It was late, and I was on my hands and knees, weeping, and vomiting paella into a Casco Viejo gutter when things suddenly got weird.
“You wan flowa mista?”
I wiped my burning mouth and looked up from the 17th century cobblestones. An old man with rubber boots and a torn “Omar Vive” T-shirt was jabbing at me with a withered rose. I glanced up and down the street; we appeared to be alone.
“Flowa mista,” he said.
This time he was more insistent, shaking the flower angrily, like he wanted to beat me to death with it. A petal fell to the ground like a red tear. The old man had these vacant eyes. He twitched and shivered, as if insects were chewing on his spine.
“No, Señor, deja mi solo” I said, rising to my feet.
I tried moving away. I mean – what the fuck did I need with flowers? As I walked, I started thinking about all the years, all the money, all the plans, and promises and tears. Where was she now? What was the point?
Rain started to fall again. But the old man just kept on coming. I turned to confront him and he shoved the rose back into my face. It felt like an accusation, the thorns, inches from my delicate Nordic skin.
My first instinct was to run. You know how these natives can be; they load up on dangerous flora, and swoop down from Curundu and Chorillo like tropical Huns. The average gringo never sees it coming.
But then I figured he probably meant no harm, that I should just buy the damn thing. Who was I to frustrate a local entrepreneur? So I started fishing in my pocket for a couple of loose Balboas.
He watched me expectantly, absently scratching his bare arm with a thorn. He was filthy, high on something, but he did seem keen.
“How much for the flower?” I said.
He held up two fingers. “Dos dollares,” he said.
I gave him his coin, made it seem like I was getting a great bargain. He handed me the flower and smiled. I laughed. It was absurd, bleeding again over a rose.
So I kissed it – an air kiss, because who knows where it had been. I admit, I felt a little raw being reminded of what I’d lost. Satisfied, the old man turned back towards one of the broken buildings. A light was glowing from somewhere inside.
“Cuidate,” he said, before disappearing down a dark passage.
I didn’t answer. I was beat. I slouched against a brick wall and waited until I was sure he’d gone. Then I walked over to the curb, and dropped the flower into the gurgling gutter.
I stood there, alone, feeling the intimacy of the pounding rain. I watched until the rose was swept out into the Bay of Panama. A passing taxi honked its horn. I jumped in, and told the driver to take me back to the hostel.
In that backseat I didn’t think I’d ever return to the U.S.. And I wondered how long I’d survive if I didn’t. Not long, I guessed. Hopefully, not too long.
-Cojito @ Panama After Dark.