It’s in the town of Costa Contente that you’ll experience all kinds of marvels, and what’s more marvelous than kindness and beauty? Come to the town where you’ll meet both helpful neighbors and obliging parrots. Be sure to stop by the tavern for a cold beer and maybe a game of dominoes. It’s a place where the sweet sea air mixes with the fragrant tropical blossoms, and where the sweetest oranges are there for the picking. The people of Costa Contente will welcome you into their homes with fresh ground coffee and homemade peach brandy. And if there is ever a problem, you can always find a potion or two that will ease the pain of a broken heart or a sore back. Stoll through the town square in the warmth of the evening and listen to the lovely melodies of a guitar seranade. Or walk along the palm tree lined shore in the early morning and wave to the fisherman. Yes, Costa Contente is there to welcome you.
My new book has just been released on Amazon. Below are the first two chapters.
Warm air streamed through the open bus window as it raced along the poorly paved stretch of road, but did little to lessen the heat engulfing Solange. It was hot; so hot that the birds didn’t sing, the lizards didn’t move, and even the shadows on the ground drooped with fatigue. She sat as still as possible, hoping that it would help keep the heat at bay. Luckily, at this pace, the trip would soon be over. On the other hand, they could break down again and she might spend another full day sweating in the uncomfortable, worn-out seat.
Had it really only been three days since she had wandered into the bus station and, after calculating how much she could afford, purchased a ticket to one of the coastal towns on the map? Aside from the discomfort and heat, it had been an uneventful trip; no one had seemed to notice the young girl of sixteen, seated in the middle row on the right. Solange had spent most of the journey staring out the window and trying to imagine the sounds of the ocean and the feel the sea air in the faraway town of Costa Contente, on the South American coastline.
Solange stepped off the bus onto the dusty, deserted street, suddenly realizing that she had no idea where she was or what she was going to do next. The bus rumbled off, leaving her to stare at the shop in front of her. The Casa de Everything & Anything, clearly empty of customers, had a closed sign hung across its open door. Walking up the wooden steps and onto a planked sidewalk, she stowed her bag under the outside bench. She turned around and looked out across the wide street and onto the town square.
Lined with trees and benches encircling an open area, it looked much like any other small town plaza. Dead quiet and empty at the lunch hour, with the exception of an occasional bird or monkey chirping in a tree, it nonetheless gave the impression of a place often filled with people. Five smaller roads branched off from the main streets around the square. Like Casa de Everything & Anything, each of the small shops facing the square had stairs leading up to a wooden walkway that ran along the entire block. Awnings jetting out from the buildings created a shaded path against the heat of noonday sun. Un-shuttered windows let in the breeze while their owners were on their midday break.
Peering inside the Casa de Everything & Anything, Solange saw shelves and tables jammed with kitchenware, buckets, sewing supplies, light bulbs, small tools, pens and pencils, and just about anything you might ever have a need for. The only sounds came from the large grandfather clock on the side wall, its loud ticks filling the quiet air. It was only one in the afternoon, which meant everything would be shut down for another hour.
Long before Solange had stepped into that bus depot and purchased a ticket, she had seen a picture of the sea. Instantly, she had known that that was where she belonged. She had never questioned why, being born so far from the coast, she should have such an attraction for something so foreign, but she did. During her journey, the bus had occasionally swung by the shoreline offering a glimpse of the magnificent waters, but it had been all too brief. Now that she had finally arrived, it was time to set eyes on the water she had travelled so far to see.
Walking across the empty street, Solange stood at the edge of the town square and slowly spun around until she faced the road that would take her to the ocean. She set off along it and soon reached a foot path branching off to the right.
Before long, Solange began to hear a repetition of sounds that she had never heard before; a mighty roar followed by a large splash. She continued along the trail, aware of the small breezes rustling the palm fronds overhead and sifting lightly through the branches of trees that lined the dirt road. Onward she went, following the path through tropical foliage, the bends in the road obscuring what lay ahead. When her feet finally left the dirt and landed on the sand she stopped, bent down, and picked up a handful of pure white graduals. Warm, smooth, grains caressed her fingers and toes, trickling through her hands to form little piles of sparkling beauty on the ground below. She stood there for several minutes, playing with the new sensation before continuing on.
When she finally stepped around the last turn of the path she froze, staring out at the blue waters that lay before her, trying to understand what she was seeing and hearing. Pictures of the ocean, or glimpsing it from a bus window, were not the same as being in its presence. She kicked off her sandals and walked on to the water’s edge in a daze of disbelief.
Warm water lapped over Solange’s feet as she dug her toes into the moist sand, delighting in the feel of the waves rolling in and out. Hiking up her long skirt, she took a few more steps forward until the water splashed against her knees sending a few droplets all the way up to her face. Her mind remained empty; no words had yet formed to explain this new experience. She was aware only of an inner calmness that comes from knowing you are in the right place.
Dipping her hand into a receding wave, Solange scooped up a handful of water and brought it to her lips. Tentatively, she stuck the tip of her tongue into the wetness. What an odd taste; sweet and salty, and not anything she could have imagined.
She stood like that for several minutes - or was it an hour? She had lost all track of time gazing out upon the mesmerizing surf. It wasn’t until she reached up to swat a fly off her bare shoulder, which was now burning hot and moist with sweat, that she realized it was time to leave. For a moment she worried that if she turned her back on the sight it might disappear and be lost forever. Heading away from the water, she spun around every few paces to make sure the sea was still there until she finally turned a bend in the path and it was all hidden from view.
