Maria, Colombia

“Chica chica, come look for un momentito!”
“I know you want to…” The left corner of her lip turned up so slyly, so sure that she has already captured her prey, you couldn’t escape even if you wanted to. Not to mention her bony but firm arm clasped around my waist eagerly reeling me in.
But I was laughing, giggling with complete freedom, and no doubt delighting in that fact itself. Tonight I wanted to give in, I wanted to look freely for once. And I was severely enjoying it.
She turned towards me, her face so startlingly close to mine, I could now make out the soft but oddly arranged lines cutting across her skin, that caught my breath for just a microsecond. But she didn’t miss a beat.
“Where are you from hermosa?” Her big eyes eagerly dissected my face as I had hers, but while I had no confusion about her heritage she must’ve had a lot about mine, as many have had over my last six months.
“Soy de Sud-Africa”. I said with a cheeky grin, I liked that people here thought of me as exotic.
“Si?? I’ve got a good friend from there.”
“Really?” I haven’t met one South African on this trip yet.
“Yes. Blankita,” she goofed.
I laughed “I know, whenever I tell someone they always ask me why I’m not black”.
“No, no. I know. She’s like you.” She lightly but confidently touched my face, completely at ease connecting so intimately with me as I hadn’t experienced, or actually, I guess, allowed myself to experience for quite some time.
“Oh really? So you know! You’re the first then.” I smiled, eager to communicate my joy at the connection.
“Claro que si! Of course, all the sweetest people come from there!” She said winking.
“Well yeah, of course, you know what’s up”.
Pointing towards her collection arranged neatly on the ground, in a raspy voice, and speaking of course Colombian Spanish and not at all English as I might have you believe, she got back to business.
“What are you looking for linda, I know I’ve got something you want”.
My eyes followed her elegantly scrawny finger to find a manangerie of colourfully weaved bucket bags with mad patterns; jewellery of every sort from plastic, bedazzeled kitsch to silver finework; carved pipes for the dope smoking gringo hippy, white with black ribboned panama hats that the rich tourists eat up and of course the typical long decorative beads zigzagged in every colour that remind me each time of my African birthplace.
It was all beautiful and tempting, especially since I desperately needed a bag after my last was stolen back in Peru two months ago, and I have since been making use of shopping bags, promotion gift bags, and a variety of drawstring bags meant for smelly shoes or dirty underwear to accessorize my daily outfits. But I have officially reached desperate times where money was no more and work was not yet found. Yet, typical to my eager to people please character, I humoured her for a moment.
“Ok, ok” I laughed, “How much are your bags?”
“The big ones are $60,000 pesos, and the little ones are $45,000 pesos” (I think I’m correct although I know my brain kind of switches off as soon as I hear a digit like that. A defense mechanism I think against impulse buying, followed by guilt and resentment for the purchase, mental breakdown and ultimately resigned self resentment. Feelings I’m familiar with to the extent where we’ve regulary camped together, taken bubble baths together and passed each other rolls of toilet paper.
“Ah mira, I’m not buying anything now, but I’ve just moved here so I will probably come again.”
“Here? In Cartagena? How many days?”
“Well about a month hopefully, or more”.
“Ah si!! Que bien! Where are you staying?” But before I could answer she continued eagerly, “I’m in Calle Media Luna, its really close. Do you know it?”
“I’m just around the corner from Media Luna! In barrio Getsemani right?”
For some reason speaking rapidly back and forth with someone always makes me joyously hysterical, and in this case, under the circumstances, it was more true than ever.
“Si si! Yes, in Media Luna!”
“You’re my neighbour then! So I’ll see you again for sure!
“What is your name?”
“Carli. Like Carla, but Carli.” I smiled.
“Ok, Carli, we’ll see each other then” She returned my small smile with a wide grin.
“Absolutely, mucho gusto”.
As I turned to leave she said “I’m Maria by the way”
“Oh crap, sorry, Maria, muchisimo gusto” Ashamed of myself I tried my best to make sure she knew how much the interaction meant to me with a wide smile and a squeeze of her arm as she let go of me.
At the time of course it simply made me very happy and I couldn’t place why or hadn’t allowed myself time to think too much about it. But as I walked away after Maria had embraced me in a tight hug and simultaneous kiss on the cheek, and rejoined Christian proclaiming to him how much I loved her and recounted the details of the very rapid but enthusiastic conversation, only then did I realise why it had made me so happy. She allowed me to throw away recently developed habits of constantly, coldly rejecting and practically running from the countless street vendors, habits of reserving my usual exuberant friendliness for others, namely hostel goers or gringos, and literally grabbed me from the street and forced me to love her, and consequently her people.
I didn’t manage to grab a photo of her, but I’ll get one I swear, I’m here for a while now, and she’s my neighbour after all.

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