UNITED STATES—The honeymoon phase of the trip had lasted from Costa Rica, almost to the Nicaraguan border. It was buoyed by prospects of good pay in the country of great depths and deep ravines, where you could look down on the head of a condor and still see 1000 feet separating the condor from the jungle floor. From here to the land of preservatives, Uncle Sam’s bargain basement.

There was a bounce in their step and a spark in their heart. You know how it is. We were counting our money like it had already been made, you know, and the joy was real as anything we could ever know, because we were already there, you see. You know well that when it all turns to sh*t, you keep slogging through the sh*t and it doesn’t matter how you feel. It just doesn’t matter. And your love life, you love it so much you could give it up as easy as a used Kleenex.

Let it fall fall fall fall. There it sounds again, let it be. Some of the Blacks went barefoot through the swales of Canaveral grass, yellow moon, yellow like a bit of parmesan cheese. The afternoon had reached its ápex, it would only get better now. The big cat mountain lions prowled out there, one could show up at any time and claw their way. Whatever is inside and looking out, is also outside looking in.

Like around 8:30 at night we were back in that crude town. In the main camp where all the Nicaraguan boys slept, a few lights were still on. “Bye bye, Nicas chochos!” “Hey, cartaagoj watch out that the witch doesn’t hurt you,” they answered, recognizing the origins our voice.

Regional. When we looked over the provisions, we saw that Cabrera, when he threw the sack to the floor, had burst open some bags of rice and sugar. They got all mixed together in the bottom, sweet rice. The cause of this disaster calmly murmured:

“All the better we eat sweet rice, a la juerza.”

“Well I can sign you up. Tomorrow you get to cook,” Heraclito said.

“You told me to start with the housekeeping,” Cabrera said. He tossed his hat onto the floor and added:

“If you have to bring provisions next Monday, I won’t go with you.”

This period we cooked. We got back to the camp at five, very tired and drenched by sweat, and who was there at that hour had to do double duty in the kitchen, where it was hot and do battle with the fire and the large tin cans we prepared the dinner in. At the same time we left lunch ready for the following day, that we took to work in the paniquines, to eat cold. The day that Heraclito cooked it was a treat. We ate early and well. These things took on great importance in the world of labor and life in the banana plantation camps.

Cabrera was a lightning bolt, si senor. We had a campfire that could have served to roast an ox. From the corridor we heard them fighting-shouting with the gallon tin cans, blowing air at the fire with a force that wanted to bring down the camp, that filled with heavy black clouds of smoke that made some choke. A moment later they were banging a spoon on the tabique, calling to the meal. He sat, squatted in the corridor and made the food disappear in two swallows, while he brushed off the sweat with his hair knuckles, that dripped down in rivulets down his soot-blackened face.

The day it was my turn to cook was a disaster, a calamity. Nobody could approach the kitchen. There I was trapped, trapped like a tiger, grumbling with my eyes teary from the smoke, full of soot from the tip of my head. And with the finger chapped. After a day’s slavery in the camp kitchen, I called everyone to eat.  Cabrera grabbed his paniquin, sampled the food with his fingertips and, making a grimace of yuk, and exclaimed:

“Aghurrf! So much to-do to make a ball of burnt rice.”

I honestly had a notion to screw the can of rice to Cabera’s head.

Sometimes with the black, Felix had luck, we had a party with the piece of tepezcuintle spotted paca he gave to us. We saw him going by every night to the mountain, with a gangoche covering his back, a piece of cap without a visor and his old puttees tied with twine from the canillas. On his shoulder, he carried his most precious treasure, a shotgun with an eroded barrel and held to the pieces of rifle butt, beautiful but damaged hard wood.

If we heard a distance shot fired, we exclaimed, “There is meat for tomorrow.” We smiled.

To be continued…

Grady is the Wizard of Fiction.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)