Coming of Age Drama Adventure

This story contains sensitive content


The high-pitched droning whistle of the sprinkles indicated the home irrigation system had turned on at its preconfigured time.

It only required a few moments for the ground to become wet enough for its aroma to escape and waft across the yard; carried by the cool air of dawn.

The eighteen-year-old boy sitting on the porch, sighed as he felt his muscles relax. He did not know they were taut in the first place, but now it seemed like they could relax and relax indefinitely.

He took a sip of the hot tea beside him and felt it go down his dry throat. It was his new favorite, lemon ginger tea with honey.

This morning had all the trappings of a good beginning to a good day and for a few minutes he was at peace. This hour belongs to the busy chirping of the birds, when the eastern horizon is only beginning to gain its color and the air is cool and invigorating.

Then, way too soon, the droning whistle changed its pitch and quickly dropped and disappeared leaving in its stead a dreadful lull as the garden was watered and the day must begin.

It all seemed to happen rapidly from then on, as if the wheezing of the watering system held the day at bay. The birds calmed down as the sun appeared above the horizon, the tea was consumed in a final sip of concentrated sweetness and the dreaded sounds of men began to stir.

This boy was a stranger in a strange land. But the purring cat felt at home on his lap.

“Platanos! Avocados! Zanahoria! Cevollas!” a truck full of vegetables announced its arrival on the street below.

“They out early!” a heavily accented voice came from behind the boy.

“Good morning, Señora Gomez,” he swerved around to face an older woman who was wearing a pleasant smile.

“Will you see her today?” she asked in concern.

“I will,” he sighed, “but first do you have anything in mind for me to do?”.

“Ehhh you can weed near the onions and car… how do you say zanahoria?”

“Carrots,” Ethan said as he prepared to get up.

“No, it’s OK Etan, take your time. Porfavor” she put a reassuring hand on his arm, “have some coffee, have something to eat, platanos, some beans… please,”

“You are too kind,” Ethan said sincerely.

“It is OK, no boy should go through what you go through,” she said and turned around, not before giving him a warm smile.


It was early evening when he finally took the walk to where his mother was being kept.

He was walking from the outskirts deeper into the small Costa Rican town and looked at the now familiar homes on either side of the street as he passed them by.

A man was sitting and having dinner at his table watching some news in one, while in the next, an older woman was playing cards with what looked like her daughter and grandson. Further down the road on the right-hand side an argument whirled its way out from within its domestic walls and into the open street. 

He remembered being struck by the paradox of how, on the one hand, houses were so close to the streets and people seemed to leave their doors open for the world to witness their private lives unfold, while on the other hand, they had these iron fences that encased them, and were occasionally, even topped with nasty looking barbed wire.

“Seems like the polar opposite to the American suburban street,” he mused as he glimpsed a teenage girl sprawled comfortably on a coach in front of a telenovela.

This residential street, however, finally ran its course and merged into the town’s touristy beach road.

As he turned the corner, a few sparsely dressed girls in a bout of giggles followed by a few grinning men, got off a tourist van right in front of him. His eyes met one of the men momentarily and he felt intimidated by his smile. Lowering his gaze and quickening his pace, he swiftly skirted the van with its uncomfortable babble of cheerfulness and provocative smiles.

Sounds of joyous Mariachi music came blaring from a restaurant straight ahead and seemed to coalise with the general multilingual chatter in the air as people walked to-and-fro from the beach to the various restaurants. Lowering his he pushed on in his brisk pace.

The sun was just touching the water as the street on the right-hand side where he was walking ended abruptly and turned into a lonely narrow path at the edge of the ubiquitous Costa Rican jungle. The beach boardwalk on the left, however, continued on parallel to the road. Ethan looked across the road at the silhouettes of the people strolling along or sitting on the scattered benches; their faces hidden as their gaze was turned away watching the setting sun with tranquil expectation.

His objective was nestled in the ubiquitous jungle. As he walked the narrow path on the right side of the road he saw the form of the shack, only its rooftop still gleaming in the yellow light of the fast-disappearing sun. He remembered being surprised at how close this ramshackle house was to the upscale tourist area. As he got to the little path leading to the entrance, he looked back just as the sun vanished. The shack ahead looked ominous, and he took a deep breath.


“Puta Madre” he was greeted at the door by a mumble of a middle-aged man who was clearly not keen to see him.

“Grace, tu hijo esta aqui!” the man shouted as he glared at Ethan and moved to take up the entire doorway.

“Ethan?” a women’s voice called back in confusion.

“What other sons you have?” the man answered without taking his unwelcoming eyes off the boy.

