Just after sunset, a wrinkled man pushes a wheelbarrow laden with coconuts into an intersection. “Mofos be crazy!” he proclaims, in perfect urban English. “Everybody be crazy!” he adds, chuckling madly as he trundles forward, toward the Plaza de la Cultura, past the queue of headlights that barely stop for him.
The pedestrian bridge is too far away, so I opt to jaywalk across the multi-lane highway, which is fine for the first few lanes, but then I reach the median, and the traffic pours past me. Overloaded trucks and manic taxis and weaving motorcycles fly down the asphalt, and with each passing vehicle, I feel a wave of mist across my face. The air is cool and moist; the smudgy sky hasn’t yet decided whether to rain.
A stout mother struggles down the median, flanked by her two scampering kids. She clutches a baby in the crook of her arm and grimaces, because her hips aren’t made for long walks. The median’s grass is ripped up and muddy, and soda cans are crushed into the dark earth.
When the smell hits me, I blink in disbelief, because I wonder what could possibly smell of rotten seafood. Then I look down, next to my dress shoes, and see the black silhouette of an enormous fish. The animal’s flesh has transformed into something like potting soil, and the white bones of its ribcage arc outward. The fish’s shadowy remains seethe with maggots, which stretch and wriggle enthusiastically through the residue.
I wait with the Tico family for the cars to clear, swallowing bile as the stench intensifies, and when the last truck finally rocks away, the four of us skip across the pavement, happy to get away, and the air clears, smelling only of ozone and diesel.
As rain streaks diagonally across the window, and the nearly empty bus trudges down a narrow and uneven street, the skinny old man toward the front dances his fingers across the tops of the seats. At first I can’t tell what he’s doing, but then I realize he’s playing the piano. The way he plays both sides, keeping one hand close as the other glides across the imaginary keys, I can only assume he’s played for many years. He stops, now and again, to look upward, as if sniffing the air, then to look around suspiciously. He returns to his playing, more careful each time, increasingly afraid of a wrong note. I don’t want to see the keyboard; the fact that he sees it is enough. But I spend five minutes wishing I could hear what he’s silently playing. Then we arrive at the bus stop, and we step off, the old pianist disappears, and the only sound is drizzle pecking umbrellas.