May 17, 2012

Bogotá Dreaming

The very first thing he saw in the morning when he opened the door was a freshly deposited mountain of shit in the sidewalk right in front of the building. For a moment Tanai wondered whether the excrement was human or canine, but an invisible cloud of fetid gases made him rush away. The answer came a few steps later when he saw a paper flier with a dark brown smear. Certainly, dogs do not often choose to clean their arses after doing their business. He kept on walking down Carrera 15 trying to forget such nasty images of human misery. This side of the street featured old houses with some kind of English design, mostly made of red bricks, or so his aunt used to say. He had been in London a couple of times and although there was a reminiscence, the architecture of the houses in this neighborhood were a lot less elaborated in comparison. The sight of the sidewalk made him upset, the concrete was cracked everywhere, patched hundreds of time, and every time the sidewalk was left worse than it was before, neglected for decades, the iron lids that protected the water meters from the aqueduct were missing, stolen by someone to sell them as recyclable material, and pieces of trash and broken glass were scattered everywhere. It disgusted him, a decade ago when he was permanently living in Bogotá he did not even noticed the decadence. He doubted ten years ago the sidewalk was in any better condition. 

At the end of the street there was a pharmacy and hanging from a poster by the entrance he spotted the winning lottery number. He had not bought a lottery ticket this week, the full prize was almost thirteen millions euros. What would he do if he won the lottery? He asked himself. There was a one in eight million chance of winning, he knew, a slim chance but not an impossibility. If he won, he would give one third of the money to his mother, one third to his aunt, and one third to himself. He tried to calculate in his mind how much there was left for him taking into account that there was a twenty percent tax on the full amount. Roughly three-and-a-half million euros, he calculated. He thought he would not quit his future job in London, he would buy a nice house there though, not too big. And he would take his girlfriend to holidays in Bora Bora, he imagined himself with her living in a little wooden hut built over the crystalline turquoise waters, just as they had seen online in some pictures. He missed her dearly and promised himself he will take her to Bora Bora whether he won the lottery or not.

He crossed the street, right in front of the pharmacy there was a busy bakery. Standing by the entrance there was a beggar. An old man, fifty or sixty, he had a long white bear, and although he was balding the remaining hair in his head was still black. The old man clothes were ragged and discolored, they might have been black once, now they were a sad pale green. The old man muttered to a woman that was exiting the bakery with a bag full of bread, “madrecita, a coin or a piece of bread, I'm hungry, god bless you,” his voice was barely perceptible. The woman ignored him completely and after she had passed away, the beggar started whispering a hundred different insults. Tanai was not surprised and just kept on walking east along Calle 28. When he reached Caracas Avenue he saw the giant Transmilenio buses, packed with passengers beyond maximum capacity, flying, fast like red thunder. A few million years ago our ancestors were hanging from tree branches, now we hang from bus handrails. He thought that was really funny. As he waited for the traffic lights to change he focused his sight on a gray pillar with thick bold letters that read Calle 26, by the Transmilenio station. A decade ago there had been analogue clocks in each pillar of every station, now there were none. He wondered if it had been too troublesome to keep the clocks working that they decided to get rid of them. What does that say about people in Bogotá? He reflected. The traffic light for pedestrian shifted green, he crossed but before he was on the other side of the street the pedestrian light had already changed to red. How annoying! Who the heck timed this lights? He thought.

The other side was full of street vendors. A tiny old woman was selling yogurt with cereal in plastic pint glasses, some had green yogurt and some had pink one. Thirty meters further away from the tiny lady a man was selling snail slime. The man was wearing an ancient suit and in a little table to his right a plastic box was full of lettuce and living snails the size of a fist. Hanging from the table a poster depicted images of skin aberrations, before and after the application of the potent snail slime. Tanai wondered if there was anyone crazy enough to buy and use his product. Across, a cart was selling gargantuan hot dogs. The image of Swedish hot dogs came to his mine, a tiny bread and a sausage, “ketchup, senap?” the fat vendor outside the student nightclub asked on a not so cold spring night in Uppsala. “Bara ketchup,” he used to answer handing him a twenty Swedish crowns note. That brought Tanai the memory of V-dala nation, the line of students waiting to get in, one million bikes parked everywhere. Colombian hot dogs were completely different than Swedish ones. Besides bread and sausage, there were onion chopped in little pieces, potato chips in crumbs, ground cheese, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and to top it all, three quail eggs.

Tanai waited for another traffic light to change, yet a chubby little woman dashed across the street in a hurry. She was wearing a tight black dress that accentuated the excess of fat molecules accumulated around her waist, abdominal area, hips, and chins, all three of them. She was wearing high heels, about ten centimeters tall, yet one of them seemed to be tilted around thirty degrees to the left of where it should be. The other had dry mud. Tanai wondered if she noticed whatever was going on with her heels. He knew her feet were in pain already by the way she leaned forward as she walked. Poor lady, he thought.

He entered a small stationer's at the side of the street almost at the level of Carrera 13. “Is it possible to print some documents in here?” Tanai asked as he showed his digital camera's memory card where he had stored the pdf files. The young woman at the other side of the counter answered: “Sorry, my love, the memory card adapter is broken.” Tanai hated to be called “my love” by strangers, a very common practice in Colombia. “I'm not your goddamned love,” he wanted to say but did not. As he left the stationer's Tanai thought how only two people have earned the privilege to call him my love in this world, his mother who had being doing it since before he remembered, and his girlfriend. The thoughts of his girlfriend flooded his brain again. What is she doing right now? Is she thinking of me at this very moment? Then the image of her appeared in his brain screen. He imagined himself with her again, taking her in his arms and kissing her passionately, her hair caressing his face. He remembered that day in Helsinki when she called him my love for the very first time. It had been a month since the last time they met. It was going to be more than a month before they met again, probably in London. What if for some unexpected reason the visa for the UK was rejected, I would be stranded in Colombia unable to travel, with no money, and no job. He thought he would probably never see her again. As the thoughts filled every space in his brain, he felt a sudden emptiness in his diaphragm, “No!” he screamed in his mind, “that won't happen, be strong Tanai, you have to be patient.” The loud horn of five buses, all of them probably older than himself polluted his ears. He thought he should write a great blog post about patience, a life changing one, but he knew it was difficult, he had tried before, he had tried defining patience but the right words always eluded him, yet he was certain patience was essential in his life journey, essential to remain happy and essential to make his dreams come true. Patience, what a mysterious quality, he reflected.


  1. Paciencia… no hay mejor definición que 'vivir en Bogotá'. Eso es paciencia.