We could only assume that the mosquito bite had caused Sarah’s face to fall off. That, or the fact that she burned the shit out of herself. “Ecuador”, she says these days, wiser now, “is still on the equator, even on a cloudy day.” When she woke up that morning her face was a patchwork of nine different colors, like a big camouflage pattern of the United Colors of Benetton, like a pride parade left its confetti entrails on her. Her eye, the location of the bite, had swollen into a small potato then shrunk back to flat, causing ruined areas of peeling, dryness, and, well, grossness.
We were in the teeny, dirt-road town of Puerto Lopez, living like queens. We stayed in the nicest room in the nicest hotel there. But with our leper friend at our side, all we could think about was fixing her face.
‘Smiley’ was the happiest groundskeeper on earth. He was probably at least 70, nearly toothless, and was more than a few inches under five feet tall. Yeah, he was adorable. And he had this sweet, kind grin that we all fell in love with- hence the brilliant nickname we gave him.
“Go ask him if there’s a witch doctor in town that can help me”, Sarah pleaded. Since I spoke Spanish, I asked. But instead of an answer, he shuffled inside and returned with a five gallon bucket full of steaming hot water and herbs. I don’t know how that little guy lugged it out to us, but he did, with a smile. He explained that she should soak a washcloth in the water, wring it out, put the cloth on her face, and repeat. We did exactly as the doctor ordered. I could smell the pungent aroma of the herbs. It was something very familiar, maybe even delicious- like pizza.
“Oh my God, you guys!!”, Sarah, never a subtle alarm clock, shouted the next morning. Her decrepit face was healed. Oregano, I realized, is the cure for Camouflage-Face-Eroding Syndrome. We all felt better and much less embarrassed by her. We returned to our lives of luxury, sipping beers and lounging by the hotel pool.
I was probably doing handstands in the water or practicing my diving when I spotted our wee miracle worker. I jumped out of the pool and ran over to thank him.
I explained that we did exactly as he told us to- and look! She’s better! Its amazing! Was that oregano? Hows your day? Whats the weather forecast? Do you have family? Let me tell you my life story…In spite of a slight language barrier, compounded by his lack of teeth, we had a really wonderful conversation. He seemed very pleased for all of us.
I waved goodbye as he turned to continue sweeping up the bird shit. I, on the other hand, returned to the edge of the pool, preparing for yet another Olympic-worthy dive. But then I noticed my three friends, huddled on the other side of the pool all choking, tripping on acid, and having seizures. It took me a moment to realize that they were just laughing- really, really hard. So hard, that they were all beet-red and silently convulsing. “What’s so funny?”, I asked, hating to miss out on a joke, especially one as good as this must have been. No answer, just the shaking fits. “What is it?!”; I asked, exasperated; tell me the fucking joke already.
Sarah, still weak and unable to speak, just starts pointing furiously behind me. I turn to look; nothing funny. She shakes her head no and points to her chest, then to me, then her chest, then to me. “Your…”, she finally gets out in words, “your…boob.”
I glance down and sure enough, my right boob had flopped completely out of my bathing suit and was just hanging sadly like a fat, drunk man who has fallen out of his hammock.
The flashbacks started. They came in slow-mo: my long talk with Smiley, running over to him, furiously waving goodbye. Little Smiley was so short, his eyes were exactly at naked-boob level. You know how you can always tell if one strand of hair is doing an alfalfa or you have spinach in your teeth- because anyone speaking to you will continually glance at it? Our pint-size doctor didn’t. Never once did he break eye contact; not even once.
Smiley was the coolest dude ever. And my friends are a bunch of bitches.