A vitriolic short story about we Gringos in Costa Rica.
wrote this in an afternoon, because I was bored waiting for editorial feedback on my latest book. It is a satire and refers to no known people living or dead. If you know Evelyn Waugh's 'Black Mischief, it is my attempt at that style.
2016-On the veranda of Pete and Carolyn’s house over looking the Central Valley
“I’d like you all to drink a toast to John and Joan. We, the other expats on the hill, welcome you both to Calle Mora. We hope you’ll have
many happy years here.”
All raise their glasses and drink. “To John and Joan!”
John, a big red-faced Texan, wearing shorts that fit him fifty pounds
back in time and showing off his varicose veins to best advantage, replies with a beaming smile. “Well thanks everyone. We feel really welcome. Joan and I’ll get round y’all to see how we can fit in and maybe help the community.”
John confides in a small group of men who nod sympathetically. “We came here because it’s cheaper than Houston. Property seemed especially reasonable. We liked the idea of free healthcare at low cost. They told
us the climate was perfect, though the winds last week were a little high.”
The following week, Joan a bleached blonde on the anorexic side of thin, with the permanently surprised eyes of one too many facelifts, is sitting next to Cheryl at the ‘Cheeky Tica’s’ monthly women’s
lunch club. So far she is pleased to discover that the women are mostly friendly and that they support various charitable causes.
The raucous babble of North American English is overwhelming. There are no Ticas
there of course. The group’s name is merely to show how well its members think they have acclimatized to the local culture.
Joan likes to give compliments. “Say Cheryl, that necklace you’re wearing
is really cute. I think that bit of polished concrete around the stone is very artistic. Did you get it locally?”
“Why no Joan. Cindy over there platted the cord from twine she bought from the Cabécar.
They’re very poor aboriginals and live in the remote Chirripo mountains. She makes the stones herself from recycled floor tiles.
“We like to help the poor and the natives whenever we can. It doesn’t
do to wear our real jewellery when the locals are so poor. Besides they might steal it. We keep mine in the safe, with Pete’s guns and his gold bars.”
“Yes, that’ s a good idea about the
jewellery. I want to join in helping the Ticos too. Any places I should start looking, to give something to the locals?”
“Go talk to Janice, the lady to Cindy’s left. She has a big heart, and just
about everything else. Come on. I’ll introduce you.”
They walk round to another table in the café. Janice, a very large woman with a booming voice is holding forth. She usually is. Her bosom obscures
her half eaten chicharrones, (A Tico pork dish).
Joan and Cheryl have to await an opening. Eventually, there must be a tiny gap in Janice’s discourse. “Well, we sponsored 20 procedures on male dogs last
month. Ticos prefer males as guard dogs, but they take no responsibility for them. Castration really is the only way to stop poor starving puppies dying on the street. We women prefer to neuter the males than to tackle the fewer females. We females suffer
enough in life, don’t ya know. Castration also makes the dogs more placid.”
Just as Joan feels she is about to expire from standing there so long, Cheryl jumps in to the merest sliver of verbal space
with the deftness of long practice. “Janice, this is Joan, she says she’d really like to help you with that.”
A delighted Janice pulls Joan into an empty chair. Joan looks around surprised, but
Cheryl seems to have vanished into thin air. Joan spies her at a far table. ‘How did she do that?’
As the lunch breaks up, they all pose in groups for
the obligatory 30 photos for Facebook. The same people appear every week somewhere, ‘Oohing and areing’ over their mutual admiration club.
There are lots of smug marrieds on Facebook, with multiple pictures
of anniversaries, birthdays and all lovey dovey. The single women, like Janice, choose to publish pictures of their pets wearing silly hats and the like.
Many of the women are disaffected with politics in the US
or Canada and publish political opinions or copies of artticles. They know in their hearts that their home country political problems are insoluble, so being in distant Costa Rica gets them away from the daily reality.
A month later, Joan and John are drinking whisky on the rocks, watching yet another
spectacular sunset from their terrace. John moves on to beer, scarfing down his fifth slice of pizza. He is trying to speak between mouthfuls. Joan waits expectantly. He clears his mouth with a slurp from his can of Imperial, the most popular local brew. “Well
this is what it’s all about. Look at that sun. How did you get on at the Caja today?”
“Oh Caja, the local universal healthcare, well the hospital was pretty crummy, but they let us into the system
and its so cheap. Obviously, I kept our pre existing conditions away from them.
