“Hello, my friend!” she calls out loudly as she enters my school for Coffee Break, a free weekly language exchange. She heaves herself up the two steep steps at the front door and greets me with a kiss on the cheek, the custom in Costa Rica.
“You like Madonna? Eric Clapton? Journey?” she says quickly, blinking hard and looking eagerly at me with big eyes. “I listen English music. Me like music!”
I can’t help but smile at her energy and permanently loud voice. She says the same thing every time she comes, possibly because it’s all she knows in English.
She’s 50 years old and a little overweight, so the spandex biker shorts she wears don’t look as sexy as she probably hopes. For many Costa Rican women, wearing a size too small is normal, as is exposing midriffs no matter how large.
She is soon bragging about her taxi driver boyfriend and embarrassing her quiet 20-year old daughter who always comes with her. Out of the blue, she denies having any romantic interest in women, and we all laugh. A few minutes later, bored with our conversation, she plays Michael Bolton’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” on her cell phone. She knows every word and sings along off-key.
When coffee and cookies are served, compliments of the school, she starts to fuss about the amount of cream in the coffee: it’s too much. She throws it out and demands another cup, then drinks it down as if it were whiskey. I have never seen anyone drink coffee like that, and I can’t contain my laughter.
And she has a big heart. On Valentine’s day, she gave me some candies and chocolates, a very thoughtful gesture. She frequently comes by just to say hi and always waves heartily at me when she walks by the school.
She is also how I got my dog, Lucy. Her neighbor didn’t want the scrawny black thing, and I was happy to take her and give her much needed love.
Spreading laughter and raising eyebrows, I introduce to you my neighbor.