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Dead Awake: The Last Crossing

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©2016 by S.N.

All Rights Reserved

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. All characters, places, and events are purely fictional and therefore coincidental if found in other instances whether factual or fiction.

Published by Madhouse Press

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To my dear wife my Bunny,

because she is

[perfection.
Love-forever]

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please take a minute to leave a positive review on Amazon.com

CHAPTER 1

Remember

I needed a vacation! That was the answer. I hadn’t taken a vacation for a little over a year, and it was due to me. My boss had promised one for a very long time, but somehow things had always gotten in the way.

I was the head columnist for one of the daily papers in New York, a smaller edition with not too wide an audience. Even so, it managed to put quite a bit of work on my lap; enough to keep me busy until the next century. In New York, there was always something to write about, so I had my work cut out for me. However, I was never the distinguished writer I had always longed to be. Somehow all the big newspapers always managed to get the great stories, while I always ended up with their scraps. Through the years I’d caught one or two good stories (which were somewhat interesting and kept me at my job with a semi-decent reputation as a writer), but I was never good at what I did. I was there because they could rely on me to have something; even if it was the sort of story that one sets on the coffee table for a coaster. The job wasn’t great, but at least it paid the rent.

After my last assignment, a high-interest story that earned the paper critical acclaim, I finally earned my reward for all the hard work I had done. My boss, Mr. Freior, told me that the paper was going to let me take that overdue time off in the form of a dream vacation. At long last, I could leave my reality and relax: pay without having to work, a company charge card with a $4000 limit, and airline tickets for two anywhere I chose to go. Of course, he asked me to keep my eyes pealed for any interesting story that might come up. That meant he would be expecting something when I returned. He would not get it!

I made all my reservations in advance through It’s a Small World Travel Agency. “Anywhere,” I told the agent over the phone, “as long as it is far from resembling New York City and all its half apples; then it will be paradise to me.”

Destination: the tropical island of Natial, west of the Rio Grande Ridge, southwest of the island of Trinidad, about 45 Degrees Longitude and 30 Degrees latitude, in the Atlantic Ocean. It is an unknown and unspoiled island that few have ever heard of. That was the type of place where I could spend an isolated vacation without the rot of tourism.

Packing was enjoyable. There was no need for heavy coats, and I was glad. I hated the cold. Never knew why I spent all my life in New York. Born and raised, I guess it was the only place I knew.

I started to imagine what it would be like if I were taking my wife on vacation with me. I wouldn’t have to waste one of the tickets, if that were the case. I had never married, and was not even close to it. Yet single was not uncommon, for a man of my age in New York. I was only 32, and not high enough in the game to take the plunge. If I’d had a wife, she would have been helping me pack, as I shaved in the bathroom. I would finish and come out to help, commenting to her on how pretty her outfits were. I would not allow her to carry a single bag down to the cab, as I strained to treat her like a princess. Yes, it would have been nice to be married.

  • * *

It was a pleasant flight, with no turbulence and a smooth landing. I walked down the steps of our plane and before my eyes was paradise, and my escape. My reality melted with the luscious canvas painted trees, the red and orange fruits, and saffron-lemon carpet of soft, yellow sand. It was sand, sand, sand, everywhere sand! I couldn’t wait to get my shoes off, to throw them out, and squish my feet in it. There were so many colors. In one place everything was yellow, in another it was red, and where they met, it blended into a savory brown that resembled the color of some fruits, making you want to take a bite. My fantasy had come true, and I was ready to give up all of my homely troubles and tortures to relax here for the next 31 days, or forever, whichever came first. The waves seemed to be greeting me in; each splashing a hello and good-bye, telling me we would soon meet to form a romance between the two of us.

The airport was so small; I was amazed the plane had room enough to land. The strip couldn’t have been more than thirty feet long, just a pin in a stack of paradise. Outside of the plane, in a gush of warm tropical air, I took a deep breath. No air could be cleaner. I was renewed with every breath. Just a few breaths made me feel lighter and stronger. The luggage didn’t weigh as much, I wasn’t out of breath, and I felt my age for the first time ever. There was a friendly taxi-man, just outside customs, that offered to help me with the luggage. I would have let him, but I wanted to enjoy this feeling of new strength a while, so I made him feel unhelpful as I put my bags into the trunk of his beat-up taxi.

It was nice that the travel agency had set everything up so that I didn’t have to do anything but relax. My agent said the lodging was the nicest on the island, but not to expect much. She had tried to talk me into going somewhere else, assuring me that I would not like it when I got there, but I wasn’t into luxury. I only wanted to relax; to get away, and so far this place was perfect. The place I had reserved offered breakfast, lunch, dinner, laundry, and cleaning. I wouldn’t have to worry about any of it.

The driver smiled when I handed him the name of the hotel. “Ah, Blanca, she will take care of you nice.” That was good, I thought. It was nice to be reassured. I was going to tip this man well. He also offered to take me on a tour of the island after I got settled in. He wanted to take me right then, but I told him that I’d rather check in first, relax a bit, and then go with him after a nice meal. He arranged to pick me up at 5:00. The whole tour would be just $10. I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t even get down the block for that in New York.

When we arrived I handed the man five dollars, which he refused, saying that he would collect after I was through with his services for the day. It must have been his way to ensure the later promised tour. I got out of the car, and this time I let him help with the bags.

The place was a big rancho-house, not like a hotel. It was big and long with unique architectural structures, very nice to look at. Not luxurious, but nice. The roof was about twenty feet up, made of straw and red tiles. Some spots had more straw than tiles, but it didn’t look as if it had been the workings of a bad patch job. The walls were white, with big wooden doors that had no finish. There was a balcony on the second floor that surrounded the entire house. It was long and curved like a horseshoe, with a small patio in the center. It looked like a perfect painting stroked by the hands of a master landscape artist.

There were some chickens and ducks clucking about, scratching here or pecking there. A cat sat on the windowsill and a dog was curled under a table that was set outside. It didn’t appear as though there were any other guests staying. A rope hung on the patio, with some clothes hung and dripping dry, an indication of someone that had been working there.

The taxi-man took my luggage inside, into a first-level room that I wasn’t sure was supposed to be mine, but he looked like he knew what he was doing so I didn’t say a word. I couldn’t resist a quick peek. It was a large room with a large bed full of heavy blankets and a ceiling fan. I didn’t take a long look because I didn’t want to seem like I was prying.

A little lady came running from the road. She noticed the taxi had come to her house and she came rushing. “Mr. Finch, it is yous? I sorrys I come so late. I have to go look for you in dis airport, but you not der. I so sorry. I glad you here.” She was very excited to have me there and had gone all the way to the airport to find me.

It was so completely courteous of her, I thought, but of course she didn’t find me there. That was too bad. I felt sorry for her having gone all that way in vain. She was even holding a piece of cardboard that had my name written on it. She was very friendly, even more so than the taxi driver, more like a mother.

“You find your room okay?” she asked.

“Yes, I think this is it, isn’t it? The taxi-man showed me where it was.”

“Yes that is the one.”

“I’m sorry if you were put out by me not waiting for you at the airport, but the travel agency didn’t inform me that I would be picked up, so I took a cab.” I was concerned about her having gone to such trouble for me and added, “You didn’t have to walk all that way, did you?”

I’m not sure if she understood me correctly because she just gave me a confused look, as though I had spoken in French. “Put out? What dis?” She had not understood what I had said so I assumed she had walked. That made me feel embarrassed, to have caused such trouble. The taxi-man spoke some words to her, most of which I didn’t understand because they were speaking in Spanish. He must have apologized for me because she smiled at me.

“Fives o’clock, I come to get you,” he said, then left content as I nodded my endorsement.

The lady approached, very mild and pleasant. “My name iz: Argentina Molina de Senger Blanca, or Blanca is okay.” She stood a moment so I could repeat her name back to her, then she went on. “I can make ready for yous to eat in five minutes after you like your room.”

She took me to the room again and explained that she would cook three times a day for me at any time I liked. If for any reason I didn’t like her schedule, I could tell her when I wanted to eat and she would change it for me. She also said that she would do my laundry and clean up for me.

What a great deal I had found! This definitely was turning out to be far more than I expected. A better look at my room left me satisfied, once again. There were no luxuries, but it was very comfortable. The walls were made of adobe. There were probably a few spiders, even scorpions, living in it, but it was kept clean enough that I didn’t think they were going to be a problem.

I put my suitcases on the bed and began to situate myself. A little while later Blanca came, bidding me to eat. She said she had prepared something to help me “strengthen up”. I’m not sure if she said “fatten” or “strengthen,” because she mixed Spanish into her sentences; and I couldn’t remember the translation of the verb she used.

In either case, it was real good and I think it was meant to make me fatter because it must have had at least 20,000 calories. It had everything from guacamole to red meat in it and was completely saturated with fat. She also made some sort of fried flour bread, very greasy, on which she put some meat and melted cheese, then she sliced a tomato and gave it to me plain. It was a different style of eating, but very satisfying. We sat for a while and got accustomed to each other. She asked normal questions: what I liked to eat, what kind of food I was used to in the states, and all sorts of questions about the states; all of this until the taxi man returned.

I looked at my watch. He was punctual, I thought, and looked more exited than I was. “Well, are you ready don? I back for you.” A great smile slid across his face, a very happy man, yet I couldn’t help but notice the decaying state of his teeth.

We got into his taxi and drove on the dirt roads that filled the island. There were paved roads as well, but these were few. Most of them were by the airport and through the main part of the island; but we weren’t going there. We were going to “more interesting parts,” as the taxi-man stated, so we had to drive through a little bit of bumpiness. I guess that’s why his car was in such bad shape. Any newer car would have been hammered through such conditions. Most of the islanders didn’t have cars either, nor were there more than a handful of buses, so there wasn’t a great demand for asphalt anyway.

On the way, we passed one of those buses. Just looking at it was more exciting than any of the explanations my tour guide/taxi-man was offering. He mumbled all sorts of stuff about the landscape and its folklorist traditions; but the locals were already providing much more entertainment. The bus was loaded to twice its maximum capacity. There were people hanging from open doors, with all sorts of junk piled up on top, making the bus twice its original height. Livestock was everywhere: on the top, inside, and hanging from every window.

There were also two fellows hanging from the rear bumper, probably stowaways trying to stay on through all the bumps. Chickens were being pulled in by their owners. I imagined they must have been trying to stick their heads out for a fresh breath. How could anyone breathe in there? I thought. It was a sardine can! It was worse.

I laughed, interrupting the taxi man’s ongoing ramble. The bus driver had stopped and was chasing the men who had been hanging on the bumper. They ran a few steps, and then got right back on the bumper when the bus started going again. The bus itself was a death trap. It wasn’t going much faster than a fast run. Anyone could go faster on a bike.

The bus stopped again and the two were off and running. The bus driver began yelling all sorts of foul Spanish to them and it was obvious now these two hadn’t paid. I didn’t blame them. Who would pay for a ride on that? They were probably safer on the back than inside. We passed up the bus and the taxi man, whose name I finally found was Oscar Hugo when he made some reference to himself in third person, continued giving the spoken tour of the land. On and on it went, like a never-ending sermon. I didn’t find any of it interesting until he pointed out what was going on up ahead.

A dozen or so villagers were carrying a wooden statue dressed in all sorts of curious clothes, while another thirty of them held a tight formation around it. Most of them were holding up candles and yelling out some chant into the wind. They were having a procession to a famous local Saint, “El Gauchito Gill”; and it was all pretty strange to me, never having seen anything quite like it before.

The taxi man proceeded to tell me the story of this “El Gauchito” who had lived on the island and who had become a local folklore legend, eventually reaching the status of sainthood. I was interested because I had never heard of “El Gauchito” in any of my doctrinal courses. He was more than a saint – he was an island god.

I saw the carved statue of a man that looked like a cowboy dressed in leather riding pants and the usual button-down flannel. The most distinct feature of his garb was a long red scarf, wrapped around his neck, that hung over the wooden tablet by which he was carried. He held a long machete in one hand, and a clenched fist on the other. There was also a pronounced wooden cross behind him that, I was told, was a symbol to him being a martyr.

We returned to the hotel hours later, after more touring and a stop for supper at a local bayside restaurant. I threw in a nice tip for Oscar. He drove away happy, as his taxi puffed and coughed like a sick child. The next couple of days were relaxing. I spent them at the beach and enjoyed the waves that had been calling me. It was a fabulous place. The people were all the same, all so friendly and cordial. It soon became apparent that God, the God I knew, was giving his blessings to the people in this place, the place where I felt so at home.

CHAPTER 2

False Desecration

One clear morning on my way to the beach, I ran into a couple of little boys who offered to help me find my way to wherever I was going for a couple of pizarros. A handsome pair, they introduced themselves as Julio and Hector. I rubbed their heads sympathetically, for they both had buzzed hair that was fun to rub. Impatiently they both kept on pushing for the pizarros. “Common, just two,” they begged.

One of them tried reaching into my pocket to get the money himself – a brave little man. He sure didn’t have anything to do with being shy. Hector had some gum that he offered to sell me; again the price was two pizarros.

I thought they were silly and cute so I gave them the money, which I thought would have sent them on their way, but they had other things in mind. They both decided to follow me to see what sort of fun I might bring. I had already provided them with money, so things could only turn to their advantage. Imagine their delight when they discovered that it was the beach where I was headed.

The boys threw off their shoes and ran to the water. Julio stopped midway and came back to pull me in with him. He didn’t know I was already in love with the water and didn’t need any coaxing. “Vamos,” he said, “Andale. Vamos al agua.” I took off my shirt and we ran into the water, as I became one of the kids again. It was fun and I soon forgot what being an adult was all about. As I splashed the children and held them over my head, they yelled and kicked to escape. The game was that I was the giant and they were my adversaries, trying to kill me.

In the States, playing with kids that weren’t mine might have landed me in jail as a kidnapper; but here no one needed two proofs of ID and references. On the island there seemed to be a natural trust, void of the fear and calamity one would normally have in the city. No one was told to watch out for strangers because here everyone was a good neighbor. I have always enjoyed trust; a thing so rarely acquired back home, but here so freely given.

After the water games, I dried myself off. Without asking, the kids cuddled themselves around my legs and took a piece of the towel. They had enough of the beach and were off to go somewhere else, probably home. Julio wanted me to go with them. He said he wanted to show me to his parents, so they could like me. He tugged my arm and asked me to follow, but I told him that I could not. Anyway, how could I go to their parent’s house and introduce myself as their kids’ friend? It was too weird, even for me.

As the kids scampered out of sight, I made my way inland, several miles up the coast. On my walk, I observed the locals and the scenery. There were many pretty girls on the island. It made me wonder what they ate; so perfectly thin and built. Some of the ladies carried baskets on their heads, with perfect balance, but it was mostly the older ones that did this. This observation ran a thought through my head. Maybe the younger ones, without the baskets, were single and the older ones were married and were carrying food from the market to their homes. If so, that would make it easy for me to know which were available!

I enjoyed the art of girl watching, without worrying to look at my watch. As I kept walking, I tripped over a little mat full of objects lying outside a round hut. I looked down at what I had tripped over and my attention shifted gears from girls to gifts. This was some strange stuff. Whoever owned the shop certainly wasn’t playing around to please the tourists.

I bent over and tried to straighten the mess I’d made. It was going to be interesting to see what other things this vendor had to offer. The hut itself was about six feet wide by ten feet long and had a slanting roof on one side that also became a wall. It was like an igloo, but with a partial ceiling, made of clay and straw. The walls were rounded, but they didn’t close up at the top. There was cloth used to extend out over the opening to form a porch held by two scrawny sticks. It seemed to be built from whatever materials were at hand.

I had always liked rare artifacts, even though I had never had the time to really get into true collecting. Once in a while I would find things to add to my humble collection, things that I was proud of, although I scarcely had the opportunity to travel. Finding something in the States wasn’t as exciting as finding something in its original land.

I went through the opening of the shop, pushing some hanging beads aside. There was incense lit and many candles flickered. A small man was sitting at the end of the hut. He was staring straight, but his focus seemed to be directed toward me, as if he had been expecting me. He did not offer any help, nor show me any of the merchandise, as I expected. He only sat and stared with an intimidating constant fixation. I looked around, for a moment, to find something to buy, supposing I was to look around first, before he’d pay any attention to me. The items must be selling themselves, I thought: “A pressureless environment.”

Immediately an object caught my attention. It was a dagger that was impaled in some gray mush on top of a small table. I went to examined it closer and found that the carvings were authentic, not cheap cuts to sell to the tourists. I wasn’t a real collector, or an expert on these matters, but it seemed I had struck gold! Possibly each item inside the shop was authentic and used in ritual.

Upon further examination, I saw that the knife had a fine blade with a hilt carved out of some hard clay or workable rock. I couldn’t see the entire blade because it was submerged in the dark clay, but what I could see was fascinating.

The hilt itself was the head of some dark demon, smiling with a devilish sneer. The style of art was unique to any other I had seen. Carved on it were three stems of life, feeding the neck of the fiend, which grew to fit the grip of a clasping hand. The effect would make one’s fingers appear to become part of the creature, to join in the deed when the knife sunk into flesh.

I was sold! By the look of the gems that were placed in the horn, I was sure I was going to have to put in a second mortgage for the knife. But it was worth it. I had to have it, no matter how much the man wanted for it.

I wanted everything but couldn’t do more than pick at a vault full of treasures, if I wanted to be able to stay on my vacation for its duration. It was at that moment when I wished, once again, that I was made of money.

The man did not seem to notice my fascination towards the blade. A more conventional sales approach would have been to show me the blade and tell me a little about its symbols, but he did nothing of the sort. Perhaps he wanted me to help myself, so I decided to do that very thing.

