Carrie went to the Santa Cruz airport again to wait for Eduardo, but he never came in on the agreed flight. And there were no messages for her either, only her memory of his promises, at a time when she was in no shape not to believe in such things. Outside the big windows of the terminal the afternoon sun was blazing in the South Bolivian sky like a fire from an ancient dream, but inside Carrie felt the shadows lengthen.
Something must have happened.
But he would come in on the next flight. If he did not, he would call her voice mail on the phone he had bought for her to explain, or at the very least text her back. Or maybe reply to her email if all else failed. His phone number was ‘not reachable’ but that could be because he was thousands of miles away, or maybe even en route on another plane. But he had her phone number, too.
After going back and forth over the few possible scenarios in her mind for what felt like a hundred times, Carrie simply decided to wait. It meant she had to spend the night in the terminal’s waiting room on two plastic seats, listening to the other passengers’ chatter, complaints, and their babies crying, all for hours on end. But there was another flight arriving at 6 AM and she didn’t want to miss it if she went back to Santa Cruz. Traffic was usually a bitch so, as with everything in Bolivia, it was a gamble to be anywhere you had to be at an exact time. And the hotels she could afford by now were pretty far away from the airport, anyway.
Over the terminal, another plane roared aloft, as if escaping from the sun’s flames that appeared evermore as if they would burn the sky as the afternoon gave way to evening. Carrie did not look up.
Eduardo wasn’t on the 6 AM flight, either.
So at around 7 AM, Carrie went over to the desk with stale sandwiches in the waiting room and asked the young man with sleepy eyes for one.
She returned to her plastic seat to chow down the cheese and bread, accompanied by gulps of lukewarm cola, but felt her body unraveling in spite of these belated attempts to feed it. She felt the soreness, the protests of her muscles. She was not going to survive another night on those seats.
It began to sink in. About Eduardo and her. The revelation she had seen in his eyes after all that sorry winter with Manuel would yet turn this journey around for her, make it more than another. The thought was like a knife of hunger constantly slashing her gut. She ate, but she didn’t feel full.
She noticed a Bolivian businessman with sweat on his brow and a crumpled tie, one of the few persons left in the waiting area at this time. She had not seen him the evening before. He must have come in during the night. He was slumping on the plastic seat, ostensibly oblivious to her presence. His breathing was labored.
The man opened his briefcase for a moment, as if to check something was still in it, then closed it and leaned back, so the plastic strained. He pushed his sunglasses up on his furrowed brow and closed his eyes hard, reminiscent of a monk preparing for a particularly challenging meditation.
Carrie moved further away, to a corner of the waiting room, where she figured she was out of earshot. She turned her back to the room, and to the man. For the last money on her calling card, she then tried her mobile phone again.
This time there was a signal. But that’s all there was. “You have reached the voicemail of Eduardo Benes. Please leave a message. Hasta luego.”
“Hola Ed,” Carrie said in Spanish, “I thought you said you’d be back from Miami with this afternoon’s flight. I am worried. There are no messages, no email. What has happened?” She added, “I still have faith in you.” Then she hung up.
She had one calling card left now. But damn if she was going to use it for Miami anymore. Where was it anyway?
She quickly dropped the search, though, and pulled out her coke bottle from her bag instead. It was half empty.
The air was dry like her throat. Drinking the flaccid cola didn’t help much.
Carrie glanced over her shoulder at the arrival/departure screen to see when the next flight would be now. But it had suddenly gone dark. There seemed only to be a flickering in the corner of it as if the silvery tendrils of static tried to break through and display something.
“¡Carajo …!” she muttered, not thinking.
Then she heard a voice behind her. It was the businessman. “The screen did that all the time during the night. They have not fixed it yet. If you want to see one working you have to go down the hallway.” He spoke in Spanish, so he had heard her.
Had he also been watching her?
“I’m not going anywhere,” Carrie said, not turning around.
“I can see that,” she heard him say.
“Don’t you have some kind of … business to attend to?” she asked, still without looking back at him.
She heard dry laughter “Oh, I have business all right. I own three cattle farms down at Camiri.”
“There are no planes directly to that town,” Carrie said.
There was a pause, then she heard, “Maybe I’m waiting for someone, too.”
Even though she was still facing the wall at the end of the waiting room and not the businessman three rows of seats behind her, Carrie felt he was looking at her. Looking at her dirty jeans, her dust-covered bag, her cheap tank top, and her ruffled hair.
“Who are you waiting for?” she then said, turning around slowly.
The man just shrugged, which made Carrie bristle.
She wanted to take a gulp of cola from the bottle but it was empty now. She threw it on the floor.
The man said nothing, but he kept looking at her like she was some kind of interesting animal.
“Look,” she said, “can you buy me a new bottle of something to drink? I don’t have any small change for the machine, and the stall is not open yet.”
When the man just kept staring at her, she shook her head. “Guess you are not used to a gringa asking for money,” she said under her breath.
