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I’ll engrave your jewelry box for free.

I was nearing the end of our trip and I felt that it was time to do some shopping for souvenirs. I wanted to bring home little cliché colourful tourist pieces that embody Costa Rica’s spirit so that they could either hang on my friends, family and co-workers’ refrigerator doors, collect dust on their desks (or mantles or their preferable place where they like to display crap) or dangle off their key rings. For my sisters I knew I had to make sure I bought back “authentic” pieces of Costa Rica which is pretty much a cultured and nice way of saying that the gift must be expensive, not purchased at a souvenir shop and should not be shopped for last minute at the airport stores. (My sisters constantly bash me for bringing home “crappy” and “thoughtless” gifts which I resent them for saying because I spend a lot of time trying to find the perfect present. I spend an unhealthy amount of time (that I could spend trying to find a nice pastry shop) trying to decide between a top or a scarf, earrings or a necklace, a purse or a bag, memorabilia or something to eat. Trying my best to make a decision using criteria that my sisters would use had they been on the trip with me. But whatever, my younger sister still mentions that I went to Budapest and all I brought back for her was a pill box (which in my defence I also brought back a key chain!) and my youngest one doesn’t stop reminding me that I brought back an ugly purple scarf from Budapest, a colour that she already has (and my mom makes it worse by telling her that she vouched that I buy her a yellow one, one that would look much nicer against my sisters light complexion. Anyways.)

After visiting the Jade Museum which was grand, spacious, educational and spectacular we walked out and right beside it was a large indoor market. This market was long, it had 3 isles, and it was packed with souvenirs like bags hanging from the ceiling in bunches like bananas on a tree, coin purses overflowing in large buckets like a sea, magnets, t-shirts and hats which all read “Costa Rica”. Every shop keeper would tell you the price of the item in your hand even though you picked it up just to feel the texture. “$2 dollars US but if you buy 5 I will give you one for free” they would say. Every tourist was a dollar, a potential sale. Markets in Costa Rica were unlike the markets in India. Prices were not doubled or tripled for those who appeared to be visiting, or spoke with English accents. No one took advantage of our inability to speak the native language. There was no need for bargaining, or raising our voices or the customary stepping away from the shop only to be pulled back in again by the shop keeper who would re-adjust the price, meeting you in the middle but more to his financial advantage than yours like is traditionally done in India. My dad began looking at hammocks for his backyard and I began to look at jewelry boxes 5 stalls down.

“Hello” he said he said with a cute Spanish accent, enthusiastic glow and warm smile. “Hi” I replied being taken aback by his dashing good looks. “How are you?” he asked. Unable to decipher if he was asking out of routine obligation or sincerity (because he sounded go genuine) “I’m good thank you and yourself?” I asked. “I am good too thank you for asking” he said. I began to look around his stall which was conveniently located near an exit. Picking up the same wooden pencil and spoons that I had picked up in shops before his, trying to decide if this was the item I wanted to pick up in bulk for everyone freezing their toes off back home. “I can help you with anything and for you I’ll give you a good price” he was quick to tell me. “Thank you” I replied “But I’m just looking” (which is my line until something out of the ordinary catches my eye because I am very picky and hard to please). He was cute I thought to myself.

“Where are you from?” he asked me. “I am from Canada” I replied cautiously. Still unable to fully believe despite my citizenship by birth, Canadian passport, patriotism, polite quick-to-say-sorry-first-even-when-it’s-not-my-fault-nature, love for hockey, poutine, maple syrup and Canada that I am Canadian; while simultaneously not proud to accept that I have roots in India. India. A country that I love, and have left a piece of my heart in in 2013. A country whose political leaders have historically and till this day continue to betray Sikhs and Punjab. Polluting Punjab and infiltrating it with drugs and alcohol and stripping Punjab’s natives, the Sikhs their identity and right to self determination by classifying them as a part of Hinduism in section 25 (b) of the Indian Constitution. Forgetting the brave contributions of the Sikhs which comprise less than two 2% of India’s population and made up more than 40% of India’s army, forgetting their self-less sacrifices that cost many of them their lives as they helped lead India to freedom from the British Raj, to independence. A country who stormed into the Sikh’s holiest shrine, the Harmandir Sahib with shoes and tanks, filling the sarover with blood and killing innocent people because a perceived threat to India’s nationalism made the Golden Temple his residence. “Originally?” he further questioned me, he himself not believing that I am a native Canadian (rightly so because the Aboriginals are) but probably because I was not white. “Originally my family is from India. I was born in Canada” I replied (protesting the schizophrenic voices in my head who all have their own equally valid ideas about my identity and where I belong). “That’s nice” he said. I picked up a jewelry box. It was made of the same dark wood found in shops in Sarchi. The box felt buttery smooth against against my hands. I turned it over to look at the price but there wasn’t one. “How much is this?” I asked him. He replied in US dollars and I asked how many Colones that would convert into. “I would prefer that you pay me in Indian money” he said. “Uh oh…oh SHIT…oh CRAP” I thought to myself, mentally hitting myself on my head. (When I travel I always carry Indian coin (3 rupees) with me with hopes that my plane will magically land in India and I will have enough to buy 3 Cadbury Eclares when I get off the plane. The coins were sitting on my desk at home and I had forgotten to bring it with me!) “You collect coins from different countries?” I asked. “Yes!” he replied beaming, “I have over $1500 USD” worth of coin he replied from different countries all over the world “and I wont convert the money because I like it. Yesterday customers from Canada gave me a quarter” he said. (I knew it, I knew this would happen to me the time I forget to bring my coins!) “I don’t have Indian coin on me” I replied sadly, telling him that I forgot the coin on my desk at home “but I have Canadian change in my hotel room! I will bring it for you tomorrow” I promised. “What is your name?” “Gustavo” he answered “yours?” “Kiran” I replied. “Karan” he looked at me and repeated my unfamiliar sounding name, unable to correctly pronounce the “i” that joined the k and r in my name. “Close, but it is Kiran” I tried teaching him. “I’ll come back tomorrow at around 10am, will you be here?” I asked. “Yes” he replied with a smile and he shook my hand. I liked his attitude. I left and purchased a churro on my way home.

