Part I - The Walk
Ricardo "The Rock" De Los Rios
Tucked under the bridge Ricardo “The Rock” De Los Rios can hear the cars on the interstate; all night. The frequency, slowing in the middle hours, provides respite from pains of the past and hard days ahead. There is a creek below, that leads to a river. Given his name, he knows that there is work to be done there, by the river, but he is waiting for instructions.
His oversize duffle bag is very heavy. Too heavy for most people. Ricardo travels heavy. That’s why he calls himself “The Rock.” “Here comes The Rock,” he imagines them saying. The overstuffed bag contains mostly cans of food, one tube of watermelon lip balm and his comic collection. In the middle of his circa 1960 Archie comic, sealed in a Ziploc, he keeps his papers. Maybe someday he can become a citizen. At thirty-two years, he has a long life ahead.
Ricardo is just enough distance from the homeless center and the mission for solitude, yet close enough for a meal. Then there is his church, which encompasses most of downtown. It’s important work.
On this hot summer evening in July, under the bridge, when the moon is full, he sleeps differently. Somehow his body is cold even in his long sleeves. On his head is a blue cap meant for a logo, but there is no logo on it. Tonight, under his cap, old connections are reconnecting. Memories resurface in dreams that, this time, he will remember.
He sees Cerro de la Popa, the church high on the cliffs of Cartagena, Colombia, his birthplace. But some misplaced disjointed memory just won’t jig because Ricardo doesn’t know how he got here. He hears Mom yelling, and he recalls that her brain misfires worse than his during her extreme bipolar swings. His eyelids half-mast, the synapses from a previous life link to this one like lightning in his head. He was married once.
“Veronica, it’s 9:30,” he’d say.
“I’ll be ready in a few minutes,” she replies, as she touches up her lipstick in the mirror.
From the cliffs of Cerro de la Popa, you can see the water from both sides. Young, in love and thrilled in the sea wind, they are laughing across to each other. Ricardo, binoculars focusing on the Caribbean Sea to the west, Veronica, looking east, eyes squinting from the shimmering glare of Cartagena Bay. When Ricardo turns around Veronica is gone. From the brink, he looks down scanning the face of the mountain.
“Veronica,” he screams.
Ricardo searches the chambers of the church her name echoing down the hallways, the misfires increasing their frequency. The rays from the clerestory windows are pointing to the statue of La Virgen de la Candelaria. The dust stirs in his breath as his eyes follow the beam to her holy face.
“Madonna, Reina del Cielo! Mi Veronica! Dónde está mi Veronica?” he begs.
“El otro lado,” La Virgen says in a clear voice. Clear as the voices his mom would hear.
“Does La Virgen mean my Veronica is on ‘the other side’ and has met her maker?” he begs for an answer.
He kneels before the figure, dressed in white, Jesus in her arms, and weeps as the light beams fade as the clouds move in.
The Policía Nacional de Colombia have questions and go looking for him. Ricardo can’t explain and doesn’t have enough money to pay them off so he must hide. He makes it home by foot and tosses several cans of soup from the pantry, his papers, and his comic book collection that maybe he can sell, into a duffle bag he bought for a trip he was going to take with Veronica to Bogota. She loves the streets of La Candelaria, the art, and museums. He grabs his cap and tears the logo off that bears the name of the gym where he works and hurries out. He stays close to the tall buildings and alleyways. That night he rests under the bridge, Puente Jimenez. Its mustard yellow columns remind him of the hot dogs they loved on Saint Martin Street. His head on the soft grass parapet, his feet propped on the duffle bag a Turquoise Jay lands by his feet clutching the handle. Its black-crowned head moves up and down as if to examine Ricardo, then stretches its wings and remains motionless. The color of its feathers shift from turquoise to blue and back again in the dapple of the moonlight cast through the trees. Ricardo falls into a deep sleep as if by command. The sound of the rain scores his search for Veronica in his lucid dream. He opens his mouth to utter her name when his eyes flood with blue. Ricardo feels light, like a feather. Then the clouds give way to a sky full of stars.
As far as Ricardo can tell, he fell asleep and woke up here, thousands of kilometers away. The sounds of the interstate above and the babble of creek echoing across the pilings, unfamiliar to his ears. Getting from Cartagena to the states, a complete blank; but he is sure La Virgen had something to do with it.
In the morning, he wakes, with the moon setting opposite the sunrise. He stirs and wonders why he feels colder when it is warm outside and warmer when it is cooler in the early morning. Things have been feeling opposite he thinks. Ricardo walks to the creek and sees his reflection and commences his daily rehearsal. He notices his face isn't reversed.
“Things are unfolding into the world today,” he begins, “El otro lado. From the other side.”
"There-fore, I - ad-dress - you,” he articulates slowly, softening his accent.
He’s gotten better at it. He prefers being called, “The Rock,” rather than pool-digger. Downtown can be a cruel place, and he doesn’t understand the dark in people, given that this is the time of the awakening.
“You must seek to be open,” he declares, his reflection distorted in the ripples.
“In this life, what you fear is what you must face,” he proclaims.
In the residue of his dream, he cries for the first time since his arrival. He remembers. The tears of Ricardo De Los Rios mix with the creek and find their way out to the sea by way of the river. In a few hours, they touch the body of one surfer girl that went missing at the beach just a day ago.
He looks at the sun. Time to head downtown.
“Veronica, it’s 9:30,” he says.