short stories, hong kong, authenticity, compassion, gentleness

An olive branch: a short story

Regina sat gingerly in her chair, swinging it from left to right as the nervous tic in her ankles kept her in motion. It was less noticeable than drumming her fingers on the desk.

She took in a long, slow breath through her nose, then gently exhaled, counting to five each time. After three long breaths, the swinging of her chair subsided, and she felt the tension in her shoulders begin to ease.

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Panama, justice system, criminal justice system, corruption, exoneration, persecution, political persecution, persecution of political rivals, wire-tapping, presidential corruption

Justice: Not only done, but seen to be done!

It’s a sad state of affairs this week. In Panama, Martinelli found “not guilty” and Epstein committing suicide. Both evading justice in their different ways.

And I’m sorry – the lawyer in me is going on a mini-rant here about what I consider to be a terrible miscarriage for Lady Justice. I believe that not only must justice be done, but it must also be seen to be done! While Epstein may be dead, where’s the justice for the victims? And what happens to any others that might have been implicated by his testimony?

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The Seven Unwanted Apologies and the Pumpkin Spice Latte

The Seven Unwanted Apologies & the Pumpkin Spice Latte

The title of this short story – and the writing prompt – comes thanks to:
https://thewritepractice.com/writing-prompt-title-challenge/

Regina sat on her hotel bed, holding her pillow tightly against her chest, burrowing her face into it as she cried. The frustration and anger pouring out of her freely.

Her overnight bag lay on the floor next to the bed, waiting for any final items that she would add to it tomorrow. The suitcase was carefully stored close to the door. All of her personal items were already in storage or shipped to Hong Kong, waiting for her to arrive there on Wednesday.

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Diablo Rojo, Red Devil, diablos rojos, red devils, Panama, buses, bluebird bus, school bus, humid, hot, tropical, sweaty, stinky, old leather, noisy, traffic jam, perspiration, glow, pick pocket, short stories, short story, fiction

Diablo Rojo – “Red Devil”

She could feel the sweat welling up behind her knees, forming a drop and dripping down her calf, into her shoes.

Ugh! “Why did I think this was a good idea? What am I doing on a diablo rojo in the late afternoon when humidity is at its height?”

Instead of hiring a car at the airport, she’d opted to catch a taxi to her friend’s house. That part of arriving had been fine – coordinating the taxi through the tourism desk at the airport.

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Un-Happy New Years, New Years tears, grandmother, short story, short stories, imagination, writing, Panama, beach, time to celebrate, time to mourn, death, grief, healing, heal

Un-Happy New Years

It was 9.01 pm, and she was late getting ready for the New Year’s Eve party.  Once again, she had no desire to go. Days before, she had felt excited and eager.  But as the day dawned, and the hour neared, she drew back into her shell, wanting to shun it all and stay home.

The excitement was already replaced with anxiety.  And she was feeling pressured into going.

“What will they say when I don’t show up?”, she thought.

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Tears in my Soup

Another tear rolled down her face, gently dropping off her perfectly groomed cheek. Plop! Straight into the bowl of soup.  The waiter noticed that her makeup remained impeccably set, as if nothing had happened – no running mascara or watercolor mess. It was as if it had never happened.

With her perfectly manicured french nails, she pushed her bowl away, across the rough surface of the wooden table, and broke off another chunk of bread from the fresh baked bread that was already cool on the plate beside her.  Lathering it in creamy butter, she stopped the train of thoughts rushing through her mind… carrying her back to  a time and place not visited in a long time.

Somehow, this simple soup in a small roadside cafe, with its rustic tables & chairs, warm fireplace and occasional traveller, had transported her from the cold wintery weather back to the tropics.

She struggled to get ahold of herself – this was no place to cry!

“That’s not who I am!  Big girls don’t cry!”

Pulling herself back together, and wiping away the tears, she asked for the check.  The waiter pretended not to have noticed the breakdown, and in a simple black server book handed her the bill.  She paid hastily, leaving much too large a tip, but in a hurry to get out of there.

