Walking uptown to the main market street here in San Pedro, pedestrians must cross an intersection or two where one's life lies in the hands of the bus drivers, barreling ahead in their transportational rumble. Private cars often take liberties with right-of-way, too, so crossing the street can leave a person in a brief and hesitating limbo of decision about when to step out toward the other side. Those who stop to let us go first, whether we find ourselves on foot or also behind the wheel, can easily give rise to gratitude, if not a little surprise as well.
And fortunately, gratitude amidst the hustle of the street need not be reduced to a mouthed-out "gracias," the sound drowned to nothing in the omnipresent din. Sign language comes to the communicative rescue, furnishing the grateful with a fail-safe way of saying thank you for allowing safe steps across the street. Thanks comes in the form of a raised forearm, the back of the hand facing the one being thanked. I raised my arm in silent, spoken appreciation more than once this afternoon, glad for the men's patience in their Volkswagen cars.
The "gracias" sign can be so much like the spoken word, taking on various inflections, so to speak. Depending on the place or the situation, it can range from a hearty and magnanimous gesture, the arm raised high to recognize the kindness of a crowd, to a slight turn of the wrist accompanied by a sideways nod of the head, a subtle "thank you, but no" to a street vendor's invitation to buy.
And one can say "no" in a more emphatic way, too, similar to wagging an index-fingered hand in the United States. The finger-wagging here, though, requires less of the wrist and more of the finger, moving it back and forth with the hand as stock-still as one's negative will.
The finger-wag is funny, especially, for some reason, when used by children under the age of three. But my favorite hand signal, next to that of thanks, is what some refer to as the "ahorita" hand. Also often seen in busy street locations, its slight space between outstretched thumb and forefinger signaling another to wait just a little bit, either for backed-up traffic to wait for a driver's return, or for someone nearby to wait for a question about directions to a place nearby. The ahorita signal is often used at home, too, when it's easier for one to say "wait" without having to say it out loud.
With all the noise we make in a day, it's nice to have options of meaningful silence. I'll raise my hand in thanks to it, too.