I’m looking for the face I had before the world was made. William Butler Yeats
After twenty seven days of taking, I finally put down antibiotics. I still feel poor, but after such a dose of chemistry, I can’t feel better. From an idyllic village I moved back to a noisy city. No one threw me out, but I did not want to abuse hospitality of the owners, with whom I initially made an agreement that I would stay a few days, and yesterday two weeks passed since I had arrived to their house. Probably if I had asked, I could have stayed a bit longer, but moving to the city, moving anywhere, was a sort of ersatz of motion – a faint, if not fake, because without any visible horizon, but anyway – moving out was a good substitute of the road.
In two days I’m heading towards Ecuador. I will accept what the wind will bring. I will be heading towards Quito, from where, either I will go back to Poland, or, if I finally feel better, I will go further south. I don’t want to think about going back now, my thoughts invariably are swinging among warm memories. Sometimes I do not know if that’s what I remember really happened, or whether I only imagined that, and by remembering – I create it.
Yesterday I was lying on the green grass and ran beside two little kittens. Someone dropped them at the gate. They were miaowing terribly. I sheltered them. They cuddled at me right away, murmured loudly, looking for breasts to suck. I intertwined my fingers with their sticky fur. I couldn’t fall asleep for a long time.
In the morning, I noticed with astonishment that all the other cats had disappeared. Two little kittens got food – they were miaowing, when I entered the building, and they ceased when I was close. I’m sad because I could not take them. Because I do not know if they can make it alone. Because I felt I was needed. Because I lay with them on the green, warm meadow, and they were walking around my head. Because in the end they lay next to me and muttering, were twisting their little claws in my beard.
And I simply do not know, whether I really saw them, and I was twining my fingers in their soft fur, or maybe there weren’t any small kittens, there was nothing. There was only my red, dishevelled beard and moving fingers in the thick grass, seeking someone’s warm hand. The hand, which no longer has been there.
Lay your head where my heart used to be. Hold the earth above me. Lay down on the green grass. Remember when you loved me.
Like water, the world flows through you, and for some time it lends you its colors. Then it goes back and again leaves you alone with all emptiness you carry. Nicolas Bouvier
Each day is just the waiting until the advent of the night, and each night is just the waiting until the advent of the day. Playing with the cats prevents me from getting nuts. Sandra and her father Javier, owners of the house where I’m staying for a week, said that I shouldn’t touch these cats, because they are wild, they scratch and I can catch rabies or some other nasty stuff.
Maybe they are right, but because there is no one around to whom I could speak up and salamanders poorly respond to my accosting (as well as big, flying insects, which come into the room through absolutely invisible holes – but just in case they get swatting at their heads and, on a scoop, return to the garden), so the cats seemed to me an excellent material for having fun, and for being able to unbosom myself – you can speak to them, run after them, play hide and seek, simply look at them.
I was even able to catch the black one and stroke him for a minute. No longer, cause the black stabbed his teeth in my arm, so the petting was over – apparently, I am out of practice in providing pleasure and now I will have to learn this art again. As fate will allow, maybe not necessarily on cats.
So, there are cats in the house. At first I thought there were eight of them, then, that seven, but eventually I counted nine, including two coming most likely from another mother. Well, two red cats. One looks like a female, I do not know, she’s got something in her eyes, I’m pretty sure it’s a woman. I could not look at the part which would dispel any doubts, cause this particular redhead is the most timid of all, but believe me – she’s got a sort of female eyes, so it must be that sex.
Although I’m still not in good health, I’m smiling to the world, waving to flashing by redcats, warding off relentlessly biting mosquitoes – Colombian masters of camouflage, which fly at a speed of a hummingbird and change their trajectories so quickly that if I am able to grab one, I almost fall out of a hammock with sheer happiness. And then I smile again, even though my head hurts, mosquitos bite, cats do not want to be touched, and there is no one to whom you could tell your yesterday’s dream.
But never mind. I’ve already decided. Rocking in a hammock, looking at the wall, where salamanders were performing their mating dance, I decided that whatever is going to happen, I will smile. Even if I do not feel better and will have to return home, because, unfortunately, it looks like that. That I will come back. But maybe not. Maybe in two or three days a miracle will happen, and antibiotic will start working and I will feel better, and there will be the road again, the horizon and only warm thoughts. Because at the moment everything seems to be too far. The house is too far, the destination is too far, but it’s getting closer to a peaceful mind, in which there is the road, and there is the horiozon, and there is no need to run for any cats, and certainly not for any red ones. Red is nasty, my grandmother used to say, even though she had a red-haired husband.
I finish my dinner, swallow pills and go out to the garden to get some fresh air, which, through my clogged sinuses, I still can’t feel. And then I go into the garden to look for a black cat, maybe he will allow me to cuddle him once again, even for a minute.
