Chapter 14

This entry is part 15 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Fourteen — Connie

The following morning Jock and I packed our suitcases and took a cab to the airport. We bought our tickets and boarded the Lanica Airline plane to fly to Siuna.

Siuna lies almost on the eastern coast of Nicaragua whereas Managua lies almost on the west coast. It would be a trip across the continent. Nine o’clock, almost time for the takeoff but as usual here in Nicaragua it would be at least a half hour before departure. The front part of the plane was for freight and the back section for passengers. Through the opening between we could see very clearly. Piled high in the front were many musical instruments; a bass drum, bass fiddle, violins, and trumpets. There was a last minute rush and then we took off. We circled the city several times and out over the lake, then headed high over the mountains.

“What a beautiful country,” I said to Jock. “How many volcanoes are there in Nicaragua?”

“About twelve or thirteen,” he replied. “There are about six that are active, I believe. Look far to the south. There is Lake Nicaragua. Some day the United States is going to build a big canal joining the Pacific ocean with the Caribbean Sea.”

“What’s the matter with the Panama Canal?” I asked.

“The Panama Canal is getting very crowded and will not accommodate your large aircraft carriers and other big ships.”

I looked at the little guy curiously. He was wising me up on things I hadn’t known before. “Tell me more,” I urged.

“The United States has a ninety-nine year lease to build a canal across Nicaragua, and I think the lease was taken before the Panama Canal was built. Someday they will build it and it will help this country very much. It will not be too big a job for your people to cut a canal across the continent here. The water runs from the lake to the Caribbean, but it is only a few miles from the lake to the Pacific Ocean. With the modern machinery your country has today it would be a very easy job.”

I thought to myself, “These people down here think we North Americans can do anything and do it damned easy.”

Jock went on, “This is the only fresh water lake in the world that has man-eating sharks. Long ago the lake was part of the Pacific Ocean and a perfect place for sharks in the salt water. Gradually the shoreline was shut off by the rising coast, and a lake was formed. The water changed from salt to fresh, and the sharks in the lake became accustomed to it.”

As we settled down to enjoy the scenery, I glanced around and saw a very pretty girl sitting a couple of seats behind me. Her long auburn hair hung in curls to her waist. She was looking at me and I smiled at her. She smiled back. There were small gold dots on the very tips of her white teeth. For decorations, I concluded. Probably she didn’t have a cavity in her mouth.

I turned to Jock and said, “Back there is the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. Do you know who she is?”

Jock took a quick look. “Oh yes, oh yes, that’s Connie Oro. She’s the sweetheart of Nicaragua, very famous. She sings with Pedro Max Romero and his orchestra. All the men are artists. They’re on this plane on their way to keep an engagement in Siuna.”

I felt compelled to take another look. I saw her eyes were on me, so I had the nerve to smile again. Afterward, during the flight over the mountains, I couldn’t keep my mind off this girl.

Finally we were over Siuna circling to land. What a landing field! Nothing but a narrow upgrade strip cutting through the ridge with a jumping off place at the other end. Barely wide enough for the wings of a plane. Setting an airplane down here would be next to impossible.

I held my breath. The pilot was a genius. He landed it perfectly.

I turned to Jock who had my camera. “That girl, Connie. I’d like a picture of her. Will you ask her if I can take her picture?”

“Ask her yourself,” Jock said. “She speaks just as good English as you do.”

We hurried down the ramp and over to the wing tip to wait for our luggage. When the girl appeared, I went up to her. “Would you mind having your picture taken with me?” I asked.

She smiled. “I would be very delighted.”

I signaled to Jock and led her to stand by the nose of the plane. I put an arm around her, and she snuggled up close to me.

After Jock snapped the picture, she said sweetly, “I am glad that you have come.”

That startled me. I thought I must have misunderstood her.

“Where are you staying?” she asked.

“Hotel America.”

She gave me another sweet smile, and said, “how nice, so am I.”

It was about a half mile walk into town, and the day was very hot. Small boys ran up to take our suitcases to the Hotel America where we were to stay. Somehow Connie and I lagged behind, walking along the dusty road past the big gold mine the Canadians were working.

Several thousand Nicaragua natives were employed here. At the top of the mine was the staff house, and other buildings, all handsome in their white paint. This was a much bigger mining operation than I had expected to find here.

As we went down the trail our hands seemed to naturally clasp together on their own. Neither of us seemed to mind. In fact, I felt proud to be walking with the “Sweetheart of Nicaragua.”

At last we arrived at the Hotel America. What a hotel! This town didn’t have houses built of mud such as I had seen in Quilalí and Ocotal. The construction was frame — the boards hand-sawed, and most of the houses had tin roofs. The streets were paved with heavy cobblestone. No one here owned automobiles except the Canadians who had several pickup trucks that they drove to and from another mine they had recently opened.

Hotel America was built of boards and bats, but most of the bats have been torn off. On the first floor was a theater. A stairway on the side of the building led to the hotel above. Connie and I climbed the stairs and found Pedro Max Romero and his orchestra in the hotel lobby. Jock also had arrived ahead of us.

