By K. Mark Schofer
The air hung lazily clinging to every nook and crevice with stubborn determination. An overhead fan twirled languidly, hardly making a dent in the late afternoon heat. Sweat dripped down Flora’s back, one drip at a time. The salty moisture accumulated in tiny puddles on the pink plastic school chair where she sat. Her flowered dress hitched up the back of her legs, which stuck to the chair with vigor.
She had just finished her fifth shift, of six, to what was her usual arduous workweek. The shifts were long and punishing. Her feet hurt from the shinbones down to the tip of her toes. It was a factory malady known as ‘The Expanding Feet’.
Today was like any other day except that it is payday. She walked down to the clerk’s office, which sat a few feet off the manufacturing floor. She sat three deep in line, wishing to get her meager reward and waltz into the nighttime air. She wanted to stop by the Mercado and pick up some much needed groceries. Her paychecks seemed to last less and less with each passing week. Her back throbbed as she stood on the unforgiving cement floors. She approached the payroll window, a ticket booth like structure, as the stern woman behind the counter sat stoic and unimpressed.
Flora slipped her identification tag hastily through the window toward the stern woman in the window. The placard on the counter hinted that her name was Elizabeth. Elizabeth slowly slid a pile of bills back toward Flora and she inspected the money pile with part trepidation and a large dose of mistrust. She looked Elizabeth in the eyes, hesitated and started to ask a question. Instead she retreated, and decided to leave well enough alone. The silence hung heavily between them.
“There is more money for you this week, keep up the good work Florida.”
“Mi Llamo Flora” Flora added purposely in Spanish.
Flora picked up a small pile of money, stepped to the side, and counted the fruits of her labor. They were usually trying to steal from her and she wanted to make sure the cash was equal to the amount on the check. Of course there was the egregious check-cashing fee. Much to her surprise it matched. The amount was considerably larger than her previous week’s paycheck. The check was almost doubled and she hadn’t worked any additional hours. The rising prices in her country were a constant spot of bother. It took her awhile and she remembered the English term, “Hyper Inflation”. She didn’t know exactly what the term meant but she could deduce otherwise.
She scurried out of the long hallway and made her way into the salty night air. A slight breeze tickled the long green leaves on the mist-covered trees. Heat flashes could be seen in the eastern foothills. She could not place her fingers on it, but the air held an electricity, much different when she started her work shift. She made her way down Calle De Ademas for a block or two. And there she stood on the street corner, where she was to do her shopping.
She pulled from her purse, enough money to buy her groceries. With inflation, she needed to bring her calculator to make sure she had enough to buy the groceries. She stood in the street and spotted the half moon rising over the water in the east. Managua was unusually quiet tonight. Few people walked in the streets and she could not figure why. As she approached the grocery store, she heard a large familiar whooping sound. Whip, whip, whip, whip was the sound she heard. She heard the same sound on previous nights. It was now becoming more familiar. The sounds percolated into her life, even invading her nightly sleep. The sounds were usually late enough so many of her co-workers never heard them. She was starting to think she never heard them.
And there it was again, the whip whoop whirlwind sound echoing across the sky. Only tonight, the moon was bright enough, so that she could make out a bright silhouette embedded in the eerie under lit sky. The object moved across the sky in perfect rhythm with the mysterious sound. She stood silent, staring off into the mystic. And at once, the object picked up velocity and flew toward the eastern mountains. She once again stood silent, mystified and hyperbolically afraid.
She could hardly believe her eyes, when a minute later paper mysteriously started to fall from the sky. At least, it floated like paper would when it fell from the sky. The paper was guided by a gentle wind that picked up from the south. The whoop, whoop, whoop, which she now assumed was from a helicopter faded into the succulent jungle. The swish, swish in the nighttime air became the nighttime chaotic fanfare for the common people.
