Bruja- (Spanish) n.-A Witch
My room at the GM was a single. I had always stayed in the dorms at hostels, other than copping a single my first night at Poste Rojo under the misguided assumption that I would get laid during the Anti-Valentine’s Day party. Whenever I think I’m going to get “some,” it never materializes. Perhaps this was the reason I had been dry my entire journey. This was rather ego-busting (among other things) because everyone around me seemed to be swimming in pussy/dick. It almost seemed as though I had to be dodging it.
Although singles are supposed to provide a quieter environment, I was jarred awake at 4 AM to the sound of a semi charging me down like a running rabbit.
After shaking the sleep out of my head, I realized that the semi was about a dozen feet to my right on the road outside. The main road that led past Granada was closed for repairs, so all the early-morning commercial traffic had been diverted past the hostel. I slept little after this.
John and Miguel knew Granada. When we had been out the night before, they seemed to be close personal acquaintances with all the waiters and bouncers and staff at the bars—even at Caesar’s, the local’s pub, where we were the only cheles in attendance.
John needed some supplies for the hostel, so the three of us—John, Jackie and myself—dove back into Granada’s central market.
It turns out that in my prior excursion, I hadn’t really delved into the depths of the market—it went much deeper. We were walking in a thin line down one of the lanes, twisting our bodies to avoid smacking into vendors walking with their wares and tuk-tuks tooting their passengers along, when John suddenly pulled a right. A thatched roof passed over our heads; the air grew darker and hotter until it pulsed with bartering and the scents of roasting meat. We trotted down a set of steps like we were entering a cave…light passed through the roofs above, but when I turned back, any light or air from the entrance had vanished among the clutter of stands.
John went to his fruit lady—they knew each other, and therefore John wouldn’t receive a gringo tax.
The gringo tax was applied to anyone white in Nicaragua, to any product they bought. It wasn’t as harsh as it seemed. Unless you were in a Pali Supermarket, Nicaraguan businesses didn’t have set prices. The packaged goods weren’t labeled with anything, the taxis didn’t have meters and the fruit stand prices were open to interpretation. You were expected to barter, and the vendors simply cited a higher initial price for cheles. If you were a chele and didn’t know how to barter, you would end up paying up to (and above) triple the price of a local.
As John chatted with his fruit lady, the scent of pork entered my nostrils. There was a pig-stand to my left, where an entire porker was carted in and deconstructed into various dishes—fried pig’s ears and cheeks, stew, entrails, soup, roast meat…some pink hunks that were yet to be used were still visible, chucked on one of the side-tables.
Farther along, deeper, we found an entire fucking restaurant in the market-cave, complete with tables and a kitchen…the restaurant had no set boarders, but instead vaporously bled into the stands and shops around it.
We exited the market-cave blocks from where we entered it. It was early Friday afternoon, and the central square was raucous with vendors, tourists, skateboarders, nuns, drug dealers, Catholic school students in uniform, large white carriage-horses to tug cheles around, small brown horses to lean products to the markets, loose goats, pick-ups outfitted with amps in their beds that blasted music and adverts, bands…the energy and aura of the place was insane, and would only grow more intense as the day boosted along.
John had been taking Merengue classes, and when a band took up a rhythm, he started moving to the beat while walking. A Nica lady clapped her hands together in delight and told him he should dance with her kid daughter, who was standing a few feet away. John loved kids, and shuffle-danced over and asked with comic formality if he might dance with her. The kid looked up sternly and said:
“That’s something you don’t really see in Costa,” John later said while philosophically staring into the sky (he hadn’t paid). “People here try to get money out of you for anything, and that’s not really the case over the border.”
He was right, but, then again, Costa was far richer than Nicaragua, which was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti.
It was mid-afternoon, and I wondered if I would ever see the Bruja with the scars on her legs.
“Where were going, there ARE no roads.”
I smiled down at the bruja as I woke her with this phrase, which had floated to the forefront of my mind and seemed appropriate for the surreal day. (I hadn’t had a time-piece since I was mugged in Puriscal and had learned to tell the time through natural objects—now was the time of day when the street-dogs woke from their siestas and were seen crawling out from underneath parkt cars.) She smiled at me as she woke from her curled-up position in a chair at the Euro cafe. Her various talismanic necklaces clacked as she rose to a sitting position.
“Finally found you,” I smiled.
“I’ve been back and forth over the last few days…I’m glad you caught me.”
“You were going to ask me something…whaaat was it…” The bruja stretched her neck, her braids falling across her face.
I pointed at her left leg, the one with the scars on it.
The fountain in the cafe’s garden plashed amongst the greenery and a swirl of dust whipped in from the street outside.
I had first seen the scars when I had photographer the bruja in the nude—cross-hatched slits raised from the skin of her upper thigh.
“…I first started cutting when I was a teenager, and it was for emotional reasons, just to feel something. You know?”
“…but now it’s all about ritual. Blood is a very intimate, very powerful liquid…I use it for spells…when I used to cut for emotional reasons, I never really knew how to take care of the wounds…now I use I salve I make and they don’t really scar.”
The bruja’s talk scared me, sending a nervous twist vibrating down my middle (stretch your mind & experience).
“…sometimes I use the blood for penance, to ask forgiveness from the universe, or from someone I’ve failed.” (Who have I failed today/not but myself.)
I cleared my throat.
“When…when I started, it was due to depression…just to feel something. As an adult, it has always been out of anger.”
“Anger at what?” The bruja leaned forward and stared at me with her mystic’s eyes.
“At myself. The worst I’ve ever cut was because of a girl…I found out a year after she had dumped me that she had cheated on me with some random dude and had started dating him immediately after she broke up with me…we were still very close when I found this out, and I forgave her within a few hours…the next day, it all hit me, and I got drunk and slashed the shit out of my ankle with a shard of plastic…I blamed myself for it all going down the way it did, I felt I deserved what happened and deserved to bleed…I didn’t give a shit and stumbled around raving…there was blood all over the house.”
The bruja’s earth-marbled irises narrowed and then expanded until they were larger than her eyes. I continued into her doorways:
“It’s embarrassing, y’know?…having all these scars…I was scared of being sent to a mental hospital after I slashed my ankle, so I only went to a clinic when it got infected…the scars are so bad everyone thinks it’s ringworm, and I have to explain it’s not, then they ask what it is and I can never tell them…I feel like a middle-school girl, like I’m weak…it’s embarrassing.”
“Well, you have to ask yourself if you consider it a bad thing because you think it’s bad, or because of the opinions’ of others.” (Who have a failed today/not but myself.)
The bruja rose suddenly.
“We should go.”
For once, I knew the time: it was five o’clock, and everyone had spilled out into the central square until it was difficult to walk. The sun still blazed, though it had dropped below 100. We saw a procession in the distance with a dark-skinned Jesus dragging a ten-foot wooden cross. Nicas in street clothes walked alongside with their heads bowed.
The bruja didn’t like Christianity, so we walked to a different farmacia. You don’t need a prescription for anything other than painkillers in Nicaragua, and the employees didn’t even give us a sidelong glance when the bruja ordered up a couple packets of Xanax. She tucked them into her many-pocketed belt.
“We should go back to your hostel,” she said.
The bruja had condoms in her belt also, and we entered and removed ourselves from each other until darkness had fallen. She bit the boar’s tusk around my neck and we came at the same time.
The bruja had to leave immediately afterwards—she was heading North and I was heading South to meet up with Poste Rojo folks and then down to Uvita to Envision Fest. We wanted to see each other again, but that oftentimes doesn’t happen on the road.