The two elders (as male Mormon missionaries are known) wore, as they always did, their dark-colored pants, short-sleeved White shirts, ties, and black nametags that read “Elder ___________” on one line and then “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” in Spanish on the lines below the person’s name.
One of them was from the Factory, as Costa Rican Mormons were wont to call the State of Utah, the headquarters of the Church and from where the vast majority of the missionaries came. The other one, the fat one with baby blue eyes, was from Georgia. He was a little different from the rest. It wasn’t just his weight, but he way of being, of how he carried himself, and how he treated other people. He was extremely friendly, even extroverted, and loved to talk and talk and talk. He had gotten baptized in the Mormon church three years prior but he still had some of his pre-Mormon traits, one of which was a profound sense of injustice, especially if he saw something that he didn’t think was just or fair or appropriate or polite. He hadn’t grown up in the Church; he was a convert and he would always be Southern, no matter how many other labels you could stick on him. One of those Southern customs that he would never shake was that he would not put up with a child or a youngster that disrespected an adult. He thought of himself as an adult that day and that is the heart of this story.
The heat was brutal that day in February 1994. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the humidity was so high that it felt like the hot breath of an angry lover on your neck. They were walking along a narrow sidewalk in a tiny passageway between houses. These neighborhoods were behind where the Coca-Cola bottling plant used to be in Limón, no roads between houses for no one owned any cars, a labyrinth of concrete, wood, tin, and dirt that seemed to continue on forever, all of it done by the homeowners. The government cared nothing back then of regulations, codes, or civic involvement. If you wanted a sidewalk instead of mud, you built it yourself. The sewers emptied into the creek and the houses were all on pilings for when the annual floods came. It was an odd place. Every once in a while they would come upon a small empty space where no one had built, usually because it was the lowest lying land.
The sidewalk was elevated and as they walked ahead, the sidewalk got higher and higher, while the houses’ tiny little yards got lower and lower. They turned a corner and found a 10m x 10m open space that had been made into a small soccer field in front of about five or six houses that backed up to the creek. The soccer field had two small goals and there were two boys, long about 7 years old, playing there. Lots of people from Limón back then were of Jamaican ancestry and many of them spoke English….well and English that they call “Mekatelyu” or “Make I tell you.” It’s also called “Patois” by those who don’t speak it. To an American, Mekatelyu sounds like Miss Cleo on steroids…heavily accented with some Spanish words thrown in for good measure. This is also important to the story. Why, you might be wondering. You’ll see.
The sidewalk now was about a half meter above the level of the soccer field. The two missionaries went by walking, the tall one in front and the fat one behind, as always. One of the two boys took a solid shot at the goal and it went through the legs of the kid who was poorly playing at being a goalkeeper. The other kid shouted, “¡Qué tremendo fogonazo!”
If you speak Spanish, yelling, “WHAT A TREMENDOUS CANNON SHOT!” after you score a goal is something innocent and innocuous. But, you have to know that the word “fogonazo” means cannon shot. If Spanish isn’t your native tongue, and you’re in a land where half the people speak a heavily accented English, what you might have heard, as the chubby missionary did, was, “WHAT A TREMENDOUS FUCKING ASSHOLE!”
Upon hearing that, rage welled up inside our portly Elder, and he jumped down from the sidewalk and grabbed the poor creature by his earlobe, yelling at him in Spanish, “What did you say to me? “Where do you live? We’re going to go tell your mother what you said and she what she thinks about that.” The child, whimpering, rightfully didn't understand what was happening, but he told the missionary that he lived right by there and directed him towards his house. The child’s mother, hearing the ruckus, came out to see what was going on. The rotund missionary, full of indignation and feeling very offended, obligated the child to tell his mother the supposed cuss words that had left his lips. The mother spoke English and Spanish and understood immediately what had happened. When she explained, laughingly, to the missionary "Easy nuh. Yah miss anastán what him ment win him say 'fogonazo.' Him say 'Wah a cannon chot!'", the gringo turned bright red, was embarrassed and ashamed, and felt like crawling into a hole and dying. First, he begged a thousand apologies from the boy, then the mother, then the neighbor women who had come out to watch, and finally to God for having behaved like that while wearing the name of Jesus Christ on his chest. He bought the kid some Trits ice cream and then some more candy; even then, he felt more ashamed that day that he could ever remember.
From that day on, he has never ever touched another person in a moment of anger. He never wants to be the tremendo fogonazo of Limón again.