Cafe Lempira (3 of 4)

Alain shook his head and me a look I knew meant Don’t be a pussy and walked into the patio. The waiter opened the door to the cage, and Alain walked inside. The silent waiter closed the door behind him.

I sipped my espresso, but somehow it was already cold. I left the table and stood outside the cage, my hands in my pockets. The old man stood next to me, watching intently, his hand grasping the cage bars.

Alain sat in the chair, facing away from us. An ornate checkerboard carved from tropical woods and inlaid with jade and obsidian glinted on the table. The silver band glinted on the toucan’s leg as it shuffled back and forth on the far side of the table, setting coffee beans in the center of the dark squares with its multicolored beak. Alain placed cowrie shells in the light squares.

I nodded toward the table in the cage. “Wouldn’t cacao beans be more appropriate than coffee?”

The old man’s eyes sparkled. “In the old days, yes,” he said. “Not even the fame of the great cafetero Juan Valdez can change the fact that coffee originated in what your people like to call the Old World. And cowries were unknown here. But everything is mixed up now, as you, a descendant of Europeans raised in the Americas, should know.”

I looked at him without saying anything.

The old man went on. “I imagine you also know that in Honduras our currency is named for the great Lenca warrior Lempira, who fought the Spanish invaders.”

“Not one of my ancestors was Spanish.”

“Spanish, English, French, Portuguese. You all came to the Americas on boats and started raping, killing, and stealing land. You’re still doing it. Does it matter what language you use?”

“You can’t just lump us together like that.”

The old man shrugged. “You call all of us Indians. Or Natives. Either way, you don’t care about the differences between Lenca, Miskito, and Pech the way you do about Spanish, English, and French.” He returned to the subject of his lecture. “Do you know what the name Lempira means?”

I shook my head. “No.”

“In Lenca, lempa means lord, and era means mountain. So Lempira means Lord of the Mountains.” He looked at me to make sure I was listening. “Lempira was lord of these mountains. Lord of the mountain you and your friend came here to climb. Lord of this café.”

“Are saying you are descended from Lempira?”

“I am saying that the fight for the Americas is not over.”

Alain’s voice echoed in the patio. “Okay, bird, let’s see what you got.”

The old man fixed his gaze on the checkerboard.

The toucan picked up a coffee bean on the right side of the board and moved it forward, toward the center. Alain countered, threatening the coffee bean with a cowrie shell.

The old man smiled. “It is out of your hands now.”

“What is?”

Annoyance flickered across the old man’s face. “You know. Otherwise, you would not have tried to keep your friend from playing.”

The toucan backed up his first piece with a second. Alain brought a cowrie forward from his second row. His first shell was now protected on both sides.

The waiter appeared behind the toucan and stood with his hands out of sight behind his back and his eyes locked on the table. I looked down. “This can’t be real.”

Photo by Dyana Wing So on Unsplash