She didn’t know why she had said it. Because it was because she was irritated with the Bolivian attitude to foreigners, no matter how poor or rich they were themselves. Anyone from the U.S. – heck, the entire English-speaking world – who visited their country had to be a walking goldmine.
The man harrumphed something.
“Fuck it.” Carrie grabbed her bag and left.
She hadn’t made a conscious decision to head for the exit, but she found herself doing so anyway. Outside the morning sun seemed dim compared to the afternoon before. Just like her feelings.
Eduardo could go fuck himself. How could she have believed he was different? How could she have been so naive?
And then she saw him.
She hesitated a few seconds because at first, she wasn’t sure. But there was no doubt. Tall, lean, and impeccably dressed in a gray-striped suit – there was Eduardo Benes, talking confidentially to another man she hadn’t seen before, only a few steps from the exit and the baying taxis outside.
Carrie felt her heart hammer, and suddenly it was like her breath was stuck in her throat. She had wanted to go to Eduardo immediately when she was certain it was him but now her legs felt like lead.
A dark pit opened up in her mind, like a tumor she had tried to forget. A tourist couple, maybe from Brazil passed her, with two neatly trimmed kids in tow, laughing and chatting even though it was still quite early. Then one of the kids began babbling something about a toy he saw in one of the small shop windows, but which wasn’t a toy at all, but a mascot for one of the few airlines operating out of the airport.
The kid tore loose from his mother’s grip and ran across the hallway to the window, almost running into Carrie. The 30-something mother, whose fine face looked slightly Asian, berated the child in a soft voice and said something Carrie couldn’t understand, but she saw the look of impatience and annoyance on the father’s face. Then he apologized to her in English.
When she didn’t move or acknowledge the apology, he frowned and they all got moving quickly toward wherever they were going. She had to restrain herself not to let some stinging remark follow them. They prattled on in Portuguese, of course, but she was quite sure they understood Spanish.
Yes, it’s so hard to be a family nowadays, isn’t it?
Or something like that. But it was too late now. God, she felt pathetic.
She looked down the hallway again and saw that Eduardo had his back turned, walking towards the exit with the other man.
There has to be an explanation.
She checked her phone for the nth time. Its battery was barely charged but there was enough life left in it to tell her there were no messages.
But what if there isn’t?
She looked at the sky beyond Eduardo and the other man and all the other people. Outside, above the airport there was a promising light now, crisscrossed by planes taking off or landing. Going somewhere.
“—Excuse me. But you appear to have dropped this in the waiting room.”
Carrie turned around to see the sweaty businessman standing behind her. He held out a green prepaid calling card. She remembered that she had fumbled for it in the waiting room and then given up on it.
“Thank you,” Carrie said and took the card.
“I … ” She wanted to say something more, to acknowledge this unexpected show of friendliness but instead she couldn’t help gazing after Eduardo again.
The man looked in the same direction, enough time to see Eduardo’s back disappear into the crowd. Then a change came over his tired, worn features, like something in him had reset itself
“I was waiting for my wife,” the man said slowly. “Ex-wife, I mean. She should have been on a plane from Cochabamba. With my son and daughter.”
He paused and seemed to watch for her reaction.
But Carrie felt numb. She felt like saying something but there was that leaden feeling again.
Even so, there was a gossamer memory of who she wanted to be. Before … all of it.
“I’m sorry,” she said as honestly as she could. “Do you know why they didn’t come?”
He shrugged again and looked over in the direction of the lines of people waiting to check-in. “I don’t, not exactly. But she texted me and said they would be delayed. I am considering whether or not to call her back.”
“Have you decided?”
He grinned. “Not yet. I need a drink first.”
“I need to go home and sleep, I think.”
“Good choice,” the man said. “I am sorry if this is your first time in Bolivia.” He didn’t expound on this remark and Carrie didn’t elaborate. But she suspected that he had probably pieced things together from that phone call well enough.
“I’m sorry, too,” Carrie said. “But it is my fault. I … was in a relationship which was bad for me. Then I chose another relationship which was also bad, to make up for the first.”
“The new relationship wasn’t better?” the man asked, looking at her skeptically as if the answer wasn’t obvious.
She shook her head. “The only thing that was better about it was that it only lasted seven days.”
“And where are you going now? Back to the United States?”
“I didn’t say I was from the U.S.”
“You speak Spanish very well,” he said and for the first time smiled a little, “but your accent betrays you. Like my ex-wife’s accent.”
Carrie’s eyes widened.
The man pulled out the handkerchief again. It was wrinkled like his tie. He wiped his brow several times. “Does it surprise you that I could have been married to an American woman?”
She shook her head. “Not much surprises me anymore. Thank you for bringing back my card.”
“You still need change?”
“Good,” he said, “because what I have I need to pay a fat tip.”
With that remark, he nodded and made his way past her toward the exit. Eduardo was nowhere to be seen anymore.
