Lessons in being human: The beautiful girl from Coca

Kirin Gupta - Ecuador

November 11, 2011

I knew Cynthia for twenty minutes. And that will be it. But it was enough.

Swaying with inherent elegance at 5’9’’, thin as a rail, and darker than midnight, she was wearing lavender the night I saw her. She stepped into the seat next to me on a cramped Jumandy bus on my way home from classes in Tena.

Perfect, delicate features. Her lips were set in a thin line that cut across her angular face.

“You are beautiful.” It slipped out of my mouth without a thought. My eyes widened, surprised that that had fallen from my lips without any hesitation, and in Spanish.

She turned almond-shaped white eyes toward me and smiled sadly. “Thank you.”

And the conversation was slow, but flowed from that strange starting point. A few minutes later came the usual question, “How old are you?”


Again, without censor, I gasped. “But so sad, already.”

She didn’t say anything, and I hoped she hadn’t heard.

“How old are you, Kirin?”


“The same age.”


“The same age as the cousin I have just lost. He was 18.”


I manage a small, quiet, “I’m sorry.”

“I am returning to Coca from the funeral. He fell from his motorcycle. The skin of his stomach was ripped off as he skidded along the road. His intestines and internal organs fell out, and they tried to sew them back in, but he was in a coma on artificial respiration for a long time. A few days ago, they began to smell his rotting intestines. And we all came to see the family, because then they had to say he was dead.”

Her tone was flat. But her eyes, full of the residual sorrow of someone who has cried too much, glistened brightly in the flickering lights held by rusty metal bulb-holders.

Staring at her, I felt my tears blur my vision. There was no reasonable explanation for them. In the tiny bus seat with no legroom, I wrapped my arms tightly around her. Her long torso crumpled into mine, and she hugged me back. And we were both weeping.

Strangers on a bus, simply holding on for several minutes that stretched our perception of time. When we separated, swiping at our eyes with bare arms and dirty hands, we were just past my bus stop. I kissed her on the cheek and squeezed her hand and she nodded.

I jumped from the moving bus, and we didn’t say goodbye.

Kirin Gupta