It’s one of the first days of spring and me and Camila are walking down Orange Street in East Rock, when we see Lindsay Stern in front of Nica’s. Neither of us really know Lindsay Stern but we both like her. She stayed with us for a few nights a couple years ago when she was deciding whether to go to grad school at Yale or somewhere else. She ended up doing a master’s in writing somewhere, but now she’s here, walking past Nica’s. The one night we talked, the conversation was long and ethereal. I don’t remember what, but I remember that she said poetic and unexpected things. At the end of her stay, which was the next day I think, she left a bottle of rum on our dining table. She saw both what was ethereal and what it was that the household needed in the here and now. She was a subtle and perceptive person, a person of parts.
Before we’re close enough to say hi, I see her father’s eyes. I know that it’s her father because the two of them look alike: handsome in the same dimensions and talking together with an ease that wouldn’t be as ardent and as self-contained if he were the sugar-daddy. His eyes are a brilliant blue. Or a brilliant green. Really, I can't be sure of the color now, but I will never forget the brilliance. They were two brilliant points of bright summer light against the grey of early April.
Lindsay’s father asked where Camila was from. As soon as she said “Colombia,” his eyes opened up and their natural brilliance became unnatural brilliance, less like a real color and more like a special-effect in a movie.
“I love Colombia. I don’t know anything about Colombia but I love it. When I was in boarding school there was a Colombian kid and he invited me to his farm, which was in the Cauca Valley, near Cali. My parents didn’t want to let me go because Colombia is a fucking death-trap but I talked them into it. Eventually they let me. It was the summer of 1971 and my dad gave me two hundred dollars to spend there. From New York, we landed in Caracas first and there were tanks at the airport, like something thing you’d see in a movie. Crazy. But when we landed in Cali, everything was easy. Valencia came to pick me up at the airport with a driver and we got to his farm in two shakes of a lamb’s. The farm was one of the wildest places I have ever been to. It was beautiful—white walls inside and out. Valencia’s father was a senator in the government, but his father’s cousin was an important communist. But here’s the thing. The cousin also seemed to live somewhere on the farm, or at least close. Or at least he would come to the hacienda at night and we would play dice and drink aguardiente and get wasted. Wasted, wasted, wasted. And the next morning everyone was up early, because there were things to do. Make sure the sugar cane was still growing I suppose. Schedule the revolution. I don't know what, honestly. But I couldn’t drink aguardiente all night and get up that early. One day I woke up and the hacienda was empty and I went to the stables. And there she was, an Arab, muscles like you see when Sly Stallone is sweating, only she wasn’t sweating.”
I couldn’t believe it. After all these years in graduate school, studying literature, I had finally found someone who could tell a story. And it got better.
“So my father has given me two hundred dollars, which I changed the day before at the hacienda with Valencia’s father. For two hundred dollars I got a pile of pesos that covered a card table. That next day when I decided to saddle up the Arab and go out riding in the most beautiful and verdant valley you have ever seen, I decided to take the pesos with me in saddle-bags. I don’t know why. I was ashamed to have so many pesos in such a poor place, maybe. So I didn’t want anyone to find them. I don’t know. I don’t know. Anyway, we take off and I am agog. This is the best horse I have ever ridden by miles. Not skittish ever, even when we come up against a car or a bridge or anything and she was able to just go and go. We cantered for ten miles easily, even though the landscape almost didn’t change at all. Dark green sugar-cane, with the river at the bottom of the valley. I got tired before she did and when I saw a sign with a name on it, which I assumed pointed to a town. I turned off the valley road. For some reason the town was much less green, just one dirt road. It was like the Old West. There was a bar with wooden flap-doors and I went in. I left the pesos in the saddle-bags because I didn’t think that it would be a good idea to show them to anybody. But fuck, I was young and I was dumb. They saw the horse. She was the most beautiful horse I had ever seen. She was the most beautiful horse they'd ever seen. There were easily a dozen men in the bar and they started talking when I came in, and I heard the word gringo a few times. I don’t know Spanish but I could hear them saying gringo and I could see them puffing their lips out in the direction of the Arab outside. Gringo, gringo, gringo.”
He paused briefly for breath and then went on, oblivious to the rest of us. “I was going to die, maybe. I stood up, walked through the flap-doors and pulled all of the pesos out of the saddle-bags. I walked back through the flap-doors and put them down on top of the table where I had been sitting. Some of the bills fluttered off the table onto the floor. I didn’t say anything and I didn’t look anywhere except through the flap-doors. I couldn't, I was so scared. But then I got up, my heart was beating, and I made it to the Arab. I unhitched her and hit her flanks with my heels. I galloped her all the way back through the town, past the church and back to the farm. You have to understand that I was on the Ferrari and I stopped being afraid as soon as I rode past the church. Maybe as soon as I unhitched her and got on. I don't remember. And before you ask, I don’t know why I left the money on the table. I have thought a lot about that. What I do remember is realizing that I was on the Ferrari and that no-one could catch me. And no-one did.”
His eyes sparkled like crazy. Camila and I both mumbled something and that was it.
James Rumsey-Merlan was born in Australia. He has been writing stories about Colombia since 2011.