is climbing the giant hill that leads to the house. You can't climb like this in Indiana and the road is coated in interesting insects and flowers. A long line of ants are marching up hill and I stop to check out what each of them are carrying.5 I like to itemize the items that the ants carry and try to figure out who got the best stuff. One guy is off by himself with a huge curled up leaf on his back. It seems like he is trying to impress the colony because the item is so large that he is making a drunk zig zag pattern. The timing was perfect and as he crawls to check out the gutter, a huge rush of water comes from the top of the hill, and the current takes him away until all that's left is his floating leaf. Another part of wild life that I can relate to, the not-always human condition... but I doubt tomorrow will be anything like today.

  1. He clenched my chin and forced my head up so that our eyes met. I tried to repress my grin -- I love these moments of feeling so small and inconsequential in his hands. "If you could have anything you want right now, what would it be?" For most people this question will only be a theoretical game but with him its divine. []
  2. Maybe where you live is like this too. I doubt it but would you actually know? []
  3. Mini-super being the Costa Rican version of a 711. []
  4. Costa Rica is so beautiful that even the buss stops are enjoyable to sit and think at. A great spot is this bench that sits outside of a small Catholic church. The bench is always empty and has a view to a plantation and the hills. The last time I stopped there a short, old man, with a huge smile (his entire face was basically just a smile), and wide eyes was walking down the street with this kid and his dog. I thought they were together until the man broke off and sat next to me on the bench. The man was clearly not in the best of ways and really wanted someone to talk to. I practiced my Spanish with him by doing some basic greetings and left. []
  5. Ants in the midwest are also very tiny so I've never seen anything like these big juicy guys. The things that they can haul is seriously impressive -- also its weird when you're walking to randomly see leaves keeping up with you. []

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