She’d wanted a coffee, but she would find somewhere else for that.  Perhaps, instead of travelling down country roads, she would find her way back to the motorway and pull over into a Services. There was always Starbucks, Greggs or something equally familiar.

As her boots tapped along the cobblestones, she put her gloves back on, thankful for the fur lining on her wool coat.  Even after so many years, she still felt the cold acutely.  It was hard to adjust, after the tropics.  She touched the button on the remote and the door opened, and she gingerly sat down at the wheel.

As she looked at the three-pointed star of her steering wheel, the tears started to fall freely.  She gripped the wheel, even though she hadn’t even started the car and certainly was in no state to do so now.

Soup.

That’s all it took to bring back the memories.

Soup.

Everything she had worked so hard to forget and leave behind her, and a simple bowl of homemade soup had brought it all bubbling back to the surface.  The years faded away and she was transported back to another time and place.

The floor beneath her feet was harden dirt, the walls a mix of straw and dirt that had been roughly patched and painted in places.  It was dark, but cool inside, as she sat at the wooden table, that wobbled on the uneven floor. A single window, with a wooden frame with gaps all around it as it was rudely stuffed into the hole. The door frame was just as rustically made –  no masterpiece of woodwork, crookedly hanging on its hinges, and had to be lifted to actually shut in place.

Over to her right, the wall had a hole broken through the dirt & clay, to let the water out when it rained too hard and the roof started to leak.  Luckily, the house wasn’t perfectly flat and all the water run into that corner.  So, the hole had been made to let the water out, and then a rudimentary screen covered it, to keep the rats and rodents out.

In front of her, a bowl of soup that her mother had made and beside her a slice of bread for dipping in the soup.

In the dark corner, over to her left, she knew there was hanging a smoked pork loin, which was rationed out each day.  It hung inside a woven basket and was covered in a cloth to keep the flies off it! Just one small piece…

Yesterday she and her brother Ramón had eaten the last of the pork rind crackling while their parents were out.  Her back still hurt from the beating her father had given them both when he discovered what they had done.  Was it really so bad to be hungry and have eaten the crackling?

Mother lay on the bed they all slept in, recovering from the beating Father had given her when she had stepped in to defend them both.

That was the day she had decided she would not grow up to be poor.  That she would eat whatever she wanted when she was hungry. She would never depend upon a man to say what she could or could not eat.

Angry tears now started to flow as she remembered.

And finally, she gave in to the tears… Mother was dead and she had been unable to convince her to move with her. She had left it all behind to build a new life and never looked back.

Mother was dead, and he had finally killed her.

December, Panama, madness, road rage, traffic jams, inconsiderate drivers, emotional intelligence, cutting off, blocked intersections, blocking intersection

December Madness: Road Rage

Unfortunately, we are back in that time of  year when Panama’s road rage escalates and the traffic jams just seem to be crazy!  Everyone that has a car is out and about, and there does not seem to be a single day where there aren’t any traffic jams.  Obviously, Panama’s traffic in the central business district is pretty bad all year round – but December is nightmarish.

Every year, we see the government make the Corredor Norte & Corredor Sur (toll highways) free for some of the December period (often December 7 or 8 – Mother’s Day; and then again for Christmas – one year they made it free from the 19th to the 23rd!).  This is because some 2 million cars transit through Panama City every week.

It was so bad in 2016 that the Government changed the working hours of public offices so that they would leave work earlier and be able to get home before the worst of the traffic.  Hopefully this year it will be repeated, and we will see some employers offering alternative working hours to their staff to accommodate the Christmas traffic.

Road Rage

In Panama, all year round, it’s quite common to find drivers aggressively jumping queues, blocking intersections (even with the traffic cop directing the traffic), honking, flashing their lights, and speeding up to block you out as you try to change lanes or merge.  But this inconsiderate driving in bad traffic conditions seems to get worse in December.

What is essential to realise – while you cannot change or control how others respond & react in the traffic – you can control yourself! You can choose how you are going to view the problems around December traffic and stress.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence – something that many times appears to be sorely lacking in Panama – is the capacity to perceive, access & manage yourself and understand others.  It’s quite similar to empathy – with the added bonus of being self-aware.

