Englishwoman, Swiss Chef, and I shared a glorious dinner and drinks with Ansel Adams and German Chef in San Pedro, Chile the night before we departed on our twenty-hour bus ride to Argentina. Drinks encompassed Chilean wine and Rum. Our first Rum bottle fled faster than Saddam Hussein. Thus, when ten English lads entered the hostel, we entreated them to procure another bottle for us. A while later I boozily bore in to bed sans coherency.
Three hours later I awoke with a headache that was a greater nuisance than Monica Lewinsky. Englishwoman, Swiss Chef, and I labored with our lives and transported ourselves to the bus stop more slowly than my brain deciphers long division. In college I lived across the street from Trader Joe’s. When we were seniors, one of my roommates applied to the grocery store. The application included simple division that you were supposed to do by hand. Not even long division. She calculated the problems on a calculator and then strove to parallel the correct answer with her work. Between three college seniors, we could not acquire the accurate answer by hand. I’m an English major, not a math major. However, one would think I would be competent enough to perform 4th grade math. Our Exercise Sport Science major roommate eventually returned home and enlightened us as to our idiocies. My roommate got the job, referred to her employers as Trader Slaves, and quit after two weeks. She didn’t appreciate stocking lettuce for eight hours a day.
I toiled to board the bus and descended in to my seat, the hard cushions caressing me like my ex-boyfriend used to spoon me. I closed my eyes. Before I could sigh, the woman in the seat next to me slanted forward and introduced herself as Nellie. I slit one eye open, savoring the one shut eye’s exhilaration. Nellie’s thirty-four-year-old (I know this because she later showed me her passport) face, clad in glasses and a schoolgirl smile, was five inches from mine. I reluctantly lugged my other eye open, smiled, and introduced myself. We exchanged pleasantries, and then the questioning commenced with the rapidity of a stereotypical California teenage girl’s idioms. After covering where I was from, how old I was, whether I had a husband, how many children I had, how many siblings I had, their names, ages, and what they did for a living, why I no longer lived with my parents, what Swiss Chef and Englishwoman’s careers were, and what my full name was, the following questions ensued.
“What you doing?” she asked me.
“Oh, I’m just traveling.”
“No, what, what you do-ing? What you do?”
“Oh, I guess I’m technically in real estate,” I said with a smile. I then closed my eyes.
“What real estate?” she inquired.
I explained real estate, informed her I was very sorry, but felt like I was dying because I was so tired, and relinquished my eyes to their natural and satisfied state: closed. Had I felt like a normal human being, I might have been physically capable of ecstatically participating in conversation. However, since my twenty-first birthday, my body has countered my callous alcohol abuse with massive hangovers. Today, I felt as alive as a flamingo without legs or wings. After my dying statement Nellie subsequently sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, the alphabet, and some clapping song that I vaguely recollected from my distant childhood. I couldn’t wholly recall the song because with each crashing clap my brain threatened to collapse in on itself.
“I a English teacher in Peru. I teach English!” she explained with continued applause. How anyone who couldn’t construct a simple sentence properly was an English teacher made as much sense to me as OJ Simpson being declared “Not guilty.” However, I do not judge, I just question. By this time my Spanish knowledge had swelled to three sentences and twenty-three words. I wasn’t attempting to teach Spanish, of course. But I do live in California, with a more populous Latin contingent than Caucasian. Thus, one would think I would have picked up on a few words in my life. Nellie demanded I teach her a song, and then interrupted her own explanation of desiring to teach it to her class by telling me she had friends all over the world. I endeavored to appeal to my brain for a song but the best I could engineer was the alphabet, which she clearly already knew. With all this thinking, my cranium threatened to detonate and I could sense the commencement of a coma. She misinterpreted my sunken head in hands as encouragement, conjured photos of she and her class like Merlin the wizard, and then sang Madonna’s Material Girl. “I love Madonna!” Nellie exclaimed excitedly. I handed her my iPod, scrolled to Madonna, and pressed play. Nellie persisted singing, but as she was not directly addressing me, I felt at ease to attempt sleep and bowed back my head, i.e. anvil.