“The Ticos are as inefficient as everyone says they are. They only spoke Spanish and took hours over everything. It’s a
good job Ronaldo the handyman was with me.”
“Yeh Joan, it is disappointing. They need us expats to employ them as builders, cleaners, gardeners and the like and yet they make it so hard for us. They
tried to charge us for our workers’ Caja and labor taxes. At least we got out of that one. We didn’t pay our Mexicans’ taxes in the US. I’ll be damned if I’m paying here.”
nodded sympathetically, “They can’t even fix the roads. Why should we pay tax? No one else here does.”
He grunted, readying himself for another gargantuan bite of pizza. “That’s right,
and look at all we do for them with the dogs and English classes, supporting the orphanage an all that. The minimum they could do really is to employ English speakers and run the place more along US lines. At least we provided Spanish speakers for the Hispanics
in the services in Houston.”
She looked sympathetically at him. “Well the girls tell me you can’t teach them anythin’. There so slow at the English classes. Jane said she tries to teach some
of them yoga and meditation, she speaks Spanish you know.”
“Say Joan did ya hear that rumblin’? Oh God I felt a tremor!
Vulcanologist Doctor Jorge Rodriguez has been trying to warn the authorities for weeks about pressures and tremors
he monitors in Volcan Poas. He calls the ministry, but they are unsympathetic. “Look Jorge, you’ve been wrong before. The Tourism Ministry produced their counter-evidence to yours.
“Too many of
our friends’ businesses depend on the tourists coming to Costa Rica. I’m told to fire you if this story gets into the media. Believe me. It will be fine.
Dr Rodriguez glances again at his seismographs
and then buries his head in his hands.
Down the hill
a ways, in a rapidly darkening hovel with no electricity, Nicaraguans Maria 21, Pedro her husband and their four wide eyed, dirty children are going to bed hungry.
complains bitterly, “El Gordo in the big car nearly killed us today, as we were walking up the hill. He was going so fast and didn’t even notice us. Little Gilbreth hurt his arm jumping into the ditch.”
“I’ll kill the Gringo, if I get the chance.”
“Santa Maria! Don’t talk like that in front of the kids Pedro. God will help us, if we pray enough.”
Joan is having coffee
with Cheryl the next day. They are excitedly talking about the temblor, (tremor). She spots her gardener Luis, hacking chunks off her roses with a machete and screams at him. “Luis stop that, you idiot!”
reverts to Spanish, telling him off. As she turns to Joan, neither of them notices his glaring at her rudeness in front of another Gringa.
He throws the machete down and fumes to himself in the shade of a palm tree,
before resentfully resuming work. He needs the money. But one day she’ll pay for treating him like dirt.
He starts by sharpening his machette to a razor's edge, thinking
as he makes the strokes on the stone. 'Why do gringos think it is fair and normal to be retired here and him still working at 66 years old and no pension in prospect? I heard that
Gringos get straight to the front of the queue for medical treatment, even though they just arrived and never paid in before.'
Cheryl waves to some bushes that have been hacked about a bit. “Just look
at those Joan! It’s like they’ve been ravished by a Brahma bull. These idiots aren’t gardeners they only know about coffee. I don’t know how many times I have to yell at him and he still doesn’t get it. I’ll have to get
rid of him, but the last one was just as bad.”
At four in the morning, all the dogs for miles around start barking. With a roar like a thousand thunder claps, Volcan Poas explodes catastrophically. A huge pressure wave shocks all living things across the entire Central Valley.
A mile high jet of molten magma sears into the sky, and then vanishes as clouds of dust, gas and acid black everything out. The earth trembles and shakes. Magma, rocks and debris cascade down through the murk.
Dr Jorge and thousands of others are wiped from the face of the earth by the pyroclastic flow that sweeps away several villages in the valley at 120mph. It bypasses the hill by two miles,
but violently shakes the ground for twenty minutes, like a nearby rumbling of a mighty goods train.
Molton rocks the size of houses hurtle for miles through the blackness of the dust, to land with crashing tumbling
force. Houses vanish. Lives are snuffed out. Vehicles explode or are crushed into twisted metal.
Huge landslips block all routes to the area. The airports are inoperable, due to thick clouds of acid volcanic ash.
There is no sun for weeks. Phones and cell phones do not work. All power lines are out. Water pipes empty. The whole of Central America is affected.
The Ticos all disappear down to their own homes. Their animals
were dying. Crops withered and died in the choking acid darkness. They were a total loss.