I focused on the knife, so masterful and precious, and slowly moved to grasp it tightly. Its feel made me shiver. I felt the material underneath the blade quiver, as would the liver of a cow when touched. The carvings felt like skin on top of living muscles. It came out easily, without any resistance. That was the first time the man really seemed to catch sight of me, though his eyes had been fixed on me the entire time. There was alarm in his stare. I didn’t know what he meant by it, but too late – the knife was already in my hands.

The blade was dripping the thick substance and coagulating drops were splashing on the floor. I was aghast when I saw the stain it was making on the magnificent carpet underfoot. I hadn’t noticed the rug before because of the other artifacts and relics, but in any other circumstance I would have seen it first. What a shame to stain such master-craft material. It was woven with the most intricate design that pulled you inside and made you part of another world, weaving you into its fabric. It could easily have been someone’s life long work and here I was staining it, ruining it within seconds. Well forget looking around for anything else, I had just bought myself a carpet and wasn’t even sure if I could afford the blade any more.

I now understood the man’s expression and why he had been looking at me like that. His face held a mixture of surprise, rage, and terror. I didn’t know if he spoke any English, but it was clear that I was in big trouble. I was sure, no matter what language he spoke, I would be able to interpret the words when they flew from his face. I owed him big. To my surprise, when he began to shout, it was in English.

“What are you doing here, you imbecile?” Those were the first words of his address to me and from what I’d done to his rug, I considered it a mild start. “You have not come to seek counsel from the incense of Meni^^i^^, and now you trod under foot forbidden and untouchable oblation! This place is sacrosanct! It is protected by law! What are you here for, you baboon?” He threw the question at me, alongside many words in some foreign tongue that I could not even begin to recognize, but I’m sure were insults. Funny how one can always recognize slander, no matter what the language.

His attitude bothered me. I didn’t care to be insulted like that, especially when I just wanted to pay the man for my accident and leave. It was very unfortunate that I couldn’t buy the knife because of the spill. That alone made me a little crabby as I responded.

“Look. I am very sorry I stained your carpet. I will pay you for it and if you tell me the price of this blade, I might buy it as well.” I was hoping, once again, that the lure of the possible sale might relax the man, although I knew there was no way I could afford it after my mess.

“I do not need your cheap money, you son of a wild cockatrice,” the man answered, as he yelled out his anger, and almost spit out his lung on top of me. “You will get out! You imbecile!” I became irritated at his insults, and would have left had he not began again.

“You are a baboon! An idiot! You do not know what you mess with. You die – you die if I want and you don’t know why. The things you molest with your hands, they are for anointed hands only! You disturb Gad^^ii^^, you bother him and you are a fly!”

With those last words, I could take no more, even if it had been my fault. I started to leave the store, but he called out to me again, so I returned. He wanted the blade. All the time it had been in my hand. Remembering it now stirred a fire inside of me. Again he called out to me.

“You are a thief, you son of wraith! You steal from Heloa. You steal from Baal. You steal from Meni and from his numinous offerings! You are a profane child. You are violate! You were formed of unholy union from demon-mother! Give me back the Hecatomb, thief!”

The only answer I could come up with after that was, “What is a Hecatomb?” as the rage foamed and bubbled within me. I guess being called a thief was the part that upset me the most. I thought that I was relaxed at the time, but inside I was a boiling furnace ready to explode. It was added to, moment by moment, with the insults of an unreasonable man, a man who lacked any real skills in listening. A man who would not reason, but insisted on referring to me as some kind of blasphemer. How could anyone hold out his or her temper in such a circumstance?

“I only wish to buy your blade!” I shouted. “How much will you need for it? I am a very reasonable man!”

“I do not want your dirty money, I have said! Leave the blade and go! Go, before I smite you!” So there he was, that little puny man, threatening me. Smite me, he said. What more could be done? I could only take so much. So my anger, that thus far I had managed to keep somewhat bottled in, spilt over as an igneous overflow.

“Look, you little man, I said I would pay! Why can’t I buy from your store like anyone else?” By now the anger in my voice could not be kept. He answered, but it was not the answer I wanted.

“This is not for sale to you!” then he started waving his hands to frighten me. “But you stay still, so I give you a curse, you tyrant from the pit! I say to you, your children shall be sons of snakes as well. They will eat on their bellies and curse the Earth each day for its unfruitful nature towards them. There… You go now! You are dirt on my scarification. Now I will have to clean it up!” He waved me off, but I would not go, so he kept on insisting. “I have cursed you, so go, you dirt from Abaddon! You unfit even as sacrifice!”

“Sacrifice!” I screeched. “What sacrifice? What is it you have here?” I asked, looking around in disgust and beginning to understand the meaning of the place, as the hideousness of it filled my stomach. “What sort of place is this?” I yelled with abhorrence, as I began to suspect that that place was something else besides a merchant store. Perhaps this was a medicine man – a witch doctor. I couldn’t help to think that if he was, all the things I had seen and touched were some sort of evil sacrificial instruments used in rituals to Satan.

Even the knife! What of the mass on the table, the thing where the knife had lodged? “What is that on the table?” I demanded in deafening tones.

“It is the heart of a woman who died,” responded the man with a gnarling grin. “Now you make unrest for her soul! She will wander for a thousand years because you have bothered her. And because you have desecrated the offering of Meni, the highest of all gods, you will take upon you the highest of curse.”

My disgust for such crude witchery became the cause for the lash-out off all my rage. “Desecration!” I shouted. “If I have desecrating anything, it is only false desecration, for that is not a god but an idol!” I turned with hate towards the dagger and continued shouting to the old man, this time without any bridle of composure to hold me back.

“You old man! What kind of sick brain is in your filthy head? A human heart! You ought to be put away! I care nothing for your gods nor for the sick perverted joke you call a religion! You will go to hell, I am sure of that! The real God will ensure it and not some demon whom you worship with this sickness!”

My mouth was frothing with anger as I determined to take my course of action. I went over to the mass of gray, now with destructive intention; but since I couldn’t stand to touch it, I reached for another cloth, without the slightest regret towards its value and pushed the heart onto the floor. Then I stomped on it with my foot, as the mass of gray collapsed under the weight of my boot.

The man let out a scream. I think he wanted to get violent with me at that moment, but changed his mind as he measured the size differential between the two of us. He was only about five feet tall and looked well over a hundred and fifty. Even still, he gambled with his dexterity by jumping over a small bar, some altar of sort, but knocked it over in his attempt and landed right in front of me.

I am sure I did the wrong thing then, but I was under the influence of my rage and momentarily out of mind, so I took the blade and spoke. “As for this knife,” I yelled, and put it in my pocket, “it is mine! I am taking it so that you can’t be a sick-o with it any more! You should be put in a nut farm, or thrown away as a pig.”

He tried grabbing the knife in vain and pleaded his final threat. “You are defiling the gods! You cannot do this, don’t you know? Baal-Berith-Meni will be kindled against you. You are a robber!”

His eyes turned towards some stone image, while he spoke, as if he was claiming a right for its assistance. It was as if he expected it to agree with his words. The statue stood beside the place where the heart had been, tall and dark, submerged in the shadows. I wouldn’t have noticed it, had it not been pointed out. He was trying to scare me and I’m embarrassed to admit that he was successful.

The whole affair intimidated me, as a man often is when he is in the wrong, but that didn’t mean I was going to back down. In my right mind I would have thought twice about the thing that I was about to do. I don’t think I normally could have damaged such a piece of art, no matter how evil it looked.

My eyes fixed on the idol that stared at us from the back of the room. It was at that moment, drunken with a rage that consumed me, that my hands flew on the statue. I picked it up and held all its power in my arms. Menacingly, I looked at the man, this time with much more the upper hand.

“Well, if you’re not selling it, you’re sure not going to use it for sick stuff!” I said, holding the statue above my head. I would have said something more profound, in the act of idol bashing, but the weight of the thing was enormous and my arms gave way.

It fell away from my grip and cracked in two on the floor. I stared at what I had done. For a second or two, I felt ashamed and wished I hadn’t done it, but then I noticed that a thick, red as crimson, substance oozed out from the broken stone. It had been hollowed and filled with this liquid.

‘Blood!’ I thought, ‘Was it blood?’ It sure looked like it! It was horrible, more so than the heart, for it looked like the stone-god was bleeding.

I looked at the man and punished him with my eyes. “Is that blood?” I asked, but the man did not respond. My assertion had been right then. Whether human or animal, it was blood so I could now justify, within my right, to destroy the ungodly place. It was safe to assume that everything there was part of a devil-worshiping act and that this man before me was responsible for all of it.

Without further hesitation, I picked up the two halves of the statue and threw them across the room onto a table. As if possessed, I then began destroying the entire hut, while the man shrieked behind me.

When it was over, I looked at my doings and was pleased with myself. The stone god was no more. All that remained were fragmented pieces of what had been a masterpiece. The place was a death-scene. Only the carpet remained in the same place, stained with a crushed human heart.

Only a few remains showed that there had ever been a sanctuary. The altar was on the floor, along with everything else, and the man was on his back, still screaming. All the while, a crowd had gathered. They had witnessed it all, as the man, with his cries, threw curses upon me. Most of his words are a foggy memory, but they were full of death and torment.

Fear fell on me again. Not of the people, for I didn’t think they had come to do me any harm. It was the look on their eyes that frightened me; the same look that the man had when he called to the statue for assistance. It was the look of fear, as if I had just awakened the dead. I felt the fingers of the Devil touch my back. Perhaps he had, and the crowd had seen.

  • * *

As I arrived at my hotel, my rage died. Now there was nothing left to do but regret. I was glad, as any man who still feels the pains of conscious can be glad, that there were no police on the island to make me pay for my vandalism; at least not police as I knew them.

Why had I done this? Did I have to impose my beliefs on that man? Was I so hot-headed and stubborn that I could not allow a man to worship what and how he pleased; and if I thought him wrong, certainly that had not been the way to set him on the right course; in fact, it had probably done the opposite. Had God sent me as a destroying angel? Did I have that right? No. I felt ashamed of being such a proud man, so full of self-righteousness.

I didn’t see Blanca for the rest of that day, nor did I care to, for I wanted nothing to interrupt my escape. I couldn’t let anyone else know me that day, hoping word of what I’d done would not find its way to Blanca by nightfall; telling her what sort of fool I’d been. At least, I hoped, the news would wait until some other time, when I could deny the whole thing and be able to stomach the lie.

  • * *
    When morning finally came, the warmth of the island swept into my window. The dampness of the air and the free breeze woke me gently to a new day. I almost forgot the calamities of yesterday, until a couple of young girls outside my window started pointing their fingers at me. No doubt they had come to see who had agitated the medicine man and destroyed his ritual ground. My fingers crept up, carefully and noiselessly, in search of the shutters. I pulled them to hide my shame from the girls or any other creature that might have a case of morning curiosity.

Luckily, the guilt didn’t last the entire morning. I got up and dressed, then splashed some water on my face and brushed my teeth. I decided to wear my Gilligan hat, just for kicks, and left in search of breakfast. Hopefully, by now, Blanca had gotten used to me occasionally skipping her home-cooked meals. She had to understand that I needed to go out and look around. Blanca provided excellent conversation, but that’s not what I had gone on vacation for. I wasn’t going to stay cooped up in the same little house, even though I sure did appreciate her cooking.

With those thoughts, I stepped through the door into the beautiful morning, which waited to greet me. My Gilligan hat served its purpose. It stopped the rays from blinding my eyes and kept my hair in its place.

I drifted into the pleasing morning. The trees, the sky, the sand and even the people pulled my attention to them. A couple of the villagers peeped out of their windows as I passed, probably still looking at me because of what I’d done the day before; but the shame had left me and now I was only hungry and happy. Yes, what a great day it was. In fact, as I thought it over, yesterday had not been a bad day either. All of it had served its purpose and was a good experience for me. An adventure! I chuckled to myself, as my wit returned. It was even funny, the more I thought about it, after all, it was good to have a sense of humor.

I think the island’s beauty will make me depressed when I get back to the city: the wonderful fresh air and the little hand built straw houses. The people look so happy on top these huts as they fix their roofs; pushing in the new straw to keep out the rain. Life is so simple here. Every need is met – housing, food, friends.

My walk took me to a little bar/eatery that was serving camarones. I sat and ordered a bowl of them and a tamarindo, a local drink made from a sweet root. The shrimp were very good; dipped in some kind of batter and fried, then served with a tart-lemon sauce. They went down well with the tamarindo. After the shrimp, I ordered a large baked fish, which they called “El Mojarra.” It tasted a lot like carp, but wasn’t served like it. The huge size of it overlapped the plate, and it was served with the head and tail still attached. Very strange looking indeed, but very tasty if not for the spines. I finished the tamarindo and ordered a lemon drink. The bartender looked at me as if I was a sissy and said, “Let me guess, you want that non-alcoholic?”

I responded in the affirmative, so he served it to me with a wink. Stupid bartender, I thought, what makes him a man? He’s probably an alcoholic and that’s supposed to make him manly. If I choose to drink or not, that’s my choice, so what is it to him? Their beer was too strong anyway; and I’d definitely stay away from the mixed drinks for I knew what kind of bomb their hard alcohol was. It was at least six times as strong as in the States. I finished the plate, then paid the man and left. He tipped his hat to me with a last teasing wink. I think he was poking fun at my hat as well. What an idiot.

When I arrived back to my room, I noticed that my door had been left slightly ajar. I wondered if I’d forgotten to close it. Perhaps someone had come to show me some island hospitality. Near my door, on the floor, was a piece of paper; and judging from its appearance, it had been there all night, in the rain. Most likely, I had overlooked it the night before, seeing as I was so tired.

I picked up the paper. It was a note, addressed to me, and still a little damp. I knew it was for me because it was addressed to “el guero,” which means “the blond one,” although I’m not really blond. The people in these parts just like to call anyone who has anything other than black hair a blond.

Unfortunately, it was the only thing I could read. The rest was written in some other dialect, one of the many spoken on the island. I immediately thought of Blanca. She could interpret the note for me. I stepped inside to retrieve my things, then headed to the kitchen to find Blanca.

Como esta mi querida, Blanca!” I greeted. “So good to see you.”

“And you tus, mi hijito,” she replied. “Are you come for your suppers now? I affixin’ some berry good caldo de res and some empanadas that yous like. Yous sit down right here and I go and get for you.”

I tried correcting her English, even though I wasn’t interested in eating just then. “Yes, thank you Blanca, but it’s breakfast now, see, the sun is up.”

“Ah yes, breakfas-lunch, whatever you like Mr. Finch. I get for you right now, so you sit down plis, okay.” She went over to the stove, as she started in her preparations, and made more conversation. “So how waz your day, you do? Have you seen a lot?”

“Actually, Blanca, that’s part of why I came. You see, someone, one of the villagers, left a note on this scraggly piece of paper, attached on my door last night, and I wanted to know what it said, and since you speak all the dialects of this island I thought you could translate it for me.”

I handed her the paper. She unfolded it and stared at it a moment, then her eyes became the size of mangos and her hands started to sweat. She looked at me as if a great evil had just befallen us both. Surely whatever the note said, it must have been bad enough to upset her.

“This is El Malagra!” she said with the grim reaper’s voice, “El Malagra! We are in great trouble!” She went pale, after that, and started to chant some prayer to El Gauchito. I didn’t understand it, at that time, but later heard it many other times. It went something like this: “Oh bendito ser divino, no se que hacer! What can we do? It has come, as I prayed it would not!”

Gauchito Gill protegenos de las manos del enemigo. Guardanos como has guardado a tantos que te rezan, de las garras de Satanas. Oh Gauchito, explicanos como vivir mejor y ayudanos para que podamos servir en paz. Ahora que a llegado este gran maleficio sobre nosotros, quitanos el pesar de nuestras manos y te prometemos servirte y ayudar a todos los que actuan por el bien.

Oh con tu bondad, como lo hiciste en tu vida mortal, cuando de tus enemigos escapaste y dejaste con el castigo adequado para los asesinos. Tu que predicaste y profetizaste en tu vida. Ahora guardanos la nuestra y sacanos de estas tinieblas, te lo ruego!”^^iii^^

She was very frantic, while she held the note, almost terrorized by the fact that she was holding it. Still, she was unable to put it down, as if by doing so she might offend some local god and make matters worse. She kept on shouting “Malagra-Malagra” and repeating her prayer many times. I later on found out that the prayer was a fixed prayer, and always chanted the same way.

Gill (pronounced hill) is a local saint of the island of Natial who has not, as yet, been recognized by the Roman Catholic church, but who is very much a part of the local folklore tradition. From what I understood, this Gauchito Gill became recognized as a saint by the people because he made some prophecies during his life that came true.

It turns out that Gauchito had been sentenced to die at the hands of one of the great conquistadors of the early period for theft, plunder and murder, but while in prison El Gauchito claimed to have repented and seen a vision. Hill claimed that such apparition made him exempt from his previous life and he demanded to be set free, but the conquistador didn’t see it that way and sentenced execution for the following day.

With vengeance, El Gaucho prophesied that the conquistador’s daughter would also die, the next day, if he were not set free. So, as things would have it, he was not set free and indeed the daughter died. The fame of his accurate prediction turned him into a martyred legend; but from what I got of it, El Gauchito Gill was a murderous fiend who had plundered the village, and raped and murdered many of the women. The villagers overlooked this and pronounced him a saint. They also gave him an official prayer and banner, in tribute to his greatness, even though he was practically the Devil himself.

I looked at Blanca with uncompassionate eyes, and held her to her reason. “Maybe if you just read it to me,” I said, “it won’t be that bad.”

“No don,” she wept, “It is that bad. You have over-stepped yurself and have cosed El Malagra to come on us.” She was crying and looked really sad, but I didn’t care. I just wanted her to stop being a fool and tell me what the note read.

