Every time I looked at her I told myself I should leave but my heart kept pulling closer to the warmth of her coal-black eyes. The smell of burning meats mixed with barbecue smoke and endless samba music from the pickup truck high in the mountains outside Guatemala City. Alexandria was a stripper I met in one of the city's more reputable establishments where the doormen wear tuxedos with their shotguns.
It was as if we knew each other in a different life. We talked all night and met the next morning. By the afternoon I was dancing with her sister on a sidewalk and acting like a new member of the family. It was too fast but too fun to stop.
I remember seeing her the first time. A taxi driver was taking me around town to introduce me to nice, young girls that would never look at me in the world I normally live in. We had gone to five previous bars and I immediately left each one, equally uncomfortable with myself as with the plain-looking girls in heavy makeup and cheap cherry-red, see-through blouses.
A lively tune blared out of the radio and Alex put her tiny, soft hand in mine and pulled me onto the sidewalk.
"Dance with me, mi amor! Show me your new moves! You catch on quickly! One TwoNow watch my hands"
Alexandria, twenty-five, was the oldest of the sisters. Maria, the second oldest, was not as beautiful as the others but had a contagious laugh. She was unemployed but hoped to teach dance someday. Yanna, the third oldest, had long blonde hair and a body that would make even the Pope blush. She was sex incarnate and she knew it. Tamara, the baby, looked completely different -- coco skin, Afro-American nose, big boobs and butt. She was born from a different father.
All of them left their native country of Panama in search of a better life six months ago. I suspect Yanna and Tamara were strippers, as well, but I didn't want to ask. Maria was one month pregnant and lived with her boyfriend Hugo, a short and balding cattle rancher who was the owner of the pickup. Four girls from a family with nine children total.
The hood of the Chevy served as the buffet spread. An eight-year-old girl kept everyone fed and happy, bringing tortillas and sausages from her mother's barbecue and returning with the empty plates. Sixteen large bottles of beer were set in a line in front of the windshield.
Alexandria's arms wrapped around my shoulders and playfully pulled my earlobe with her finger. "It's a good night isn't it? You are happy? Kiss me." She whispered and then let out a laugh. "Maria! You taught him well! He dances better than Hugo!"
Maria stopped dancing to study the progress of her star student and held out her hands as if I was a great masterpiece just completed. I was as pleased as anyone else.
"Actually, the hotel I work at in Cancun is looking for a dance instructor. You are better than the one we had before. You should come work there with me."
Maria grabbed me by the arm and gently pulled me aside. I stopped dancing so she could look at me square in the eyes. Her voice low and hushed, trembling with excited hope.
"Do you mean it? I can't speak English but I am a quick learner and would work very hard. I am not married. I don't need this baby and can get rid of it easily. If you can get me a job there I would come right away."
"I'll speak to the General Manager and do my best to get you in."
She slipped behind her sister and together they continued moving to the bouncing beat. Her smile was from ear to ear and she gyrated her hips with even more energy.
"Bada-bada! Bam bada bada bee! One, two, three I`m going to live on the beach and teach dance, dance, dance!"
The sun slid below the mountain peaks, surrendering the festive day to the night shadows. The little girl helped her mother stack the plastic chairs as two men loaded them onto an old flatbed truck. The crowds thinned and two police jeeps pulled into the parking lot. It was time to go.
Alexandra was nervous, looking at her watch every few minutes.
"It's seven-thirty! I have to get back. I must be in my room before eight p.m. or my boss will be very unhappy with me. Hugo will drop me at the bar and then will take you home. Hugo! Vamonos!"
"But it's your day off. You have to be in your room by eight o'clock?"
"He is very strict. I want to stay longer with you and spend all night in your strong arms," her finger lined the contours of my lips, "but the rules can't be broken. Let's cuddle inside the truck while we wait for Hugo to drive us."
She sat on my lap in the passenger seat, her hands and hair covering my face. It was like we created our own perfect universe where only our eyes, mouths, and loving whispers existed. My hands stroked her back and moved across her stomach. Her skin was so soft but her stomach felt like it was covered with tiny scars. She pulled her shirt down as a reflex.
"Stretch marks. I had a baby not too long ago. A boy. Does it bother you?"
The shame and apprehension in her face was sobering.
"No! Not at all! You are beautiful. It doesn't bother me a bit. You can`t even notice."
I held her tight in my arms and massaged the nape of her neck. The air fell out of her lungs and all was silent for eternity. Three short kisses and the other door opened. Hugo was ready to go. With the windows down and a clear sky we headed home, Alexandria still snuggled on my lap.
"WWWWWEEEEEEEEEEEE": the sirens wailed and the lights flashed. The police had followed us out of the parking lot. Hugo punched the steering wheel, turned off the music and pulled to the side of the road.
"Caranjo! Okay. Everyone get out slowly. Don't worry. William! Do you have your passport?"
"No problem. I have all my papers with me here."
Three policemen climbed out of the jeep with body armor and AK-47 rifles. He took my passport and the identification cards of Alex and Hugo. The police asked Hugo to sit in the jeep with them until everything was sorted out. Hugo returned shortly after.
"Because Alexandria doesn't have her Panamanian passport on her they are going to make trouble. I just have to bribe them, no problem."
He wrapped two-hundred quetalos (twenty-five dollars, U.S.) inside his hand and walked back to the police. The biggest police officer started yelling at Hugo and drew his night stick. I gave my jacket to Alexandria and held her, weighing my options according to the unfolding events. Alexandria was shaking but not because of the cool mountain air. Hugo returned, his smile not masking the frustration underneath.
"They feel only two-hundred is like treating them like petty thieves! They demand two-hundred quetalos more!"
Hugo pulled out another two bills, folded them in his hand and passed it to the officers. The group returned together like a happy family.
"Senor Connors, Here is your passport and have a happy vacation in my country. Senorita, Please do not leave home without your passport. If I come to your country I will follow the law and bring my passport."
We got back into the truck and pulled away. Alexandria was on my lap but was a million miles away. Her face was pale and scared as she rocked back and forth in my arms.
"It is past nine o'clock. I'm in trouble! My boss is going to get angry. This isn't good. I'm late."
I kissed her good bye inside the truck just before we arrived at the front door. The disco was closed but all the girls have little rooms right in back where they sleep after work at six a.m. She pulled me even closer.
"Did you like today? Do you still like me without my makeup and with regular clothes?"
"I think you are even more beautiful now. You look like an angel. I`ll see you tomorrow."
A smile flashed across her face before she turned and made a tentative knock on the disco door. Hugo had pulled away before I could see she got in okay. We looked at each other for a long moment. Because he knew my questions and deep down I knew his answers, we decided to spend the voyage home across town in silence.
I never went back to see her. I guess this is what happens in
true fairy tales. The knight in tin foil armor looks at the prostitute
princess and runs. Life's cold realities, survival, and social class are
too big a beast for him to slay.
© 2003 William Connors, all rights reserved
appears here by permission