Maybe a man is the sun for himself, but, like the sun, engulfs only half of his land, throwing on the rest of it an eternal shadow of uncertainty and doubt. And he doesn’t even want to guess or suspect that even there, in this eternal shade, there he is, himself. Wieslaw Myśliwski Palace
For a week, at ten o’clock sharp, I have come for breakfast to a restaurant called Lolita, which is situated just beneath my hotel room. Some immensely friendly, corpulent ladies, whose head is crowned with white bonnets work there. I am called cariño, and it really escaped my notice, since when I was started to be named like that. Perhaps it happened last Saturday, when I stayed on the narrow sidewalk, caught a smile, and following a friendly, inviting hand movement, hesitantly walked through the wide entrance, which is also a huge window to a busy street life.
At this time of the day the restaurant is usually empty. It fills up until the early afternoon. I eat rice with sausage, fried bananas, eggs, arepa (a bread, made of ground maize dough), drink coffee and a glass of agua de panela – a drink made from panelas (unrefined cane sugar) and lime juice. Such a meal costs here the equivalent of about two American dollars.
After breakfast I go back to bed, and at six p.m. I return to have dinner. I eat soup with potatoes, beans, corn and meat. For the second course there is a huge serving of rice, or potatoes, meat, salad, coffee and a pint of agua de panela. The whole meal also costs here equivalent of two American dollars. Before midnight I prepare myself one meal more, just before swallowing another antibiotic. Fifth within the last three months. I got a huge dose of Clindamycyn, which I am to enjoy for at least two weeks. The antibiotic was prescribed remotely from Poland, and there was no problem whatsoever to buy it here, because it turned out that in Colombia they can be purchased over the counter (or, it might well have been just my swollen face and feverish sight that helped).
Here are a few facts: Since mid-June I’ve been cycling with sinusitis. Perhaps I got some complications, it is difficult to say. It’s not like I’m an idiot, I’m going crazy and I do not want to recover. I want to. But no one here takes me seriously. I mean, what should I do in a situation when I go to hospital and say that I do not feel well, and describe all bad symptoms I have, just to hear at the end of the visit: If you were able to cycled seventy miles by bike today, and you don’t have a very high fever, so, probably nothing really happens, you seem to be quite well, but just in case, let me protectively prescribe you some antibiotics.
I tried to heal, I took the pills, but when on my question if I am able to continue the journey, somebody answers: If you feel well enough to keep cycling, you may go, then the same day I get on the bike again and I go on. Perhaps it is irresponsible, maybe stupid, but I am like that and it’s a part of me. I usually go, as long as the body does not rebel completely and says: stop. And so the body rebelled last week, as I wrote, and this time help came from Poland. Remotely. I’ll try one more time. If this antibiotic does not work, I won’t go further. I’ve had enough.
Today, I’m moving out of the town to a village Palmar, to an empty house belonging to one of the cooking ladies. I still have hope that I won’t have to come back. Apart from lizards on the walls and birds in the trees, no one lives there. Twenty-four hours alone with my own thoughts. There will be silence and darkness. The hotel walls are thin, don’t quash omnipresent love elation. In the morning, light wakes me up invariably.
The city is never really quiet or really dark. Even at night, and even behind closed eyes. Once I could not sleep. I closed my eyes and waved my hand in front of the face. I clearly saw a movement. Blackness on the background of blackness. Then I covered my eyes tightly with my left hand and I waved again with the right one. The mind knew that I was moving my hand, and again, it created a sense of movement, even that then I could not really see anything. Michal Cichy
When I am no longer be able to bear my own thoughts, I’ll go into the garden to look for some wild strawberries. I’ll look under the wide leaves, under flourishing, mushrooming shrubs, I’ll come among flower beds, furrows, and colorful flowers. I’ll go to look for them, knowing, that I won’t find them there. I’ll crouch over the pond, look in the water and smile to a foreign, motionless face. When I touch it, it will whirl with wrinkles, expand unnaturally, contort strangely, disappears. And when it completely vanishes, I’ll close my eyes, lay down and disperse. I will turn into a red, ripe, wild strawberry. Maybe someone will be passing by and help themselves.
Marcotulio Gonzalez caught me somewhere in the middle of the distance to the pass. Overtaking me slowly, he turned, said something unintelligible, and then went up fast. I do not like seeing anyone on the road ahead of me, I have a problem with that, my cycling screw loose is losing even more. So, when somebody outrivals me, I immediately press on the pedals and chase, in which I probably resemble rural dogs, whose instinct tells them to chase anything that moves fast, so in their opinion probably escapes. And, as it escapes, you have to chase. No matter why, no matter what. It needs to be chased and that’s it.
