International Writers Magazine: Friends
of a Friend
I saw José Martínez for the first time, he was coughing
up a lung outside my neighbors front door.
Last December, the dark-skinned, high-pitched craftsman flew into
Cuenca, Ecuador, from the Galápagos to visit his former island
mate of six years; my next-door neighbor, Sheik. Unfortunately,
Joses congestion never disappeared during his fortnight on
the mainland. Fortunately, however, his sense of humor didnt
either. In fact, over the two weeks that I got to know the friendly
fellow, I discovered that he wasnt only one of the nicest
people I had ever met, but also one of the funniest.
sweating bullets and cracking a smile the next time I saw him.
He was waiting for my light-haired girlfriend, Amanda, and me at San
Cristóbals sweltering airport. Within an hour of being
in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, José assisted Amanda and me with
our luggage, helped us arrange a flight for our next leg in the Galápagos,
got a friend to give us a ride to our lodging, and set up a tour through
the islands highlands at a discounted price. José was beyond
helpful to Amanda and me, but that was just his way-always wanting to
lend a hand.
When I saw him again, José was giving the waitstaff a hard time.
Since he was so considerate to us in the Galápagos, Amanda and
I invited him to dinner the night before we left San Cristóbal
Island. We felt it was the least we could do. As Amanda, our invitee,
and I shared a tiny table at a beachfront restaurant, our stomachs began
grumbling due to the slow service we were receiving.
"They must have gone all the way to Havana to get my food!"
José loudly wisecracked, desperately craving his Cuban sandwich.
My fair-skinned girlfriend and I laughed.
"And theyre probably plucking the feathers off your chicken
as we speak," he kidded while nodding at Amanda.
José helped keep our minds off our appetites with his funny stories
and endless jokes as we waited for the meals. Finally, after what seemed
like an eternity, the food arrived.
Be that as it may, José still couldnt eat. Our friend took
one bite out of his Cuban sandwich and immediately knew something was
wrong. Visibly upset, he loudly complained that they must have forgotten
about his sandwich and left the plate sitting on the counter for good
while. Amanda and I stopped eating and sat quietly.
"Hey!" José called to a passing waitress. "Could
you warm this for me? Im sorry, but if I have to wait this long
for my food, it better be hot."
The young brunette quickly grabbed the cold dish and bolted for the
kitchen. Our famished friend then turned to Amanda and me and begged
us not to ask for dessert, predicting that wed be there all night
if we did.
It seemed like forever before the three of us finished our dinner. Afterwards,
we wandered into the sticky San Cristóbal night, strolling along
the towns wide oceanfront promenade known as the malecón.
Hearing raspy barks, Amanda, José, and I stepped up to a wooden
railing that overlooked Puerto Baquerizo Morenos shoreline. There
were dozens of sea lions sprawled across the sand below. Most of them
were trying to get some shuteye while the remaining whiskered whiners
crawled over each other or wrestled.
"I used to think sea lions were cute and would spend hours watching
them. Now, I forget theyre here most of the time," José
admitted with a grin.
A few minutes later, we backed away from the railing and headed north
on the neon-lit walkway.
While meandering along the seafront, José presented his work
to us. With almost every step he took, our friend pointed to very large,
intricately carved, wooden signs showing the names of numerous businesses
that lined the frontage road. Not only were his displays impressive,
but each one must have taken several days to complete because they were
extremely detailed. José definitely had a unique talent.
Next, our pal talked about his job. José was very pleased that
he could make a decent living and, more importantly, support his community.
"Im not just making money; Im helping my town look
better," José said proudly.
Arriving at the shiny, freshly-painted tourist dock on the northern
end of the promenade, Amanda handed José her camera. Claiming
that he was our personal photographer for the evening, the trigger-happy
Ecuadorian positioned Amanda and me all over the concrete walkway, taking
a plethora of photos. When José finally ran out of picture ideas,
my blue-eyed girlfriend and I turned towards the street.
Amanda and I made it about halfway down the dock when I noticed that
José wasnt walking with us. Baffled, I looked over my shoulder
to see the silly islander snapping horizontal as well as vertical shots
of a drastically overflowing garbage can. Rather than protest, I just
And as I stood there watching my friends antics, I could only
imagine what José would be doing the next time I saw him.
© Tyrel Nelson
Nov 1st 2008
Sunday morning. Thats always my answer whenever Im asked
what tops my list about Cuenca
Breathing in dust and pouring out sweat, I trudged along the sultry
gravel road beneath my feet. I pressed on, walking a tightrope on the
Fighting off a fierce caffeine headache that made my previous 2
hours on the bus from Quito agonizing, I struggled to keep up with Andrew
as we proceeded south on Bolívar.
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