Laughter spilled out of the internet cafe as Ecuadorians went about their Monday business. A foreign laugh in a foreign place as a girl in a dress doubled over the greasy computer keyboard while speaking a foreign language.
Latino students picked up the one or two words of the American girl that sat with headphones smashed against her ears to pick up any sound that came across the 3,601 miles between her and her home. Blonde hair cascaded down the back of the chair and she was lost in the story for the precious hour she had to listen to it.
“We were up in the Palisades with the little scouts and I was telling them about the time I was up in Yellowstone, and we used to go in and do these surveys for the Fish and Wildlife…”
The girl’s mind meandered back to the many grizzly encounters, well-played jokes and pack trips that phrase entailed. The hours of stories that came from Yellowstone and the man’s experiences there turned into days. She didn’t mind. She loved it. She listened to the story as it unraveled.
“I was telling these boys this bear story, and we got ready to go to bed. When we got there, all the boys were setting up their tents and stuff around the campfire, and all of a sudden, Tommy, goes off 50 yards or 75 yards up into the trees and hangs this hammock up there. He hangs it in the tree, and it’s some deluxe thing that, you know, zips up and it’s a tent and a hammock all in one.”
The image of the neighbor boy, 15 years old, 6’7″ and mellow as a lamb came to the girl’s memory.
“Well, he’s sitting there listening to this story before we go to bed, and everything. We get all done with the story, and I said, ‘Yeah those bears, you know we’re pretty safe up here, occasionally you’ll get a grizzly around here but most of the time it’s just black bears.'”
A bark of laughter echoed between her face and the computer as she imagined seven or eight young men in the mountains without any idea of what was out there with them.
“And they asked me, ‘Well, where are you sleeping?’ because I didn’t have a tent or anything. And I go, ‘Ah I don’t know, I just usually sleep by the fire here. You roll out your bedroll and pad and stuff and sleep here by the fire, and then, you throw a log on if you want, you know.'”
She imagined their widened eyes drinking in every word of the cowboy that brought them up the mountain that day.
“So anyway, everyone was getting ready to go and Tommy, he stands up to go to his little thing out there in the woods. He gets his little light, and I go, ‘Well, goodnight Tommy, you gonna go sleep in that bear burrito?’ He just turns around and looks at me. I go, ‘Well, it looks just like a burrito; a bear would probably just come along and eat that whole thing.'”
She chuckled knowing her father’s sense of humor and the lack of sensibility of the neighbor boy that was sweet and calm.
“Tommy just went wandering up the trail. I never thought anything of it. But, I laid down, got in my sleeping bag and everything, and I was just laying there looking at the stars and the fire. All of a sudden, I heard this tripping and banging, and then he was standing right next to me. He goes, ‘Would you mind if I slept here by you? You scared me.’ I’m like, ‘You can sleep here.’ He dragged his pad and his sleeping bag and everything and he slept right there next to me.”
The internet picks up his laugh as if he had been there in person with his green eyes glinting with a tease as he told the young men about his run-ins with bears. His cracked, weathered hands told the story as he spoke. She smiled at the broken camera atop the old computer as if he could see her.
It would be another week before she heard a story of something that felt familiar in a foreign place. A week of laughing at the thought of the bear burrito high in the mountains of Idaho.