So I pressed on the pedals and chased a fleeing man and finally got him. And then I tried not to lose him. When he finally turned around and saw me sitting on his wheel, he stopped, put his bike aside, then looked at me with a queer sight, introduced himself and said:
- Gringo, where’s your helmet?
- I am not a gringo, I’m Pedro, I’m from Poland, not from the USA, and as for helmet, I don’t like it, cause it burns your head, and, anyway, you do not need to wear a helmet to ride in Colombia? Look! – And I pointed to a passing motorbike, on which the whole family sat, five people, including three children.
- Well, you don’t have to, but it’s safer. I have already lain in a ditch five times already, look – and, with a twinkle in his eye, he rolled up his sleeve, showing a deformed clavicle.
I did not want to be worse and showed my kneecap, saying that last year I broke my knee.
- You see! If you had been cycling in a helmet, you would not have broken it! – he concluded, then got on the bike and started going up with such a pace, that even without panniers I would have a very little chance to catch him.
At last, I got into the mountains. I thought it would help a little to cure my sinusitis. But these green mountains are more hills than real mountains, and it is still humid and very hot. For a few days I rode as crazy on another antibiotic prescribed in Panama, but when two days ago, having eating my dinner, I confused directions and for good two hours I was cycling in the same direction from which I came, I gave up.
I was sitting on a bench in a shade, emptying a gallon of water, when a man came up and invited me for dinner. Mario, a former soldier, helicopter pilot, served with Poles in Afghanistan, and now is doing around various businesses, as he euphemistically described. He took me to the hospital, where they immediately wanted me to be connected to a drip. – This is our typical procedure, drip is a good thing, they don’t give it only to those who are to pass away – says Mario, when I found him waiting at the hospital. We went to pharmacy, where I bought another set of pills, and then went to a nearby hotel. Mario paid for four nights stay, took care of food and clean water.
I do not know why he did all what he did. I did not ask for anything. I sat in the shade and was drinking water. I remember thinking that this day I can no longer drive anywhere further, I’m not allowed to go anywhere, that I must remain in the shade until morning, or longer, put up my tent there, relax and fall asleep. And then he appeared.
Perhaps everything is in a smile. Maybe it is enough. Perhaps a smile contains the essence of what I do, what I would do. Maybe this time it was the same. I smiled and that was enough.
Currently I am not able to continue my trip, I have to rest a little. I have another set of colored pills. I may stay in the hotel till Wednesday. Then probably I will move on. It seems that the climate doesn’t serve me. But it is not so far from real mountains. It is not so far to the end. Looking at the map, you could say that now I have a sheer downhill. And although again, there is nothing to laugh about, with my swollen face I’m smiling to the world. Sending greetings with a Colombian song.
One day I noticed a little man, waiting for the tram, away from the bus stop. He was so carefree and joyful, that I decided to stand next to him to see what would happen. I was sure that the tram would stop at the usual place and we would have to run to catch it; but a sort of firmly belief emanated from Rota, that the tram will stop beside him. What we believe in, very often turns into reality. To my surprise, the tram stopped in front of us and we both got on it. After that, we remained together until Rota’s death. Federico Fellini
As I used to do in the USA, I started cycling during the night again. I’m not writing that each day. That instead of sleeping and resting, I cycle at midnight – not at all! After all, I’m not a masochist, or otherwise – in my early forties, being a masochist amuses me less than it used to, but because it gets dark at six p.m., when the afternoon heat gives way to far more pleasant and cooler air, and because trees, birds and insects begin at that time their evening concerts – I must admit that six o’clock is just the beginning of the nicest part of the day. Thoughts become clearer, they are more expressive, and the whole head is full of smiles, even if an hour earlier, a violent, tropical storm just passed over me.
Although it might be just the opposite – it rumbles nowhere, nobody laughs, and certainly not me, and everything is just a vain, wishful imagination, or a pleasant, but unfortunately, not my dream. Maybe it’s just by the sudden contrast of day and night, heat and cold, peace and noise of the trees, that everything around suddenly seems to get merrier, that I seem to get merrier, and yet, there is still not so much to laugh about.
So, I was cycling at night, and my head was full of smiles, or it just seemed to be laughing, anyway, I was cycling in surrounding darkness and was smiling to my thoughts. Maybe I should not ride at night, because everyone says it’s dangerous, and people rob here, they steal, they rape, and do many other nasty things, but because I cycle without lights, there is a very little chance to see me from the road.
