On Thursday night after Clyde had a frustrating day of installing double sinks in the master bathroom I suggested we go out for a pizza. Since he loves the thick crust, loaded pizza at Domino's he was all for the idea and before long we were out of the house. Domino's is located above a strip-center mall in a food court that only has one other restaurant besides Domino's. It could be a nice food court if it gets more eateries since it's open air and offers a nice view of the mountains. A large children's play area sits in the center with maybe 40 or 50 tables on the perimeter.
We order our usual fare which is a medium, deluxe, loaded pizza and two drinks, a #4 combo for $10.99 or $8.25 after our pensionado discount. After paying we take a seat at one of the first tables both sitting on the same side to enjoy watching the sun set over the mountains. A few minutes later a young man maybe 20-years old walks into the food court carrying a 2-liter bottle filled with water. He approaches our table and pulls out a chair as he says, "permiso," asking permission to have the chair to which we say,"si." I assumed that he wanted the chair to take to another table, perhaps because that table needed one extra chair? But instead he pulled out the chair at our table and sat down across from us. Now you have to understand that this food court is almost always empty and out of the 40-50 tables, only about five or six were being used. So since there was no shortage of chairs or tables in this place we were both dumbfounded as to why this young man was sitting with us.
The young man started telling us he's from Chiriquí, one of the provinces of Panama. He rambled on in Spanish and to try to discourage him from hanging around Clyde told him our Spanish was not too good, hoping he'd shut up and go away. Then he asked if we were from the United States to which we answered yes, and he mentioned that he didn't speak any English.
A while later Clyde's name was called by the clerk at Domino's and he walked over to pick up our order. He brought it back to our table and sat back down next to me. As he opened the box to get out a slice for the two of us the young man looked over at the pizza and said, "oh wow."
We began eating our pizza feeling a bit weird about this young man sitting there watching us. Then he pulled out his wallet and took out a $1.00 US bill. He held it between two fingers waving it in the air at me almost like he was flaunting it like a little kid would. Then he said something in Spanish to the effect of "hey lady from the United States look at this." Now we're wondering does he want to buy a slice of pizza from us? Does he want free food? Does he want us to give him money thinking we're rich Americans? Panama has no paper money of its own and US currency is all they have here. Coins are called balboas and are interchangeable with US coins too, so money here is the same as in the states.
As we continue eating the kid pulls out a small piece of white paper that resembles a receipt. He looks at it, hold it up to the light, studies it constantly while his wallet lie open on the table top across from us. I noticed some large numbers on it and wondered if it might be a lottery ticket instead of a receipt since Panamanians play the lottery on a regular basis. He didn't stare at us while we ate but once in a while I noticed him looking in our direction.
I considered taking the pizza home to eat or moving to another table. Yet there was that part of me that refused to be pushed away from the table we were at first by this kid. And I didn't want to look like naïve Americans afraid of an innocent Panamanian man. After all we didn't feel endangered in any way just a bit weirded out by this stranger who chose to sit with us while we ate.
We took our leftover pizza and went downstairs to put it in the car before going in the dollar store to browse. Clyde needed a bathroom so we walked back upstairs to the food court where the "bano's" were located. The kid was still sitting there at the same table we just left, still alone with his large bottle of water. He was clean looking, well dressed in a nice pair of jeans with a nice, casual shirt so he certainly didn't appear to be homeless. We'll never know who he was or why he joined our table that night, but instead we'll just remember it as another strange encounter here in Panama......along the gringo trail.
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