Suddenly people rushed into the streets. It was evident some did not even bother to change into proper clothing. Random zealots wore pajamas, while others wore nightshirts. It didn’t matter much as the night was warm and sultry. A man in striped pajamas ran through the night air looking skyward. Women in robes clung to children. Bare chested men in blue jeans brandished firearms. Some fired celebratory shots into the humid nighttime air. As the paper fell, they all scrambled to gather that which was falling in the nighttime sky. This was a nightly event in Flora’s pueblo. The chaos in the streets was building slowly, night by painful night.
On several mornings, during her walk to work, she inspected what the mayhem was all about. While still skeptical, on a recent brilliant sunny morning she took a little detour through the park by her house. It was here where she noticed, underneath a blooming vibrant plant, pieces of paper hidden near the base. The wind may have been hiding the paper previously. Once she knew they were real, she would usually spot one or two, during her trek to work. She did what anybody would; she inspected the notes for authenticity. She could not remember if she had even seen a currency from another country. She did once get American dollars from a relative in the States. She then stuffed those notes in her pockets. She knew they were not Cordobas.
She entered work with a visible hop in her step, while secretly trying not to be noticed. She showed the papers to one of her co-workers and she agreed they were American dollars. Her friend said that she found a few, herself. She learned the American dollars were now preferred over the Cordoba and few of her friends were walking around town pseudo rich. They ate lunch in near silence, not sure how to process the new chain of events.
After her shift, Flora with dogged determination, made her way to the grocery store. Grocery stores here were not similar to those in The United States. The Mercados were generally small, busy stores that spread out onto the sidewalk. Mangoes and papayas were piled high and festive music filled the market. After a few trips, it was easy to become friendly with the staff. That is one thing she liked about her neighborhood. It can be rough on the exterior but was generally friendly to the core. She bought a bag of rice; some dried beans, assorted spicy peppers and some freshly made tortillas. She always carried a calculator, and it told her she would have to leave behind a red juicy tomato and a head of garlic. It seemed like she was cutting back on something every single day.
She walked up to the counter, set her food on the counter and carefully counted just enough cordobas. The air in the store was sickly sweet. She heard the echo of gunfire in the far distance. Or did she just imagine it. It bothered her that gunfire was now the norm, rather than the exception.
When she handed the bills to the cashier, the cashier said:
“I am sorry, our currency is no longer accepted here, unless you want to use it to pay your utility bill.”
She felt the dampness of the night surrounding her, and the background gunfire seemed like a less than perfect metaphor for life here in Nicaragua. Or maybe it was an omen, even if she didn’t believe in that type of thing. Still much that was happening around her made very little sense. She felt like a bit actor in a large production that somebody else was directing.
She then remembered, having a few US five-dollar bills in her pocket. She felt deep down inside her that there was something blaringly smarmy about what she was about to do. This money had blood all over it or maybe that was a saying only used in good detective novels.
She reached into her pocket and handed the five-dollar bill to the woman behind the counter. She bowed her head slightly, signifying she had given in to the system. The girl behind the counter, her name was Fiona. She only had one that worked and many called her One Eyed Fiona. Fiona seemed to understand the pain of her everyday customer. She knew the helicopters were dropping money and of course she expected the United States. She considered herself not smart enough to hate The United States. That would come many years later. She suspected the money earned in the factories would become progressively worthless if money kept falling from the sky. She decided at the last minute to buy the tomato and garlic. She felt like she was playing with house money.
Flora thought to herself that it was almost costing her money to go to work. Yet, she was at peace with this. She knew that good times, buried amongst bad times could not last forever. However, she rode that wave for every cent that is was worth. The dollars kept her well fed and comfortably warm and dry for almost a year. And dry was the important part, as it had been a brutal rain season where rains constantly pounded her well-worn street.
Looking back, it was nice to have those low level needs filled. She looks back on that year quite fondly. She was so naïve. She knew so very little, and that helped her survive.
His friends observe Mark seems wired a little differently. Perhaps it’s more likely that noticing little things often missed by others is a relic of a quieter, simpler time. He has a way with words, which he refuses to let be hindered by sub-par typing skills. People have great stories to tell if you sit and listen.
A belief dear to Mark is that there is certain beauty in the world. You simply have to look for it