Carrie knew she should feel angry as hell. She had come here as a tourist to get away from her shitty family and grief all rolled up into one. She thought she had found a new life with Manuel, and then with Eduardo – for a brief time. She had found neither. And Julia might never talk to her again for the way Carrie had broken up with her brother, even if it was all his fault … or was it?
The questions buzzed in her mind. She swatted them down one by one but it became more exhausting each time she did. She hadn’t slept well and the only right thing to do was to go back and see if she could still get a room at the hotel. Her father had wired her a bit of money. Enough, perhaps.
Carrie began walking slowly, weighing the scenarios in her head. What would she say to Eduardo if she found him in the usual inferno of taxis outside the airport?
It had meant so much to her that Eduardo had been there after the messy breakup with Manuel and therefore her present numbness felt like a stranger who had barged in and taken over her mind and feelings. How could she feel so little after having felt so much?! It was not right. She had to feel more.
At the very least she had to confront Eduardo and get the satisfaction of dismantling whatever pathetic excuse he had for leaving her like this, much like she had wanted to confront Manuel, when she realized things could never work between them.
But that feeling of righteous decisiveness was just as quickly replaced by fear. What if there was a good explanation? It would mean that if she left now, without seeking out Eduardo, she would miss it. And then Eduardo might believe she had left him because her caring had just been a sham – and not the other way around.
Carrie reached the doors to the parking lot. An airport employee nodded perfunctorily to her, even though it was clear from his eyes that he regarded her disheveled look with some disdain.
Always good to be able to feel better than a rich gringa, isn’t it?
Unless – reflected with a sting of regret – unless you happened to be someone who picked up her green phone cards for strangers you did not know and should not care about … Carrie glanced one last time back at the busy interior of the terminal.
Then she turned around and in a brief moment of flare-like intensity walked right into the humid tropical forest around Villa Tunari, right where the road out of town was flanked by two huge rusty oil drums, a crude adornment to the otherwise spit and polish YPFB gas station.
It was not even two weeks ago.
Manuel had stopped the pick-up but she had already thrown out her bag and jumped off before the vehicle came to a complete halt on the gravelly lot beside the gas station. There wasn’t any official space at all to park on, just a patchwork of gravel, grass, and a few tropical plants that had not been run over by trucks yet. And then of course the abandoned oil drums, each the size of a small bus.
Carrie went over to the first with her bag and leaned against it, closing her eyes, feeling the heat from its rusty surface against her back. She gulped some water from her flask and waited for the inevitable. Then she heard Manuel’s footsteps.
He stopped short of touching distance.
“I didn’t want it to come to this,” he said.
“You chose to be with Angelica, not me.”
He scoffed. “And what about you and my sister?”
“It is not the same. What is it with your dirty mind? And you are so fucking jealous, anyway.”
Manuel’s smooth, tanned face revealed nothing. She didn’t have to look to know that. She was sure of it.
It was the kind of calm, in any situation, that she had needed so badly when she first came to Bolivia, more or less by accident. She had been amazed to find it here, 4200 miles from home. Like a special gift waiting just for her that would solve everything. It was the reason she had traveled down here, although she had not known it was so when she ran away the first time.
That was an act of desperation, but when she had first met Julia and then her brother, it all seemed to come together. She had been meant to be embraced by that calm, shown another world, and start a new life. Fate or whatever went for it had led her here, even if she didn’t believe in fate.
It was all she wanted – like those eyes of his and the look that said, ‘no matter what storms may come, I’ll be stable. I’ll be your rock.’
Now she kept her own eyes closed.
Then she heard Manuel turning around and walking away without a word. She opened her eyes and felt torn. She had wanted the fight to … continue. To get the last … strike.
And just like that, it was over. She saw his truck drive away and now she was alone in this asshole of a town, and all her sweat and tears were for nothing.
That’s when she swore that if she was ever with another man again, it would be someone completely different from Manuel and she wouldn’t give a fuck what happened.
And after weeks of drifting around in Santa Cruz, it seemed Eduardo was just that man.
She had cared.
A cabbie’s hoarse voice brought her back to the airport and the whirls of people around her, pushing to get past her, to get somewhere. They knew where to go.
“Where you want to go, eh?” The cabbie, an elderly man with steel-colored hair, looked at her expectantly. “I know nice hotel in city.”
“How nice?” she replied in crisp Spanish.
He laughed and continued in Spanish, too. “Not nice enough for me. But it will do for a proper señorita like you.”
“I’m not proper. I don’t know what the hell I am doing here. I can’t get anything right.”
“Then this hotel is just for you. My brother owns it. It’s got everything. Even a swimming pool. If you don’t know where to go this is a good place to start.”
Carrie stared at the little man, but there was a genuineness in his pushiness that was refreshing. She could need a refreshing dive into cold water now. Perhaps when she came up to the surface again, the world would look different.
She didn’t really believe it, though. But if she insisted on holding on to that belief, where did that leave her?
“How much is the fare?” she asked.
Photo by Florian Wehde on Unsplash