Three thirty AMthe time to catch the bus to Leoncame quickly, but the stone floor on which the travelers slept made it easy to rise. Gathering their luggage, they quietly slipped out the pensión owner's door to wait on a dark, dusty street corner. True to Medio's prediction, however, there were few people awake at such an early hour and when the bus stopped to pick them up, it was nearly empty. The travelers chose a couple of window seats halfway to the back.
The large, US-style school bus was infinitely more stable than the Japanese model that had almost tipped over on them the previous day. Nevertheless, the US-imposed embargo had greatly reduced the number of operating buses in the country and as they rolled down the road, the early morning transport stopped every few miles to pick up more passengers. By the time the bus reached the crossroads where passengers to Leon disembarked, the travelers were packed in tighter than frijoles. Fearing they might not make it off the bus, the four travelers began their journey to the exit by holding their packs above their heads and using their larger body sizes to push through the tightly packed mass. Each space they vacated was filled by the passengers they pushed aside, enabling them to wade through the crowd.
By the time he exited the bus, Nuco had dropped into a superfunk, and immediately began mumbling into his microcassette recorder. Capn and Medio followed, squeezing out of the bus exit like newborn babies. Lastly the BigGuy stumbled out. Still high from his aborted Somoto mayoral campaign, he turned to a group of people nearby. "Donde León?" he asked. Someone pointed down the road. "This guy says that's the way we need to head," the BigGuy advised his compañeros, pointing down the road.
Nuco, still cranky and disoriented, snapped off his recorder. "That's not the way. It's that way." He pointed in the opposite direction. The group hesitated awkwardly.
"Where youse going?" A voice broke into the awkward silence like a whiff of bad breath. A man dressed in ragged polyester pants and a button-down shirt stepped in front of them.
"Vamos a León," the BigGuy said.
"It's that way." The man pointed in the direction the BigGuy had initially indicated. "Where youse from?"
"What youse doin' down here?" the man asked.
"Vacación," said the BigGuy. Like Graham Greene, he had mastered the present tense of Spanish in 20 Berlitz lessons, and after being proved correct on which direction to strike out, he had completely regained his equilibrium.
The man's eyebrows went up. "Vacation? In Nicaragua? I think youse need some breakfast."
"We don't want to miss the bus," Nuco snapped, still cranky.
"It won't be here for another two hours," said the man. "Come wit' me." He pointed to a brick house with a cardboard desayuno sign in front of it. "Dey serve good breakfast over d'ere." The man's Brooklyn accent grew more obvious with each sentence.
Ten minutes later, the group sat under the thatch roof of a patio, in a large, fenced-in back yard. The patio, an island surrounded by sandand coconut palm and banana treessupported a formica-topped table, six chairs and a hammock, which dangled between the roof's support poles. Hens wandered freely about the yard looking for food, while keeping a watchful eye on a lone, skeletal, mangy yard dog.
"Whaddyouse wanna drink?" the polyester appareled man asked.
The BigGuy and Medio ordered Coca Colas, Nuco a cerveza.
"That was one hell of a bus ride," the BigGuy said, after the man had left to get their drinks.
"You were jamming me into a corner," Medio responded immediately. "I was counting on you to defend the border and you had me crushed into the corner."
"I maintained the border," the BigGuy countered, then turned to Capn. "Once you give up some property, you're not going to get it back without a fight."
"You're right," Capn agreed. "You have to protect your property rights."
"You gotta maintain the border," the BigGuy maintained.
"So the guy was elbowing in on you," Nuco said, pulling out of his funk as quickly as he learned of the BigGuy's misery.
"Elbowing in," the BigGuy affirmed. "He and his friend were taking turns on me, leaning over the top." He stood to demonstrate his vehicular predicament. "Okay, the guy was like this," he said, showing his opponent's position. "I was here with my elbow across the bar and he was like right here trying to move in on me. He got nowhere."
"Which bar? The bar in front of you?" Nuco asked.
"What about the bar behind you?"
"I conceded that right from the beginning. You can't defend all fronts."
"You conceded my space," Medio said, driving home his point.
"I did not concede your space. You got a break because my leaning forward allowed you to lean back," the BigGuy responded.
"I had this much space," Medio said, holding his hands together closely.
"You were able to lean back," the BigGuy countered.
"I had to go for the shoulder because he bullied you right over to my side," Medio accused. "I expected you to guard the border."
"I did a hell of a job guarding the border, let me tell you something," the BigGuy said, taking exception to Medio's version of the school bus skirmish.
A rooster crowed amid the backyard palm tree plantation. "Maybe you were taking up too much of the bar or something," Capn interjected, probing for a weak spot in the BigGuy's defense. "You have to give the guy something to hold on to. Were you taking the whole bar?"
"Youse want a beer? A coke and a beer?" a voice interrupted the discussion.
"Two Cokes and a beer," Capn corrected the Nicaraguan from Brooklyn, who wandered away again.
"I wonder what that guy's job is," the BigGuy said, his thoughts removed from the crowded bus. "Does he just wait at the bus stop and bring people to this restaurant?"
"I think so," said Nuco. "He must get a commission."
"Double for gringos," said Medio, who suddenly picked up the empty plate in front of him and began to gnaw on it. The BigGuy snapped at his compañero, telling him to behave.