It was so hot my eyelids were sweating. We were at a colectivo stop in Ciudad Del Carmen, waiting for our ride. A colectivo is a passenger van that acts as a shared taxi in Mexico. Colectivos leave the main stop when there is enough people to warrant a trip. Until then, you wait. So we waited – just standing there sweating.
My spouse, Tedly, decided to wait by the passenger-side door, to secure our seats in the front by the driver. Otherwise, your time in the back of the van can get very intimate with the people next to you. For example, one time in Guatemala, which also has something similar to colectivos, there were 31 people crammed into one of these passenger vans. But that’s a whole other story.
If you sit in the front with the driver, usually, you can minimize how close you get to your neighbors. There are only so many ways human bodies can be crammed in next to the driver, and still allow him to actually drive. Plus, the front row has the bonus of direct access to air conditioning vents.
After we waited close to half an hour, the driver came around to collect tickets. He unlocked the doors. Tedly opened the passenger door. I climbed in first, and sat in the middle seat between the driver and passenger seats. Tedly climbed in after me and sat down in the passenger seat. He didn’t close the door because there was an older gentleman standing in the way.
Now we were sitting inside a hot van, sweating. People slowly filed into the back seats filling up the ride.
The driver walked around the back and then got into his seat and started the engine. The AC cranked to life and glorious, magical cold air hit my wet chest. Yes! Some relief to this melting misery! Now that the air conditioning was on, Tedly closed the door.
And then suddenly the driver was telling him to open the door. So were the few people who were still outside the van.
Tedly opened the door, and an old man removed his hand from the door jam! My husband later said when he looked to open the door, he saw some fingertips inside the van, so he knew right away that he had inadvertently shut the door on the man’s hand.
The man hadn’t screamed, hadn’t thrown a fit. There were no tears; just an odd, somewhat sad look of resignation. Or was that how the older gentleman always looked?
The man climbed into the van and heavily sat down in the first available seat, right by the door in the second row, right behind Tedly. The back of the van had already filled up. Tedly apologized repeatedly to the man, “Lo siento! Lo siento!”
The driver twisted around and told the older man to move over to the middle of the bench. The man did. Now he was directly behind me. A woman climbed in and sat in the last seat – directly behind my husband.
The driver pulled out of his parking spot. The trip from Ciudad del Carmen to Isla Aguada was on.
Needless to say, Tedly felt awful. He kept saying to me he didn’t know the guy’s hand was there – or he never would have shut the door. He said he held off shutting it because when he first got into the passenger seat, the man was standing where the door needed to swing on its way to being closed. Tedly said he only shut it when the man was cleared of that space, and the air conditioning was turned on. He didn’t look up in the door jam to see if anyone’s hand was there.
We weren’t sure what to do. I turned to see the older gentleman behind me, and asked him in simple Spanish if he needed us to take him to a doctor. He didn’t respond at first. He seemed a little stunned I had asked. He said nothing, but instead he lifted up his hand to show it to me. I studied his old paw.
It was gnarled with age. It was weathered from what I’ll guess was hard life of hard work. Maybe his two middle fingers were a little swollen from the door jam – maybe not. There was no way to tell if the door had caused it without seeing the hand before the it was stuck in the closed door. But it had to hurt – it was just trapped in the van door! So I repeated my offer. Still, he looked confused. I looked him over.
The older gentleman was sun beaten and wrinkled. His eyelids were heavy with an extra layer of skin that made him appear to squint, even inside the van. His lips were thin and cracked. He wore a cream-colored straw cowboy hat,a tan and white stripped short-sleeved, button down shirt with a faded white undershirt, brown polyester pants. I never got a clear look at his shoes.
A third time I asked him, do you need us to take you to a doctor?
The last woman into the van, who was sitting to his behind my spouse, asked him the exact same thing – repeating my question. This is when he finally answered. He said no, it wasn’t necessary. He refused our offer to take him to the doctor.
I looked to the woman who repeated my question. She flashed me a warm, grateful smile. Her eyes were soft and kind. Her smile said to me, ‘that was the decent thing to do, thanks.’
I turned around. My spouse felt awful. I grabbed his hand and squeezed it. Nothing else could be done at the moment. The driver hadn’t waited for this to play out. By now, he was navigating the streets of Ciudad Del Carmen and was nearing the highway north of the city.
Repeatedly on our ride into Isla Aguada, Tedly expressed his remorse to me over what happened. My guy is a good guy. He has one of the kindest hearts of all the people I know – when push comes to shove. Yes, he likes to laugh and sometimes that means laughing at people and situations until we are crying with achy sides from laughing so much. But that’s the outer layer – the shell he shows most of the world. He’s a softie underneath that shell. He’d never laugh when there could be real, serious harm to anyone.
During the trip, Tedly decided he was going to offer the man some money when we got to our destination.The ride took about a half hour.
When we arrived at Isla Iguada, the driver made the sign of the cross and said a little prayer.
The older gentleman got off a few stops before ours, and started down the street. Tedly told the driver to wait a moment, jumped out and caught up with the man. I leaned over and stuck my head out the open door.
I saw Tedly offer the man 500 pesos – or roughly $28 USD. I saw the man raise his hand and show it to my spouse. Tedly continued to hold the money in front of the man. I saw the man say something to Tedly, and then he took the money. Tedly patted him on his shoulder – the one attached to the good paw. The man turned and walked away. Tedly turned the opposite way after a beat, and came back to the van.
Five hundred pesos is a lot of money to most Mexicans, including, I will guess, this man, based on the way he was dressed and weathered.
I don’t know how much damage, if any at all, the incident really caused to the old gentleman’s hand. There was a rubber backing on the door frame, and Tedly didn’t slam the door shut. The man never screamed or cried out – but I’m sure I would have.
That scene could have played out in a much different way. And Tedly did the right, decent thing by offering money after the older gentleman refused a doctor visit.
That man might have gone to get some pain meds, or he might have gone to he doctor. Or, he might have just had some tequila and cerveza. We’ll never know for sure. We’ve wondered about him a few times since that trip. Wondered what happened to him – if he’s really ok. And Tedly has lightly joked a few times I should write down the story of the “injury settlement, Mexican style,” which is now recorded as $28 in our daily expense booklet. So there it is.