Pound of Flesh

Waiting at a stoplight, the hot air gathers around, thickening as the seconds tick by. My skin glistens with a grasping mixture of sunblock, repellent, soap and sweat, shining smooth. A sudden burst of acceleration peels away the heat in a soft layer, brushed behind us by a blanket of wind. With our hips tipping sharply to counterbalance the bike, we round a corner, dodging between motokars dragging sparking rebar and stuffed with passengers.

I don’t know how to drive a moto, so I’m always the passenger, but that’s ok because I wouldn’t have the courage that my friends do, slipping between two trucks and throttling up to 100 kilometers an hour, or driving down the stairs and flinging over speedbumps. People actually drive down stairs! It’s not just in the movies! I consciously ignore the images of the mangled bodies I have treated in the ER and enjoy instead the pulsing thrill.

I wish I could explain the soft joy this brings me, the greeting of “mi amor,” the demand to draw balloons from the two year old, the savory dishes and spoken recipes that make up lunch, all amidst my floundering Spanish. Sometimes I feel I am suffocating from unspoken words, bitten back sarcasms, and unknown phrases. They catch in my throat and I sit silent, a different person in Spanish and English.

But now, I’m drinking lemonade because, my nurse explains, “it keeps you cool longer under the intense sun of the selva.” Iquitos is dragging a flesh price out of me. I’m losing weight, sweating it out, a 1000 big C calories in a breath, running down my leg. Even in my fancy technical smart intelligent NASA designed REI pants, my s/ 9 t shirt that I bought because yesterday the laundry didn’t dry, the socks stiff from too many handwashings in not enough water, I can feel it melting away. That lemonade did nothing to keep me cool. I’ll add it to my long list of superstitions to ignore and enjoy my escabeche de gallina and the toddler kisses and relish my lunch hour.

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