We finally got a long-awaited appointment with the Agrarian Court justices in Limón two weeks before Christmas. We needed to discuss our case. It’s a long story, the subject of a memoir, actually, but you cannot write a memoir while you are still living the events. So, for the moment, it’s just life. I will say, though, that the case has been long, fraying more than a nerve or two along the way.
Aware it was the Christmas season, and that means more than St. Nick and Walmart Black Fridays, I reminded myself to stay calm, to listen politely to what they had to say, and reflect on the Advent season— a season of expectant waiting and, one hopes, of patience.
I was surprisingly composed. Well, there was the moment when I held my hand up to our lawyer, leaned forward in my chair, and addressed the judges directly— I hoped, with all the intensity I felt. I was polite but explicit about my complaints and said we deserved a trial without any more delays. We had, in fact, paid for a trial.
I know how corrupt that must sound to those of you uninitiated to the Costa Rican courts, but here, and God only knows how this came about—perhaps a deterrent?— the plaintiff is required to pay for the courtroom costs, the clerk’s fees, lunch, gas for their vehicle, and any other sundries that might arise. In any event, I patted myself on the back for being tolerant and reasonably patient. We were in by 7:30 AM and out by 9. We accomplished what we came for.
I had a few errands to run, but quickly discovered the first part of December was not a time to do anything involving groceries.
It may have been the Advent season, but it was also the season of the Aguinaldo, The Christmas Bonus. Every year in December employees in Costa Rica receive one month’s salary on top of their usual wages. So, for instance, if the worker receives $500.00 per month, every December he will receive $1000.00. There is a Byzantine actuarial formula that calculates the employer’s and employee’s contribution over the year, but, bottom line, it pretty much guarantees an economic boom at Christmas.
In any event, the grocery store was full of women with money in their pockets, and they were shopping like a hurricane was coming. I quickly abbreviated my shopping list because the meat counter was a futbol match riot of black women chatting it up, arms flailing, five and six deep the entire 20-foot length of the counter. I had no idea where the ticket dispenser was or even if it had any numbers left, so I just grabbed a few essential things from the aisles and spent twenty minutes at check out.
We headed home and stopped outside Puerto Viejo at the Hone Creek gasolinera.
“Lleno con super, por favor,” my husband said, and the attendant dutifully plugged the hose nozzle into the truck. We waited amid the usual gas fumes, and then I heard it click off. The tank was full. I was lost in thought, congratulating myself about being home early, perhaps even taking the dogs for a walk, when the attendant came to the window. My husband handed him our credit card.
“No incendio el motor. Tengo un pequeño problema,” the attendant said and walked off to the office. Alan had not understood the Spanish and was about to start the truck.
“Wait,” I said. “He said don’t start it. There’s some problem.”
The attendant came back a few minutes later and said, “I made a mistake and filled your truck with diesel. We need to pull your tank and clean it.”
I’d pretty much used up my daily allotment of unruffled-ness. I took a deep breath, got out of the steaming truck, and slouched against a gas pump reading a book on my iPhone’s Kindle app. In due course we became aware that the error was not really the attendant’s fault but instead that of the tanker delivery men. They were the ones who emptied the diesel into the super holding tank. Still, our attendant informed us, the boss of the gas station insisted it was his fault.
Men came and crawled under our truck. Men left. Nobody did anything about the problem. I thought of the episode of Breaking Bad we watched a couple of nights earlier. What had Walter said to Jesse? Ah, yeah, “I don’t think murder is part of your 12-step program.”
I suggested they get a hose and siphon the diesel. Two hours later, arguing in turn with each man about how they could not remove our gas tank while it was full, I’d had enough. I stomped over to a gas pump equipped with a water and air hose, turned the water off at the source, disconnected the hose, walked it back over to our truck, and threw the snake coil of red hose in front of the mechanic.
“Please siphon the diesel so we can leave.”
He did. Twenty minutes later, the job was done. Then the dilemma. We could pay for the original amount of fuel we received, some thirty buck’s worth. That was fine, but it would leave the attendant paying for the mistake, surely ruining his Christmas. The amount to fill the tank again, after siphoning off the diesel-gas mixture, was about $100.00. Not wanting to appear to be assbag expats, we put the entire error— $130.00— on our credit card.
The attendant was more than grateful. I smiled, because holding on to anger takes so much more effort than letting go.
“Consider it your Aguinaldo,” I said, “and merry Christmas.”