What’s more, if we take into consideration that shoulders on the Panamanian “highway” are sufficiently broad, we may conclude (judging on some logic, which hasn’t got much sense) that, despite everything, cycling at night is relatively safe. You just have to be careful not to fall on returning home men with machetes, who apparently share my opinion that at night nothing bad may happen on the road. And, as for them, you really need to be careful, because these dark-skinned men are visible far less than I am, and writing bluntly – you can not see them at all, they just blend with the background. Whistling helps, but not alaways, especially if a roaring truck passes at the same time.
So, I was cycling at night, whistling merrily, a truck was overtaking me and then I slightly caught against something. Luckily, I was not going too fast, and I was able to maintain the balance and not tip over, but I stopped to see what I caught against. In a protracted, short streak of light of an approaching car I saw a man with a machete. After a few welcoming sentences, mutual pats on the shoulders, and making sure that nothing wrong had happened, I was invited to Jose’s house and allowed to pitch my tent in a nearby garden.
Three daughters came out to greet me, alongside with four dogs and some chickens that turned out to be wheat enthusiasts. If it hadn’t been for a curious accident, Jose would have never found out his chickens’ preferences. A year ago, a truck with grain, harvested in Europe, overturned on the road. The truck was removed out of the ditch and local inhabitants were allowed to collect the scattered contents of the trailer. Jose says that because he took a small bag, he collected only twenty pounds, but when he returned with a bigger one, there was nothing more to collect. It is said that chickens grow better when they are fed with wheat, and they lay bigger eggs.
I’m listening when Jose is explaining why corn is not as good as wheat, and that after that accident with a truck chickens were so terribly satiated, that they were behaving as if they had some withdrawal symptoms, anyway, two good hens came out in the evening on the street and were run over by a car, two at a time. The good thing was that the driver did not stop and didn’t pinch the hens, because some drivers can not resist a weird temptation to take dead chickens home for a Sunday broth.
Having said that, Panamanian broth is realy delicious; dense, with huge clouds floating on the surface and chicken bones, extending from the bowl. But there is one thing even better than the broth – coffee. But not that served in McDonnald, or any other network restaurant, such as Piopio, serving mostly chicken stuff, and offering wifi access. The best one is that of the street, just brewed, bought in a booth at the bus stop, or in a cheap comedor. It usually costs forty cents, no more than half of one American dollar, or half of Panamanian Balboa. Although the currency of Panama is American dollar, there are also domestic coins in use, named Balboa, sharing a brand name with a local beer.
Three days have passed since I got the capital, Panama. Unfortunately, I had to visit a doctor again. This time I took advantage of the national health service, and the visit cost only $13, including a blood check, urine test and x-rays. I didn’t learn anything new about my state. I got another nasal spray and new pills, which however, I didn’t buy due to their exorbitant price. All doctors keep saying that it is the climate, humidity and temperature that causes all these irritating symptoms I have. So why do they prescribe antibiotics as if they prescribed vitamins? I just have to get to the south, and enter into higher parts of the mountains, where it should be cooler and not so humid. In the meantime, I have to suffer a little. I would take care of myself, but I can not.
I’m going for a walk. I sit on a pristine bench, fitted to a perfectly mowed lawn, over which impressive, concrete and glass skyscrapers cover the horizon. Not yet illuminated with light, they are thickening in the gathering dusk. I’m looking at them and I can’t take my sight away. They seem to be moving, growing straight out of the lawn, climbing high into darkening clouds, as far as they can, away, high up in the sky. As if I was in another world, in no way resembling my image of Panama, which I have acquired so far. As if this one around me was completely fake, untrue, incorrect. Where are all these scantily clad men with machetes in their hands, those who cut out bushes by the road? Where are all these mud huts, houses made from corrugated iron? Where all these wheat-stuffed chickens lazily lounging along the backyards? Where are booths that sell coffee for forty cents and where are all these smiling women ladling soup into bowls?
I’m smiling to some passing couples, but they do not reciprocate my gestures. I’m looking at them, as they are walking away, holding their hands. I do not want to look at the people any more, I’d better look at the buildings. Tight-standing skyscrapers, stretched for almost the entire horizon, the lights flicker on the dark sky. They look so unnatural, it is hard to believe that there are living people over there, that in each of these sparkling, bright pinpoints of light, you may find any human beings.
I’ve been sitting for a long time, far too long, drops of rain wake me up. Everybody’s gone, even the lights have dimmed. I do not want to get up, I do not want to move anywhere from here, and simply, I don’t have the strength to do that. It’s wet, but nice, you can talk to yourself, no one will be surprised, no one will hear anything, so I disolve my words in the rain, it is warm and soft, you can barely hear it. It falls gently on the grass, falls on the bench, falls on me. I touch myself with delicate drops, I touch myself with the rain, and feel tingling touches streaming down my dried skin. Then it stops raining, the last drops dry out, and then there is nothing left. There is only silence that remains.