I’m entering a short story contest this month, and this is what I’ve got so far. It’s about Costa Rica (no surprise there) but it’s a side of Costa Rica that nobody really knows about.
I was talking to a friend the other day about the problems with drug addictions and violence in Costa Rica, and my friend was like “No, Costa Rica is supposed to be pretty and safe and peaceful!” Maybe that much is true for the “tourist” areas, but the places where we go are not.
Not many people really know about the real Costa Rica.
This is the story I wrote about real Costa Rica. The theme for my writing contest is “Love never fails” and as soon as I read that Costa Rica was the first thing that came to mind. So here it is, enjoy.
There he is again.
Andres has seen this man many a time before. This man, the outline of whose ribs protrude so sharply from the skin on his back. This man whose hair is a colony of lice, whose feet have not been washed since nobody knows when. This man whose eyes are sunken pits, unreadable.
The man, Andres knows, has spent his every penny on drugs, and to him nothing else matters. This man is addicted to the point of no return.
Andres does not know this man personally, but he knows that this man is one of many. One of a vast multitude who suffer from the same insatiable hunger for what is at this very moment killing them.
How does he know this? Andres has seen druggies plowing through the muck and sewage in the river before. He has begun to be able to distinguish the look of an addict, and this man carries it very obviously. It is the look of a person who has cheated death—which, in a way, this man has.
At present, the man is standing waist-deep in the cold water. He is scrounging for scrap metal, which he will turn around and sell for money to buy more drugs with which he can poison himself into a peaceful oblivion.
Andres can’t imagine what microscopic horrors infest the murky brown water. He doesn’t want to.
And so he turns away, feeling sorry for the man, but knowing that he has enough problems of his own. Los Anonos is a rough community to live in, and Andres often lies in bed at night listening to the gunshots outside his bedroom window and wondering if he will awaken the next morning.
The gunshots send shivers up his spine. He knows what they stand for, because it happened to his own father.
The first time you refuse to pay your drug bill, they shoot you in the foot. Then if you still don’t pay, they shoot you in the knee. The third time it’s the thigh, and the fourth time, they’ll kill you.
That’s what drugs do to the community, distorting people’s thoughts and actions, tearing families apart, taking the lives of both the addicts and those innocent people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Andres hears the man in the water grunt, and turns back to see that he has got a ten-foot piece of metal under his arm and is pulling with all his might, to no avail.
Andres watches for a moment longer, poised once more to walk away, yet somehow drawn to the struggling man. He knows that by helping the man to retrieve the metal, he is also helping the man to buy drugs and thus aiding in his slow destruction, but Andres cannot stand to watch the broken being resist the strong current of the river and the weight of the gleaming burden he bears in his arms.
A breeze rustles the leaves of the banana tree under which Andres stands, tossing his thick dark hair, making him shiver in the early morning chill. He imagines how cold the man must be, standing shirtless in the frigid water.
AJ rolls up the legs of his faded jeans. He knows that they will get wet anyway, but somehow rolling them up just feels right.
And then he takes a step into the water. He leaves his shoes on, because the rocks underneath the water are sharp. He takes another step, then another, until he finds himself face-to-face with the man.
Andres holds out a hand to the man, who ignores the gesture. Andres then takes the metal from the man, secures his grip upon it, and heaves it out from where it is stuck in the mud. What was such a task for the frail starving addict is barely more than effortless for Andres.
Andres looks at the man, and the man at Andres, for several long moments until, without so much as a nod, the man takes his prize and leaves.
Andres is standing alone in the river now. His hands are bleeding from where the metal dug into them. He hopes he won’t get tetanus—or something worse. He is shivering.
He takes a few steps in the direction of the shore, where the man is crouched protectively over his metal like an animal over its prey, and taps him on the shoulder.
The man looks at Andres and says, “I suppose you want a share of the money.” More of a statement than a question.
Andres shakes his head soberly. He takes off his shirt and holds it out to the man, then slips out of his sopping sandals and hands them over as well.
And then without a word, Andres drags his barefoot, bleeding, trembling self home to wash the river’s grime off of his skin.
As Andres walks down the narrow path to the shack where he lives, he thanks God for giving him the chance to serve another. But he also doubts that his small, almost primitive act of kindness changed much of anything at all.
He’s done what he could, but will it be enough to make a difference?
The next day is Sunday. Andres must wear his old shoes to church, because he has given away his only nice pair. He walks up the chipped concrete steps into the church building and kneels down in front of his chair in the back row.
He is immediately consumed by prayer, murmuring softly under his breath. Lord, help that man, wherever he may be.
He fails to notice when somebody sits down beside him. He fails to notice when that person also begins to whisper under his breath. But he does not fail to notice when that person puts a hand on his shoulder.
Andres shivers at the man’s cold touch. He opens his eyes and sees a familiar pair of shoes beside him where he is kneeling. He carefully raises his gaze and sees a familiar shirt, followed by a familiar face.
Andres stands up.
The man stands up.
The man folds Andres up into a choking embrace, and the two begin to weep.
“Love never fails,” the man whispers, his breath hot and moist against Andres’ ear.
Andres meets the man’s dark, intense gaze. “Love never fails.”