They all looked like children and had been chatting animatedly for over half an hour. Two then upped and offed to the bathroom leaving a teenage girl with wispy brown hair sitting in the corner. A hummingbird hovered above her head as it probed the plastic feeder hanging from the gutter for sugar syrup.
At another table a rumbustious group of young men were bantering each other into even higher states of jollity. All were of that stereotypical ‘corn-fed American’ look: tall, mostly blond and with sets of teeth to make a dentist’s eye shine with pride. Another tray of cold beers arrived and were soon sweating onto the wooden table. The alpha-male wannabe in the group was flirting expansively with the waitress: his hands dancing in front of him as he told travel tales for her amusement. Others at the table watched with shy-eyed jealousy, not all were Spanish speakers and not all were so confident as to engage this village ‘belleza’. And she was a rare treasure, even in a country abundantly supplied with beautiful people she took the bar to even dizzier heights. As lithe as a gazelle with flawless skin the colour of a cappuccino: long black hair fell in one thick tress almost the whole length of her back; her teeth even whiter than the boys; and when she leaned over the table to collect an empty bottle you could almost feel the erotic tension at the table surge.
In a darker corner of the terrace four young travellers were intent on their cell phone screens. Thumbs were working, texts pinging off to who knows where. Remembering travels past when writing journals, letters and cards was a major preoccupation I suddenly wished there was a postcard to write a few short, pithy lines. Grace left to wash her hands and I sipped my Club Colombiana and looked out and way up into the high, tree-clad ridges of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. It is the highest coastal range of mountains in the world and drops over 17,000-feet down to the Caribbean Sea.
The waitress emerged with a tray on which sat two bowls piled with wok fried vegetables and chicken. Eight pairs of eyes from the American table drilled into her. They were well into their fiesta by now, many had their elbows on the table as if to claim a piece of territory for their own. The alpha continued to dominate, calling out to his comrades, cajoling them in a friendly but slightly bullying manner, a corporate tyrant in the making I thought and then cursed myself for being so judgemental. The tray was set down before me and the two bowls were placed on the table along with a small dish of cut limes and chopped peanuts.
Across the street a posse of young Colombian lads were mock-karate chopping each other. It seems that here, as in most of Latin America, sartorial evolution has led to most of the male youth – and quite a few of the more mature – wearing surf shorts, football tops and baseball caps. The play fighting stopped for a while as three dusty and tanned travellers walked up the street: in over-sized T-shirts, knee length shorts and thongs they were a motley crew, one styling a pirate, one a surf dude and the other had the full Jesus look.
The wispy haired girl seemed to have entered a blank, expressionless phase and her skin was the colour of putty with small beads of sweat clearly visible on the surface. Her eyes flickered open and shut several times in quick succession and then closed as her head lolled back and she slid down into the chair. For a few moments I just looked at her, she looked so peaceful and yet so very dead, a picture intensified by the two hummingbirds who hovered above like angels watching over her. I got to my feet just as Grace returned “I think you’re needed” I said indicating the inert body in the chair. Ever the professional she was there in a flash, dropping to her knees by the girl’s side. “What’s her name?” she asked one of the friends who had just returned and then whilst feeling for a pulse began talking in a calm but clear voice using the girl’s name often to bring her out of whatever state she had fallen into. With a slow opening of her eyes Nonie returned to the world. “She’s stoned’ said the friend, indicating that they had all been partaking of some of Colombia’s high grade marijuana. Grace dispensed some more sound medical advice to a still pasty looking Nonie and then rejoined me at the table with an almost indiscernible lifting of the eyebrows.
We turned our attention to our bowls of noodles, vegetables and chicken. Just another afternoon at The Lazy Cat Cafe.