I got up when I felt the equatorial light clawing at me from behind the curtains. On my way to the fridge I slammed the corner of a stone table. A mixture of blood and seven year old rum spurted from my leg.
I hopped about the room, leaving sticky footprints and obscenities in my wake. I started feeling woozy. I could hear my lungs wheezing, struggling to make sense of the wet air.
Everything started moving, as if the equatorial heat had excited the molecules in my room. I stood there, unsteady, holding the edge of a table. Then I ambushed the couch.
You might’ve heard the Central American couch lacks a strong survival instinct. But I was sucked deep into the dark heart of its cushions. I didn’t think I was ever getting back out.
I never did like drinking. Especially after my high school buddy choked to death on his own vomit. But sometimes drinking was better than thinking. And I was tired of thinking of my ex, the suicide of a friend, my knee, and the loss of income and limited future that comes with being an old, divorced, gimp.
And through all of it, I kept hearing a dull knocking at my door. I grunted as I fought my way off the couch and dragged my throbbing leg across the worn Spanish tile. At the door I slumped against the dirty green wall and fumbled with the deadbolt.
Lola was standing on the other side. She’d been a teacher back in Cuba. Now she was almost thirty four. Her dark eyes and wide smile, hardened from years of Fidel-style deprivation, gave her an appealing urgency.
We’d met when I first came to Panama. She was cleaning rooms at the Hotel California. One night, after her shift ended, we’d shared a bottle of Chianti on the roof. We were up there all night watching ships float free of the canal.
She had these amazing stories about hitchhiking around Cuba. They all ended with her being taken, or forced to suck cock. Her eyes glittered telling me this. But by morning she was weeping and telling me about the man who broke her heart.
We became friends. I told her I’d call when I settled, even though I didn’t need the help, nor did I want the distraction. I told her I just wanted to write.
She’d suggested a weekly cleaning. Apparently, I’d forgotten this was her day, because here she was, standing in my door with this wild look, like she’d just seen the ghost of Fulgencio Batista.
– What happened here? she said.
– Chupacabra, I said, panting for effect. A big one. He came in through the window. Thank god I keep a machete by the bed.
Lola glanced down at my knee and all the blood. Then over at the open window. I could feel her confusion and then pity.
I think it was Hegel who said: “no man is a hero to his valet.” Lola had probably never read him. Books were hard to come by in Cuba. Even for teachers. But she certainly would have agreed with Hegel’s basic premise.
I even detected a judgmental grimace as she bent to clean the blood coagulating on the cool tile floor.
– I can get that later, I said
She looked back up at me, eyes wide, like I’d lost it.
– You need help.
Bloody communist. Of course I needed help. I’d noticed my activity level had dropped off since I’d acclimated to the tropics. But Lola, no matter how hard her life got, kept moving towards the next classroom, the next rubbish basket, the next cock.
Though, if I’m being honest, she much preferred the later. Her specialty was using her breasts in tandem with her juicy mouth. She’d create a kind of pincer movement where the penis was encircled in soft Afro-Caribbean flesh. It eventually had no choice but to surrender its letche.
At least that’s what I kept telling myself. Lola called the maneuver “la Cubanita.” And after an ejaculation, she’d rub the cream ( “her yogur” ) into her chest and face while she gave herself an orgasm with her sticky fingers. Then she’d lick her fingers clean.
She said it kept her skin young and firm. It seemed to be working, and I admired her for all that. Just not enough to move off the couch. I lay there, leg up, dozing fitfully like some hungover chief, as Lola zipped about my flat, demented grasshopper and hardworking ant.
In a few hours she’d scrubbed away all the blood and chupacabra hair, made fresh coffee, applied a clean bandage to my wound. She’d even managed to relieve my painful erection and get herself off twice. Lola was on her way out when I woke from post-orgasmic stupor.
I told her to hold up. I limped across the room. When I took her in my arms, she suddenly burst into tears. Surprised, I cradled her head to my chest.
– I’m sorry, she said. I wanted it to be perfect.
I looked around, confused. It was spotless. She’d even left flowers and the paper on the table.
– No, it’s looks really good. Thanks for taking care of me.
Lola shivered and sobbed violently as I held her. I kissed the top of her head and just held her in my arms. Every so often she’d dry her tears on my t-shirt, and sniff. Her breathing slowed. Then she went into the kitchen to pour me some coffee.
– I picked up your mail when you were sleeping, she said.
– You got a letter from your wife.
– Ex wife.
– I think she wants you back.
I took the letter from the table and tore it open.
– No, look, it’s nothing. She’s just asking for more money.
Lola looked visibly relieved. I wasn’t. I was running low on funds. I took the coffee she offered, and drank. It hit my already unsettled stomach and I wanted to puke.
– Time to go, I said.
I found some cash in my shorts from the previous night. I gave it to Lola. Then I kissed the top of her head, and told her I’d see her next week. I could hear her in the street below my window, telling the doorman about her gringo “boyfriend” as she waited on a taxi for a job downtown.
When I was sure she was gone I sparked a joint. Cannabis is the only cure for a hangover I’ve ever found. Discretion is key. Marijuana’s illegal in Panama. And I didn’t have money for a bribe, didn’t want to get caught up in Panama’s ridiculous legal system, and I sure as fuck didn’t want to spend the next few years in a shit-smeared cell at La Joya.
Between hits I looked at my notebook, filled with snippets of scenes and conversations I’d had since coming to Panama. But what of it? I hadn’t written anything of note in a long time, hadn’t made any real money, and I was beginning to think this crazy dream of living simply, and writing in Central America was just another doomed movement in a downward spiral.
Perhaps the worst of it was the magic never came. I’d fill notebook after notebook, half mad drivel only the coroner will ever read, or could ever stomach. But that’s as far as it went. It was like I’d been frozen. And neither Lola, nor the equatorial heat could thaw me out.
Written by: Cojito © 2012