“Look Blanca, it can’t be that bad; if anything, it was written to me, not to you, so you have nothing to fear. Why don’t you read it so we can see what it says.” She persisted, claiming it all came from Hades.

“Mr. Finch, it is certainly a curse that does not respect a persons. It spread itself across and you don’t even know what can happens to you and to me.”

“Blanca!”

“Ok, I read it you, but I warning you…”

THE RIVER’S FLOW

Look at the river – it is white, and it flows into chaos, then falls.

The rain drops into an open hole, where eternity shatters before it awakens,

And never Lives.

As she cries the raindrops give life unto her tears,

Splashing upon the water where they’re lost,

Through the memories that awake and the image that reflects.

She looks at death with emptiness –

It glitters in her eyes, but souls of all immortals have fallen there before.

Streaks crumble and shatter as her hands let go the shards,

Empty with the flesh of men once won.

A swirl of wind, a swirl of dust the river bends and dries.

Soft thoughts from heaven wash on barren banks forgetting all the lies.

The hum soft-strum has turned directions, the stream to claim its soul,

Giving chance for the raindrop’s dream to escape, and never Die.

Peace is ended with the black of sky

While all dry earth is begging for a taste of dew

As the first raindrop falls it falls into the rift.

She put the poem down with a look of fearful satisfaction that said to me, “See how terrible it is?” But it wasn’t, and I don’t know how anyone could think anything wrong of it. If anything, the local villager who wrote it ought to be thanked. I would easily buy more poems from whoever was the author of such work. He or she could have easily made a living with their writing. They just had to place little wooden frames around each poem, along with their English translation, and sell them as souvenirs to tourists like myself. Heck, I would have paid even without the frame.

I took the poem from her hand, and then gave her a stern look. “It’s not bad at all,” I scolded, “How could a beautiful poem like this possibly mean any harm? If anything, it’s the islanders greeting me, or more likely, one of the girls trying to win me over. In any case it is nothing bad at all.”

“You don’t know, Mr. Finch. It is El Malagra. Theys all start that way, then bam, worse and worse. The only thin that will save usss – you now is – here you take this.” She went over to one of her shelves and pulled a necklace that smelled as if it were made of garlic, but was made of some other root that I’d never seen before.

She tried to put it around my neck, but I pulled back offensively. I wasn’t the least bit interested in changing my style to that of some native vegetable-garden wearer.

“I am not going to wear that thing around my neck.” I said annoyed, “There is nothing wrong with this poem, and I want nothing more of it!”

She kept insisting, as a mother does and not as a host. “You do as I says. You don’t know. If you put dis on and reza, Gauchito will help you. He don’t care if you believe or no. He help no-believer and believer alie. Come on, put it on, then you eat, yes?” Her eyes were sad and puppy dog like, as she begged me, so much that I could not reject her.

“Oh, all right. I’ll do it for you this time, but don’t keep on it.”

“There, there, you feel better, you see. Now I go cook for you.” She went to cook, but I had no intention on wearing the necklace for more than a few minutes after I finished eating; and as soon as I was well beyond her sight-it came off. I can’t say I did better at keeping my promise to pray to el Gauchito. As far as I was concerned, this Gauchito could rot in hell without missing one more prayer from me.

CHAPTER 3

They Meet

I walked for a while down the road, with my shoes in my hand, observing the local people in this never-ending paradise, and thinking to myself. The families always seem to be together, helping in the work around the house. As I walked, I watched what seemed to be a mother, a father and all the kids patching up a house alongside the road.

How close they all must be. Dreadful how in the States we are so far from all our relatives. Here there must not be a single thing wrong in all their little world. I wonder if they ever quarrel among themselves. Well of course they must, but I wonder.

And who is this? It must be the daughter. She’s helping too! She must be at least nineteen or twenty. And how pleasant her smile looks. No makeup, nor painted nails. No shoes for that matter, although most everyone is barefoot here. Just look at the way she plays with her younger brothers while she works. Really, what a beautiful smile.

The women on this island are so good looking. I wonder what one must do to meet one of them. What would one do to show interest? I suppose one must first go to the father and mother, or something of that nature, seeing as they’re so close.

What a pretty little white dress she is wearing. Like a flower, so plain yet beautiful. I don’t know about the States. Too many accessories. All the things women add to their dresses and their faces. It’s like putting too many toppings on your ice cream sundae. Eventually you lose the flavor of the vanilla. We have to start looking more towards the plain and simple things, and getting away from thinking that more is better. It just confuses things.

Look at her. She is beautiful just plain. I don’t mean that she looks plain and unsophisticated, her poise alone strikes me in its complexity, I just mean wholesome, like plain apple pie. Oh, she is beautiful, isn’t she? So what must I do to meet her, because now I think I have to! I’ll just sit here by the side of the road and sip from my coconut drink, acting casual, to see what happens next. And look! She’s glancing back at me.

Stay cool Finch. I’m sure that’s a little more than a curious glance. She’s not intimidated at all, like the girls in the states. Oh if only her family wasn’t there, I’d go up to her right now. Well I’ll just keep playing it cool and look uninterested for a while longer. That should work because I can feel her looking at me still. Yep, reassuring! I’m pretty sure she’s at least a little infatuated, so I just have to wait it out and look for my chance.

Stay very inconspicuous Mr. Finch; don’t let on what your game is. Wait your turn to make the move. And look, there’s my chance! Her mom and dad are going inside. Just the kids are left.

What threat can they possibly pose? I suppose I could just go over and introduce myself, or make some remark about her dress; but that won’t make a good enough first impression. I could be blunt and tell her she’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I’m sure that line hasn’t filtered its way to this island yet.

While yet engaged in this conversation with myself, one of her brothers noticed me mumbling and planning to myself. Such a strange man looking at their sister. He pointed me out to his other brother, probably no more than a year older than he was, and they both began to tease and yell as they pointed their fingers.

I took this as an opportunity of luck. What a perfect opening line, I thought, while I rushed over. To entertain them I feathered my hair up, so that it would look like a chicken, then looked up at the kids and said: “Mira chicos, soy un campesino loco.” (Which means, I am a crazy country boy.) I played my “campesino game” some more, before recognizing the boys to be the same two kids I’d met earlier at the beach.

What a stroke of luck! I often tell myself how convenient it is, the way fate works. Somehow, I had managed to go to the same house that I would have ended up at if I had chosen to follow the boys’ invitation. They were already my friends, so it wouldn’t be too hard to meet their sister.

I continued playing with the boys, trying to impress their sister. First the role of a chicken, then a turkey, and finally a mad man. “And now boys, a chicken! Bock, bock, bock, bock, cock!” The kids were very amused, and so was the girl. She laughed some.

It was all very silly indeed, but nice. I could tell she was thinking that I was a pleasant man and that she liked me, although she could hardly understood any of the words I said. It was funny enough just looking at me. Her smile was tender. I had made such a good impression that I couldn’t help being proud of myself.

After my show was over, she had to surgically remove the two boys from off my legs; which had become fireman posts for them to play on. This big funny friend wasn’t something the boys were going to let go of easily. I didn’t mind any of it. They were beautiful kids and I really did like them. It was a feeling I didn’t have to fake, and that was something she found very attractive.

There was little verbal communication between she and I, because she didn’t speak a word of English, and very little Spanish. The moment was awkward and made me feel foolish, but I had to laugh at myself. Gee, I must have looked stupid. I guess it was all in good fun.

Now would have been the time for that Spanish that I never learned while sleeping in class, to kick in. But even if I had learned Spanish really well, it wouldn’t have helped much more because she mostly spoke Guarani-mezclado; which is a local tongue composed of Guarani mixed with Spanish. Her whole family spoke it, but the boys could speak a lot more Spanish than the rest of them. The whole island spoke this tongue, but only half the population could speak Spanish; and even less of that number could read or write. I supposed I could understand the boys enough.

Her mother and father returned as she was still pulling the unwilling grabbing monkeys away from my legs. The mother looked puzzled and made a couple of inquiries, to the girl, as to whom I was. The girl responded, with a smile and a lot of explanation, although I didn’t have a clue about what was being said. After the inquiries, the mother seemed to be satisfied enough, and she waved her hand to the kids as one might do to a cat or dog begging at the table. They resisted her command, a bit, because they didn’t want to leave my legs, but soon found their mother’s will was stronger, and went indoors without any more resistance to her authority.

Fascinated with this new visitor, both the father and mother pulled up a couple of chairs and sat to study me. So what does one say to someone who doesn’t understand a word you’re saying, but whom you want to make understand because you want him or her to like you?

Their smiles were very pleasant. It was the look of tender parents, very trusting and giving. The mother made little gestures at me, attempting to communicate. It made it easier for me to understand them, but I still felt as a know-nothing that didn’t even know how to speak. Still they were very kind, and soon I wasn’t uncomfortable. I sat with them, in what was the beginning of a mute conversation between two peoples of different worlds. I was on the one side, while they on the other; and they were able to speak among themselves while trying to communicate with me, “the curious stranger.”

Ironically, it wasn’t the type of awkwardness I anticipated. Instead, I actually remember having a good time. I’m sure we didn’t do anything too interesting, to provide much entertainment, besides me falling off my chair once, creating a good bit of laughter for quite a time. We began a friendship that didn’t need any words. It was one that was created with no deception, because a clean form of communication forged it. Nothing could be said that would be a lie.

Thinking about it, I believe never to have had equally as gratifying an experience at sharing myself with any other group of people. It was almost better not to have used words. I was sharing what was essentially me without the need for any form of persuasion to prove my good nature. I didn’t have to persuade them by telling them about my career or diplomas. My political views were also something I could keep in my pocket, being of no importance here. How often had I been misunderstood because of one of my political opinions, oftentimes being the result of someone labeling me, in the back of their minds, as a blind-minded conservative? Oftentimes, I had been the one that had done the labeling.

They could not be deceived, because they saw me for what I was, not what I could pretend to be, and that was the most reassuring part, when they ended up liking me. After a while, one of the kids stuck his head out of a window. I’m sure he was pleading for a chance to meet with the stranger some more. The verdict from mother was in the affirmative, as she nodded in allowance. So permission for one was permission for all!

It seemed I was a hit with the entire family. First at the beach, with the boys, then here in their home. I learned all their names; of course I already knew the boys’ names, who were Julio and Hector. The mother was Higinia (pronounced Ihinia), the father, Jose Luis Gonzales and the girl… I hesitated to ask her for her name. I was too shy. She blushed, and with a burst of courage and a smile, offered me her name.

I will never forget the way the sound from her lips made me tingle, almost as if little bells were ringing all over my body. “Noelia.” She said it simple, as if it had no real significance in this world; but to me it was the most important thing. I will never forget her, no, not even in my grave. She was like a little girl, so calm and perfect. I watched her eyes; they were the eyes of an innocent child. They reflected peace and serenity, something I had never found before in my own life. What a lovely girl. A woman!

I tried to continue my involvement with the family, although from that time on I found it hard to concentrate on anything other than Noelia. It was as if the sun had risen for the very first time, and all along I had never really felt the rays of heat that come to us from this distant orb. What could life now be? I found myself embarrassed, trying not to let them notice my obvious enamor. I tried to compose myself, although it was useless to find strength to pull the arrow that had struck me.

They all had a real interesting time trying to pronounce my name, and made lots of fun of it. Even Higinia laughed at it. None of them could pronounce Finch right, clobbering it phonetically, so I had them call me by my first name, David.

I’m not sure how I got so lucky to go on that little walk with Noelia, but at that moment I could not believe my fortune. I think Higinia suggested it. She probably noticed the way I was attracted to her daughter and thought it her task to see that the two of us had a moment. She had noticed a lot more than I thought during our silent conversation. Whatever it was, she trusted me with her daughter.

We walked through the village, and a little while later climbed up a slope that led to a brook and ended in a small waterfall. There were lots of trees with many different shades of green. Flowers sprung up everywhere, with colors from every spectrum imaginable. Soft grasses carpeted the entire landscape, as the birds sang the songs of home. It was their permanent year-round habitation and it made me envious of them.

I pulled out my camera, and am very happy to have done so, for if I hadn’t I never would have had such marvelous tokens of her. She was fascinated with the camera. I was glad because that meant I would be able to take many pictures of her, as was my intention. Cameras, on the island, were not very common, although they were inexpensive. Everyone was instantly drawn, when one was about to take a picture, the same way a child would be, and she was no exception. Like a little girl, she was curious and marvelous, shy in her beauty, and embarrassed when told of her fairness.

That made it so I had to coax a little before I could actually get her to be in the first picture. She took my camera and played with it, snapped a picture at the air and then one at me, which cut my body right in half. Then she laughed and teased while I ran to catch her.

As we walked, a little man and his wife passed us and I asked them if they would take our picture. He gladly accepted so we stood together and waited for the flash. I wanted her to feel comfortable, and have a shot of us to keep. Perhaps for some future year when she could look back on this day and smile for the day we met.

What would that future day be like? I wondered. Would she be looking at that photograph as four of our grand children sat around, and she told stories of their grandfather? Would I be there, watching over her shoulder, as the kids laughed at the funny stories about grandpa and his silly ways? Or would she be looking at them alone? I wondered if she would stay with me, or if I had only seen her, the girl of my dreams, for a short season, and would ever miss her afterwards.

These thoughts ended as we walked a little further, stopping occasionally where inspiration hit, to take another shot of her in some different pose. Now her confidence with the camera was trustingly established. I played the part of a professional photographer, from some famous magazine, photographing the world’s most elite model. It was so wonderful that I almost felt French, giving her directions as to what to do with her hair and pose. It was pretty silly, but I believe that was when we really began to have fun with each other.

There might have been others there, watching us, and they might have mistaken me for some real photographer from the States that was out on assignment. Maybe a few might have seen and been interested for a moment, as curiosity caught them; for I was the actor, pretending as they watched, feeding myself with their star-struck enthrall.

It was a strenuous profession, this life of a photo-famous-camera man. Trying to get my work done, before anyone recognized this famous goddess model, would almost be impossible. “Run through the field of those pretty yellow flowers,” I’d yell, “Run and pose for me, I can still see you.”

Even though my photos were far from professional, (mostly off center and blurred by the sun), they still caught the image of her beauty on a paper not worthy of such radiance. How grateful I am of those moments in time, captured. They were made to stand still-little ripples reflecting from her foot as she touched the water and a gentle smile as I instructed her. Perhaps the pictures weren’t professional, but they were something more than special. They captured beauty and life, her life, and were worth more than a Picasso or DaVinci to me.

They were monuments of our beginning, and every time I’d look on them, from that day on, meant that I could begin to live once more; to relive the moment of birth when I began to take unto me the sweet breath of her life. Again, those memories come to me now. The echoes of my words. “My sweet Noelia run! There is a place to sit! You will look so pretty on this wooden bench!” Memories of her beauty and my attraction. “You will look so pretty here. You will look so pretty there.”

The sun was beginning to go down, creeping over the horizon and onto the rocks, casting a perfect shadow. Even I could tell this would be a great picture: great focus, perfect center; she smiled and teased, cupping her hand inside the water, just the way I showed her, so that we might get that perfect pose. “Smile now, and blow me a kiss.” I said, but she didn’t understand until I made the kissing gesture. Even then, she wasn’t sure if I was flirting with her, or wanting her to do the same. I admit, I wasn’t sure either. I think I wanted the kiss. Then, “click-click,” and she was caught puckering at me. I’ll keep that one forever. I think I caught her having the best time of her life, or maybe I caught myself.

We walked back, laughing and smiling, because we liked one another. I was sad to have to leave her. I don’t know if I should have felt that sad so soon, but I longed to be with her and leaving now was very opposite to what I wanted to do. I’m not sure why my heart seamed to ache at the thought of even a second away from her, but at least one thing I was sure of: I was missing her already, and I hadn’t even left yet.

The rest of the formalities were pleasant. Her parents treated me nice and gave me a cake to eat on my way back. Higinia had baked it for me and had wrapped it in a cloth. The kids said good-bye to me by swinging from my arms, and the Jose-Luis gave me a friendly nod. Higinia wanted to make sure that I would come back, and that this wasn’t just another one time visit, “North American style”. She asked me in Guarani, and was very meticulous in making sure I knew that I was welcome and that they wanted me back. Noelia was behind her mom, equally eager to know when I’d return, and whispering to her mom’s ear the questions she wanted answered. That part I didn’t know, until she told me later on one of our exploration-walks through the island jungles.

On the walk to my room, I tried to convince myself to turn back, thinking up various plans, but never came up with a decent excuse. If I turn back, I proposed, they’d ask why I’ve called on them so soon. I’ll have to stay on my course. That’s the only thing to do.

I approached my room and once again I saw a note attached to my door. “Must be another poem.” I thought out loud, with a mixture of joy and dread. It was great that I had received another, for the first had been so great, but I also thought of the trouble it would bring with Blanca and sighed with heaviness. I took the paper off the nail.

Indeed, it was another poem, written in Guarani, or some other local language. In either case I didn’t understand it and that meant that Blanca would have to know about it. It would upset her more, no doubt. That was too bad, because I didn’t like to see her troubled.

I went inside. My door was slightly ajar; and I thought for a moment that the person who dropped the note had come inside as well. Instead, I found an oddly shaped individual with a long black beard sitting on my bed. He was holding a small book and nodded the moment he saw me, as if he’d been expecting me. I suddenly recognized the man as Irvin, a medicine priest that I had met on my early morning walk that day. I had completely forgotten about our appointment! I had asked him to come and look at the poem I had received, in an attempt to prove to Blanca that it was not evil. I was glad I hadn’t missed him, and hoped he had not been waiting long.

