My Journey

Blog Post created by anadyr on Nov 9, 2017

It was just a small, cellophane-sealed package of Lucky Strike cigarettes placed on the airline’s gleaming china plate. There was silverware, a folded linen napkin, the formal place setting. The stewardess guided me to my seat, at the window, over the wing.  My tie felt tight around my collar. I was sweating.  I heaved my travel bag in the webbed shelf above. The sputter and gasping of piston engines, first the left, then the right stopped conversation.  I stared out the window, gripping the seat.  I fought tears.


Less than an hour before I’d said my goodbyes to my parents and sister. I turned down drinks, ate little food. Twenty-seven hours later I arrived.  I still remember the furnace heat when the door of the plane opened, the intense humidity.  I was tired, excited, and apprehensive. 


My seatmate awoke, yawned.  “We made it,” he said and got up, a mass of wrinkled clothing.  He had slept most of the flight, drinking too many miniature bottles of whisky.


“Yeah, guess we did,” I said, my voice shaking.


“Got a ride?” He asked.


“Think so, hope so.”  I looked out the window, now steamed, to see if anyone was there.


The Guayas River was brown, muddy, hot to the touch.  I was on my way to an adventure by myself to an island off the coast.  I sat, my hand making wakes in the muddy water, thinking about the hundred other passengers, their lives, my life.  I would go back, finish high school.  Most of these people would never see high school.  Soft tunes sung in Spanish and Quechua, smells and sights of another country. A cow fell off a barge going up river.  The water was white with movement.  I heard someone mention Piranhas, the fish with teeth and a lust for meat.  I took my hand out of the muddy river, checking fingers, and put it back in my pants pocket.


With boys my age I walked the city streets after school.  We saw a beggar and her child.  The child was deformed.  They had their hands up asking for money.  They were filthy, sitting on a flattened cardboard box.  Flies buzzed around them.


“Don’t give her anything, these people do that to their kids just for pity!” My friend Pincho says.


I walked on.  Played tennis with the other rich kids at the club.  Armed guards kept us safe. The boys wanted to learn English swear words.  I knew a few but they wanted more.  We spoke in low voices.


Uncle Nelson was going to the airport.  The maids were excited, even the family’s parrot was agitated.  Nelson was a physician, a man of intelligence and education, about 40.  He and his wife lived with us in our large apartment.  He opened his desk, pulled out a revolver, loaded it, then put it in his waistband. “Politics,” he said with a wink.


I was trying to fall asleep.  The heat, even at midnight, hung heavy in the air.  I strained to make out a dark moving shadow going left to right on the ceiling.  I called for my adopted mother. 


“Don’t worry,” she said in her best, slowest Spanish, “It’s only a bird-eating spider.  They won’t bother you, unless you’re a bird.”  She laughed. I did not sleep that night. bes.jpg


I wrote home a lot.  Wrote President Kennedy, told him about the things I saw.  Got a letter from the U.S. Counsel in town telling me the president appreciated my concern.  My parents wrote too.  Asking about me, my health. I had malaria, but that's another story.


Maria lived next door.  She was 19, I was 16.  We had a true, formal courtship. Her mother always nearby.  I asked permission to speak with Maria.  Mother hovered in the next room.  Her parents probably saw Maria’s American citizenship, I saw only her. She spoke no English, I knew about twenty words in Spanish   She was a secretary; I was a high school student.  We were in love.  She did not come to the airport to see me go.  She cried for days before I left.  I missed her for a long while.  I still have her picture.


Just a couple dozen faded color slides I never look at anymore.  Other memories sandwiched between the covers of a red plastic- jacketed high school yearbook.  Friendships made, dropped after a few years. Another language learned, now spoken haltingly, infrequently.


Fifty-five years come and gone.  A lifetime. A journey.