Everything about Maria was oversized: her body, her ego, her bank account, but most of all, her appetite. She didn't just eat two portions of everything. She sometimes ate two meals at one sitting.
Maria was our press contact in Panama, a government employee so to speak, but really as she confided almost immediately, a girlfriend of the vice president. This was a time right after the dictator Noriega was deposed to the states, and Maria felt he was a "good man."
"See that house over there?" she pointed, as I checked out a mansion the size of Graceland. "I live there."
"Oh," I said. "Your family has a lovely house."
"No, no. Not my family. I live alone."
Gloria insisted on buying the writers on that press trip lots of extras: hot fudge sundaes ("Take two Lea, they're sooo good!"), local perfume that smelled like jacaranda blossoms, tickets to the opera. She paid for them herself, not the tourist board, for a dozen of us.
When we boarded one of the ragtag colorful public busses in Panama City to experience the local scene, she made a face and declared she had never been on that kind of bus before. I believed her.
I roomed with Maria one night in a small inn in the mountains outside the capital. She slathered herself in creams and wore a huge nightgown, covering herself from neck to toes. We gossiped a bit about our lives, so different and interesting to each other.
As we were about to get into our beds she whispered, "Lea, you know Rohairmoo? "
"Rohairmoo. The man I slept with. He bueno."
I had no idea whom she was talking about until she opened her purse and showed me a clipping of herself in Cannes from a few years before. The newspaper article was in plastic. There she was, a much slimmer Maria, on a beach, in a bikini. And next to her, Roger Moore.
"James Bond," she smiled. "He very good."
Hmm, I thought to myself. Roger and I had at least one thing in common: going to bed with Maria.
And then she ate her chocolate on the pillow at the inn outside Panama City, and then she ate mine, and she went to sleep almost immediately, with the lights still on, snoring like a truck driver. And from the smile on her face she might have been dreaming of Rohairmoo, or another hot fudge sundae.