Regina M. Ernst
Waiting for Friends

1

A kettle of turkey vultures is doing that thing. They soar in one place, black wings widespread, catching the updraft to nowhere, stuck in the blue expanse like freckles on a face. They form no shape, but are framed between two tall buildings, air conditioning units and clothes coloring the sides.

If this is the Caribbean Sea, if the vultures are sharks, and we linger together deep beneath the surface of the other blue horizon, such steadfast floating seems natural. Underwater, in every direction, is the pain of pressure without escape. There we pause to avoid sinking, a heavy blue burial.

Here in the sky, though, what feels so good to make us stay? The bustle below, the fruit vendors, the hot cement? We could flap our wings and so easily drift onward, to the coast, across the sea, away.

 

2

Tía Sarita holds a pack of moist salchichas in front of my face at night before dinner.

“Turkey meat,” the bag reads in English.

Her pájaros sing from their cages.

I breathe in stale metal on the bus and see through the window three wild turkeys roaming the cancha. An open field lies before their sunflower seed eyes. An ocean roars in the distance, but they can’t see it, only the good things, no Thanksgiving, nada but life ahead.

The clouds move too fast, like the rainstorms, like the minutes on my glowing alarm clock. When I think about time, I feel anchored to the wind. All these seconds passing, all these minutes ending. What did I do this past hour? What will I do por dos años?

I’ve never closed my bedroom door in her house. Tía Sarita always keeps open the tiny doors on her bird cages. In twenty years, her pájaros never have flown away.

 

3

When I leave Barranquilla for Cartagena, the Caribbean Sea is on my right. On the other side is the cracked road where the other La Noche, the female dog, pants, her bones sharp under her skin, a fence guarding the organs she needs most: lungs, heart, empty stomach. She traipses off, away from the sea, and disappears into the tall blonde weeds, which are the same color as her fur.

I sit in the cabin of the bus, the big sunny glass before me. The chubby driver keeps talking over my lap to the male passenger who sits next to me. We touch elbows and don’t move them. I fall in love then, because it’s the most skin I’ve felt in days.

When the driver points to something up ahead, he wants me to look, too. In the distance, we all spot an enormous cruise ship docking, a sad bobbing hotel, waiting to be boarded, waiting for friends.

On the Pedro de Heredia, when I reach the market to transfer, all the buses’ brakes pump and sound like women crying, hysterical gasps competing with one another for attention. I see a female bus attendant for the first time.

“Arriba!” she commands, but I’m already moving to the back, so her words dart past me and fall into the dusty air.

 

4

The devil piropoed me because he knew I’d hate it. When I turned to scowl, I saw him leaning against a stone wall of Las Murallas and I remembered how handsome he was.

“Oh, hi,” I said.

“Spanish. We are in Colombia.”

“OK. Hola.”

“You were laughing just now,” he told me. “What about?”

“No recuerdo.” I have no memory whenever he finds me.

We chatted like always, but he didn’t keep me long this time. He walked me outside of the walls where I waited for my bus. When Zaragocilla approached, I waved it down with one hand. My other hand held his, too long, because his presence scared me, but I so wanted him to stay.

I was coming from Bocagrande, so a third of my bus ride home followed the beach. Tonight was one of those nights, where everything became that charcoal blur, and I couldn’t make out the difference between water and sky, whether the white specks in the black were the crests of gliding waves or the static tips of stars.

Regina M. Ernst studied her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. She is currently serving as a Peace Corps Master's International Volunteer in Cartagena, Bolivar in Colombia.