One in Ten Thousand

Thing #2 and I rode our bicycles up to the shack on the small island that served as the coordination point for the ferry back to Vancouver Island. I stuck my head into the opening and asked the gentleman working there when the next ferry would arrive.

“Ten minutes,” he declared, “and it’s first-come-first-serve so you’re in good shape.”

I looked over at the empty dock and agreed. Had any of us something else to do or somewhere else to be for the next ten minutes what followed would never have happened. As it was, the friendly gentleman (FG) asked, “Where are you from?”

I’ve previously discussed how complicated the answer to this question has become but, since I had nothing else to do, I went with the complete answer. 

“We just moved to Victoria. We’re originally from Texas but spent the last four years in Costa Rica.”

At the mention of Costa Rica, FG’s already happy demeanor skyrocketed. 

“Ah! Costa Rica! Soy Costa Rica!”

My Spanish, which has gone into hiding faster than a mob informant, ran aground. I looked down to Thing #2, who was equally puzzled. The happy man’s answer was, essentially, “I am Costa Rica.” It would have made more sense to throw a “de” into the mix or even the more formal “soy costarricense” but almost everyone I’ve ever met from Costa Rica skips all of that and just declares themselves to be a Tico, or Tica. It did not help that we were four thousand miles away from Costa Rica, and this guy did not look like any Tico I’d ever met.

“I’m sorry, you are Costa Rican?” I asked.

“Oh no,” he answered, waving his hand for further effect. “I just went there once on vacation.”

He then added something in Spanish that sounded a lot like, “I spent a month there one two weeks.” It did not make a lot of sense, and it did not appear that he was trying to make a joke about how long two weeks in Costa Rica felt as people sometimes do with Newark, or the entire state of Kentucky.

My fear of making a fool of myself in Spanish slowly abated. This guy was fine. He was just dusting off his rusty Spanish in front of some strangers. 

I replied, in my lousy Spanish, “Oh, so you studied Spanish in school, or went there to study Spanish?”

“Oh, no,” he said in English, again waiving his hand, “I’m just one of the special ones.”

Still straddling my bike, I could not help but ask, “What do you mean one of the special ones?”

FG’s smile broadened as he explained that one out of every ten thousand people can learn a language completely just by hearing it for a couple of weeks.

I again looked down to Thing #2, who joined me in pushing back from the shed. 

Now feeling like a had a bit better understanding of what was going on, I replied, “Eso es bastante increible.” 

You can guess what I said but, translated into English, it was, “That’s pretty incredible.”

He agreed, and then said something so odd/off in Spanish that it didn’t register. He might have said that he liked turkey sandwiches. There’s no way of knowing.

Thing #2 pulled on my sleeve and, eyes wide, said, “Daddy, let’s go.”

Some other would-be ferry-riders walked up, so I waved to our friend and Thing #2 and I spent the remainder of our waiting time on the dock, trying to figure out what had just happened.