Back in town, Solange reclaimed her bag from under the bench, having to navigate around a young boy and his mother waiting for the next bus, and a small dog using her belongings as a pillow.
Casa de Everything and Anything, now opened for business, according to the sign, still seemed empty. Solange looked around her not sure what to do. But if fate had brought her to this town, and then to this particular store, she should just go ahead in and find out what awaited her.
Cautiously, she walked in and stood in the middle of the store still seeing no sign of anyone else. About to walk back out, she gathered her courage and called out in a small voice. “Excuse me?”
From behind a faded curtain that hung over the entryway to the rear of the shop and the house beyond, emerged a middle-aged man of medium build and thinning brown hair. His short-sleeved shirt hung untucked over faded, grey trousers.
“Can I help you?” he inquired.
“I’ve just arrived, sir,” replied Solange with downcast eyes, “and am looking for work and a place to stay.”
The man looked at the scraggly girl standing before him. Rarely did a stranger show up in town, and never someone so young and never unaccompanied. He looked past her and out to the street.
“You’ve arrived alone?” he inquired. “Where’s your mother?”
Solange couldn’t respond. She hadn’t thought about anyone asking her such questions. All she could do was to look down at the sand on her feet and the damp ends of her skirt, remnants of her walk along the shore.
“Alone it is, I suppose,” said the man, realizing the young girl must be in a difficult situation. “Do you have a name?” He bent forward trying to get a glimpse of her hidden face.
Carefully, slowly, she raised first her eyes, and then her head.
“Solange, at your service, sir,” she answered in a barely audible voice.
“Such a well mannered girl,” the man replied, having pretty much given up on the day’s youth who never used the proper forms of introduction. “I am Berto. Let me get my wife.” He turned towards the curtain and called out. “Gloria, love of my life, we have a visitor.”
“How can I clean your mess if you keep interrupting me?” came the irritated reply from somewhere in the living quarters.
“Leave it for later,” her husband answered. “We have been graced by a lovely pilgrim.”
A robust woman, apron tied around the waist of her cotton shift and clutching a dishtowel, burst through the back curtain. She brushed away loose strands of dark, graying hair from her face, stuffing them into the bun at the back of her head.
“Gloria,” her husband began, “this is -”
“Really, Berto, what’s all this yelling about?” his wife cut in. “It’s not enough that that I have to prepare beans and eggs everyday at exactly the same hour, when it’s already hot enough to boil water without a fire, making it even hotter, and then you won’t even give me a chance to…” It was at that point that his wife suddenly noticed that young girl standing at the counter, looking a bit bewildered and completely out of place.
“My word, Berto, why didn’t you say something?” she said, throwing her dishtowel over her shoulder and walking over to the girl. “The poor thing has had way too much sun, and from the look of the bones sticking out all over her body, hardly any food.” She turned back to her husband.
“Don’t just stand there, get her bag! I’ll take her to the back where she can cool off.” She gently took Solange by the arm and led her behind the counter and through to the main part of the house behind the store. “Come, come, my dear, you need food and water.”
Once inside the simple kitchen, Dona Gloria ushered Solange into a chair at the small table and handed her a glass of water, then turned to her husband who stood at the door. “Oh Berto, there is no hope for you, letting her stand there, almost ready to pass out! Men - ah!”
Solange drank the cool water in slow, easy swallows, only then realizing how parched her throat had really been.
“Thank you, Dona Gloria,” she said, suddenly very grateful to be off of a bouncing bus and seated at a table in a cool kitchen.
“Eat, eat,” the woman replied, laying out dishes of food. “I bet you haven’t had a proper meal in days.”
Solange looked at her plate piled high with rice, beans and meat; she couldn’t remember the last time she had been offered such an abundance of food. Another plate held fruit, sliced and juicy, dripping with sweet aromas. She took a few bites, and almost immediately felt full.
“You poor thing,” said Dona Gloria, noticing that she had stopped eating. “It must have been a long time since you’ve had a proper meal and your stomach doesn’t quite know what to do.” She patted Solange on the shoulder. “Don’t worry; sit here awhile and take your time. I’ll have to excuse myself to finish the dishes.”
It did take a while, but Solange finished most of what was in front of her, thinking that she had never had a finer meal. With her empty plate, she walked to the sink.
“Please, Dona,” she insisted, “let me earn my meal. I can do these dishes and also the pots.”
“My dear child, look at you,” answered Dona Gloria, taking her plate. “How long has it been since you’ve slept? I know those bus rides are horrifying. I don’t even want to think about what you may have encountered, such a young girl and all alone. If earn your food is what you want, we can talk tomorrow. But for now, you must rest.”
Solange, unused to such kindness, was about to insist that she didn’t need to rest when Dona Gloria gently pushed her out of the kitchen and led her out to the back courtyard. There, she made Solange lie in a hammock slung between two, tall guava trees, their ripened fruit sweetening the air and mixing in with an abundance of fragrant flowers growing along the walls of the patio. Little birds chirped in the branches of the other fruit trees that provided protection against the hottest touches of the sun.
Solange, of course, really was very tired and soon closed her eyes in the quiet of the afternoon. She reached down to push off the ground and set the hammock rocking. Listening very carefully, she imagined she could hear the sound of rolling waves rocking her to sleep.
You can purchase a copy on Amazon, or pick up a free copy July 13-15.