Tales of Loida

Loida has bright, black eyes. She has a husky way of speech, dresses rather for activity than ostentation, and has a sense of humor. She likes to tell stories and she is always prepared. She looks after her mom and scolds her relatives when they take advantage of her.

She told me about Wilson. Wilson was a loose, rangy chap with a corrugated forehead that sloped back. He had thick features, a quick eye, and often a sudden, distant look. Very friendly, his teeth somewhat incomplete. His business was repackaging wholesale cereal and distributing it in the backways of the highlands. He’d fill his little truck and take the winding backways toward Villa de Leiva, Tunja, maybe Chiquinquira. All that windswept region of potato farming land. What roads he must have seen, what leaning out the window shouting, what soups he enjoyed, what yellow skin he must have gnawed of the boiled leg of a chicken, what stars and fogs, what dust and wind and rain.

He had a son of Anglo-Saxon designation: Wilfredo. Not a happy relationship, apparently. Nor was he happy in his business. His village clients didn’t pay regularly, and he kept supplying regularly, wracking up debts. Time wore on, he became infrequent in his attendance at church. He always sat upstairs and often left early, but usually after coffee. Loida’s mom asked if he was attending elsewhere; he denied it. Apparently, it was anxiety and stress. I talked enough to Wilson in my time to picture the frown, the look away, the rubbery, vague responses he would give.

Loida thinks the stress did him in. The compounded worry of enormous debt and his unhappy son. He checked himself into the hospital one evening, not feeling well. They gave him a bed where he died unattended of a heart attack in the early hours of the morning.

His faith was stretched in the circumstances. I hope it didn’t break, and that he fell asleep in Jesus, in hope of the resurrection of the dead. Rest in peace, Wilson my friend.

* * *

The federal police in Colombia wear green uniforms. The standard uniforms are a kind of olive drab, but the outer jackets and security vests are a bright, avocado green. So they call them the avocados. “Los Aguacates” I said, as Loida squeezed the little car into the open lane past a section of the road they had commandeered for checking people. I had only learned that the night before.

Loida commented that they had pulled her over in the truck recently, asked for her ID and so on, and then asked her to open up the back. “No sir,” she told them. “I’m not opening this truck for you. I know how you are! I know you’re just going to put something in there and then further up the way I’ll get stopped by some other police that will find it. I’m sorry, but I’m not opening anything up (Que pena, pero yo no les abro nada—she actually said). You set up a proper and legitimate post and I’d do it. But you’re not putting that over on me.”

And she stood up to them, and there was nothing they could do.

“You have to know what the procedure,” she told me. “They can’t be doing it without a proper post like we saw back there. One has to know how they can do it and the things they do. You have to be careful.”

Loida is fantastic. When one knows one’s way around in Colombia, one knows a considerable thing or two. Loida knows all those things. Every single one.

We sat across from her and her mom at the coffee shop, on the third floor of the Niza Boulevar. They had milkshakes that came with long spoons. They were the kind of spoons with nearly useless narrow, shallow bowls. They spooned their milkshakes slowly down, while we heard of life in Neiva down in Huila, where the heat is tremendous, and of Wilson, and several other affairs.

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