As I looked around I saw that the floor was made of one-by-twelve boards that must have been laid while the lumber was green or wet. There were big cracks in it, some of them an inch wide. The walls were in the same condition. On the far side of the lobby was a bar and a kitchen was partitioned off from it. A Negro woman cook stood beaming at us from the kitchen doorway. Several small rooms were boxed off at one side of the lobby and a balcony faced the upper front of the building. Small cots were scattered all over the place. On several of them men lay sleeping; fellows that worked the night shift at the mine. There was a crude table built of plain boards with a bench on both sides and a chair on each end. That was all the furniture I saw. In a corner of the room was a shower and toilet to accommodate both male and female. Hung on one wall was a large picture of President Somosa, and nothing else.

Connie and I sat down at the table, and I ordered a bottle of rum and some ice. Then I proceeded to get acquainted with the bartender, a Chinese Nicaraguan who spoke English. I soon discovered most of the people on this east coast speak English.

“That’s quite a runway you have out there,” I said to strike up a conversation

“Yes, quite a runway,” said the bartender. “We call it the Golden Runway. When mining for gold was started, the machinery had to be brought in by airplane. In cutting the ridge in two for the landing strip, a vein of gold ore over a hundred feet wide and very rich was hit. When the veins they are working on now are mined out, mining the Golden Runway will begin.”

“Well, I’ll be doggoned! Some people have all the luck,” I sighed. “Here where they have already found rich veins of ore, they chop a mountain in two and hit another one!”

The beautiful Connie Oro was still sitting beside me. She explained that the orchestra was on a barnstorming tour, and that they would play for two nights here in Siuna. There would be a movie in the theater below tonight, and then a floor show. After the floor show there would be a dance across the street. And, if I would come to the floor show tonight, she would sing one song especially for me. “Would you like that?”

“I would certainly be honored, Connie. Will you sing in Spanish or English?”

“Spanish. I shall sing for you, ‘Sabor a Mí,’ a love song.”

I sure felt flattered and promised to be there.

Finally, Jock and I had to be about our business. We were eager to talk to the Canadians, so reluctantly I left Connie and followed him out of the hotel.

Soon we were climbing the mountainside leading to the staff house. Here the superintendent of the mine had very comfortable living quarters. He was about to go to Rosita, the other mine they were opening, and he invited us to go along in his pickup with him and his men.

About sixty miles pf road had been built. This mine would produce gold and copper, and soon it would be in operation.

As we came out into a clearing near Rosita, I saw something incredible. Here in the middle of the jungle was a beautiful eighteen hole golf course with a lush, green grass carpet!

One of the men grinned at me. “Kind of surprised, huh?”

I should say I was!

“As soon as the golf course is completed we will start mining the ore,” said the superintendent.

I laughed. This was sure pleasure before business.

Jock and I were taken to the new staff house which was painted a gleaming white. We were grateful to find hot and cold running water here. We could finally take a hot shower.

After hot showers we went eagerly into the dining room with a bar in it. We had a scotch and soda with the other men and ordered our dinners. Colored boys in white uniforms wheeled out small carts laden with food. It was obvious these mining guys really believed in living well while they had to stay down here. They refused to let Jock and I spend a dime of our own money.

I explained that I was on a prospecting trip, and asked if they could lead me land I could lease. They didn’t know of anything more in this area, but one fellow said if he were going to look for gold, he would go to Santo Domingo.

“At one time Santo Domingo was a great mining country,” he said. “A company from Italy put in a mill and bought ore from the natives. Many mines were opened, but they had too much trouble. The gold shipments were always getting robbed. The natives watched for the bandits and one day they caught them. The bandits admitted that they were working for the Italians — the owners of the mill! There was a terrible fight and many people were killed, so the mill was closed. There should be lots of gold left in that area.”

All this interested me even if it did mean a return trip to Managua and a fresh start.

We got into the pickup and drove back to Siuna, arriving there about dark. The movie was being shown in the hotel was a real western from the United States — Hopalong Cassidy and his crowd. We could even hear the galloping horses and pistol shots from outside the walls of the building.

The crowd was cheering and it sounded like they were going wild. The stairway on the side of the hotel was lined with kids who didn’t have money to pay to see the show so they were peeking through cracks in the wall. All around the building kids had their peep holes. Jock and I went up the stairway to the hotel lobby. Here were more kids looking down at the movie through cracks in the floor.

The bartender told us we had arrived just in time to see the floor show. It would start in a few minutes, as soon as the movie was over.

We took a cold shower and got into clean clothes. Then we went downstairs, bought our tickets and entered the theater. It was so crowded we couldn’t find a seat so we stood up at the end of the stage. The band played and Pedro Max Romero sang a couple of good Spanish ballads. The crowd cheered. There was a quartet and then a duet. These boys really had talent.

