by Darren Young
“¡Muchísimas gracias!” I say to my new neighbor, Miguel. We're standing in the doorway. I reach forward and give his hand a firm shake.
“De nada,” Miguel says with a huge grin. He releases his grip and drops his arm. But before he turns, his smile fades. And he sulks away.
To me, the behavior seemed intentional. I wonder if he had expected a tip? The separation of rich and poor is vast in this country. But Miguel wasn't dressed as a poor man. I throw my shoulders up and shut the door.
I walk straight through the apartment across the office area and to the exterior side. The entire wall is a window. I open the curtains all the way and stand behind it. From my fifth floor flat, lines upon lines of clothing litter my direct line of sight. Windows are open across the street and I can see inside furniture. I shift my gaze over and beyond the multi-colored tin-roofed housing complexes and up toward the eastern mountain.
Monserrate, number one tourist destination, is perched atop. Cable cars are gliding above the trees and a train inserts into the mountain – both carrying passengers toward the top for a premium, but the gate to the walking path is closed. I take in a deep breath and exhale. This view was the highlight of the listing. I close the curtains.
The unit itself is basic, white tile floors and matching drywall. It has all of the necessities – bed, couch, desk, full kitchen. And it's sanitized. (Miguel did a good job scrubbing.) But, it's not clean. Remnants from the previous tenant are scattered throughout.
There is a large wooden desk in the office. Under it's glass-top, pressed flat are several delivery menus, an address handwritten in cursive, and a lawyer's business card. I walk into the kitchen and open the fridge. A few styrofoam containers are on the top shelf. I lift the lid of one and reveal a half eaten chicken. There is a jar of coffee in a drawer and a opened bag of yogurt in the egg compartment. When I shut the door, I notice a couple of post-it notes with latina names and telephone numbers stuck to the exterior.
As I begin to reach for my backpack, I realize that the only meal I've eaten in the past twelve hours was a bag of fiesta blend peanuts and a liter of Jamaica tea. I grab my passport, a fifty-thousand peso bill and a hand-full of change. Then I hit the streets.
Traffic of all makes and models rush by the one-way street in front of my Candelaria apartment. I walk to the nearest corner and stop by a stand. I point to a roll behind a glass shelf and say, “Dos.” The merchant hands me a plate with two steaming chunks of bread. I take a seat on a plastic stool. Then I bite into one and discover a gewy center. There is some sort of cheese in the middle, it's delicious. Without asking, the merchant hands me a cup of coffee and I take a swig. She smiles at my broken Spanish, in a good-natured way. She doesn't have change for my 50k bill, so I dig out a few coins and pay. She gives me a bag for my uneaten roll.
There is an indigenous woman scraping up and down on a tin can, producing a galloping sound, sitting on the sidewalk nearby. As I approach her, I notice that she has a baby wrapped up in a blanket. I hand her the bread and the rest of my change, and continue back to my apartment.
In my flat, as I'm finishing unpacking my things, the door-chime rings. I grab my cash and passport off of the desk and pocket it, then I walk to the front door. I open the peephole cover and see Miguel standing outside. I smile and open the door.
Miguel extends his arm and says, “Here.” He opens his hand and reveals a cell phone.
“Ah, the twenty thousand peso special,” I say. I reach into my pocket and pull out a bill.
“No, no.” Miguel says and continues, “call me.” Then he asks, “tomorrow?”
“¿Qué?” I ask.
“Café and market?” he says, “early.”
“Oh yeah, sure,” I say. “I'll be ready.”
I change my mind about him wanting money, and consider that he is expecting something else in return. I plug the phone in and then walk to the fridge. I remove the half-eaten chicken and a moldy sandwich, but keep the coffee. Then I separate the organic from the non-disposables and toss everything into garbage bags.
I check the local news online. The big headline reads that a seven year old girl's body was found, molested. The killer is still at large. I scroll down the page. The guerrilla group FARC has signed a peace agreement with the government. I continue further down. Something odd catches my eye and click on a link to the video. It's security footage of an assassination attempt on a plastic surgeon in Medellín. The article states that it was the third attempt on his life in less than ninety days.
Miguel and I walk Carrera 7 through the centro the next day. The street is closed to traffic. Cyclists and runners rush by us.
“Ciclovía,” he says.
“Yeah it's nice,” I say, “they do the same thing in Mexico.”
He points toward an indoor parking garage and tells me that he has a Land Rover stored there, but that walking is easier. I recall how heavy the midday traffic was during my cab ride from the airport the day before, and I tell him that I would do the same if I lived here.
We cross Calle 19 and stop on the corner. Miguel holds up his arm and waves his hand toward the oncoming traffic. Less than a second later a pale yellow cab pulls up on the curb in front of us. We hop in the back.
As the taxi heads northwest Miguel points to the right and tells me to avoid that section of town. I look down a cross street and observe a handful of women dressed to kill. “It's legal here right?” I ask. “Yes,” he says and then adds, “but very dangerous.”
Miguel insists on paying when the taxi drops us off.
The market is dirty, and packed with people, animals, and produce. We stop and take seats in front of one of the bread roll places. “Pandebono,” he informs me when the steaming morsels are presented to us. We drink cups of coffee along with the bread.
Walking through the market, Miguel points out some exotic fruit. “Maracuyá y tomate de árbol,” he says. He hands me a small oval shaped tomato and tells me to start kneading it.
“The women are beautiful here,” I say.
“Yes, but better in Medellín,” he says.
We pass by some caged chickens and I pose while he snaps my photo.
“So this tomato grows on a tree?” I ask as we exit the market.
“Yes,” he says and grabs it from my hand. He checks the firmness and then motions for me to take a bite off of the top and tilt and squeeze the juice out into my mouth.
I follow his orders. It isn't sweet like I expected, but it is refreshing.
We cross a street and walk toward a large building.
“It's new,” Miguel says as he points up toward the structure, “built two years ago.”
As the large glass doors open to the centro comercial, I step through and remark, “This is modern.”
“Yes, just like in the United States,” he says.
I look around and comment, “but empty.”
We stop at a coffee shop and take seats. After placing the order Miguel pulls out his cell phone.
“My ex-wife,” he says.
I look at the picture and say, “She's beautiful.”
“Yes,” he says and scrolls to the next photo. “This is my girlfriend.”
She looks nineteen. “Muy linda,” I say.
Then he shows me pictures of his kids. I ask how old they are.
“The oldest is 32,” he says.
My age, I think.
“Do you have kids?” he asks.
“No, my brother has a couple though,” I say.
“Families cause health problems,” he says and points to himself. “Diabetes.”
“Yeah, my family doesn't talk,” I say. “It's better that way.”
He makes a hand motion toward the waitress and reaches for his billfold.
“No,” I say. “I've got this.”
Darren L Young was born and raised in the rural midwest. He served 10 years in the United State Army National Guard before moving west, where he earned a Master of Science from Arizona State University. Darren has publications in Dual Coast Magazine, Heater, Gravel, Turk's Head Review, and Black Mirror Magazine. They can be found here.