“Ma! How are you?” Ethan looked into space the man did not manage to cover with his body.

“OK Ethan,” she called out meekly, “Jorge, please let him in,” she pleaded.

Jorge’s bloodshot eyes challenged him for a stare down, but Ethan didn’t take the bait and adamantly looked at the illuminated space behind him.

The man finally moved aside just enough to let him squeeze through, cursing all the while under his breath.

“Ethan…” She looked at him lovingly from the sofa.

“Hello ma,” he sat down next to her.

He looked her over and found it hard to believe she was the same woman that raised him. Her hair was rumpled. Her clothes had tears. Her face must have gotten twice as many wrinkles and her eyes had little of the old playful spark.

It had all happened so quickly. Really, it happened in a moment. A moment of drunkenness, a moment of stupor. In one instant a stranger took everything away from them.

“How can our happiness be so dependent upon the actions of others?” he remembered thinking after he heard the news. It had been almost a year since that awful day, almost a year since everything broke and then started to unravel with tremendous momentum- as if disaster is the knife which cuts the oh-so-tender cord holding sanity in a tight coil.

Meeting her tormented eyes, he remembered the day when he and his mother were told that his father and sister were killed in a car accident. He tried to push that recollection away, but the feeling of terrible rage and sorrow rose up once again, filling his chest with intense emotion.

The trial was a hideous affair, and he watched his mother’s rapid deterioration as they were faced with the accused every day.

Ethan remembered being struck by how young the accused man was. The man had come back from a party after drinking, as he claimed, ‘only two beers’ and barely feeling ‘a buzz’. The evidence showed however, that he veered into the opposite lane at great speed just before the accident. The young man cried saying he was sorry, straightening his gaze at the mother and wife, who refused to look back. Ethan remembered feeling empathy for the boy, and angry he wasn’t more of a reprehensible character.

 When the trial was finally over, she was gone; she couldn’t stay in her home, in her hometown or even in the country where she was constantly reminded of her loss. She wanted to escape far away to where memories would not haunt her, to where the sorrow may fade away.

So, she got a one-way flight to Costa Rica, not knowing what to hope for, aside from wishing the unbearable pain would subside.

It did do her good at first. The smell of the ocean and the sight of the sea; the different tone and rhythm of an incomprehensible language; the luscious surroundings of the bustling jungle. But there is no place where such sorrow does not follow. It would resurface suddenly and frequently, the sight of a little girl running into the waves under her father’s watchful gaze; a couple walking across the beach holding hands; a mother massaging sunscreen over her little girl’s body. These moments would strike her with such longing she felt it unbearable.

And then there are those- the scourge of the earth; the real-life vampires- who feed on people’s sorrow and weaknesses. Those who are equipped with Satan’s radar for the already downtrodden, so they may prey on them and suck any remaining marrow of life- leaving them in a limp stupor.

“Ethan,” she reached out, “where is Allie?”

The first time she asked for her daughter, Ethan was terrified, but now he knew it was the drugs; and he despised Jorge for it.

“She is not here right now Ma,” he answered as he felt his eyes water at his mother’s state of mind.

“Why don’t you come with me Ma?” he braved the question that was brewing in his mind for the past few days. “This place is no good for you,” he whispered. “Señora Gomez is so nice and genuinely cares… We’ll get you better!”

He thought of Señora Gomez with affection as he recalled the first time he wandered into her yard. He had been in Costa Rica for two weeks living in a hostel when he ran out of money. He thought he would be able to get his mother back more easily, but it proved to be a much more difficult task than he imagined.

He remembered meandering around for many hours seeing the people enjoying drinks at the bar with only his small backpack as his companion. Reluctantly he had to come to terms that a grassy area at the outskirts of town was the best he could manage for the night. Oh, and what a restless night he had, for he felt exposed- having not even a tent- to the entire jungle which in turn seemed to take great interest in him. Every time he would slip off into a slumber, animals would venture closer, and he would wake up with a start, flailing his arms about. On occasions he would even jump up and shout to scare the curious nocturnal beasts away. Shadows were all around him, and even luminous eyes, which were far less endearing outside the realm of cartoons, shone in his direction and made him shiver in fear.

The next day he walked through town in a state of exhaustion. His last fruit was consumed and with his few remaining pesos he bought a sandwich. Finding a bench overlooking the ocean he sat down and could not fight his drooping eyes; the shame of slumping over exposed to the scrutiny of the people walking by seemed so negligible now. At least he felt warm and safe...