Irvin opened his book and then asked for the note. I presumed he wanted it when he pointed to me with his old stringy finger. I tried to explain that the note I was holding was not the original note, but a new one. I don’t think he understood, but took the note anyway. Irvin translated and wrote down the poem for me in Spanish. He nodded his approval of it, and smiled to me as if the spirits had blessed and poured out their mirth on me. Most likely he hadn’t brushed his teeth since he was twelve, and the putrid smell that came from his mouth with that smile diverted all my attention from the gestures of fortune he was giving me.

He went on to explain what the poem was about. In his broken dialect of Spanish and bits of English, (which was a surprise), he told me that the poem was a sort of blessing. It had magical and spiritual qualities that would foretell the future for me, and in some cases forge it. He explained that I would still be left to make certain decisions, but that the poem would stop the consequences of any wrong decision and correct my fate to run its proper course.

In this case, he said, it was all good. I asked Irvin if the poem had anything to do with “The Malagra”. He stopped for a moment, and then told me that this was not “El Malagra”. It was like it, except that “El Malagra” was a curse, and this was, in opposite, a blessing. He told me that I had probably found favor with some other, much stronger, “Worker of the spirits,” and that it had probably been that person who had sent me the blessing as a gift for some kindness. He then asked me if I had done something kind for someone lately. I thought for a moment, and then remembered I had helped a woman carry her groceries at the market. She had looked like a witch… Or maybe the two boys.

He told me that it couldn’t be any one of those persons; that on the island neither young boys nor women would be the ones to cast such a spell. Children could neither cast nor be affected by any type of magic that he knew of, except in the case of healing, where even children had been known to cure their parents using prayers and other omens. Women, on the other hand, could wield magic, but not the type nor rite that these blessings required. It could only have come from some very powerful and old “Worker of the spirits.”

There was that phrase again “Worker of the spirits.” It had such a ring to it, and it sent my imagination soaring. I couldn’t, for the life of me, think of anyone who met that description whom I had made a good impression on. There was that old magician I had plundered just some days ago, but he would rather have sent a curse than a blessing. I asked Irvin again if he was sure that the poem was good, but again came the reassuring explanation that it was indeed a blessing and that no cursing could bring such good luck. He explained that the poem read that I would find, or had found (I couldn’t make out if he was using past or future tense), the love of my life. Such a blessing, he said, could only take me to places where I would feel complete and true about myself.

Even though I was not superstitious, and believed nothing about the magic and spirits, and was only talking to this man to set Blanca’s mind at rest; I couldn’t help but be affected by Irvin’s fortune telling. If anything was to be said about these types of people (soothsayers, fortune-tellers, and palm readers), it is that they almost always have something to say that comes close to home, out of the many generalizations they speak.

In any case, I had been correct. The poems weren’t curses of any kind. Instead, they were omens of good fortune – blessings from above. I was glad Irvin had come, and had translated the work for me, even though I couldn’t understand all of it yet. But to find someone to translate from Spanish to English would be much easier, than to find someone to translate it from Guarani. I could even get Blanca to translate it for me, now that I had proof that the poems weren’t evil.

Irvin left and was on his way to Blanca’s door to explain the outcome. I didn’t feel the need to gloat over my correctness, but I’d probably go over there as soon as Mr. sewer-breath was good and gone, so I waited and gave it a few extra minutes.

Blanca was in the kitchen cooking something for me. I didn’t know what it was, but it sure smelled appealing. I would be glad to eat with her, now that all this Malagra business was over. Unfortunately, as I found out, it wasn’t. As soon as I asked her something about it, she professed Irvin’s incompetence, when earlier she would have been happy at my decision to get a second opinion. Now she cried because of how foolish the man had been.

He had probably been drinking and gotten his eyes clouded on some cute girl, she said, because his interpretation was absurd. She pointed out that there hadn’t even been a slight reference of any girl in the poem, so how could he have come up with such a tail about some destined love if he had not been preoccupied on some barmaid?

“An off the wall reading and translation. It was all rubbish. Basura!” She was crying, even more so now, because instead of helping me see the light, that old fool had sent me to an abyss of deceit where the truth would be screened from me, and there was no way of making me see it now. I tried explaining it to her. I told her that it was all a mistake, that there had been another poem, of the same kind, which I had not told her about because I had just received it. This was the one I had given to the man, instead of the first, and this one did mention a girl in it.

A look of appalling concern came over her face, and then I thought I shouldn’t have told her about the other poem. She shook her hands to me in warning defense. “It is the Malagra! Dons you see. Dis is why he no tell you toos. I so stupid, mi Tupa. Why you not tell me there is more dan wan note? He no see. Don’t you see, if you tells him der is more than wan, then he tells you the same as me.”

“Blanca, again with that. What difference is it if there is one or two? They are both written the same. There is no mention of bad in either one of them.”

“Yes, but you no see, it makes a difference. Plis sir, do dis for me. Let Irvin see the first and he tells it too yous, too.”

There was no concern in my part about the matter, and it all had been resolved to my complete satisfaction. The whole ordeal had been made to calm the poor lady down, and it had not, so I decided to agree with whatever it was that she wanted me to do. I most likely wouldn’t go back to stinky-man, as she said, to get my fortune re-told; but I’d tell her I would. A small fib wouldn’t hurt in the line of it being used for something good.

Her look of trepidation frightened me. For a moment, I thought that I might give heed to her warning and believe that there might be something to this. Anyone would have been scared by the look of that lady. She looked scarier than any Halloween spook I’d ever seen, so I’m not ashamed of any momentary lack of reason; but I came to my senses, brushing it off gingerly.

Certainly there was nothing alarming nor disturbing written in either of the two poems. On the contrary, they were what Irvin had made them out to be: both beautiful and full of good luck, if nothing else. Thus I set off to find someone else to translate the new poem into English for me, seeing as Blanca was so set on being superstitious; but told her that I was off to find Irvin again.

Even though I had lied to her for her own good, I couldn’t stop feeling a little guilty when looking on her face. The expression told that she felt a little better and that she held her confidence in me.

A little while later I arrived at a bar where I found someone to help me with the translation of the poem. I would have second-guessed any man’s translation, but fortunately I found an English teacher from the local elementary, who had decided to play hooky for the day. He only charged me three dollars for the task, and had it ready for me to read by my second glass. I must admit, it made for good reading with my drink and the strange snacks they had on the bar.

POSER

Pictures here pictures there pictures in so many poses

First you put your hair up then you let it down.

[_ Turn around -Twice for me _]

Smile – It’s for the picture

Come on now come on don’t be yourself

They would die rather than to see you as you are

So fill it up, fill up your cup.

Please them for you-for your reflection.

CHAPTER 4

Noelia

Morning came too quickly. My head was spinning, and the light from the open shutters was pounding on my eyeballs. It was a hangover. I wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep again, now that I was awake. I knew the feeling all too well. Once awake, with a hangover, closing my eyes would only take me on a roller-coaster ride to a place where I didn’t want to go.

Grudging it, I got up. My hair was a mess, and my mouth was a cotton ball. Looking at my hands, I never noticed that they were so large, clumsy and gawky big hands. They fit on a giant instead of me. I brushed my hair back and felt the clammy feel of dead hands on me, as if someone else were brushing back my hair. It made me want to push those hands aside, with my real hands. Instead I had to use those hands and balance my way to the washroom.

It was too bad that the bathroom had a mirror, because I looked as good as I felt; but even so, for some reason that escapes me, I decided not to take a shower. Even stranger, up to that point, I had not thought of Noelia at all. I went into the kitchen where Blanca was already busy cooking. Did that woman sleep in there? I asked myself. She was always in the kitchen.

“You luk a mess,” she said, which was the best-pronounced thing I’d ever heard her say. “You go to bar and be depres after Irvin finally tells you like I told you, ah?”

“Yeah,” I only nodded and grunted the words to her. It felt a little bad to lie, but it was only a half lie, because I had gone to the bar.

“So now what does naw?” asked Blanca. Her English, at this point, took a dive. It was so badly spoken that I had to have her repeat herself. She looked at me, with the eyes of a disappointed mother, as if the booze had made me deaf, but still repeated herself.

“So now what does yu naw!” came her louder, but still incomprehensible, bad English. “You will let me help you aut of dis? I have help for yous. You don’t have to be so depres coz I helps yous. But now you see I was raight. And I raight about Gauchito tus. You come here. I happy now you know.”

I don’t know what was the matter with her that morning, but she was speaking the worst English I had ever heard. At least I understood part of it, but the rest was spoken to the wind, even with my ears straining. She pointed to her cabinet, where there was probably some root or herb that she wanted me to wear again, but I wasn’t in the mood to deal with that now.

“No, no I just think about it for little while. Think to myself. You know.” was my defense. (It’s funny how I started to imitate Blanca’s strong accent. I find it’s a phenomenon that always occurs when one talks to people from other countries. It is also interesting how one usually increases volume and decreases speed as well, even though the person being talked to is neither deaf nor slow). I got up and left, without even taking a bite. How could I anyway with my stomach the way it was?

By then the thought of Noelia crossed me, along with the resolution to look my best. After debating it a while, I decided to shower, even though I’d already gotten dressed and really didn’t feel like doing it. What I needed was something to help pass the revolution in my head, although I never like to drink when hung over. It’s a rule I try to enforce on myself because drinking in the morning makes me feel paranoid of becoming an alcoholic as my dead uncle had become. Maybe some Alka-Seltzer would do fine, but chances of finding some on the island were close to nil.

My shower was long, and fitting into my clothes was a hassle. I made myself presentable: combed my long bangs back, shaved, took off the bits of toilet paper from my post-shaved face, and put on my Gilligan hat. The shoes were uncomfortable, it seemed as though my feet were swollen, so I changed into sandals and left the room.

Blanca came in, just at that moment, with a little cup of fizzing water for me. “Drink dis, it make yous better,” she said. Funny how she didn’t even knock, as if I were just her boy.

“No, no Blanca, not now.” I pushed the cup away, supposing it to be some witches brew for warding off the evil spirits, but she held it to my face, and there was no strength of will left to deny it.

The fluid went down in a distasteful heat of gurgling. It made me want to puke. A taste so vile that it seemed as though there was no chance in holding back my heaving stomach, especially with those nasty witch’s bubbles that fizzed into my nose… But wait! What a surprise, it was Alka-Seltzer! This Blanca was a sweet one after all, a real gem, and all through her strangeness she at least knew what I was going through.

“Gracias,” I said, with a smile. I felt much better and headed out to find my gal. Walking along the beach on the way to Noelia’s, I took off my shoes. I had taken the long way instead, to let my head clear. It was midday now, and the sun and heat were at their best. If I hadn’t been going somewhere, I would have taken off my clothes and plunged in; but my mind was set in its route. That’s why it was such a surprise when I found myself already swimming in the cool ocean, having not thought first but reacted on impulse. That automatic reaction of mine was a bit of an enigma.

The water was so clear and relaxing that I didn’t canker my indulgence, but just swam in the medicinal waves. They swept upon me, as a spoonful of warm tonic. Wave after wave, a renewal came to me, like a soothing form of music, that the tide brought, cradling me out of my despair. The whole thing made me feel a lot better. Even this “Malagra” thing didn’t bother me that much any more. It was a shame to admit it, but the whole thing got to me a little – all the speaking of curses and evil things. Even still, the anguish had been worth it, for the poems. Otherwise, I never would have gained them. They were a treasure to me, for all I had experienced, just as the knife would have been, had I been able to buy it.

The poems were now a symbol of my experiences here on the island. They were just as good as if I had been able to buy the entire shrine, from that first priest, whom I offended so. Was not the experience and memory the real trophy? Wasn’t that why I had collected items in the first place? Each, in its own way, reminded me of a special event, place, or person that had been special in my life. In the end, it was the adventure that was the pliable part of my memory, put in focus by a solid object that I kept throughout the years. And the bond I was now forming with the people of this island, was what the poems would represent each time I read them.

A short time in the ocean awakened my hunger. Finally the spinning was gone, replaced instead by the soft back and forth motion my body felt from the tide. It was a welcomed feeling, much more preferable than the nagging aches that come from the bottom of a bottle.

For food I found myself a little inn by the beach, where they served seafood. I asked for some pescado (fish), and it was very agreeable. A lot like home cooking. Not exactly like Blanca’s dishes (those were usually quite exotic to my experience); instead they were of a softer, milder, nature, with lots of vegetables and a nice soft European taste.

My stomach was famished. It lied to me and said it had not had food in it for days. I had to order a second dish to fill up, but after doing so, felt whole again. I was now in tip-top shape for a meeting with Noelia and her family. It didn’t matter to me one way or another if her parents or brothers were there. If she was alone, it would be a nice time to spend with just her, and on the other hand Higinia and Jose Luis were so nice that it would be equally gratifying to see them as well.

I saw all of them, from a distance, sitting on their porch. Noelia was just coming out, holding a teacup they called “cuia”, used for serving the tea they called maté.

I would not go into detail here, but I find it irresistible to describe this maté drink that was so great a part of their culture. Often I would tease them because of their seemingly great obsession over the herb. It was not an addictive substance (as is the case with coca leaves commonly used by the Colombian Indians and other near-central American tribes). Maté is not physically addictive, but everyone everywhere was in a way mentally addicted to this herbal tea.^^iv^^ Not to drink maté was socially unacceptable behavior. It is the common pastime, used at any reunion, and is almost a requirement in every occasion. Oftentimes the people would just sit around for hours and talk while drinking this strange tea. I found it to be no extraordinary experience, but, as all others, I was required by custom to participate in the maté.

When a group is drinking maté they sit around in a circle and pass around the cuia while drinking from the same “bombilla” (a metal straw with a filter on the bottom, used to siphon the maté).

I would have preferred not to use the same bombilla as everyone else, but such sanitary practices are not permitted and are looked on as an insult. One would rather mingle in the “germ party” than offend such hospitality.

The Gonzales’ saw me, and Noelia waved. I could tell she was happy to see me, and that delighted me. The kids came out and hugged my legs, but after seeing I had brought nothing for them, took off somewhere. Higinia smiled at them and asked me, with her hand, to sit a little. I sat and Noelia sat right next to me with a big smile on her face. She was shy, but held my arm for a moment. It was too magnificent. I was in the company of angels.

I sat a while, with the same results as the day before, feeling the comfort of being loved and respected by a great set of human beings. I admired them for their capacity to embrace so easily, and could feel the love in their household, unlike any I had ever felt, not that my house had lacked the warmth or joy I needed while growing up; but this was different, a much more heavenly-perfected kind of love. One doesn’t have to complain about one’s own family to know that there are other families more united than one’s own. Noelia’s family was that to me. It was so good being with them that I almost found myself desiring to be adopted and had to pull back a little.

To my unawares, they had a foreknowledge that I didn’t have. Noelia was going to take me on a walk again, perhaps for the entire day. I was ignorant to their culture, and the way one could court a pretty girl like her, but at least I had met with her parent’s approval; or so it was suggested.

We walked so long that my feet began to hurt. It could have been two hours from the time we started. My watch said three o’clock, but I hadn’t seen the time at her house, so I couldn’t be sure of an accurate count. We stopped a little while and she went to a plant to gather some berries. It was so very nice to be fed by this breathtaking girl of porcelain. It was a wonderful act, and I became a god. Not as a king being fed by maiden-servants, but as a creature being taken from the pit, drawn by caring arms that love it when they ought not.

I was the fortunate one, but Noelia was acting as if it were she. That’s the part that was surprising, but even, as I might dare say, comforting; for it made me feel secure again. The fruit from her feeding hand revived us, as we rested, so that we could continue on our walk. I don’t think she really needed the rest as much as I did, but stopped mainly because she was concerned about my comfort; and that was as sweet a gesture as all the others had been.

After that it was easy to hold her hand. We walked a ways, until there was no more road, and then we came to the edge of the forest, where there were no houses to accompany us. She looked at me and was so coquette, extending her other arm to me. It wasn’t to bring me into her arms, but to bring me into the forest. Then we ran because she wanted to show me something further on.

It was bizarre how the forest grew so rapidly. At one moment we were in the outskirts of it, where the light still filtered onto the ground, and the real animal of it still looked pretty far ahead; but the next moment we were actually inside, where the jungle itself had a living language of its own. It roared as a young lion: a living jungle, where the trees above formed the roof of a great mouth, as we walked inside its gaping entity, where only half the light could filter in. We were in a dimmer world, a world where creation had taken us into its own belly and shown us where the living life began. It was a good world, not full of fear or pain, yet full of all mystery and foreboding, ready to open its secrets unto us.

A kind of reverence was sprung upon me, and I was made to bow with respect for this great elemental mother world. I was in the presence of its countenance. Nature was now staring at me; demanding veneration through my silence. I found only whispering to be appropriate, from that moment on, as a result of its impact on me.

Onward and higher, into the increasing slope, we climbed. More and more I found my eyes finding their focus on this girl, as even the giant of nature fell away from her radiance. It was as if she were the queen of this splendor, set to rule over it; and I was a foreigner here, but she was in her own house, a place where she was the head and matriarch.

Upward and deeper, onto the top of that forest mountain we climbed. Was it all mountains, or was there just the one? This one stretched higher and higher, but I dropped my attention from our climb again, as it became a background to Noelia.

Forward and faster we ran. I could barely keep up with Noelia in her own land. It was such an effort that I stubbed my toe on a fallen log. She stopped to help me and rubbed my toe until it felt better. The smile of a Cherub fixed on her face, and then we ran again.

For a second I thought she had contemplated something… Up and forever, and everything blurred by us, then she stopped and turned to tell me that if I had not come for her, when I did, she would have come for me.

“And I would have found you!” she said, speaking in some form of Spanish which I could barely understand.

That was a great thing! She was fond of me, as I was of her. I even dared to fantasize that she had missed me as I had missed her, waiting for the time to pass until we met again. Then we continued, for she was excited to show me the place where we were going. It was very close now, she said.

