The squashed frog on the tarmac was calling my name. I could hear it distinctly. No one else seemed to notice. They just streamed by, wiping their brows against the sudden heat, eager to begin building their collection of I Heart Managua souvenirs.
I knelt. The side of the frog was split open, and indistinguishable red and yellow blobby things were poking out of it. I tugged my baseball cap down over my brow to block out the glare of the sun, which hovered directly above. This wasn’t one of those dried-up frogs you find tangled into a dust bunny in the corner of your Grade 3 classroom. This was a freshly dead creature, who just hours or even minutes ago was hopping along thinking about whatever it is that frogs think about.
A couple of bubbles surged out from the slit in its side, and I realized that the little guy had begun to actually cook. This was where the country had gotten its motto: Nicaragua: Where You Can Broil Dead Animals on the Sidewalk, Especially in July. I reached into my shirt pocket and took out a pack of cigarettes. I opened it, emptied the cigarettes into my other shirt pocket, and gently scooped the frog into the cigarette pack. I looked up and saw a uniformed soldier watching me from near the terminal door. She was squinting and grinning. I was a crazy gringo.
When I arrived at my hotel, Casa Leonel Rugama, there was a message waiting for me from the Oficina del Turismo de Nicaragua. I knew no Spanish, as I had never been further than Sudbury before, but I did recognize my name among all the foreign words, and I could figure out “Oficina” and “Turismo.” Well, they weren’t really foreign words, because I was in the country of these words. I was what was foreign. I wondered how you said “frog” in Spanish, because I wondered if this was about the frog in the cigarette packet in my shirt pocket. Were you allowed to pick up dead frogs in this country?
No, I was sure that wasn’t it. If it had been, the letter would have come from the Oficina del Policismo instead of the Oficinia del Turismo. I thought about that soldier who had been watching me. I wondered if I was in love with her. I had been to Sudbury six times and had never fallen in love. But in Managua I had fallen in love within minutes of arriving. I had found a dead frog and love. I pulled my tiny Spanish-English dictionary out of my back pants pocket and flipped through it. I had found muerto rana and querer.
My hotel room was about two metres by four metres. The bed was a thin mattress on a plank of wood. A fan sat on a shallow wooden ledge nailed to the wall. I turned it on, and put my face into the breeze. I tried to remember why I’d come to Nicaragua. A small lizard clung to the wall beside my bed and looked me right in the eyes.
The bar was tiny and had a thatched roof and no walls. Where I was from, in the small town of Cobourg, on Lake Ontario, our bars had walls. The same with Sudbury. Four walls to every bar. If one travelled to find something different, then this was definitely travelling. I couldn’t wait to tell people back home what I had seen. Also, instead of tables in this bar, there were large overturned spools that had been used for, I assumed, telephone wire. These were surrounded by roughly made wooden stools. In the stools sat a dozen or so young Nicaraguans. I stood facing the nonexistent wall in the front of the bar. I was flanked by a man with a regular-sized guitar and a man with a very tiny guitar. I looked to them, one at a time, and nodded, and they nodded back, one at a time.
A woman wearing a white cotton shirt and blue jeans stepped in front of us and said something in Spanish. The audience cheered. The two guitarists struck some chords, then paused. All eyes were on me. I thought for a moment, holding back the panic, then drew the cigarette pack out of my shirt. I lifted the lid and drew the frog out a bit, so that it looked like it was peeking out of the box. I turned it toward the audience.
Then the guitarists began to play. The chords from the big guitar were deep, like the voice of Lurch from The Munsters. The chords from the tiny guitar were jingly, like the rain that had fallen on the metal roof of my hotel room at Casa Leonel Rugama the night before. Below my nose was a mouth, and this I then opened.
The rana may be muerte
but still he is in querer
with the lady soldier
who was standing by the door
of the terminal
at Agosto Sandino Internacionalismo!
Sing, Nicaragua, sing!
The rana may be muerte
but still he is in querer!
The guitarists struck their final chords. I had done it. I had performed with a band in Managua, Nicaragua. I couldn’t remember if that is what I had come to do, or even how I had found myself at this bar, but the audience went crazy. By which I mean, they shook their heads in disbelief and began laughing. One of them yelled, “Más cerveza!” which I took to mean “Service for everybody,” because the waiters seemed so slow to look after the guests.
As I walked the dark and warm streets of Managua after my success at the bar with no walls, I fell into an open sewer. I remembered a trick I’d learned from a television show back home. I again drew the cigarette box from my pocket, and flung it up onto the road. It was only a matter of time before the dead frog of love attracted the attention of the beautiful soldier, and my life would change.
Stuart Ross is the author of ten books of poetry, two story collections, two books of rants, a solo novel, and two collaborative novels. Most recent: A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent (Wolsak & Wynn, 2016) and A Hamburger in a Gallery (DC Books, 2015). His second solo novel, Pockets, is coming in 2017 from ECW Press. Stuart lives in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada, and blogs at http://bloggamooga.blogspot.ca