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The bus route down from the Medellín airport doesn’t make you nauseous like it used to, not like when you were last driven on it twenty years ago, an eight-year-old girl on her way to Heathrow. Now you’re twenty-eight and the road is still one sharp curved turn after another, past restaurants with names like Sancho Paisa and trashy nightclubs like Oh My Sweet Jesus. Grinning statues of machete-wielding farmers, Texaco gas station stars. PANADERÍA signs on every corner, scraggly half-dead grass on the side of the highway. And down there in the valley below is the city—your city—its far-off lights lurking like tiny star clusters from a distant galaxy, awaiting your arrival.
When you get off the bus at the Sandiego mall, a girl in a collared shirt heaves your suitcase into the front seat of a cab, paying no mind to your apologetic warning of Careful, it’s very heavy. You overtip her out of nervousness and she bows her head: —Thank you, miss. The taxi driver gets lost and keeps refusing to go down the street you insist is correct, based on the directions saved on your phone. —I really think it’s this way, you say, as he turns the steering wheel in the opposite direction of where you’re pointing.
By the time the driver has managed to lurch your suitcase onto the pavement, a man has come out of the building. He stands at an awkward distance, arms crossed, like he doesn’t want to get too close. You pay the taxi driver in exact change and he says, —Thank you, beautiful.
When the taxi finally drives off it feels like the man has been standing there an uncomfortably long time. His head is shaved close to the scalp and he’s wearing a long-sleeved white shirt that hangs past his wrists and white exercise sweatpants with a black line running down the sides. Even his tennis shoes are white: a clean white, like they’ve just been purchased. He could be an assistant football coach, or a sports-shoe salesman.
—…Matty? you say.
But the man shakes his head. —He’s not here, he says. He should be back soon. But he told us you were coming. Don’t worry, he left very specific instructions.
—Instructions, you say.
A shudder jolts through your torso but you’re able to restrain yourself: hopefully it looks more like a twitch, rather than a violent spasm. An unexpectedly chill breeze makes you grateful for your tights, impulsively purchased at the last minute from Terminal 3’s Boots pharmacy. One of the few memories you have left of Medellín (cradled close to your body, carefully, like you’re carrying a basket of eggs) is the temperate weather. Welcome to the City of Eternal Spring—that’s what the pilot said on the loudspeaker. But you don’t recall Medellín being this cool in the evening.
The man reaches for your suitcase. —This is embarrassing, he says, but I didn’t grab my keys. We’ll have to knock hard and hope somebody’s listening.