Where was she taking me, this thing of beauty? The surroundings were breathtaking, but lacked my attention because of her. The way her dark skin curved and danced was a thing of grace, describing deity to my eyes. As a child I had imagined a friend like her. This friend would come to my window and take me with her to the wild country, and play many games with me.

Yet Noelia was much more than a childhood dream. She was a thing of adoration that altered reality in a supreme value. She held my hand… A warm current wrapped my arm and I felt secure, as a young child led by his mother to the marketplace. I did not care where we were going, as long as when we reached our destination she did not fly away from me, as I’d imagined she would. I was convinced that she would unfold her wings, as an angel, and fly away to where she had been missed. Then, because of grief, I would become a painter, thereafter sprung upon her inspiration, to spend the rest of my life creating images of her and no one else.

Noelia looked back at me periodically, smiling and giggling. She ran through the forest with great agility, far greater than mine, even though her feet were naked and I had shoes on. All the while, as we ran, I heard a roaring waterfall foaming over some immense cliff beyond sight. Then we were there… She brought me to a sudden halt and caught me in her arms, right before I tumbled over the edge that would have sent me soaring over a giant cliff. Beneath our feet was a sight so spectacular, that my only description of it was that we had penetrated the borders of heaven. We were in the clouds and my heart didn’t need to break, for she had taken me home with her.

There, beneath us, was a plunge into infinity. We were on the edge of a cliff adjacent to a waterfall, so vast, that it scarcely fit into my comprehension. The trees and plants, on our side of the canyon, ran all the way up to the peak until the floor dropped, without warning, into a basin of mist. Its disguise and my willful disregard towards the surroundings was what had caught me off guard and would have meant my doom had it not been for Noelia. She was as familiar with this wilderness, as anyone can be of his or her own home.

This waterfall, before me, was so grand that it made me realize how small a man I was. I was completely powerless under the hand of nature. All the reasons and responsibilities, demanding my return to the states were drowned in the huge sight in front of me. My reality was smaller, infinitely smaller, than I had imagined it to be. Still, she was there and as long as she was, it didn’t matter how small a part of reality I was. With her at my side I could become the greatest of all God’s creations. Then again, my importance mattered not and melted. At first, into the roar of the tremendous amounts of falling water, and then into her eyes, as our lips met and we kissed.

  • * *

As I approached the door to my room, I could see, hanging on the door, another one of those notes. I had previously suspected that Noelia had been the one writing the poems, but now, as she had been with me the entire day, was sure it wasn’t her. Someone else was the author, but the mystery would have to wait to be solved.

I detached the note from its snag. I wished they didn’t have to put it on that nail. It always made a hole in the paper. A work of art shouldn’t have to go through such drilling torture. I opened the note, which this time had been left folded, like a mystery waiting to be unraveled by someone willing. I was that someone.

Whomever it had been, that wrote the poem, had, this time, done so in English; yet there were no misused words, or rough badly-written sentences, just a well used language well placed into poetic beauty; and thus it read:

HER (colors)

Something unusual

Soft streaming beauty

It breaks the coarse horizon

Covering the landscape

The colors are changed

Fluorescent greens have died

Leaving the soothing breeze

Warming through the valley’s eve

It’s a dash of sprinkle white

Soft hands across an icy face

Mine, like the sunset, ever-changing

But her, to create a glossy blue sky

The tones are melting

Bleeding, weaving into one

The decorative lilies in her hair

Seem to dance across the hilltops

Where I created streams

To lift – and bend – and stir

The sky… then air – slides

Rushing sudden-

Red meets blue Hail!

The purple: It’s a sonnet greeting night

Wash away all pale and dull

It’s one breath beneath this trail

Wave of thrashing waterfall

To sail across its frosty edge

Wrapped around in safet

Know not where I am but You

I held my breath and put the poem down. Once again, it felt as if my lips had just barely left hers, and the shrill and triumph returned through my body. How was it that this man knew what words to write? They were the exact words that were in my heart.

I thought the unknown author could be a man, for I don’t think the poem was meant to win me over. It was just a perfect description of what I had just gone through and how beautiful it was. I had to show it to Blanca! Maybe this time, with this note, after I told her what I’d gone through with Noelia, she would change her mind about the curse.

The way there was easy. Not at all like before, when I had dreaded the confrontation and had tried to talk myself out of getting any advice from Blanca. I hardly thought of it, this time, but rather thought of Noelia. Her little life, her village and this little place, so close to home, where my heart wanted to be, pranced inside me in a dance of joy. When I arrived at Blanca’s door, it was open to welcome me in.

“Blanca! Alli esta? Where are you, my mother?” A little head popped around the corner and a hand with a pot.

Aqui estoy, mijito. You comin for yous suppers alredy? I no evin finish it yet. AY! Ay!” Her head bobbed up and down and was relentless as she panicked to hurry up and finish making something to eat. It was funny, to me, that eating was one of the most important things for the islanders. Or maybe, not eating, but serving the food and being ready to do so. It didn’t matter if you dropped by unannounced; the food was to be expected without say. And if the hostess did not have the food ready, it was always her fault and not yours.

It appeared silly that Blanca should have to go through such stress over me, so I calmed her down and told her I had not come to eat. She calmed down some, but she still insisted in giving me something. She served me some fried bananas topped with condensed milk, then sat down. It was a relief to see her sit and by the way she looked, it was probably the first time she had done so all day.

“Mamita, I came to tell you about the new letter I got. It came to me tonight. This is why I’ve come.” I started the process of taking out the letter.

“New letter?” she asked, looking very confused. She hadn’t understood what I’d meant, for I never called the poems letters. Perhaps she thought it was a dispatch from the States that had bad news in it, or worse, something demanding my return. She had grown so accustomed to me, that my leaving date gave her heartache. I could read her fear, at that moment, so I explained it to her.

“It’s not from the states Blanca, don’t worry.”

Her face smiled to my response and answered back happier, “Yous know me toos well, mijito. How you know I tink it from States?”

Her arms stretched out to hold me and I enjoyed a motherly hug. She held my shoulders after the hug then asked, “So what’s it sit, den?”

“It’s another one of those beautiful poems I receive. Look, this time it’s so nice. The person wrote it for me in English. Let me show you and tell you what it says.”

To my surprise, Blanca became angered, as she lunged towards the poem, trying to push it away. “No, I do not want to hers yur expication any mors. I toughts yous hungry, dat why you come! And I toughts yous finally sees and be safe and du what I say is good for yous. I pray and pray to the santo dat maybe dis be taken away, but now I sees it still heres. Oh what can we do, what can we do?” She started to sob and wave her hands in gesture of frustration.

“No, you do not see… I met this wonderful girl and she is the most beautiful thing in this world. You see, we met and she led me to this place in the mountains where there was this great waterfall and I think she is the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen. You don’t understand Blanca. I wanted to show you this poem because . . .”

But she cut me off before I could explain. “Becas notin. You fall in love with dis girl and naw she’s curs toos. If El Malagra finds out about her she toos will fall to the curs. Donz you see, you make dis bad for hers now?”

“No Blanca – that is enough! It is not bad at all. Let me tell you! She is not under any curse! This poet, that brings me his work, seems to know our futures, our good fortunes. Yes, at first I didn’t believe it myself, but see for yourself Blanca. He spoke about her in this poem, and I don’t know how he does it, but whatever this Malagra is, that you’re talking about, I’m sure it had nothing to do with the poems or this mans ability to foresee my good fortune. I should pay the man for his good services. But anyway, whatever it is, or if there is such a thing as your Malagra, I’m sure this is the good kind of Malagra and not the bad kind.” I began to be agitated, as a man is that is told his love is not for him.

Blanca’s face dropped dimmer and her sobbing increased to a louder agony. “No mijito, it is yous that does no understand… Poor girl… No good can come, poor girl. Somtin tragic will happen. Da curse espreads, and no one can stop it, only, maybe, El Gauchito. But even his not naw answer my prayer.” She cut off her conversation and went into a meditation-trance, chanting some local prayer, again, to this Gauchito. I immediately interrupted her, now perturbed with her ridiculousness.

“Look Blanca, there is nothing bad going to happen! So far, there has been nothing but nice and good that has come out of these poems and I will not have you say anything ill-predicted about Noelia! She is lovely and good, and her relationship with me will only benefit her. I don’t want you to be spreading any of your rumors or superstitions around, especially when it might get back to her family! I mean – the serious repercussions it could have on us! They are just as superstitious, if not more, than you are, and that could have a bad effect on her. Especially the way family influence is around here… Maybe she’d think it wouldn’t be good to see me. No! Blanca. I will not have you talking wildly about this any more! This silliness stops now!”

“No, mijito, you dons see… Poor child, I…” Now mad, I cut her sentence without giving her a chance to speak.

“No Blanca, you stop with this right now! I mean it! I won’t have any more of it!” My hand was in the air and I was so irritated and silly that my face was red. I must have looked like a lobster at that point, but all my arguing, disputing and threatening was useless because she wasn’t going to listen to me. So I just had to endure more of her nonsense and, of course, more of her silly chants to El all popular Gauchito Gill.

I left a little after that, when I could no longer tolerate a second more of it. In all reality, I think it got me so razed up because I had fallen in love with Noelia, without noticing it yet and any thought of risking her loss was a direct assault. Yes, I am sure that was the case, but where and exactly when it was that I fell in love with Noelia is unknown to me. I just know that as far back as I can remember I have felt for Noelia in that same way. So I left the kitchen, furious, wanting never to return. There was no change of opinion taking place in Blanca’s mind … or in mine.

CHAPTER 5

El Pajaro de Fuego

The days passed by comfortably. I spent most of my time with Noelia and saw much of her family. Noelia took me to all her favorite places and I found myself falling deeper and deeper into the pit of love, where no escape could be found; though I would have had no part in escape, even if there had been signs that foretold a future full of torment. Yes, I would have gladly let the rope dangle that would have pulled me out of the pit, for such was my case: an everlasting well of love, a place that was magical, surpassing all I’d ever hoped for.

I found that my Spanish had improved dramatically, or had been much better, than I thought to start with. Noelia, too, had experienced an increased ability to speak to me in Spanish, which she had scarcely learned as a child in school, but had since forgotten it since her family only spoke Guarani at home.

Time passed by too quickly but we were happy. Neither of us spent a wasted moment. Nothing, in this new relationship, was difficult to overcome. We did not have to work at it very hard. We just enjoyed each other; therefore we did not have the little upsets that one so often has with a mate. Nothing in our characters was unrewarding, dull, or insulting to one another. Nothing was too much to handle. It was the sort of thing I’d been missing all these years! If only things had been a little different, I could have asked this girl to marry me right then, and lived happily ever after. That is how I wanted it to be… and perhaps things would become different soon, I thought. I sure longed for that… We both did.

During this early time of our courtship, I would sometimes find other notes, or poems, attached to my door. They came regularly, almost predictably, but I hardly had any mind to pay much attention to them; except, of course, to thank them for how eloquently they put into words the emotions and events I was living through. I would often find a poem placed on my door on the day when a major event happened; so I learned to predict when I’d most likely find one. My forecasts were so accurate that I almost became accustomed or dependent sometimes, to finding those happy poems.

Still, as happy as I was, there was an uneasy place left in my mind for nostalgia. Not that I missed home so much, to me the island was home now. But it was as if I had already gone back to the States and was missing Natial. Never before had I experienced a sense of nostalgia before it happened. It was as if I was having a premonition of the feeling itself. Even spending all my time with Noelia didn’t cure this dread of having to go back. The weight of it remained up until one night when she took me to the top of some hill where we sat together, under a tree, speaking of devotion and things that ease the soul.

Our conversation made my heart feel light, and my bad feelings went away. There, on top of that hill, we pledged our eternal love for one another, saying that our devotions would endure all tests-until the end of time. We spoke of how we’d watch the stars, under that same sky, for the rest of forever and never be apart from one another. That was our promise to each other.

In recollection, I recognize the size of it. Indeed my love for her was genuine and eternal. If only there could really be a way to be together for the rest of time… Ah what a thought! Noelia was the answer that I’d been looking for all these years. She was what I had longed for, to fill my empty void and comfort me. We had to be united!

  • * *

Thus it went until one night when I decided to take a walk alone. I’m not sure why I didn’t spend that evening with Noelia, since being apart from her seemed almost inconceivable. I made my way from the village and rested on a little log near a road of sand. There were maybe three or four palm trees and a tiny house at an arrow’s distance. The stars that came out were twinkling on me, as if they were telling me to watch for something – and then it came, a majestic flight of some unknown comet on wings.

It was a bird, but of fire. I could see its beak and feathers as it flew overhead. I could not help but see it, for if I had not looked up, the noise of its flight would have pulled my attention anyway.

The bird had come from the east, soaring as high as the most prominent mountain, but so unique in its features that I could still see them clearly from the ground. To describe the bird, I could only say that if fire was used as ink, then fire had painted a bird. So indescribable and unique was this creature that I could scarcely convince myself that I wasn’t just imagining it, but actually seeing it before my very eyes. It was as if lightning itself had cracked its whip when it approached, for as fast as it had come, the winds of light had taken it from sight.

It had come and gone so quickly that there was no sure way of knowing exactly what it was I’d seen, except that it was real and alive, a bird of pure fire – alive, and not screaming from pain. If I could not explain it, then what I had just seen could be nothing less than a phoenix, and that simply could not be; not even if my eyes had told me so. A more nerving explanation would have to be that a weather phenomenon had just occurred, and that I had happened to be an eyewitness to it. If that was the case, that poor bird had caught the luck of being struck by several lightning bolts at the same time; but I could not believe that for the bird had not appeared to be damaged as it flew beyond the reach of my sight.

While still caught in the mystery, the question was resolved as the bird reappeared out of the far horizon. This time it flew with its entire splendor in a most majestic dance. This second appearance lasted much longer than the first.

It hovered above me, to let me soak in its splendor – tarrying in the same spot, then left as before. It was as if it were trying to defy my unbelief and impose itself as a new faith in my soul’s cradle. It was an image that could not be withstood, and now that it had given me more time to scrutinize it, it became forever detailed as an effigy, inescapable, to go back to again and again in future dreams and nightmares.

Time seemed to go slower as I gazed upon the spectacle, but in reality the whole ordeal only lasted about four seconds. During those few seconds I saw the most astonishing manifestation as the bird’s wings became fire, roaring like streams of thundering echoes, and cracking like the frost that splits the air in the early winter morning. It was as if fire and ice came from within its wings in a paradoxical confrontation.

I have never seen such colors, or such a spectacle of light, produced by anything that could be called a natural weather pattern. Further, I don’t think I have ever been able to see a bird’s features with such detail, even with a pair of binoculars. Thus it was impossible for me to escape the evidence that affirmed the existence of something paranormal. I know it was real, for it looked down on me, and the stare it gave made my bones feel as if they had been scraped with iron shavings. It’s eyes were the glow of red oven coals. They moved with life upon me and tore through my back, unraveling the stitches of doubt that were neatly sown. But it wasn’t horrible. How could it be? It had the face of a cherub – it was not frightening, but rather stirring, as if to startle a dead man from his deathbed.

I was surprised to find just one feather as an aftermath, since such a revolution of plumage could have easily left the poor bird bald. No, not one other clue, though I looked on for at least an hour more before continuing my walk.

I came to a bar and went in to take another rest. It was delightful that the people there did not laugh at me, for I told them the entire story. Instead, they took my story seriously and listened intently to every word I spoke. This was not like the States. No not at all. And when I showed them the feather, they were amazed and called me “the fortunate one”.

El pajaro de fuego,” one man said, “Everyone knows what dis feather comes from and what it bring to the one dat hold it.”

“So you do believe me?” I asked.

“Of course, mister… The legend says dat it name is the firebird or Phoenix, and that it roars trough da skies like tunder, and lite. It comes down from “El Tupa oti” in da skies-where it lives. El Tupa, when he is mad so he sends da bir to kill a demon. Den da pajaro flies, but if you can see him you can see the place of his home… And even better if you get one of his feaders it will bring you good luck or stop a curs from a devil. So dis feader you got, ah yes, no one ever has a feader for a long time.” The man then looked at the feather, which was being passed around for all to see, and gave it venerable homage. He was as the poor man watching the coat he cannot buy. So I took back the feather, now at the hands of a lady, and presented it to him.

“Then this is a gift for you, for such a fine story, because I already have found much good luck on your very fine island with some very good poems that bless me.”

“No sir, I can not take it. Not in a thousand years could you hope to get anoder feader like it again. And I have not earned it myself.”

“But you have! It was a very fine story, and I do not need more luck for I am also in love. What better luck can there be than this?” The bar was moved with romance and I felt as if I were in Italy, where all is love and where nothing is more important than love.

“Then this I will take from you, for you are right, and then tonight is my lucky night.” The storyteller snatched the feather and away he went, back to the night to celebrate his good fortune.

The rest of the time I sat there as the people in the bar watched me; and all were astonished at my greatness and generosity. No one thought it stupidity, on my part, to have given up such a find, nor thought me an unlearned fool for what I was forsaking; for all imagined I was some great man that had received much and probably had greater things, than this feather, in my possession.

Perhaps that feather could have helped me after all . . .

I left that bar and headed off back to my room, as it was now fairly late. As I approached my room, I could have almost guessed what awaited me. Another note was hanging there for me, making it the eighth I’d received thus far.

PHOENIX

Bird in the sky

Watching the night fade

With your glory wings of stormy fire

Tearing into flight

Turning in the air

Fading under beauty

To hear the covered night

Wrapped within a watchful eye

Nothing under heaven sees

No one above earth will know

But path of hollow streak

Burns through me

Heart of bitter hope

Bird in the sky gone by

Watching the night now still

CHAPTER 6

Fight

I spent the next two days at Noelia’s. During this time my mind began to get anxious about returning to the States. Even though I didn’t admit it consciously, there were those little spells of grumpy behavior that could only be blamed on my unwillingness to return. I was hoping that my constant ill temper would not scare her off.

