By Laurie Trautman*
In the spring of 2009 my husband and I were backpacking around Nicaragua when two
women befriended me on a public bus from Granada to Managua. After we stepped off the bus, they hailed a taxi cab which we all planned to share.
“Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva el corriente” [The sleeping shrimp gets carried off with the current]. She laughs. Yes, it’s funny. At times, if I am not paying attention, maybe I will lose something important or miss a good opportunity. It’s a good saying.
They were two women — a bit ugly and fat and dirty, but two women. With smiles and pretty words. With patience to listen to my bad Spanish. The cab we got into was old and shabby, but it was a cab, wasn’t it?
They waited about five minutes before letting their smiles fade. The knife one put to my throat was small. Small and sharp and serrated. I did not see it coming. We were sleeping like shrimp, like camarones. Pink, with the flesh exposed.
The two men in the front seats did not have smiles. They did not have patience. “Peen number! Peen number!” The woman sitting next to me slapped me hard in the face. My ten-dollar wedding ring already in her purse. Money in my bra, her hands in my underwear- not a good hiding place.
People on the street around us see; people know what is going on. No one says anything. They are content that the current is not carrying them. Today it is two gringos. Only two gringos. No vale nada. A ten dollar wedding ring is worth more. Two gringos, and Americanos too! Less than zero.
Her fat leg is pressing against mine. Three hours, and her fat leg. Her sweaty breasts. Six people now in a small, dirty car. Two camarones and four thieves. This ride is a nightmare for us; a dream come true for them. Good luck for them. Bank after bank. Instant money. The bank of the world. Only four numbers and so much money. Two hundred dollars at this ATM, two hundred at the next. Let’s keep going.
It is hot. There are beads of sweat running between my breasts, where my money had been a few hours before. My throat is dry. But I do not want water. I do not want anything. I want to wake up. I want to get the fuck out of this car.
They say that when a person has a traumatic experience they often do not fully remember it. It is a form of defense. The leg of that woman. I remember that. I remember the feeling of having confidence in humanity. Of trusting a smiling face.
My husband remembers the desire to kill another person. A woman. Perhaps a mother. Maybe she has children. Children that want pretty things. Food. A bed. A wedding ring, silver and shining.
Its fucking hot. There is so much sweat that I am almost cold.
I think about the photographs in my camera. Cathedrals painted yellow. The style of the conquistadors, bullet holes hidden with paint. I think about the book I’m in the middle of reading. My birth control pills. My sunglasses. I do not think of what could happen. How bad it could get. I do not think about all the money they could have if they use several days to get it. I do not think of what might happen to me at night. My husband’s heart breaking. Their hatred. Evil is born of evil.
But the ATM only spouts so much money in one day. It’s not worth the trouble of keeping two obvious tourists any longer. A dusty street is a good place to leave them- there is a lot of loot to sort through now.
Finally free from the car, with no shoes, no money, no things. Only life. A life that we have another chance to live. Right now her children have new shoes. The shoes of a gringa. “Una gringa muy estúpida” she tells her kids.
Is there anyone here on this dirt street that will help us? Help two Americans? Two rich gringos, who have friends and relatives in the United States who are richer than this little town. With white skin, silver rings.
Perhaps for each devil’s heart there is the heart of an angel. Does this make the world a balanced place? Does it make it okay? There are always people that help, aren’t there? Maybe they don’t want to help, but they do. They would prefer to look in the other direction.
But now these gringos can see how it is. Their bags are empty. They have a knowledge of violence. A knowledge of poverty. Three hours struggling for their lives. Thirty years for us. Their vacation has finished. How sad. Que triste.
Yes, we will help them. After everything, we are human. Humans that are valued differently at different times, but humans nonetheless. Yes, we will show them how to return to where they are from. Its better that they leave, that we do not have to be reminded of all that we do not have. In the United States they have everything they need.
In Nicaragua, there is a saying, ‘matar dos aves con un solo tiro’ [to kill two birds with one bullet]. One gun- stone are for little children. Americans do not know what it is to live with war. Only to watch it on television.
At the airport in Managua, we are surrounded by guys with surf boards. Sunburned tourists. Young couples that bought some real estate. So cheap! And right on the beach!
Back in the US, the customs officer tell us, “Welcome home, but you need to go back and claim your luggage prior to going through customs.” A plastic shopping bag and a change of clothes, a toothbrush, a book, that’s all we have. Someone else claimed the rest. In all, we lost about $1,000 cash, and everything we had aside from the clothes we were wearing (including my shoes). And due to bank security and homeowner’s insurance, we got it all back.
I’d like to think there is a moral to this story. I could cite some statistics about per capita consumption or illiteracy or poverty or crime. But in the end, this is a story of wants. Wanting what someone else has and stealing it from them because there is no other way to get it. I could call it greed, but then perhaps I would be accused of being a wealthy American hypocrite.
It is also a story about the value of a human life. I could get political and argue that for many years the United States government placed no value on the life of Nicaraguans. But that is not my story. My story is about bad luck and the wrong taxi cab. About what is lost when you look into another person’s eyes and see what hatred looks like.
The violence that exists in the human heart.
How it feels to know that your life is worth nothing more than a 4 digit pin number. How insignificant it can be.
*Laurie Trautman grew up in New Jersey and is now a graduate student at the University of Oregon, pursuing a degree in immigration studies.
More great TYTT stories:
Dear Society by Cavin O’Feral
Sa Lu Bri Ous by Helen Weatherell-Bay
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