by Beth Thomas
The boys of Cochabamba pass time throwing dice in the street. "Mier-che!" one shouts, and centavos and wrinkled bolivianos move to the hands of the lucky from those of the luckless. As such, going the way of everything.
The bus stop smells like piss and chickens. The bus itself will smell like piss and chickens. They all do. Lucia sits on the warped wooden bench, a bright yellow package on her lap. She smooths her skirt and brushes lint from her blouse. A different scent lingers on her clothes, that of stale sex and fried pastries.
One of the boys looks up, slicks back his hair with a black comb and gives her a knowing sneer. He nudges another boy in the ribs and they look up and say things and laugh. She lights a cigarette then blows them a kiss.
Don Marcelino waits in his house across town. Don Marcelino, with his hands always out, grasping. Don Marcelino with his bad breath and humped back and pinching, groping, callused fingers. When the bus departs, it will head toward Don Marcelino's neighborhood, and it will be carrying Lucia Dominga's small gift of hatred.
Two years ago in Puerto Bahia Negra, she sat at a similar bus stop, all splinters and dirt and flocks of yard birds waiting to become someone's dinner. A brown 1975 Ford pickup stopped in the road. A small old man
looked over, trying to determine if she was waiting for the bus or if she was looking for a date. Lucia opened the side door and climbed aboard without a word. They walked together every day in Cochabamba, from the house to the ciudad central. She met with men of Don Marcelino's choosing in their filthy bedrooms and kitchens and wash houses and general stores. She folded their sweaty bolivianos and stuffed them in her bra. The old ladies at the market would see her with Don Marcelino and spit, "Como uña y mugre." Like fingernails and the dirt underneath them. But who, she wondered, was which? His dusty clothes and shoes all full of holes were the obvious answer. She felt elusive, like her outsides had been bleached clean by the equatorial sun.
The dice roll. The bus is coming, lucky number seven. Luck is all around today. For her, for the boys. But not so much for Don Marcelino, the fuck. She grasps the package. The bus lurches to a stop, spraying gravel and dust.
The yellow gift box is nearly weightless; its deceitful cover hides something true. A true gift for the stomach? More like tucanos and saltenas stuffed full of potatoes, chives, and the bitter arsenic of returned promises.
She rode into Bolivia on the curved spine of Don Marcelino. He filled her empty hands with glittering promises of not love or eternity and not even any great demand on her time or cash. He just took her chin in his hand and promised change, comfort, something better. Then came parades of fat sweating pigs of men and thighs spread in haste just as before, money changing hands and hands kneading flesh.
Time to move on; maybe La Paz. Lucia passes the yellow box to the driver along with a red 100B bill and directions to the house. He raises his eyebrows at the large bill. "Por si las moscas," she says with a wink. In case of the flies. He folds the bill into his pocket and puts the bus in gear. Bony chickens scuttle out of the way.
The boys cheer and huddle over their game. She sets off on foot, heading northwest. Dice roll across blacktop, each side flashing like a pale-faced fortune teller, her many eyes open but unseeing.
About the author:
Beth Thomas' work has recently appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Juked, Word Riot, Insolent Rudder, Edifice Wrecked, and UR Paranormal, among other places.