In reality, up to that point, we had not been able to communicate too well, even though I’d become more agile with Spanish, and she remembered most of what she had learned as a child. But that still didn’t help me to be able to impart the feelings of my heart. What we had had before, when I couldn’t even say a word to her, had felt more pure. I remember those times of silence. Our eyes would just fix and I would somehow sink into her soul, and she into mine. The feelings in my heart were more easily shared through my eyes than through my words, and that was the type of communication I needed.

We still shared everything about ourselves, and had our thoughts shared in common with one another, but sometimes the words we used got in the way. This happened so much that eventually our words would be the cause for our demise. If we never had to speak, then the things I said would never have caused all those things to happen. She would never have grown mad at me and we would never have broken apart.

We did not see eye to eye when it came to the subject of my obligation to return to the States. How would I be able to stay with her and also keep my job and responsibilities? She said she could never be alone again – but I couldn’t mess up my life because of it. What she wanted was impossible, and I had to do the responsible thing. So how was I supposed to deal with the problem when it came? Would she go with me, to the States, if that was the solution? Of course she would, she’d have to; there could be no other way.

  • * *

The time of fear came soon enough, for already the thought had come to her. Within a few days Noelia approached me with the awful crisis, and it was time to face what was coming. It was obvious that she had been thinking about it for quite some time, when she came to me with her question. It was a plain and simple question, which she had prepared with two emotional responses.

The first was simply relief, that her fears would not come true. The second was an outpouring of anger and concern. And when the question wasn’t answered in the way she thought was the right way, there came a rapid fire of other interrogations that questioned my sincerity for her. Was I leading her along all this time, with no intent of holding on to her? What of the promise that was made?

Though I told her how wrong she was, that all I had said was true, that I meant to keep my promise, and that I did love her, still she did not believe me. It was worse when the tears came. She was soaked with them, and I couldn’t stop her. They came as tears come from a child full of despair and agony. They came as tears of rushing-feelings that come to a woman who is told that her husband has just died in a war. How do you stop a torrent of such immense passion? I could not… and though I tried, it only got worse. Fear struck me deep: the fear of a magic that is lost, or beginning to go.

I felt as a knight who had dishonored himself by his own deceit and lack of integrity. I had left the place of privilege, and was now at the bottom, not sure if she would believe in me again. I told her that it would be all right. I thought that now was the time to tell her of my plan to take her to the States with me, thinking it was sure to make things better… I would marry her, I said, but she didn’t ease up. My suggestions were only salt upon her wounds.

“You told me you loved me! You made me feel you would never go! I was a fool to love you! Why have you done this to me? Why?” Her tears, along with the screaming, made it a desperate situation.

“But you can go with me. Why can’t you go?” My rebuttal was of no avail. Yes, I would have married her in a second, but asking now might have suggested that I would give up my job and life to live with her. Then there could be no more going back.

Then came her answer. “I cannot go!” she said, “I have my family here, and this is my home! Why won’t you stay with me? Why don’t you love me?” This last statement burned at the sore more than all the rest, though she had said it before; but somehow this time it made more impact. I did love her! More than anything! I was willing to do anything for her. She had to know that. So I fought back.

“You can go with me dear… We can take your family too. I can make a place for all of them with us, back in the States, or they can even have their own house.”

“And what will they do there? This is my home! This is my life! You cannot take it away from me, and take me there! My family cannot go there! If you love me you will stay here!”

“But why can’t your family come too? We can all be happy there.” Her crying got louder, when I thought it could not. The argument was lost, and so was the conversation, as she ran away from me.

I wished I had gone after her, but it seemed useless to me, at the time. I thought I’d wait it out a little, and go back when the fire had gone out. But the fire didn’t die, and she had been right; I didn’t understand a thing about it. Why couldn’t she go with me?

When I finally went back to talk to her, she would only cry. It had only been a few hours, but things now appeared worse. I thought that the time spent to ourselves would have helped, but it didn’t. Her mother even asked me to leave because Noelia was getting so upset. She said that she would talk to her and see if she could help, but that now I had to go. It was all right for me, because I knew that Higinia really would make things better for us.

There was concern and feeling in her eyes. Higinia really loved me, as a son, and wanted it to work out for us; but even with all her help and influence, I wasn’t able to talk to Noelia for the next three days.

That was an awful eternity. I thought I’d go to the airport, to reschedule my ticket, because the time of my return was quickly squeezing up on me. I wasn’t going to leave without resolving my deep dilemma with Noelia, so I made my plan of action. I decided to trade my ticket in for an open-return ticket and pay the difference.

I could call in to work, and tell them that I’d be a few days late, then resolve everything with Noelia. Surely my boss would understand, once I told him that I was going to marry this girl. I could probably get an extra two weeks in it for a honeymoon . . .

With that plan, I walked up to my airline terminal and made arrangements to reschedule my departure. Everything went as planned except that they were unable to give me the open ticket, due to the tourist season that usually started during that time of year. I decided that I needed to give the problem a week to be fixed, and made arrangements accordingly. That would be ample time to get things resolved, I thought.

Noticing my hesitation, the ticket agent asked me if it was a sure date; if not, I should make sure, because it would probably be impossible to reschedule anything again for quite some time. There was no reason to do so, I was sure. I felt confident with another week, thinking it would be plenty of time.

Then, anxiety turned to aggravation toward the ticket agent. What did she know? Airlines… always giving the customer a hard time. If they don’t lose your luggage, they lose your reservations. What’s with all of them? I’m a paying customer!

In this frame of mind my thoughts got me very hot under the collar, and I became very irritated towards the lady. If they have so much of a problem with their seating space, my mind went on, why do they always over-book the flights! It’s not my fault if they sell the same seat to two different people. I liked flying. It was having to deal with the airlines and the people they hired that was the real hassle.

By then, my nerves had truly shattered, and so had my patience. I needed to straighten things out once and for all with Noelia.

  • * *

I arrived at Noelia’s house overheated and frustrated at the world. Against her mother’s request, I made my way to her bedroom and gave her a piece of my irate mind; but I shouldn’t have done that. My situation, after that, was much worse. All hopes for a quick makeup were again freshly scattered. She had thrown me out, screaming.

I gave up and left, but only because I was so embarrassed in front of her mother. Otherwise my stubborn stupidity would have made me try to debate some sense into that girl. So, with a hanging head, I left embarrassed and still angry. It was in that manner that I found my way easily, with tail between my legs, to a nearby bar. The mother of all consolations.

Needless to say, it didn’t take much to get through to my bad side. Immediately, the place got on my nerves. The whole island was annoying, and it was all Noelia’s fault. I couldn’t help thinking that this had been our first fight. My insides were churning, and the pit of my stomach felt hollow, for up till then I hadn’t imagined us getting into a real serious situation – one that could possibly have an effect on our relationship. The thought of losing her, although buried deep within, made me even madder.

I tried to make some sense of it as I sat on a chair in that lonesome bar. What was she thinking?
I wasn’t asking much of her, but what was she asking of me! She was demanding that I leave my life behind, and just live here. How ludicrous! Here, in this place! What was I supposed to do, live like lice on a pig without civilization?

Then my mind turned with anger towards those people in the bar. I watched them and every second made me madder, looking at them and thinking of all their wasted lives. “Maybe she’d like it,” I said, speaking between my teeth, “if I were more like one of the slobs in this bar, all full of beer and smelly like a skunk. She could be happier with one of them, maybe, since she had so much to complain about.”

I got more and more upset as I thought about those wretched men touching my Noelia. “How would she like it,” I went on talking to myself, “if she had to be with one of the men at this bar? I’m not such a bad man. In fact, I’m the best man for her! She would see this, if she were to think about it for a bit… If she makes the wrong choice about me she’s going to learn to regret it! Maybe then she’d recognize the big mistake she’s making; but it will be too late then. I’d be long gone, and she’d have lost her only chance at happiness. Maybe she’d ruin my chances too, but at least I wouldn’t be the one to blame for it.”

“What does she want?” I muttered, “To stay in this third world country that is not even comparable to the USA? She thinks she can be happy here… She doesn’t know; she hasn’t seen. I know what is better for the two of us, and she is just going to have to trust me; if not, then she can stay here, on her stupid island, and live like a peasant! These stupid bums will treat her better than I…”

Just as I was muttering those words, one of the bigger, uglier guys in the bar gave me a look that didn’t please. It wasn’t the kind of look that really expresses any kind of hostility, although to me it meant the man wanted to start something. Poor guy, he was probably just trying to acknowledge my existence. Unfortunately, for him, the mood I carried was enough to bring on an encounter.

The bartender must have been alert and keen on my intentions. I was kicked out before I had a chance to release my fists on everyone there. Still, it wasn’t so easy to get rid of me. It took three other big guys, who were also on the alert, to throw me out. I could have stood them off, but I’d been drinking the beer like water, and my balance was long gone; so I found myself in a puddle, face down and full of mud. The barkeep yelled out some obscenities, telling me never to come back. It all served me well. Maybe I’d had enough to drink. Maybe it was enough to just go home and sleep. Maybe it was laid out for me in the cards… or maybe not.

I played on the idea, but decided that I’d better take the safe route, before I got in trouble, and sway my way towards my room; when a thought came… It would be comforting to find one of those poems on my door at the moment. Sure, there was no reason why one shouldn’t be there. There had definitely been a major event, and now was the time when some newly written luck and direction could bring me out of this calamitous pit of despair.

“Yes, there had to be one there!” I decided, and convinced myself that there was no way I’d be disappointed once I arrived at my doorstep. But as life and irony would have it, when I needed it most, it was not there.

I approached the door and began to speak to myself with a very bad temper and a tongue that could do nothing but slur. “I see no note! Where is my letter? I don’t know what to do now. Why are these people trying to fool me? There’s been a note here every time I’ve needed one, and all the times when I didn’t want one, so where is my note now? They are laughing at me, these savages! Where is my poem?” I stumbled around like a clown, in search for the missing poem. What a sight I must have been, if someone were watching, tripping myself and falling face-first into the bushes as I desperately searched for the piece of paper that would fix my life.

The surroundings seemed to shudder as I swung my fist in the air in demand for an answer from that unseen force that I felt was somewhere close. It was as if the person with the note was sitting down a short distance away, looking at me, taunting me. I threw my fist menacingly in the air again, because I almost knew he was there.

“So where are you, you beast far from grace?” I continued shouting, promising that he would be sorry and that he’d have to pay. “If I could see you I’d murder you, do you know that? One less savage for this world! One less leach on society! Your kind should be put to death and not be allowed to suck off the substance of others. I should kill…” I trailed off. Conscience must have struck. My last words, to this unseen man, made me stop in my tracks and reflect on what I was saying.

It was as if I was not only talking to this man in particular, but to the homeless, alcoholics, and addicts that lived in my own city back home. All the ones that I was so sick of seeing, coming up to my car to beg for some spare change. As I reflected on that, my thoughts made me shudder. My words sounded hideous, even to me. Did I really feel that way? I could imagine the bums and the homeless, with their beer and their walk, while I said and thought of those things. Surely it had been them that I was crying out to, as well as to this man that was so heartless at torturing me.

Could I have meant all that I said? Had I been a hypocrite all this time, thinking of myself as a compassionate man? Had I gone to all those charity dinners in my life, just to promote my social status, in sight of all the upper-middle class society; or had I really been mindful to help those people that so desperately needed help?

In any case, something had to be done about all those less fortunate people. They could not stay in the street all the time. I mean, their pathetic way of coming up to the cars, my car, and rubbing their grime and dirt on my windshield for one of my dollars. That was the real problem. I had to admit it. But what could be done? Was I really just the type of man that didn’t care particularly about them as people, but just didn’t want them near me? What had happened to me along the way? Was I one so selfish as that? No, that could not be me! I could not be such a person because I had always cared more than that; or at least I thought I had. Yes, I had always spent some time or money, to help them, although I must admit I had never gotten in and dirtied up my hands. That was when I had to dislike myself a little… I hate to see myself in the real light… It is hard to stand such truth.

“It is all your fault, you thing!” My thoughts of self-analysis made me cringe, and therefore angered me, because it was his fault that had made me look at myself that way. “You are the cause, and I should kill you! You thing! You wretched thing of dirt!” I found myself actually shouting to that man, that hid somewhere in the shadows, and no longer to all the transients that had bothered me; but just at him… And a little at myself.

My feet dragged down the dirt road in search of consolation. I had not expected to find the man; I just wanted to shout at him. My arms were tired from the fistful-accusations, and my heart was heavy. I couldn’t go in to the room now. I had to think, so I walked on as the moon dragged a shadow across my path. The stars were glowing brilliantly, as they always do, away from civilization and smog. They were dancing tonight, but not with me. They waltzed in a merry flight across the constellations, always happy, always hopeful, looking down at us, but never really noticing our pathetic ways. Problems are so completely meaningless to them, in comparison to what lies in the path of their dance. These things I thought, as my feet shuffled along.

There it was on top of me, dimming the brilliance of the lights in the skies, with all its artificial color, and blocking out all un-feigned beauty. A sign in neon-red that crossed the barriers of all language: Cantina! My feet had managed to take me to the only place where I might forget myself, and all my troubles, for another while. I knew it would only be an artificial numbing of my grief, but what did it matter? I was already pretty drunk anyway, and more would help me forget. Yes, it would all come back tomorrow, with twice it’s strength, but for today I could see my island in the sea of ease and glassy lull.

It was a small cantina, not at all like the bars in New York. In fact it surprised me to see the electric sign. The owner must have been doing well enough to improve on his advertisement strategy. Of course, even in the poorest of places, you will never find a bartender who goes hungry.

As I entered, hard smoke and the smell of liquor, hit my face. There were three barstools and a couple of tables with rough chairs, but no luxuries. No pool table, no darts, not even a fan to keep the mosquitoes off; but it didn’t seem that the mosquitoes were too interested in that crowd anyway. The men there had very rough features; almost puppet-like: deep, wrinkled, bulging eyes, with the same international feature that every wino has, the potbelly.

Their clothes were torn in different places, but not quite as worn as a bum’s. Angry faces, probably angry at some other problem like my own, were the popular expressions. Some were sad, in their own grief, but most of them were mad at each other.

One of the larger rougher men spoke out to me in a menacing way. “Oye che! We don’ts like yous Yankees here in our village. Why you no go home to your own sissy!” I’m sure he meant “city,” but that was excuse enough to let out my frustrations.

Before I knew it, I was on top of the man, and we were both on the floor. His forehead was bleeding from either the impact on the floor, or my fist. I noticed more details than usual during the fight. Things got slower.

I don’t know if it was because of the Spanish alcohol or from the adrenaline. Either way, twice as strong a man as I was now laying flat on the floor, getting pounced on. As we fought, the bartender snuck around and slammed a chair on my back. The impact made me fall back, as the man under me tried to gain his posture. But I wasn’t about to let him take the upper hand. Grabbing what was left of the chair (still in the bartender’s hands), I snatched it and grabbed the bartender’s throat. With foaming rage, I knocked out the bartender with one blow square to the temple, and then threw him with my legs across the bar.

The man on the floor, that by now was beginning to stand, began to look mean again, so without measuring the risk, I rushed him headfirst. I’m not sure what the other three or four people around us were doing, but certainly no one else was getting involved. My memory after that point is a little foggy, except that I remember the other man never had a chance. I was on top of him again, with one fist closed and the other holding some hard object that had been produced out of nowhere. I proceeded to thrash upon him with my fist, and gave him an occasional devastating blow with the hard metal object.

After two or three of these hits, the sides of his head were looking like a beaten cantaloupe, gushing with blood. I suppose one more hit would have killed the man. Luckily he stirred a little before I gave it to him; and that made me think he was on his way up in a final attempt to wallop me. I yelled to deny him his attempt, grabbed his collar (making me let go of the metal in my hand), and held him pressed against one of the round pillars that held up the bar.

I wasn’t sure whether to choke or beat him, and went from one action to the other; insuring that any attempts at recovery would fail him. Maybe a little more of this and that would be the end of that man, but he started to cry just then. I didn’t see it at first, as my fist continued to land the blows, but it must have registered anyway. I had just picked up the metal and was about to land the deadly blow, when his tear fell and it stopped me in the middle of the action. It rolled down his rough wrinkled face like dew of a dying plant. He couldn’t have been more than forty, yet his wrinkles were deeper than a man of sixty, rougher than the leather from the jacket of a cowboy.

I threw the object from my hands and screamed to him in anger, shaking him so hard that his blood sprinkled onto me. “I’m not going to kill you! You hear me! I’m not going to kill you! You’re going to live, you bastard! I’m not going to kill you!” I involuntarily slapped him again, although at this point I no longer was angry towards him. The shock must have been so scary that it made him start to cry like a little boy.

I let go of him and went to pick up the bag I had brought in. Then I went to recover the last of my Spanish beer, took a sip, and then set it down. (All of this was done in the coldest of attitudes, that I can scarcely remember it being me). But then I realized what I was doing and threw the bottle down. I turned to the bartender and saw him lying (still unconscious but breathing), and relief ran through me. I sat there motionless as he regained consciousness and saw me. He tried to back away and hide under the bar ledge. I just felt sorry and turned to the other man.

I felt a deep sorrow, as I looked, and hoped he would be ok. I knew he would, but who can take back something done out of hate? What can one say to someone intentionally harmed? In the middle of thrashing them, to realize you’ve done wrong and just say “sorry”? After such lunacy, what good could it do? I’m sure he was so scared of me by then that anything I tried to say would have only made him more terrified. I didn’t want to see that, or have him beg for mercy like a child, so I walked out of the cantina without another word to say. And finally, it was on the way to my room when my humanity hit, so I started to cry . . .