Violent earth tremors cause further landslips and some of the gringo houses on the hill are enveloped. Two gringos leave
to see if they can get help from down below. They fail to return.
Maybe 30 Expats gathered at Pete and Carolyn’s house. Several were choking with the acid dust, trying to breath though dirty rags. All were filthy. Every one of them was desperately thirsty. Some were ill from drinking contaminated creek
They looked to Freddy. He was always telling everyone he was the designated coordinator for the US Embassy, which sends out alerts every time a gringo is murdered, robbed or disappears. No one finds them
helpful. He was wracked with pain and sobbing. He nursed a badly splinted arm in a grubby sling. He whined. “No one seems to care. Nothing from the Embassy, no vehicles can run with this dust. Maybe we should get down the mountain to the valley. There
are people and food stores there.”
Pete brandished his Colt .45 automatic for emphasis. “You’re crazy. Any food down there’ll have been looted before now. I’m stayin’ right here
with my own gold and supplies. Besides, we’ve been so good to the locals, they’ll be comin’ to help us soon. We must be practically saints to them. Still, if any of ‘em look dangerous, I can let em have it with this.”
There were some serious arguments. Freddy moaned at Pete. “Come on Pete, if you’ve got supplies we can share em, pool our resources, like the good Christians we always say we are. Like you said ‘saints’.”
Steeling himself, Freddy stepped towards Pete and held out his good hand for the gun. As others turned expectantly to Pete, he fired, once into the air. The next round went into the ground near Freddy’s feet, as he foolishly
took a further step forward. “Fuck the Bible Freddy. Listen to the voice of my .45”
Freddy shrank back, looking at the dark black eye of the barrel. He half expected a lightening bolt to wipe Pete
from the face of the earth, but God seemed busy eleswhere. Pete’s finger tightened on the trigger.
An hour earlier, the Ticos assembled below the hill. As usual word of the gringo gathering seemed to spread around.
Paulito built the house for Pete and did not like him. Pete
had treated him without respect, barking instructions. Paulito said, “I know where there will be food and water. Follow me, I kept a key to the back gate.”
Under the cover of the commotion caused by Freddy and by Pete firing his gun, Paulito led the crowd of Ticos onto the property. Many were carrying
sharp edged machetes. Their usual affable smiles were gone. They looked gray, hungry and desperate. Some women were carrying small children. One seemed to be dead, but the mother clutched it tight to her bosom.
suddenly saw them emerging through the murk as a crowd of gray shadow people, like zombies. He spotted long machetes hanging down from some arms. Unhesitatingly, he started to empty the rest of his magazine into the new arrivals. He was loading another.
Several Ticos fell to the ground bleeding. A shotgun fired from somewhere in the mob. Pete collapsed, a look of disbelief on his face. He tried to hold in his torn open belly, as blood pooled around him.
His wife Carolyn ran to him shrieking. Pedro dragged her off him by one arm, holding her up so he could lop off her head with a one swing of his weapon.
Laura tried desperately to defend
her wounded Gringo husband 20 yers her senior, as he lay bleeding and groaning in the dust. “ No, Stop! You know me. I am Tica. Joe is a good man. He helps you all. He believes in Jesus.”
A gray figure
thrust his long blade into her belly and ripped upwards. Another repeatedly slashed down at Joe till he stopped twitching.
Some gringos tried to flee into the murk of the garden. The Ticos had fun flushing them
out and hacking them open, butchering them amongst the ash in the yard. The screams finally subsided. The mountain rumbled.
That evening, in the quake resistant rooms of Pete’s house, the locals feasted on gringo stew, made with the water cache from his garage, adding some
dried beans and rice. Pete’s housekeeper showed them where everything was stored and opened the safe. She helped herself to an emerald and diamond ring.It glinted dully on her finger in the gloom.
Pedro, the Nica, tucked a gold bar into his pants saying to Maria. “We can’t eat this, but we can bury it. Maybe it’ll be useful later. See! God did provide.”
crossed herself and sucked the flesh from a fat rib. A week before, she had accepted 5,000 colones from El Gordo to feed her family. In return had demanded a disgusting act, too shameful to remember. She hoped this was his rib and gave it a lick.
A mangy starveling dog, neutered when Janice took it to the vet a month earlier, now happily gnawed on one of her huge thighbones, crunching it to get at the marrow. He seemed to remember this woman and gave a happy yelp.
When the Saints came marchin’ in, few of the Gringos were amongst their number.