Monday, March 27, 2006

Llego en Bolivia

My hotel has an internet cafe. Well, not a cafe, more of a desk with a vintage computer that nevertheless fills the need. The desk clerk, a sleepy-eyed and indifferent fellow, said that it would cost me three bolivianos. I handed him one US dollar and he pocketed it with a shrug, gesturing toward the machine.

I'm waiting a day before I call Shirleen. I rang her three days ago to be sure she was still here. I hung up as soon as I heard her puzzled voice. I want to adjust to the altitude. Somewhere around fifteen thousand feet, can that be right? The weather is cool and rainy. Needless to say, I've a headache and the brief stroll along the terrace to the lobby has winded me. My heart is otherwise fine.

The flight was wonderful. I wasn't able to crack the cover of the Harrison book, nor accomplish any editing on a partial manuscript I intend to send to a curious agent upon my return. I didn't even pop the corks on the splits of Shiraz. During the longest leg, from Miami to La Paz, I sat next to a young woman with 6-month-old twins. She was a smallish woman with Andean features and a brownish complexion not dissimilar to my own. I had the window, she the middle, and a pale man with norteƱo features wearing a suit and tie inhabited the aisle seat. She struggled and I offered to take one child while the suited man preteneded to ignore us and cracked open a thriller with military jargon in the title. I figured him for Republican.

The woman's Spanish was no better than my own, but it was enough for us to communicate the essentials. I didn't ask her ethnicity. Aymara perhaps? Most among the other passengers were criollo and upper-class in appearance.

When we reached altitude the babes began wailing. It's a delicious sound. My own daughters are twins. We have a long-standing joke: I will often refer to either Billie or Ella as my older daughter depending on which has most recently used a scolding or mothering tone with me. Due to a mix-up at the hospital we don't know which of our girls was first out of the gates. They are identical twins but as different as spring and autumn. Some might think me perverse for enjoying the crying infants on the plane, but few sounds are so pure and earnest. No question what they wanted.

The woman began to feed them at her breast clearly making the Republican uncomfortable. I quite enjoyed the man's squirming. Due to the cramped space I held one babe while she fed the other, but as I was no replacement for the mother we finally arranged to place a child at each breast. I held one infant on my lap with one of my paws under the soft, velvet skull, the back of my hand resting on the woman's warm belly, my thumb pressed into the soft underside of a breast. This way she was able with her free hand to smooth the milk in her glands down toward the nipple and the babies' puckered lips. It was intimate, but in a decent, neighborly way despite the fact that I found the young woman undeniably attractive. Anyone who doubts we are all of the same human family is in need of such an experience as this. I felt grandfatherly for the first time in my life. I wished that I was a young, inexperienced father again. Ah, the miracle of it all. Perhaps with Shirleen? Now you're dreaming, Trout. I recall my dear student, Miss Lowell, and the tribulation surrounding her pollination.

The babes finished, burped, slept, crapped, and then the whole process started again. The Republican located a different seat around mid-flight, though none of us took note of his departure. I spent most of the time staring into the tiny faces, happier than I've been in ages. At one point a tear rolled off of my great, smushed nose and plopped on a chid's slumbering forhead. She wrinkled her nose as if to sneeze but remained asleep. I was reminded of a baptism, though I felt wholly unworthy.

When we landed, the woman smiled sweetly and thanked me as I helped her off with the children. But in truth she had been greater comfort to me than I to her. When I thought of the torment the four of us likely inflicted on those seated around us I was strangely pleased.

Thus I arrived in Bolivia.

No comments: