in the lobby of panama’s hospital nacional, two days after doctors tell alex there will be no hysterectomy, i see a poor woman standing in reception. she’s fierce-looking, 30ish, thin, with long black hair. a baseball cap shades her eyes. she’s standing in profile to me, looking down, and laughing with the receptionist.
there’s something about her that strikes me; it’s the look of a woman who would sell herself to a stranger, and give the money to a friend. these days it’s rare i’m so immediately smitten. there’s a confidence and sexual playfulness that i don’t often see in the poor. so many adopt a servile demeanor with their alleged superiors.
i assume the receptionist tells her to take a seat. she turns to face the lobby, boldly catches my eye, and smiles. there’s a reddish abrasion extending up her arm. i self-consciously stop writing, and motion towards an open seat. i don’t know why i do that. alex is down the hall getting x-rayed; that was her seat.
i’m already fond of this woman. and i don’t know why. i debate whether to talk to her. i don’t want to spoil the perfect feeling i have by knowing more. wisely, my girlfriend chooses this moment to return.
“yamileh!” she says.
“ay, dios mio – alex!”
shit, this is weird. it appears i’ve just fallen in lust with one of alex’s friends. panama city is indeed a small world. the girls hug. alex introduces me to her childhood friend from arrijan. i try to be glib, but stumble trying to pronounce her name. yamileh is not a gringo-friendly name.
alex is holding a packet of x-rays that show she’s lost bone density. in panama as many as 7 out of 10 women over 35 have osteoporosis. . in part, because their bodies are stressed by poor diet, and hormonal changes.
“puedo invitarla a mi amiga para almorzar?” alex asks.
we buy something called fosamax and calcium tablets at the pharmacy, and an hour later we’re back home eating pollo, ensalada, y otoe. the girls fill me in on the details of yamileh’s colorful life. yamileh has two children, one of them, “como tu,” alex says.
hey now, i wasn’t even in town that night. besides, i’m fair. yamileh is very dark.
“si, el es rubio – como tu.” alex says.
yamileh had her first child with an american serviceman 12 years ago. they lived together for a time. he loved, and wanted to marry her, but yamileh was young and bored easily. in the states she’d be called a party girl.
when they were younger alex and yamileh would go clubbing together. men were drawn to yamileh. she had “mucho suerte” in the clubs alex says, especially with gringos. she was the smoking hot girl who was up for anything. life was good until yamileh’s american boyfriend caught her in bed with another man. now she’s 35 with two kids, living with an angry man she doesn’t love.
“ella es como tu” alex says.
“ella no quiere casar.”
ah, yes, alex never hesitates to remind me she’s bitterly disappointed we’re not married. alex asks if i think her friend’s still hot. it’s a dangerous question. do i tip alex off to my attraction? or do i insult my guest? as always, i’m a gracious host.
“claro, muy hermosa,” i say.
yamileh smiles at me. and whispers to alex she likes my blue eyes and pierced ear. i can hear alex brag that i have a tattoo, as if she was selling me to a potential buyer.
even though she’s got two kids and a scarred arm, yamileh’s still striking. her second pregnancy forced her to drop out of the university of panama. birth control’s expensive. for poor women with active libidos sex becomes a kind of russian roulette. yamileh’s dad, a simple campesino, was angry at the time. he wanted her to have a better life.
things are getting ugly at home she tells us. last month her boyfriend dumped her off the back of his moto. that’s where she picked up the nasty road rash. she wants to leave. but she stays because of her kids. she can’t pay the bills alone. and she can’t move back in with her parents.
after we eat, yamileh surfs american dating sites on my wireless. 12 years ago, her american lover never knew she was pregnant. she’s thinking she’d like to contact him, and have him help with support.
i’m thinking what a wonderful way to start the new year. to hear from the girl who broke your heart, find out you’ve got a 12 yr old child you’ve never met, and be asked to pay support. feliz fuckin ano nuevo.
yamileh stays with us all afternoon. i never do manage to pronounce her name correctly. i head back to my work. all the time i’m writing i hear the girls talk and laugh. it’s louder after yamileh gets into my rum. she drinks the expensive 12 yr old flor de cana, not the bacardi i offer my less discerning guests.
at one point i hear alex admonish yamileh not to have any more children, or no man will want her. i’m thinking that will never happen. though yamileh’s deeply flawed, there’s something about her that will always attract men. her problem’s not finding them, it’s keeping them.
i reference yamileh because she stands out. with her simple clothes, sensual demeanor, and striking confidence, she’s one of those vivid spirits that spans the gulf of culture, class, and language. i think if i was single, neither her past, nor her present could ever turn me off.
but the woman did drink most of my expensive rum, and a man doesn’t easily forgive something like that.
-Cojito @ Panama After Dark.