Testing the Theory of Relativity
by Ryan Daley

It was the end of my senior year in college when I finalized my plans of going back to Costa Rica and I was growing sick and tired of hearing the question as to whether it was a beautiful island.

"Costa Rica is in Central America. You're thinking of Puerto Rico," I'd always respond with a condescension provoked by so-and-so's gross lack of geographical knowledge and always thinking that Americans really DON'T know where anything is in the world.

This had been my dream. I would fly down in September, establish myself, meet up with some old friends, get a job and then begin graduate school at the University of Costa Rica in March.

From the beginning my trip was laced with problems. I had problems in Nicaragua and learned the value of a direct flight, the true nature of US intervention in that country during the eighties and who was paying the price now. I had problems with luggage in Costa Rica's Juan Santamaria Airport and all but said good-bye to three quarters of all my possessions, which turned up two days later. So, when the family that I had stayed with three years earlier during an intense summer session covering a six week period informed me that they would charge me almost three times the amount that they had told me over the phone, I decided that a job was in order, and fast.

I found that job in a private teaching center called Inglés Empresarial, S.A.. I.E. sent out teachers to businesses to instruct ESL courses to business men and women. My first company was to be Amanco, the country's leading PVC pipe manufacturer.

Guadalupe to San José, San José to la Sabana, la Sabana to Pavas was the route that I would take twice a week that required switching buses two times during the trip.

The first day of classes came swiftly and the all night- 8 PM to 6 AM- drinking binges were only a distraction from the travel that always came "tomorrow." I would rather spend all my savings on liquor than pay those who asked that I call them "mamá" and "papá" yet who charged an exorbitant price for a small room and laundry service. Yes, I am a US citizen, but no, I am not rich. And I grew tired of the assumption that all "gringos" came from a veal-fed, overindulged culture ruled by some faceless goddess of the bourgeoisie, protector of pension funds and picnics.

With all these complications concerning living costs swelling in my head I boarded the bus for Pavas in a light drizzle during the rainy season. The bus ride was about half an hour and I usually got off- I would later realize the irony in this- right in front of the US Embassy.

This particular day I had taken a seat in the back of the bus and went to exit from the back door as a man sitting in the third row got up and walked to the front. I descended the stairs. The bus started moving again. I stepped out.

To this day I don't know whether I actually thought that jumping from a moving bus would be a great idea or if my right leg had already made that first step to a free fall of a foot. I don't know if that man had made it out the front door faster than I had nor if the driver, or anyone on the bus, had seen me fall. I know that my right foot hit the ground and that the momentum carried me forward, threateningly close to the back tire of a yellow, inhuman rumbling giant. Me, umbrella, backpack with lesson plans, and "oh Shit!" escaping my mouth in flagrant English went tumbling full force against the concrete of the road.

Damage check:

  • Umbrella broken.
  • Backpack ripped and all the lesson plans scattered about the wet surface of a road that seemed to laugh at me with all its impersonal hardness.
  • Left elbow bleeding and my dress shirt torn wide open, and gaping like a red balloon from inside the hole was a matted mess of flesh, blood and pebbles.
That left elbow was what cushioned my fall and kept my head from smashing down on the pavement. Damn the pain, damn the dizziness, damn the hole in my shirt, damn the broken umbrella that wasn't even mine but rather lent to me by my "mamá" and damn that inhuman driver who threw me from the bus.

At least that's what the men from the gas station near the spot where I fell had told me in a rant against the inhumane treatment of passengers by the infamous bus drivers of Pavas. They all rushed to my side as soon as they saw that I had fallen, had taken me inside, given me smelling salts to suppress the dizziness, and dressed and bandaged the wound. Disoriented and with a headache in my future I figured that sniffing the alcohol, which worked like a shaman dancing for rain, cleared my head enough to now go on to the class.

I made it to Amanco in five minutes with fifteen to spare before any of my new students would arrive. That day all eleven students saw a bruised American before them- torn shirt in plain view and a big bundle of gauze wrapped around his left elbow- give the best class that he would ever teach in his life.

That scar still stares up from my elbow, and when my arm jackknifes out to full extension, it crinkles like tin-foiled flesh, shiny and pink.

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