After my 4th day of having the same routine breakfast of black tea, 3 fresh pieces of sliced fruit (cantaloupe, pineapple and watermelon to be exact), brown toast slightly buttered, scrambled eggs and dry beans and black rice (which has now turned me off rajma and chaul for at least 6 months now), I went back to my hotel. I put my camera around my neck, took my Blackberry off the charger and into my pocket and swiped the Canadian change clean off my table and securely placed it in my purse. The market was a 20 minute walk from our hotel in San Jose which was conveniently located within waking distance of all the major tourist attractions and bus stops. We briskly walked to the market, taking pictures along the way. We took a wrong turn and ended up in San Jose’s China Town. In front o us was a large entrance gate decorated in a distinctly Chinese style with large Mandarin writing that probably read “China Town”, it was on my lists to visit and I was there on my birthday and

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surprisingly I did not have the desire to celebrate with bubble tea. Instead I took pictures of the trash cans, statues around the park and went into a Catholic Church to light a candle and make a wish at the feet of the Virgin Mary. A wish that I wished with all of my heart to come true.

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We found our way back to the main street and walked towards the Jade Museum and market. My father went back to purchase another hammock (because he wanted one for my mom because obviously when he’s on a hammock she’ll want to be swinging right beside him right) and I went to visit Gustavo. “Good morning” I greeted him with avidity “I’m back with the Canadian coin like I promised” I said. He laughed “Hey Kiran”. I handed him a loonie, a quarter and a dime and explained to him that he was now only missing a toonie, a nickel and a penny (which has now been taken out of circulation but isn’t that difficult to find). “Thank you” he said happy that his Canadian collection is now half complete. “You remembered my name” he pointed out to me. “Yes, do you know how?” I asked. “No” he replied. “Because you share the same name with a famous Austrian painter named Gustav Klimt, who painted The Kiss” I explained. “Oh I see” Gustavo nodded his head never having heard of the painter that his name resembled. “Okay so you must help me find something for my sisters” I instructed him. He saw me looking over the same wooden jewelry boxes as yesterday and told me that if I liked the wooden boxes that he would engrave them free of cost. So I carefully picked out two boxes, a small one with a hand painted hummingbird on it for my youngest sister and a slightly bigger rectangular one with a geometric print for my younger sister. “How many sisters do you have?” he asked. “2” I replied. “Nothing for you?” he asked and I showed him a yellow bracelet that I had bought from Sarchi.

We walked over to the engraving desk and I took his pen and paper to write down what I wanted engraved: “To Choti: Love Preeti. 2015”. He plugged in his engraving pen and began to engrave my message. I studied him slowly writing my message into the wood, burning the surface of the wood with a thin hot rod pen. He held the tiny box that fit so perfectly in his hand. His skin was a light caramel colour, his arms were toned, he was tall and muscular but not in a masculine kind of way. He had a body of a soccer player and the charm of a college boy. His hair was dark and curly and I had this strong urge to ask him if I could play with it. What stopped me wasn’t my sense of boundaries because I don’t have that or my or because he might think would be a weird question because I am sure he would like nothing more than my fingers running through his hair on a Tuesday morning. What stopped me was my father being 5 stalls down from me. (This is how the universe likes to fuck with me. If I was alone on this trip the shop keeper would have been an old middle aged man but with my dad 30 feet away from me the shop keeper was a guy that looked my age with lips that I wanted to trace with my fingers) I continued to watch him as he engraved. “Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked me with his eyes concentrating on writing. “No” I replied. He stopped and looked up at me. “Why?” he continued to ask in amusement. (why? That’s a question I ask myself every time I walk out of the shower smelling like Body Shop strawberry shower gel) “I don’t have time” I lied. “Do don’t have time?” he repeated back at me in the form of a question. “Nope” I said with a half a smile unable to make my answer seem convincing to both him and myself. “I don’t believe you” he said as he finished engraving 2015. He handed the jewelry over to box to me. “ummm, you spelled my name wrong, there are two e’s in my name not one” I pointed to the notepad where I had clearly printed my name in my finest printing. “Oh I see. I’m sorry” he apologized turning slightly pink, embarrassed at his mistake which turned my name from a noun to a misspelled verb. “I was distracted by your beauty”. I looked at his mistake and then back up at him. “You’re funny” I replied playfully as I rolled my eyes in my head. “I’m not funny” he said, “I’m serious. You’re beautiful”.

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I’ll engrave your jewelry box for free.