I recall strange echoes of the Incan woman in Cuenca: “Estás entre la espada y la pared,” which I understood as, “Don’t get caught between the wall and the sword.” I assumed she was warning me, or any foreign traveler for that much to be cautious. What I found out weeks later in Quito from a relic of the virgin, a metaphor: “You are caught between the devil and the deep.”
Walking off the jet bridge entering Cartagena’s afternoon, my first thought was cocaine, which was not unusual. How many nights I’ve spent writing terrible songs and poems and masturbating to counterfeit caffeine scored in smeary Chicago streets. The white leaf couldn’t escape me, especially now in Colombia.
I set my intent to beg the quantum field—a new-age ploy, a scientifically spiritual hoax coercing the vibrational realm to supply uncharitable acquisition. I wasn’t using this power justly, my surreptitious plan attempting holy manipulation, but nonetheless, a delivery plea. Besides, I wasn’t gregarious enough to find it on my own, I needed the energy and magic of being in a new place in my favor. Once the energy wears like a winter hymn and the field gets bored, it no longer reacts with fresh wheels, more like a fish battling a motorboat dragging bait. But the urge was in utero and the realm knew; not for cocaine but good cocaine, and my scent wore neon.
And would you know, just off the plane, a well-defined man in a grey sleek mustache suit and a mile of silver-laced perfume rings held a giant painting of an endless waterfall surrounded by the greenest microscopic islands with straw huts like belly buttons on a pregnant belly hovering bird’s-eye to surrounding infinities of blue. It didn’t sit right—the man in gaudy hunchback persuasion, ushering tourists to a dream. I could imagine how awful his breath must have smelled. His teeth looked rotten. His smile, a crescent moon filled with ironies and black beans. He could find cocaine; he may have some already.
I approached and we shook hands. His bloodshed eyes were jittery, his glance detached as if controlled by strings. His skin felt like a dead reptile, mushy and scaly. I might have heard “Viruñas,” and in my broken tongue we began to converse. I tapped on my right nostril—he sooner knew my intent. In scrambled understanding, I believe he said he’d take me to it.
We shuffled toward his automobile. I didn’t think twice about entering or that we didn’t discuss pesos. We zipped through narrow streets passing old Victorian buildings painted in sherbert colors with leaf vines like fur coats. Churches with big clock tower hands and reggae beats, painted black birds along walls filled with rainbow feathers, women with fruit bundles on their heads, and carts filled with mangoes and sea salt. It was all so lush and beautiful. I glanced at the man beside me, his chicken head gobbled over the wheel. There was a strange aura around him; it was enrapturing. I was drawn to it, manipulating … I used to see people in terms of demons, angels, or undecidedly stasis … As of myself … He was only a man, destroyed in subjugation of being human.
The thoughts quickly left and my attention turned back on the road. Before I knew it, we dipped into another part of town. The part of town every city has where the dream disappears and fangs inhabit the crypt. Like tree-branch imps bouncing through rolling udders, we shadowed houses built of rusted tin roof and badly puzzled wood, fake window cutouts for the world to fall through. Trash paved the streets, kids played in it. The multiplexes, peeled sherbert with mildewed walls and basketball backboards without rims. The car jerked to a stop.
“Estamos aquí—” he leaned over my lap and pointed out the passenger window to a group of kids; some holding pistols, some yelling, others fighting, “ Estamos aquí!”
“Can you wai—I mean … por favor aquí?”
I got out and as soon as I closed the door he sped off around the corner. I turned and yelled after him … Blank, the face of the virgin as she walked in the gownless streets, bleeding from her eyes … Blinks after, a cold black sting.