The quite true story is told that many, many years ago a woman – let us call her Mari Elena, although that is no doubt not her real name – married a certain tight-fisted fellow – let us call him Rosario, again, not his real name. Like a proper wife, Mari Elena moved to Rosario’s finca near what is now Cocal, a pueblecito quite close to Las Tablas, Panama, in the Azuero. There Mari Elena learned to live with Rosario’s miserly habits, conserving every scrap of food, wearing dresses little better than rags, retiring at sundown and rising at first light to save lamp oil.
One night, so the story goes, as Mari Elena and her husband lay in their respective narrow beds drifting off to sleep after a long day of exhausting toil, she felt a prick on her left shoulder. Twisting a bit, she tried to touch the painful spot. But, as her hand reached for her shoulder she – except for one harsh breath – froze with terror. For, almost instantly, the area had begun to burn.
Mari Elena dared not move. She had been stung by a scorpion, she knew. Only the sting of a scorpion burned so. Where had the black demon gone after stinging her? Was it still in the bed? She trembled in spite of her great will not to move.
“Rosario!” she hissed. “Rosario!”
“What is it, woman? I am trying to sleep. Be quiet and go to sleep.”
“Rosario, a scorpion has stung me. Light the lamp so I can be sure it is not still in the bed.”
“Light the lamp? Light the lamp! Woman, are you mad? You know we do not light the lamp in this house except for emergencies!”
“This IS an emergency, husband! I have been stung by a scorpion and I need to see if it is still in the bed. Please, light the lamp. Hurry!”
“Certainly not! Lamp oil costs money!” And Rosario rolled over and went to sleep.
So Mari Elena lay there, unmoving through the night, while the scorpion prowled unmolested and her husband snored.
The next morning she rose as usual at first light, as did Rosario. Also as usual, Rosario went out of doors to attend to his needs and those of the livestock.
But Mari Elena, her face a thundercloud, did not light the stove or begin his breakfast. No. She gathered her meagre belongings and tied them in a bundle. With no farewell but spit as she stomped across the threshold, without so much as a glance behind her, she stalked off that vile man’s finca and strode the long miles to her father’s home. When she told of her ordeal to her parents, she spat. When she retold it to her aunts and uncles and cousins, she spat again and cursed him. She cursed him, his forebears, his habits and his land. Never, she declared, no, not even one time, would she again set foot in that place. To her that man was la mierda. Shit. La Mierda!
And so was his finca!
Over many years, although Rosario continued his stingy ways and the world still murmured the horror of Mari Elena’s tale, other families began — but cautiously — to move near his finca, for the land was very beautiful. A small community formed. Alas, the name Mari Elena had called caught tight hold, with the glue such juicy gossip seems to provide. All of Santo Domingo and then Las Tablas called the area La Mierda. After a while, it was taken for granted. La Mierda became official and was put on birth certificates.
Then the children born there grew up and applied for work. “Where were you born?” they were asked. And perforce, they had to reply, “In La Mierda.” In the shit. Such a thing to have to say. To have to say, I am a Mierdor. A Shitter.
One of these children became a politician. He it was, we are told, who changed the name to Miraflores (See-the-Flowers) and made it retroactive. He also made sure they were chiefly considered part of Cocal, so now he and the other Mierdores were Cocalenos. That is much better than Mirafloradores, you see, or even Miraflorenos. Anyway, everyone was happy.
Except probably Mari Elena, who no doubt rolled over in her grave, spit a ghostly spit and ground her skeletal teeth.
Miraflores is a barrio (neighborhood) in the village of Cocal, just outside Las Tablas. If you ask, someone will tell you where to find it, for the Cocalenos still remember well the story of La Mierda.