I must have noticed the stars and their dance again… I thought about how earlier I had thought of all those things about them, looking up with a soaked face, and saw that they were still dancing without the slightest care to any of my woes. They had gone on, without me, through the fight and all, and hadn’t even regarded any of it. I thought of how much worse it was now. It could have been much better if I had just gone home before.

Then there, on my door as I approached, hung the wrinkled note. For a second I didn’t know what it was. But then it hit me. It was the poem I had so eagerly anticipated earlier; but never received.

Now there it was; soiled and wrinkled, as if someone had misplaced it, and later stuck it to my door. Maybe he had lost it, I thought; but when I read it I knew different. I could give no sympathy for a simple misunderstanding. The author had merely waited for the entire course of events to play out, so he could laugh and not warn. It was done on purpose.

There was a skillfully buried explanation, in his poem. He had detailed the day so well, even down to the perfect description of my arrogance as I had entered the bar. All had been laid out. He had just wanted to wait till after, so that I could hate him – and I did… I began to hate the man.

FIGHT

Force feels through me as a vapor of hot steam

Every melting rock of ice is useless in the struggle

There is no straining,

Like a whirlwind breaking wood

Just a smoothing motion of volcanic clay

Shame they show resistance

Isn’t as they have a chance they might be persistent

But as hot masses melt all will fall to fight

Intelligence, a brass of work

Freely giving of its considerable substance

More than muscle of its own

Arrow of a striking force with an eye for any target.

If it stood before: now it stands, but penetrated –

Inhale… It’s victory!

Was there ever any doubt?

But you had striking harmony

The power shot from high – into your hand

With all the Fight

There is no Fall

I clasped the note tightly as tears ran down my face. Again I screamed out to him, because I was sure he was watching and laughing at me now. “I am not like that, you bastard! I am not like that! I would not kill a man… I would not hurt him!”

But as I yelled, the image of the badly beaten man came to my mind, as a small drop of blood dripped from off my forehead onto the poem.

I put down my head in shame. I could no longer shout those words, only whisper them. “I am not like that… I would not kill… him.” The poem seemed to burn into my hand as a witness in contrast to those words. It felt as though it had been written and sent to judge me, and now was pronouncing that awful verdict on my character; so I spoke to it directly, as a man would speak to the jury for his defense. I spoke to it, and not to the man who had written it, as if the poem were an entity of its own.

“I am not that way, I tell you! I will not fight to kill another man.”

I crumbled the paper and cried for a while on the porch. There was nothing left to do that could change what had happened, so I went inside to sleep – to wait for tomorrow. Perhaps a better tomorrow.

CHAPTER 7

Fireflower

The next day came all too soon and all too miserably. Again, I found myself searching for some answers that would explain what it was I had done that had taken it too far – far enough for her not to want me any more. What had I done that was so wrong?

Still, No matter how much I tried to justify my actions; my blame, or lack of blame in the matter, ceased to be important. I could have been in my right all along, but who cared? I didn’t-any more. What did it matter when she was no longer there? It didn’t make any sense, any more, to be in the right. If I said I was sorry and got her back, then by all means, “Sorry”! What could make my pride break, if my whole soul was already broken? I couldn’t live without her any more, so who was I kidding? Fate was fate. I’d have to eventually go over to her house, beg forgiveness, grovel, and cry madly. But as much as I wanted to, subduing my ego and pride was a thing that would prove harder in deed than in thought.

I fought hard at mastering myself, but felt the grip of fearful pride that held me back, like a giant hand around my waist. I was scared to face her. Scared as one would be that has to face someone so mad and try to say you’re really sorry, especially when that someone might not forgive any more. No, I couldn’t do it right away.

So I did the next best thing; I snuck around and spied on her for a while.

Behind bushes and under the cover of nice large objects dove the dark shadow that watched her house. I could run fast enough, and close enough, that I could almost get a peak inside. I had the idea that if I went fast enough, they wouldn’t be able to see me. It was a ridiculous idea, but who could get me to see the foolishness in it? The whole day was exhausted in finding new ways to get closer without being noticed. I even convinced some guy to lend me his bicycle for a moment so that I could get an edge in my spy-game.

All the day long I watched, but never really saw Noelia. One time I got a look in one of the windows and saw some people there, but it was too fast to get a good look. None of them were familiar. That was odd. Maybe some family members were visiting, or some neighbors.

All my pains that day were in vain, for I never got to see her. What could she be doing? The curiosity was itching like a nasty fungus. I tried much harder the next day, and the next, but never got one peek. All the while a slow paranoia began to spill into my blood. Why was she nowhere to be seen? And who were all those people? Could it be that she was in trouble, or maybe hurt?

That thought brought the first wave of an ocean of anxiety crashing into my head. Later, it became more menacing and harder to ignore. All day long I spent looking and worrying; long eyes seeking for some focus through an open window that was so unkind. And it got the best of me, to the point that I got careless.

So intense was the urge to know how Noelia was that I could no longer resist. I made my way right up to her door and, relentless, I refused to take precautions. Then I saw an open window. That window! But fear got the best of me right before I was able to see anything, and lucky for me, for I would have been discovered.

Not two seconds after I dashed from the door, a lady came out. I don’t know if she saw me, but I ran like an escaped convict, and dove into a bush a block away. The door closed. Apparently the lady hadn’t seen me, but I couldn’t be sure. It was troubling that she had just gone out, apparently to do nothing, and then gone back inside. Had she seen me from inside? It could have been Higinia, but there was no way to tell, and that made it even more embarrassing. I felt like giving up and walking my silly little body over to her door, and turn myself in. I didn’t do it of course, just hid. Not daring to try a stunt like that again, I sat motionless from within the bush waiting for a chance to escape. All the while my mind saw fit to pester me with stories of a girl in trouble. I tried to shrug it aside, reasoning with myself in distressed conversation.

“There can’t possibly be anything wrong,” I said, “I just feel this way because I haven’t seen her in a few days; but nothing’s the matter with her. Don’t be silly, Mr. Finch. Get a grip.” I said this to myself as a comfort, yet I couldn’t help to imagine something terribly wrong. It was the feeling of certain doom. The kind that could only be resisted a short while. It was amazing that I even lasted a minute before I found myself running towards Noelia’s small straw house.

The speed only made the dread greater; fortunately, for my sanity, it made the arrival faster. Her mother was standing in front of the house, and had seen me coming from a distance. She was waving her hands in the air, signaling me to come quickly. My fears of being seen left, but all the rest remained. Could I have been right? Was there truly something wrong with Noelita? I got to the front of the house and already the tears of despair had begun to run down Higinia’s face.

She grabbed me and pulled me inside. There was an outpouring of words, of which I caught only a few. Part of it was because I had only begun to understand Noelia’s native tongue; the other part was because of how fast and jumbled the explanation came. I understood enough though.

She thought I’d come because I had heard the message they had sent to me. Apparently they had already taken the initiative and had sent word to me, but I told them that I had not received such message and had only come because I had felt there was something wrong. “I would have come sooner,” I said, “but I thought she didn’t want me here.”

My heart dropped to the pit of my stomach as I found out what was happening. Her mother, with tears streaming from her eyes, said that it had happened because Noelia had missed me so much that her heart had broken. She took me over to the place where Noelia was laying and placed my hand on hers. Higinia was hoping that my mere presence would revive her daughter again.

Jose Luis was there also and he was shaking his head at that ridiculous idea. He shouted to his wife, trying to explain what he’d probably tried to explain many times before: that it was not lovesickness, but something else. I didn’t understand what that something else was because he was using words I had never heard before.

It was all too much for me. The strength seemed to drain from my feet as I knelt down beside Noelia’s bed. There she was lying, dark and cold. I held her hand, and it was obvious to me, at that point that she was dying. I was no doctor, but I could almost swear she had no pulse. I was scared and tried to point it out to her father, who was the most rational of the house that day.

I looked to see if I could feel her breathing, but I could not. Tears were already pouring down my face, and I didn’t realize I was asking him in English: “Is she dead?”

All the darkness and fright returned telling me that I had lost forever my time with her. Never again would we walk through the forest, where I could hold her hand and promise all my love. Everything was lost, and never would I find another in the world to fill her place. All the agony came and swept the strength from me. For a moment I did not breathe. Her father must have thought that I was asking what was wrong with her, instead of “is she dead?” for he certainly would not have thought that a smart city guy like myself would have asked such a stupid question. Her abdomen was moving up and down, which was her breathing, and she definitely had a pulse; it was stronger than usual.

Ah, the things one can imagine while one is frantic. It’s astonishing. You can even change the way reality is in front of your own eyes, if you’ve already convinced yourself to think a certain way.

In broken fragments of Guarani, I understood what was really the matter with Noelia. She had contracted a rare fever from a mosquito, for which there was no cure at this time of the year.

“She will die,” said Jose Luis with a hint of human frailty. His tough heart had finally given way to tears as he spoke. A jumble of questions poured out my mouth. Among them were: What was this fever all about, and what exactly did he mean by “no remedy at this time of the year?” (It seemed to me that what I’d heard was an expression in Guarani that really meant there had not been a cure found yet, but I was willing to cling to any straw.)

My mind thought out the questions, but my mouth only spit them out in fractions. It was a miracle that he even understood (if that was what really happened). I think he only answered because he could guess what I wanted to know. “Why no remedy now?” was the best sentence I produced. I shouted it several times, even as he tried to explain. But he did his best, and eventually the explanation filtered through the layers of my gibberish.

The cure, he said, was a thick substance the natives made from the petals of a certain flower that grew high up in the peaks of the island mountains. The area was always covered with ice and snow. Very inhospitable; and yet the only place the flower ever bloomed.

It was a seasonal flower that began to grow early in June, and stopped growing altogether in July. I couldn’t comprehend his explanation on exactly why they couldn’t just pick enough of these flowers and store them throughout the year, except that something about their magical qualities only lasted for a very short time after the flower was picked. Since it was early May, there was no way a flower of its kind could be found anywhere in the country.

Not until June – and by then she would be dead. It was a strong fever that doubled itself in its intensity almost daily. No one had ever survived its effects without drinking the remedy. The most they could hope for was two weeks, and it was now her third day since she had first become ill. There was no hope, he said. She would die.

“But there is a cure!” I protested, “I thought there was no cure… and there is!” I clung to that. It was great to understand something in their tongue. Now there was something to be done.

I wondered what sort of drug it was that was active ingredient in the flower, for there had to be some real medicinal properties to it, other than magic. Something had to make the infection go away. Was it anti-viral in some way, the same way penicillin is used to fight off infections? Back in the States the doctors would have most likely known what was wrong with Noelia and fixed it by now. Instead we had to be here, in this forsaken place, where there was no hope of that.

It wasn’t the time for it, but I couldn’t help playing with the fact that this was the kind of place she had been so immovable from, and that I was right to have asked her to go with me. “This place is backwards, and I am right,” I said to myself.

Jose Luis spoke again. He seemed to be insistent on the fact that there was no way to save her, and that she would die. It was as if he needed his perception to be the right one, and that I was wrong to think there was a way. His statements got me mad at all the island and its dim-witted mentality. It showed up again and again, this irrationality about magic and voodoo. That’s all these people ever talked about: magic and voodoo. If it wasn’t about their lovely Gauchito, spoken from every corner, it was about witchcraft or magic, and potions made from magic. I was sick of it!

So what could this sickness possibly be? If we could just take her to a clinic, I was sure they could help her. This place had to have a real hospital somewhere! Of course there wasn’t, but I shouted my questions to Jose Luis, just the same. “Hospital! Hospital?” but his head shook in reply, answering again that it was “impossible,” “incurable,” and that the only way was the flower of which there was none of this month.

“Incurable? What kind of disease can you get from a mosquito that is incurable?” I was angry with him. Of course he didn’t understand the word “mosquito” because I shouted it in English. I thought about it for a moment, trying to figure out what kind of disease it could be. Maybe malaria, but that was treatable, wasn’t it? What about this tsetse fly? No, that was in Africa. Either way, there had to be a cure for both of those.

I couldn’t bear to have it end this way. In frantic search I turned to her father and tried to get more out of him. “What was this flower?” I asked, “And what did it look like?”

Again, he only shook his head. “There is no flower. It is too early; we will not find it now.” It wasn’t that I believed in the flower, but he was so irrational; I was sick of it. These people would rather die than try. I shouted again to him, salivating like a mad dog with rage right to his face.

“I will find the flower! I will find the damn flower; give me the name!” (Asking for the flower’s name was, once again, all that I could come up with in their tongue, but he understood that what I wanted was for him to describe it to me.)

He described what they called a “Fire Flower.” He told me what it looked like and where I had to go to find it. That is, where it grew in season but “where I would not find it now”.

It was preposterous for a man like me to take sides with this magical flower; but the more I heard the negatives (could not, and would not), the more I took a stand and became enraged with a determination to find it. I asked Jose Luis to tell me how I would know that it was the right plant, once I found it. He said that (“if I found it”) I would know when I saw it. So I made my mind up, and determined to go after it.

  • * *
    Word of my quest spread like a forest fire and burned into everyone’s ears. Before I set off, on this task to a magic nowhere, the whole island had come to see and say their part; eager to provide me with as much knowledge and experience as they could. It was funny how quickly they came. I had just decided to leave that very day, and not two hours later most of the island had come to see me off. When I was ready they pointed me in the direction I should go (a mountain far away on the other end of the island) and gave a cheer for my cause and me. I had the entire island’s support, backing me on my crusade. The vast majority of them didn’t actually believe I’d find the flower. They were just invigorated by the show of my valiancy. The other few, a petty minority, hoped but still doubted.

Indeed, I became very popular amongst everyone: a hero, and the topic for all conversation. I wish that I hadn’t become so popular, because that recognition would later prove my downfall. For now, however, it was very useful to my cause.

They gave me a backpack made by the women out of a remarkably light fabric. Inside were provisions: water, a compass that would help me reach the top, a lamp, and some light blankets that they forced me to take. They also made me dress as if I were going to the North Pole, saying that it got really cold up in the mountains. Cold? Ha! How could it get cold on an island where the temperature is constantly at 85 F and the humidity is always 100%? But they made me wear the clothes anyway, and so I humored them.

I was lost almost from the start. I wasn’t even on the mountain slope yet, and confusion had set in. All directions seemed the same. It was as if I had been spun inside a giant top and then been placed in the woods. The villagers would have laughed, had they seen me now. Nothing looked right. I wasn’t familiar with any of these slopes or valleys, and the island was much bigger than outward appearances would indicate.

Going with Noelia to a nearby waterfall was a long shot from being placed with no guide in the middle of some unknown country, and then having to find some place that was proportionately pin-sized in the middle of an island-sized haystack.

The directions they had given me were awful, as are usually given by someone who is not of your own country. Why was that? People always give bad directions when you’re traveling. Do they mean to do it? It seems to me that they try purposefully to confuse you when you are already confused, and leave you worse off than before.

Panic set in. I was in the thicket of this impenetrable forests and certainly no one would ever find me! Like a frightened goat, I ran through the trees searching for a path. And then finally, I came upon an opening where some huts had been built and the trees had been cleared to make room. They were the same village huts I had been used to all the time. In fact, I hadn’t even left the edge of the town yet. I recognized the huts and I’d even been there before. How silly of me, I thought. All the shrubbery had confused me and made me panic. They made everything look the same. Not looking hard enough, any one of the scattered huts could have been Noelia’s, for all I knew. Everything was built the same way. Clay and adobe for walls, covered by hay and wire for a roof. No one could tell the difference.

After that it didn’t take too much more wandering about for me to find a path towards the right mountain. Once I reached the bottom of its slope the stress of the whole situation lessened. Hiking had always been enjoyable for me. Something about the great outdoors and the feelings of freedom that it gave made me feel at home. Back in New York there was hardly any time for that. The air or something here, unlike the toxic gas chamber of the New York streets, gave me new life and power. Even my muscles breathed it in. So now, the opportunity for a hike became therapeutic. I still felt the despair because of Noelia, but it was much better here than it would have been anywhere else. I felt guilty for enjoying it.

There was a light sprinkle of moisture in the air. It wet my face and hands and began cooling me from the intense sunlight. The slope was gradual, without present danger. It reminded me of the mountains I had climbed as a boy, when my parents had lived in Utah. They were natural and smooth; a tender roll of hills and mountains that invited all to come. Mountains that would care for you as you climbed on their backs, like a giant holding his child. No danger of falling or hurting oneself on those mountains. They had been my friends and I missed them.

It got cold quickly. The more I went up, the faster the temperature dropped. At first I thought it was because the sun had begun to go down, but soon realized there was a complete change of climate within every few feet. Strange, how in the middle of a tropical island, there could be such a mountain. I was in for a greater surprise.

After having climbed for several hours, I looked up and saw the almost unreachable peak of this great mountain. I saw snow! I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t easy to see clearly, because of a fog that had dropped, but it was snow; even falling snow! I was glad about the blankets and heavy sweaters now. However, I’m sure if I had refused them, the villagers would not have let me go. I even found myself wishing they were thicker blankets, for I was the shiver-prone type. I’d be cold even when it wasn’t cold, which it wasn’t yet. It was probably fifty degrees, but after having spent some time on the island, fifty degrees seemed like fifty below.

There came a point of jagged rocks that was a little harder to climb and more dangerous than before. It was nothing that an experienced rock climber would have flinched at, but to me it looked dangerous enough. Immediately after the rocks came the ice, like a glacier. It was as if I’d just crossed the border between the dry land and the frozen world.

The temperature had dropped again. It was as if an invisible barrier had been placed where the rocks had stopped and the ice began; and that barrier kept the colder air on one side and the warmer air on the other. I hoped there would be no pit in front, somewhere nicely hid by freshly fallen snow, where I could fall. The thought made me prefer the rocks, even though in the end they proved themselves harder to climb.

