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The International Writers Magazine: Friends

Images of a Friend
Tyrel Nelson

When I saw José Martínez for the first time, he was coughing up a lung outside my neighbor’s 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, Jose’s congestion never disappeared during his fortnight on the mainland. Fortunately, however, his sense of humor didn’t either. In fact, over the two weeks that I got to know the friendly fellow, I discovered that he wasn’t only one of the nicest people I had ever met, but also one of the funniest.

José was 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 Cristóbal’s 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 island’s 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 they’re 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 couldn’t 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? I’m 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 we’d 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 town’s wide oceanfront promenade known as the malecón.
Hearing raspy barks, Amanda, José, and I stepped up to a wooden railing that overlooked Puerto Baquerizo Moreno’s 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 they’re 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. "I’m not just making money; I’m 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 wasn’t 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 smirked.

And as I stood there watching my friend’s antics, I could only imagine what José would be doing the next time I saw him.

© Tyrel Nelson Nov 1st 2008
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