It’s important to note – this is not intellectual.

This is intelligence.

It refers to our ability to learn – to continually change and adapt the information we had and then choose to respond differently.  One of the biggest challenges with emotional intelligence is that there is communication between the emotional and rational centres of our brain – and they occur at different speeds.

The lymbic system, which receives and processes a stimulus (leading to an emotional response), actually receives and processes faster than the neocortex (rational brain).  So, inevitably, we react emotional BEFORE we have had a chance to think.

road rage, just breathe, count to 10, Panama traffic, traffic jams, Christmas traffic, Costa del Este, Corredor Sur, Corredor Norte, Calle 50, Vía España, malls, Altaplaza, Multicentro, Multiplaza, Albrook

So, while it’s true that Panama needs to come up with new solutions to the December madness that leads to the road rage in the first place – there’s also a place for self-regulation!

Panama, traffric, road rage, Panama madness, Christmas traffic, December, Panama City, Calle 50, Vía España, Cinta Costera, Costa del Este

In  my ideal world of PanUtopia, all driver’s ed courses would include the following education:

  1. Pause & count to 10 —
    1. The brain struggles to process more than one thought at a time.  So you cannot count to 10 AND be thinking about why you are so mad at the other person.
    2. This allows the anger and emotions to dissipate until you can engage the rational brain
    3. Don’t take this frustration home with you – release & let go before you walk in the door!
  2. Engage your brain – think & visualize the consecuences of how you are planning to respond
  3. Practice empathy – recognise that they are driving in their own circumstances
  4. Defensive driving – not simjply driving according to the rules, but awareness that others might not be following the rules. It’s better to be safe than to be right.
  5. General education about timeliness – if there’s always bad traffic in Panama (and we all know that there is) – always calculate your travel time to the worse possible scenario, so that you are always on time.  It’s not the traffic’s fault you are running late.

Solutions

So, let’s really talk solutions to this December madness.

More public transport

I would love to see Panama actually start planning and announcing public transport options during the peak traffic.  To know that during the December traffic, there will be buses running more often than during the rest of the year.

And I would like to see Panamanians using public transportation more during the Christmas period:

  • metro
  • buses
  • Uber/taxi
  • Pedestrian

Carpooling

I would love for Panama to simply do away with their not-so-well and not-so-brilliant carpooling legislation! Who would think that legislating carpooling would actually work?

The problem is that in other countries a police officer will not pull you over in the morning traffic to find out whether the person(s) travelling with you in the car are friends/family or an officially carpooling which is registered… they will simply be glad for less traffic on the road.  However, in Panama, the taxis and transport unions are so strong, that they have made it impossible for anyone to give a neighbour or co-worker a lift to work – because apparently that’s unfair competition with the public transport sector!

Who in their right mind thought that this was a good idea?

If we want to address the traffic nightmare, we need to accept that maybe, perhaps, a neighbour will ask you for petrol-money!  And that’s okay.  It’s one less car on the road.  It’s not an illegal taxi service!

Changed working hours

In past years, the government has changed public offices working hours in December, in order to alleviate the congestion at peak hours.  This means that public officials were getting out of work by 3.30 p.m., allowing them to be home before 5.00 when the rest of private enterprise was getting off work.

More TV time – educational videos

I would love to see the transport authorities / police spend money on educational videos!

  • how to use a roundabout (circular intersections  – rotaries – what do you call them?)
  • reminder that a passing lane is for “passing” – go back into the right lane if you are not passing
  • give me a comedy about the rudeness of queue jumping
  • pet peeve – teaching drivers NOT to block intersections – don’t move forward into an intersection until it’s clear to exit.  And give this education, especially, to the traffic cops that are directing traffic.  Yes – even if you are directing traffic, there’s still no reason to allow ANY car to block the intersection!
  • tailgating versus defensive driving
  • purpose & uses of indicators – maybe another tongue-in-cheek comedy routine

But really – be safe as you are out there driving in the December madness.

Remember – while you have no control over how others are driving – you are 100% responsible for your own responses.  How will you choose to drive this December?