Ten days later I stumbled onto Alberto Navarro like a donkey out of Tijuana: sore, sticky, my eyes squinting into the equatorial sun. I should have felt relief, or some sense of excitement about this mad adventure. But I remember walking the streets of Casco Viejo with a feeling of doom.
The life I’d spent twenty five years building was gone. I was depressed. And it was too early for my DIY therapy of travel, writing, and sex to kick in. So I wandered, an old ass in the wrong part of town, until my knee stiffened, then started to throb.
I limped along Avenida Central feeling haunted by a conversation I’d had with a friend. He’d told me the men in his family abandon everything when they hit fifty. Sometimes they fell into a bottle or an obsession. Sometimes they disappeared into the wild.
At the time we thought it was funny. We were just kids then. But his suicide, a month before I was to return to Panama, changed all that. Now his words felt like a warning. And by the time I’d circled back to El Cangrejo I was convinced I’d made a horrible mistake.
I put my knee up in Andrés Bello Park. That’s where I saw her again, playing with that absurd hound. Out of the maid’s uniform, she was even more interesting than I imagined: thin, worn jeans, tight black top, bare shoulders and arms.
She looked almost green, in shadow, the sunlight filtering through the leafy canopy. I decided to follow her. I don’t know why. I just felt there was something about this girl.
Maybe because my adrenaline gland’s too big for my pre-frontal cortex. Maybe it was the pheromones and reefer lingering in the wet air, that cute little ass and ridiculously tight body. Or maybe I just wanted one last chance to rejoin the living.
I followed at a safe distance. The girl did a bit of window shopping on Via Espania. She never went in any of the stores. When she hit Veneto she turned up the street to Manolos and took a table inside.
I stayed out on the patio with the beggars and whores. I opened the paper, peered over the top, just in time to see the waitress arrive at the girl’s table with coffee and a basket of toast. They chatted. I fended off a crack addict with a Balboa I’d found in the street.
An old guy in a white guayaberra came over. I think he was urging the waitress to take my order. She shuffled over. I asked for coffee and corn tortillas, some ice for my knee. Then I asked about the girl.
“Ella? Her name Alejandra.”
“What’s with the three-legged dog?”
“Un choque. – How you say?”
“Hit and run?”
“Si, the man no wan. Alejandra save dog.”
I wrote in my journal: Numb and twisted writer encounters young and nurturing …
“Alejandra to have thirty-four years, She Colombian. She come to Panama after husband disappear.”
I looked up from my notes.
My waitress shrugged. Then she started telling me that Alejandra was a good woman, working hard to send money home to her family. Ho ho, aren’t they all.
Given Ortiz’s admonitions, I should have run screaming from the building. Alejandra’s husband was out there somewhere, probably wandering the Darién province with a bloody machete, or back in Colombia, drunk and cashing her checks.
I didn’t like it. I should have heeded my old friend. But I admired the idea of a sexy pot smoking brave woman struggling to help her family. And I got to thinking: what if I had someone like that in my life?
About thirty minutes later Alejandra got up to leave. I ducked behind a blood-stained copy of La Critica as she passed. My waitress was somewhere in the back arguing with the guayaberra man. Probably her boss or lover or both. I went up to the cashier to settle my bill.
By the time I’d finished, Alejandra and the little dog that limped were gone.
-Cojito @ Panama After Dark.