Englishwoman and Swiss Chef, sitting on my other side, conveyed their regret for the situation, followed by their relief that neither of them were sitting next to the unstable Peruvian. I could scarcely ascertain what they were saying over Nellie’s deafening Madonna impersonation. Madonna songs only survived for one and a half precious hours before we struck the border and exited the bus. Swiss Chef withdrew to revisit us bearing Cocoa Tea and though I customarily have no lesbian tendencies, I felt that kissing her on the lips was the obvious appropriate demonstration of my gratitude. This was followed by the thought that I really needed to discontinue my alcohol absorption. My next contemplation was that I, and a large majority of my friends, announce this every time we are hung over. I was mentally contentedly replaying college drinking scenes when I heard my name in a now-familiar accent. Before I could finish the word, “what?” Swiss chef was clutching my Cocoa Tea and Nellie was towing me away to take a photo with her. One photo became seventeen as we assembled in varying poses. This had to resemble a marriage photo shoot, or at least an engagement photo shoot. As I envisioned the six Peruvian children we would surely adopt, I thought I would never have predicted I would end up with someone named Nellie, man or woman.
Back on the bus Nellie requested my e-mail address. Sure, of course. She handed me a paper she had written out with lines for my first and last name, e-mail, telephone number, address, birthday, and parent’s address. I filled this out and handed it back, at which point she presented me with a paper with her identifying information. She studied my responses, clarified and re-wrote some, and then proclaimed she would call me on my birthday and visit me in California within the following year. “Ok, great,” I replied with enthusiasm paralleling that of the Simpson’s Mr. Burns. I just wanted sleep. Or a lobotomy. I wasn’t demanding. She sang Happy Birthday to me. This woman was evidently under the impression that she was Mariah Carey.
“See, I have friends over the world!” she broadcast at the conclusion of Happy Birthday with such enthusiasm nine passengers spun to stare at us. She then presented me with a bracelet. The bracelet consisted of lime green bulky beads and resembled something my cousin’s six-year-old would construct. I felt indebted and gazed at my own wrists. Aside from the newly acquired Peruvian present, I was wearing two black hair things. I removed one, put it around her wrist, and then was as lost as George W. Bush at a spelling bee, so I kissed her on the cheek and smiled. At this time the movie 2 Fast 2 Furious sparkled across the televisions. I submerged in to my chair and revolved my eyes to the screens. Nellie produced a book entitled How to Teach English. This book was fifty pages long, and, with size sixteen font complete with pictures, was identical in style to something a seven-year-old would read. The opening scene of the movie corresponded to Nellie’s questioning. As she labored over the English words, she asked me questions. “How you say ‘educate’ in Spanish?” “How you say ‘they’ in Spanish?” “What it mean?” “What the Spanish word for ‘students’?” This word I knew: estudiante. This woman was clearly delusional in her estimation of my Spanish abilities. As mentioned, I have the language skills of a mentally handicapped walrus. I did enunciate the correct way to say ‘the’ to her nineteen times, but aside from that, am afraid I was not much assistance. She composed pronunciation notes in her booklet/pamphlet. A bus attendant distributed chicken and Mayonnaise sandwiches to all the passengers. Swiss Chef was prepared. She had avocado and seasoning. After the chef altered Englishwoman’s, her own, and my sandwiches in to edible creations, Nellie handed me her sandwich and impatiently motioned for me to pass it to Swiss Chef so she too could benefit from the accoutrements. Nellie evidently comprehended the American marriage adage ‘What’s mine is yours.’ This was further evidenced when she embezzled my water and thrust a quarter of the bottle down her trachea.
Hours later I was in a satisfying sleep reverie when Charging Bull breathing beat my ears. A hand/clamp then affixed to my forearm. I grudgingly opened my eyes expecting to see Grendel from Beowolf. Nellie profoundly respired, said, “I sick,” and then faintly gestured her arm through the air toward the front of the bus. “I’m sorry, but... what? Que?” I asked. “I sick!” she shrieked. I hurdled in to the atmosphere. This outburst was unexpected. What happened to singing? “Ok...” I replied. “Get help!” my commander ordered. I looked over to Englishwoman, who helpfully shrugged. After a unanimous negative response to my inquiry for any doctors on board the bus, I returned to my seat. “Lo siento, pero no doctors” comprised my Spanish struggle. Nellie rewarded my efforts with a despised look. “Get driver!” she commanded and then relocated her sweatshirt directly over her head. I didn’t think this very feasible, but a death stare met my appeal and I retreated to the front of the bus feeling like a verbally abused wife and questioning my dad’s assertion that I would be a good lawyer. I returned with a bus attendant, because the driver was driving and unavailable, and determined I would do all I could to make Nellie content in her ailments, but our relationship would have to terminate with the bus ride. I also reconsidered the six children. Maybe five. Or four.