Then came the star of the show — Miss Connie Oro. The crowd roared when she stepped up on the stage. She circled the microphone, wiggled her shapely figure and the crowd cheered again. She was dressed in a long yellow silk gown that came all the way to the floor. She wore dainty high-heeled yellow shoes and long gold earrings that hung to her shoulders, and gold bracelets on her shapely arms. What a picture! Then she sang a popular jazzy number. The crowd loved it. She walked back to the mike again, took a few steps around it, wiggled provocatively and glanced at me.

“This next number, she said, “will be played for Joe Parker, who is my guest from the United States, North America.”

I felt embarrassed as the crowd stood up and gave a rousing cheer.

“They are cheering for you,” said Jock.

My face burned. I knew it was the color of red brick.

Then Connie sang, “Sabor a Mí.” It was a beautiful tune all right, but I didn’t understand the lyrics. When she finished there was more loud applause and the show was over.

Jock and I were the first ones out the door. We went back up the stairway and I ordered drinks. Pedro and his band joined us. They needed a drink before they started playing for the dance that would last for hours.

Connie was in a little back room changing her clothes. At last she appeared wearing a beautiful blue evening gown. She came over to the table and took one little sip of Flor de Caña and one puff from a cigarette. “Too many cigarettes and too much Flor de Caña are not good for my voice,” she said laughing.

The crowd was already gathering across the street so the band members left for the dance and Connie with them. Jock and I sat around talking to the bartender and sipping Flor de Caña. I wasn’t especially in the mood for dancing, and it was getting late. Jock said, “If we’re going to make an appearance at that dance, we’d better get going. They close up at midnight.”

We went across the street. We sat down at a vacant table and listened to the band. Connie was visiting all the tables, talking and laughing with people and having quite time. She was indeed a very popular girl. The dance was about to end when she came over and sat down beside me.

“Señor Joe, I have saved the last dance for you and I am so glad you have come.”

Connie was a fine dancer — light as a feather. In the middle of our dance she startled me by asking, “Do you have a bathing suit?”

“Sure. But what th’…?”

“The music is stopping,” she interrupted, “we’ll have to leave. There is a pond at the edge of town. Will you take me swimming?”

It was a warm night and swimming seemed like a fine idea.

“Sure, I’ll take you. Let’s go.”

I went to my room and got into swimming trunks and an old pair of sandals. Connie came out in a purple bathing suit. “Wow!” She was real all right, every inch of her. Her curves were not a bunch of padding. They were Connie, herself. She had a complexion that girls in the States from Florida to California, kept trying to acquire with suntan oil. This little gal had it naturally — been born with it!

We walked along the main street of Siuna to a beautiful pool where the creek had been dammed for use as the town’s swimming pool. We were all alone and the night was very still. Not a ripple on the water and the moon was shinning so brightly that when we looked down at its reflection in the water it was as if we were gazing into the moon itself. We kicked off our shoes and sat on a log, our feet in the cool water. Connie sat very close to me and my arm was around her.

“Did you like my song tonight, the one I sang for you?”

“Yes, Connie, it was very nice. ‘Sabor a Mí.’ Jock says it means ‘taste me.’ What else does it mean?”

“Oh, you’ll find out,” she said. “You must learn our language.” She stretched out and laid her head in my lap, looked up at me and smiled. “Sabor a Mí, taste me, taste me, Joe.” Her arms stole around my neck. “I am so glad you have come.”

“What did she mean by that?” I wondered. My posture straightened. “Connie,” I said, “When we got off the airplane, and now again, you say that you are glad that I have come. What do you mean by that?”

“Mama Morales told me before I left Managua this last time that I would meet you here.”

“Who is Mama Morales?”

“Mama Morales is very wise. She has raised me since I was a little girl. She can read the stars. She told me I would meet you, that we will be married.” She grinned at me. “We will have one blue-eyed baby — one blue-eyed baby girl.”

“How do you know I’m not already married?” I asked.

“If you had been already married, Mama Morales would have told me.”

“No, I’m not married, but I have a sweetheart in the States and someday I intend to marry her.”

That didn’t phase her a bit. She dabbled one foot in the water.

“Señor Joe, you have come here searching for gold, and it is written in the stars that you will find much gold. You will stay here and make your home. Do you think your sweetheart from the United States would be happy among my people?

That sort of floored me. I hadn’t thought of that.

“Your people are very smart. You have very much money. You have powerful bombs, and are sending rockets around the world. You are getting ready to put a man on the moon, yet there are many things your people have forgotten.” She reached down, took hold of my left foot and pressed a finger on its side.

“When you forget me,” she said, “right here your foot will hurt you very much, then you will remember me again”

I laughed. “You little witch, enough of this hocus pocus.”

I jumped up and threw her in the water, then went in after her. She could swim like a muskrat. We frolicked around like a couple of seals and had a good swim.

After a while we put on our shoes and walked back to the hotel. The bartender was still there, so we drank some cold beer and ordered sandwiches.

Connie went to her room and came back with a one cordoba note. This she tore in half and gave one part to me.

“Anytime you should forget me, Joe, and you see your half of one cordoba, it will remind you of me. Someday we will put them back together and they must fit, or I will know you have been very untrue to me.”

I laughed, kissed her little tan hands, called it a day and went off to bed.

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