I was lying next to my husband in bed when he let out a loud and inopportune giggle.
“Are you okay?” I said, astonished, because I had been on the verge of sleep.
He responded with a roar of laughter that echoed around our otherwise silent room.
“I was just remembering,” he chuckled into his pillow. “I was just remembering the funniest thing I have ever seen.”
“Oh,” I said, grateful that this was a conversation that did not require my participation.
“It was about you. I can’t believe you’ve never written about it,” he said and recalled an incident that happened more than a year ago now.
“Oh that,” I said. “I write about serious, lofty things. I write about issues.”
“Please,” he giggled. “Do it for me. Do it for every Colombian out there who might be having a bad day, who might be in need of a laugh. They’ll get it, I promise. They’ll laugh out loud. Please, please, write about it.”
Colombia is a divided country and it’s divided into many parts. It’s so divided, in fact, and so diverse, you can be in one part of it and forget another part exists altogether. I’m in Bogotá now but I know there’s another country out there, a country that tentacles its way outward from our capital and there, on the tips of the longest tentacles, there in the wilderness, some people still believe in magic.
It’s a magic we’re not supposed to talk about here, in the oh-so-onward marching capital, because apparently it makes us look a bit backward, a bit provincial, a bit García Márquez, but it’s there and I’ve lived it. I’ve met people who swap grapes for wishes and clutch lentils to ward away hunger, who believe God will put money into their back accounts when they need it most, who have seen ghosts wander and portraits talk, who speak of myths and legends and miracles as if they were the everyday.
It’s heaven for someone like me, who collects stories and believes in everything, and the more I wander these lands, the more tales I collect, including the story of that lively spirit la llorona, a wailing woman who pops up on deserted country lanes and frightens the hell out of people.
I can’t write the story of la llorona here, because her story is told in so many ways I would always be wrong, but it’s probably true that she carries a child with her and it’s definitely true that whenever she appears she is wild-eyed, covered in mud and dressed in the strangest clothes.
It may be true that la llorona was a jealous woman, who killed a child’s mother and is now forced to carry the baby with her, or it may be true that she was a desperate wife who killed herself and carries her lover’s child everywhere she goes. Either way, there’s one fantastic thing about la llorona and that’s that she prefers to frighten men and she always chooses men who are up to no good. Get drunk, come home late, keep a mistress, plot a crime and you need to start watching where you walk at night.
My husband and I love hiking but we’re not always very good at it, especially when we hike without a guide, and one night, in the deepest, darkest Colombian countryside, we got lost as it grew dark.
I, embarrassing, irresponsible, true, had no torch and my phone was dead. My husband, embarrassing, irresponsible, true, had no torch and his phone was also dead. I was dressed in black and given that I’d not packed a hairdryer on that trip, had crazy curls sticking out from around my face. He, at least, was wearing shorts and walked ahead of me so I could follow his white legs, the only thing that reflected the moonlight, across a muddy field.
We walked in the darkness for about twenty minutes, certain we were heading towards the nearest village. I couldn’t see anything other than his calves and that faint sliver of a moon and kept stepping into pools of mud. I grew annoyed by my hair and tried to push it behind my ears. It only became wilder.
Finally, and not before time, we smelled our salvation. The heady scent of marijuana. Our eyes had become accustomed to the darkness by then and we could see three young shapes ahead of us, sitting on a log and smoking with a dirt bike at their feet.
“Thank God for teenagers,” my husband whispered. “Go and ask them if we’re near the road. It’ll sound better coming from a foreigner, and a woman.”
Excited, I ran forward and almost tripped in the process.
“Señores,” I yelped. “Señores,”
All three of the boys leapt up.
“Fuck, fuck, FUCK!” one of them screamed as they jumped onto the bike and departed with bumpy but incredible speed. “Fuuuuuuck!”
“What was that all about?” I said, when my husband appeared. He gave no explanation but sank to his knees and moaned. It took me a few seconds to realise he was laughing. Huge and helpless sobs weakened him and left him unable to speak.
“Oh no, oh no, oh no,” he gasped eventually. “I know who they thought you were.”
Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.