It was the torrential rain that provided him with a rude awakening. He was drenched before he could find cover. He noticed how dark it had become and the reality of spending another night outside, and what’s more, in such rain, was more than he could bare. He reached the awning of the shops and restaurants on the other side of the street and slumped down with his back against the glass window of a tourist agency. For the first time in a long time, he felt sorry for himself and wept.

“Señor, I am sorry, but you must go,” came the callous voice of the man from the agency. Ethan looked at the man in bewilderment but saw only a resolute demeanor.

He walked on blindly; time swallowed by the sound of the rain around him. He walked and walked in apathy. His only choice was to walk.

“Maybe I should go to Jorge…” the thought entered his mind momentarily, but he pushed it away in disgust for it seemed so appalling to him that he should let himself be subjugated to that man’s mercy. “I rather die,” he cried out into the rain.

It was then that he realized he was in someone’s yard and stopped in surprise realizing how far he walked. Smoke almost blended entirely with the gray surroundings, but there it was- coming out of a chimney; oh, how cozy it must be inside! He stared longingly at the external sign of the warmth within.

Time had long been swallowed by the dreary surroundings and he just stood and stared.

Time was lost on his way there; time was lost while he stood and stared.

It is odd yet somehow contains within it a certain amount of grace- how built into the DNA of what makes things miserable there is a numbing mechanism that makes it bearable. In this case it was the bleak environs that also seemed to smear time itself into an undefined splotch and make it almost nonexistent.

But at some point, along this undefined period of time the door swung open, and an elderly woman walked out onto the balcony. He watched her as she moved a plant away from underneath the gutter- her movements as though animated time back into a still world. Suddenly a dog leapt out from inside the house and came rushing towards Ethan stopping just short of him while barking enthusiastically at the stranger.

“Zorro! Tranquillo!” she came rushing out into the torrential rain.

“Oy pobre chico estas mojado!” she cried out as she came up to the sopping boy while holding Zorro by the collar.

Ethan nodded distractedly as he looked at the Zorro’s wagging tail.

“Come don’t be afraid.” She sensed, maybe by his countenance, maybe by his lack of reaction, that he was from a different part of the world.

Ethan walked tentatively after the older woman.

It has been a month since he arrived at Señora Gomez’s house in this manner, and her kindness enabled him to visit his mother every day since.


His mother seemed to become sober at her son’s pleading request.

“Oh, Ethan what is there to live for anymore?” her former self flashed momentarily in her painful eyes.

“For you mom! For me! Life is not over! Don’t you want to hold your grandchildren still? Maybe one of them would remind us of Allie…”

At the mention of her beloved, her countenance darkened, and a film seemed to cross over her eyes.

“Nobody could ever come close to my Allie!” she cried out convulsively drawing the gaze of Jorge to the scene.

“Please mother, I didn’t mean it in that way” he felt panic grip him at the sight of his crazed mother and scared of that man whose attention was now drawn to the sudden clamor.

“Please mother,” he whispered urgently at the woman who was now rocking back and forth on the couch as he could hear the steps of the man approaching, “please leave this wretched place!”

“What did you say little boy?” the man was right behind him and grabbed the collar of his shirt with his fist.

“Nothing, Señor.” Ethan tried to wiggle his way out of the iron grip of the now enraged man who started raining down curses at Ethan and his mother.

Ethan was terrified but as he was picked up, he managed to grab hold of his mother’s arm and bring her up to her feet as well.

“Let go of her, Idiota!” Jorge shouted and tried to break Ethan’s desperate grip on his mother.

“I will kill you!” It wasn’t an empty threat, but Ethan would not let go despite the blows he received and slowly managed to push the man while pulling his mother towards the door.

It was a blur, the incessant cursing, the blows, the screaming woman. Nothing mattered except the arm in his hand unto which he latched with iron determination. He would not let go. Never. Not until he brought her out of this house of despair.

Suddenly they were at the door and Ethan slammed the bewildered Jorge onto it breaking its hinges.

The night air seemed to envelop them at once and bring them to their senses, the moon was new, but its soft light seemed to caress them.

“Mother!” Ethan screamed at his mother as she grabbed onto the door post with her other hand.

He jumped back and yanked her fingers off.

“But Allie and Jack they…” she tumbled forward as he pulled her away.

“They certainly are not there, mom! And wouldn’t want you to be there either!” Ethan shouted and gave her a final push.

The shocked Jorge got up from atop his broken door and lunged at the man and his mother. Only this time, Ethan didn’t have to pull her, she was running alongside him.

“Home… finally… I am…” he thought as tears of relief came to his eyes.

February 23, 2024 23:08

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