It was a beautiful sight. Icy slopes, so easily treaded. Everywhere was white and soft. The sunny rays of day were at almost at their end. The better part of day had gone and now I was even closer to the top. But the peak of that mountain was not my exact destination. I had been told that the flower grew somewhere close to it, but not at its summit. I felt that it was somewhere on the joining plains, where the slope leveled off up ahead.

My insides told me that I was close. It must be around here, I thought, but everything is so white and frozen. How could a flower grow in such a hostile frozen place? How could something bloom and blossom in the middle of this frozen desert? There was no earth for roots to grab hold of. The packed snow must have gone down for a least ten feet. It was asking for a miracle and yet, with all my doubt, my heart told me that I was close. It was an inner struggle between what was in front of my eyes and what I felt in my heart. A clash between faith and my sensibility.

Looking all around revealed no flower, though my insides told me different. Then a sudden despair rushed through me. Wings of doubt took me to a loft where I could get a view of reality. What was happening? Nothing! There was no flower! I couldn’t see one. That was reality.

As far as I could see there was only the same beautiful snow all around. Further down perhaps, past a few slopes there were some pines, but everything had stopped growing at this altitude. The only thing here was the snow, the fog that was now thick living clouds, and a little wind, but certainly no Fire Flower. There wasn’t even any vegetation here. Nothing was alive! Maybe if I dug deep enough, there could be grass or something, but was that what I was supposed to do? Was I supposed to dig for this Fire Flower? The villagers never said anything about digging. If they would have, at least then it would have seemed a little more conceivable, after having had a firsthand look of this place. But finding it, even that way, would be like winning the lottery. It made a lot more sense to climb down to where the trees grew because there was nothing here.

Yet their instructions had been specific. They had said that it wouldn’t be found where the other things grew, but that one must go higher. Right below the summit, they said. And thus my frustration grew, although there was this feeling of being closer, so close, almost right on top of it. That feeling grew and made me go insane. Finally I shouted – not exactly to anyone or someone – perhaps to God. I shouted and asked for some answers and fell to my knees, in total surrender; inadequate now for the job placed in my care. I knelt there and shouted all my frustration out to anyone that was listening… Why was I in such a difficult position? It was so unbearable to me . . .

Why was she going to die? Why couldn’t I find the damn flower, and what was that idiotic feeling, that feeling in my chest that kept on burning and harassing? What was it, and what did it want? Was it telling me where the flower was? So where was it? If it was telling me that, I still couldn’t see it!

My shouting turned into soft whispers, so that my questions could be heard without irritation to the ears. At that moment, what was inside my chest, which had driven me to this lunacy, grew stronger. The uncertain confusion had ceased and now there was a calm surety in its place. It was a given reality. I didn’t know where the flower was, but now I was sure that it was there. It was a sure feeling of what I didn’t see, but of something I could tangibly feel; and whatever it was, it helped me to stand up again.

In the midst of what I like to call “my communion with the heavens,” I stood up and began to walk for a few paces. Every step took me through virgin snow in an icy home. The only thing that had disturbed these white Elysian Fields were the tracks I’d made earlier. I could even see some of my tracks being covered with the falling snow. And there this feeling was, taking me to the place, as if fate had held my hand and was now showing me where to go.

The fog, now thick as clouds fallen to kiss the ground, opened a path as I came closer and cleared the way for me to see. It was a miracle! Although I had looked in that place before and there had been no flower, now in untouched snow it rose as a newborn in a desert of snow. It was spiritual and even humbling. I was sure I had looked there already, but there had been nothing. Now, as I held the flower in my hand, hope in the magic came for the first time; all from this tiny thing sent from God-bringing optimism for her. It was something recognizable, as Jose Luis had said it would be. A thing of such great beauty that in all creation there was but one; as an image of her. Noelia was who it made me think of and I began to believe in that flower.

The walk back to the village was much easier than the climb had been. Nothing was impressive now, except the thing in my hand and the experience I had just gone through. The whole way up had been nothing but uncertainty and despair, which had made the climb much harder; but now there was life and hope. I still felt concern for Noelia, but it was much different. I knew that everything would be ok, so now my despair was gone. If time were measured by what we felt inside, I would have said that the hike up that mountain had taken me days and the decent only minutes.

The villagers assembled quickly as they saw me coming and eagerly strained to catch the sight of what was in my hands. When they saw it was the flower a great tumult arose all around. Noelia’s father came out with his hands in the air, shouting praises of acclamation and claiming that he had believed in me the whole time.

When I was finally within reach, the villagers rushed to meet me and carried me, as the new hero, atop their backs and shoulders. I hurriedly tried to get down, so that I could see Noelia, and when I did her father crushed me behind his arms in an embrace that was surprisingly friendly. He wasn’t usually that affectionate, and even a handshake made him a little uncomfortable. I never would have guessed a man, bony as a skeleton, could have mustered up so much strength. The hug took my breath. Perhaps it had been the only time when Jose Luis had let emotion get the better part of him, due to all the excitement and adrenaline rush.

Indeed, it was a cause for celebration, but there was still work be done right away. I had to shout to remind the villagers that this was not another excuse for a party, but rather to save someone’s life. We had to act fast and begin the preparations so that we could give the remedy to Noelia. There was no time now to stop and sing a song, especially when the remedy was one I had no clue as how to make or administer. I had only been the errand-boy, sent to fetch the main ingredients for this “mother’s pie,” but now the village people were the ones that had to make the stuff.

“Stop! Let’s get to work!” I yelled. They stopped their hero’s welcome, and immediately a fat woman came and snatched the flower from my hand, which she crushed between her hands and began to grind it into powder. It wasn’t pleasing to see this lovely flower treated in such a way, especially when I had taken such great lengths to attain it, but such is the way with things that are of worth. I wasn’t left to meditate on this, for Jose Luis pulled me in to see Noelia. The last thing I saw outside was the fat woman speeding away while another equally fat woman came to help, holding a cooking jar full of some brew that would be mixed with the flower.

It was dark inside the house, as dark as it had been the first time I laid eyes upon her dying body. There was a simple glow from a little lantern against the wall, just enough to see her face. She was pale and looked grim, but she was still beautiful. I held her hand, cold and stiff, yet the only hand I could ever hold. No one could replace her.

“Everything’s gonna work out fine,” I said to her. She only shifted a little, delirious in her fever. It was awful to see her like that, but still I held strong. I knew the flower would save her. It had to.

Her father must have read my mind at that same moment, for he came over and sat by me. “She will be alright, the flower will help her,” he said. For the first time I understood every word from his mouth. It felt nice.

Higinia came over too and put her arm around her husband. He answered the gesture as she laid her head on his shoulder. All would be fine now. There was no more need to worry and I saw her smiling again, for the first time in a long time.

About an hour passed, and one of the fat ladies came in with a small wooden spoon filled with some liquid. This must be it, I thought. She came to my side and knelt, as I was beside Noelia.

“She must drink it all,” she said, “And you must watch that she doesn’t spill any of it. And you must be the one who gives it to her. It is the only way.”

Her charge to me was a great responsibility, for she said that if any of it were spilt, the magic would stop working. But she was asleep. How would she drink it, and how was I to do it?

The fat lady, whose name was Natalia, told me that she would lead me through it as I did it. I supported Noelia’s head with my hand and made her drink as I watched carefully so that the precious drops would not spill. Fortunately it all went right in. She squirmed a little, but soon laid still again. I put her head down on her pillow and waited by her side. Natalia thanked me, and I, along with Noelia’s family, thanked her in return. Evidently everything had gone well, so I put my head on my sleeping Noelia’s chest and rested.

There was nothing left to do now but wait. I reflected for a moment on how earlier in the week I’d thought things had gotten bad and I’d fallen asleep drunk, to wait for a better tomorrow, thinking that nothing could possibly go worse, and not really believing that anything would get any better with the passing of one more day. Now I thought about how much worse it really had gotten and how thankful I was that it was almost over.

Maybe now she would forgive me, for how I’d been. Still, I was thankful, thankful that she was going to be all right, thankful that it would certainly be a better tomorrow, because she would still be alive and full of vigor. These things I reflected upon, right before I fell asleep, with the last of my thoughts drawn out to her.

  • * *
    The sun was strong and shown through the windows like a scorching hale that slapped me out of my dream. At first I didn’t remember what had happened. I think that for a moment I forgot about the fire flower and Noelia. As I laid there, for some moments, the blaring rays of light broke through my focus, while I tried to figure out where I was and what was going on. When my eyes came to a focus and I looked up and felt her soft chest below my head; and then it all came back to me like a mist-breaking wave.

There she was under me. A beauty. Her mother and father were already awake, staring at me from across the room; both of them were sitting on a small bench, without desire to wake me. I smiled at them and kissed Noelia’s cheek. She looked warmer now (not dark as before), and she was rosier like a half bloom – red with life.

Her hands were hot when I held them. She still looked weak, but much better… Then a miracle took place. Her eyes fluttered and opened. “Oh!” A sigh of relief rushed me. Joy and magic filled my veins, and then she spoke to me; very confused.

“Where am I?” Her voice was soft and sleepy, but she was alive!

I didn’t care to answer, just took her in my arms and kissed her whole face. Her mother was crying now and grasping her hands for joy. In my heart I leapt: She was alive! Still a little weak, but at least not at death’s door any more. As she recovered, and remembered, she looked into my eyes. Some of the anger came back, but her mom came, as an angel, and explained everything that had happened; and how she was able to do it, and with such description, using just two sentences is beyond me. But she did it.

There was nothing needed to tell it any better, so I kept my mouth shut. There wasn’t anything I wanted to say anyway. I already felt like a criminal off the hook, deserving to be hanged by this lovely girl. And yet those two little sentences worked, for all their simplicity – words that I cannot translate.

The anger left her as quickly as it had come and now she just reached out to place her hands around my neck in a sigh of forgiveness. Accepted and forgiven now… Everything wrong had been made right. I don’t know exactly what I felt at that moment, with all the millions of things rushing through my mind, but perhaps I was even a little glad that she had gotten sick. It was a shameful thought, but what could I do? I was holding her in my arms again, and besides that no other event nor consequence mattered. She had let me back into her life.

I stayed with her the rest of that day and well into the night. It was the greatest day of my life all over again. When I left, it was only to be proper. It had been alright to stay by her side all the night of her illness, but now that she was better it would have been inappropriate; especially on the island of Natial where ill behavior was uncommon. I didn’t want to give a bad reputation to her family, which now considered me to be their son, so I did not make myself a burden on them, even though they would have let me stay had I asked to do so. It was best that I left when I did. We were unmarried and that was what etiquette required. Even to stay innocently would have been unfitting. No, the best thing was for me to go, so I did.

The walk back to my room was long and boring, but well enough. Everything was good now that she was all right! As I arrived, again I saw a piece of paper stuck to my door. I didn’t like those poems any more. They had been the cause of all my adversities and they meant trouble! Whoever was their author was a madman! I was so bothered that I got to the door with intent to smash the poem. Snatching it up, I crumpled it and was about to throw it into the bushes, but curiosity got the best of me, so I unraveled it and read.

Once again, I found myself caught up in astonishment. Funny how so many times I’d changed my mind about them. One day I’d think the poems were awful, the next I’d be franticly be searching for another, like an alcoholic looking for another drink, and still the next day I’d be impartial to it all, like an unaffected stand-by.

In one week’s time my mind had gone from hating them, and what they’d brought me, to admiring and appreciating them. Not only for their beauty and elegance in words, but for their clarity in describing the events that unfolded in my life. No longer was I in doubt about their ability to foretell my future, for whoever had written the poems could not have known what was in my heart so that they could write my own mind down on paper; nor could they have followed me through-out my entire stay. No, these poems were real and whoever had written them had done so by some higher means, which I was unaware of, but which gave them greater powers to look into my life.

When I thought about those things I felt chills again, but they were not the same goose bumps I had felt when thinking of Noelia. These were the scary kind, although I don’t think I was scared at the time. At least not at the content of the words, for they were smooth and beautiful, like a lunar eclipse. But it was certain there was something about these poems. Something very strange and very dark. They were interwoven with me somehow. With me, with Noelia, with the island, and with something or someone else. Hopefully that someone was not one that sought me ill; but of that I was not certain.

I set the poem down on my bed and lay down beside it. It made me think about Noelia even more, and became the cause for all my dreams that night. I thought about it continuously until the moment I fell asleep. It was good that I could now fairly read the native dialects. It made it easier for me to like this poem even more.

FIRE FLOWER[
Sky of brilliant white]

Wrapped in sheets of light reflecting

Bending rays of sun that bounce

Without the strength of fiery breath.

[
Then comes the essence of the moon]

Falling softly like a touch of winter

Covering the horizon

Watching the water freeze to match its gloss.

[
But without hesitation blooms the flower]

Growing from its own sustain

A single seed to start the growth

The glow from within keeps its own existence lit

And takes it steps further

To break through the rock and ice

Above

CHAPTER 8

Los Cielos

The sun came in to bring the new day. This time, there was no problem remembering what had happened. My first thought was of Noelia and it put a smile on my face. It would be all right to see her; no more the fear and bitter misery that had come all week.

She was mine again, and I a hero! Perhaps she would even love me more, for I had saved her life. What a privilege and an honor it had been. There was no time to be wasted today. All that was on my mind was to be with her. My shower was quick but thorough, and the shave was as close as a shave for a wedding. It was fortunate that I had not worn my best clothes yet. They had been saved for the perfect occasion, and this was it! I was ready for the ball with Cinderella… My Cinderella. Never had my bangs looked so perfect, nor my style so crisp. That day, everyone must have seen me as a walking smile.

It was a pleasant walk to her house. The birds were cheerful, the wind just right and the sand was a glass that made me glide, with slippery shoes, across it; ice skating through a summer fantasy with flowers instead of icicles. And at the end of the path was Noelia.

She was waiting for me at her door; surprising because it was so early. I had expected to find her still asleep, especially after last night, when she had barely begun to recover. My little baby was awake and happy! I was happy too. Very much more than happy – delighted! There she stood, with a little yellow flower on her left ear. It was perfect. She opened her gate, and came out to meet me, then ran and caught me by yet another surprise when she jumped and wrapped her legs around me so that I had to catch her. We swirled around and I felt like a teenage boy. It was exhilarating.

What fun she was!

We went inside and there her mom, dad and two brothers stood smiling at me. I guess I was that hero I thought myself to be. I asked her how it was that she was feeling so well, and her father answered by saying that the substance in the plant always worked that fast. I asked how, but he didn’t know, he just knew it worked the way it did. It had been something they had learned about many generations past, he said.

I didn’t learn anything more about the flower then, but later I found out that the only things one could learn about the flower came from legend passed down through song from generation to generation. That legend was tied with another legend called “El Tupa Moroti” and both were always sung together as one song. I heard it sung many times after that. It spoke of a white god who had come down from the skies to bring many gifts to his people. He showered them with blessings, made it rain on their crops, showed them how to gather certain herbs and taught them many other things.

This legend also told of the flower, picked and given to their grandfathers by the white god that had taught them all. Then it went on to tell more about the flower, explaining its magical qualities and preparation. When I later heard the song I was able to recognize the part about it having miraculous quick-healing effects upon the inflicted, as would the hand of the great white god. The song also told about a great promise, a triumph over evil and a final return of this white “Tupa” whereupon he would be holding this flower as a symbol of total victory.

Although I heard it many times, it was not a common song. Mostly only the medicine people remembered how to sing it. I do not remember any of it, otherwise I would sing it now, but I cannot remember many things. If I had known more Guarani at the time, I could have learned how to use it, but I only knew enough to get me by.

Noelia still had her hands and legs wrapped around me as I tried to put her down, but she held me like her valiant prince. We spent the rest of the day together and it was marvelous. For the first time, in a long time, I was happy. I had stayed on the island much longer than I had expected. Already, I’d been two weeks longer than originally planned. I had gotten in touch with my job at the paper, and the airline, a few days earlier, while the real troubles were upon me. I’d explained the whole situation, with a few twists to the truth. My boss granted me some extra time, so there wasn’t going to be a problem when I returned. But even so, the time was closing in around me.

Still, today seemed all good. I spent it wonderfully with her. She was back in love with me, and nothing could ruin it for us. We spent the day doing everything and went to all our favorite places. We even went back to the great waterfall “Igua tupa,” where she had taken me on our first day together, and thus the opportunity for my plan arrived . . .

As the custom required, I got down on one knee and held her hand. I wonder how it looked in her eyes; me kneeling with a box in my hand and a tear in my eye, since she had never seen any of the cliché we are so used to in the States. I held the box next to her and asked her to open it. She did and I asked the words that had longed to be spoken: “Will you be my wife forever, Noelia?”

She looked surprised, and for a second didn’t know what to say. I interrupted, saying something about me taking her and all her family with me and that she didn’t have to fear because everything would be all right. And so her answer came: “Yes,” and relief swept through me, as would through a man cleared of a crime committed by another. She didn’t know what to say about the States, and made it clear she wasn’t sold on it just yet, but we determined mutually that it would be resolved later and held each other tight for a long, long time.

I could already see her in white and couldn’t believe my fortune. Indeed lady luck had shone on me. There was no need for any feather from a bird, I thought, as I remembered that day of the Phoenix. I was correct when I had said that fortune had already shone its light on me, a very lucky man.

We got to her house a little before sunset. Her mother was the first to hear the news, as Noelia ran in to tell. Higinia yelled and cried for joy and ran out to kiss me. Her father was next but he did not kiss me. He came out and held my shoulder firm, smiling so dramatically and nodding his head. “Mijo,” he said. They both held me, and held Noelia’s face in rejoicing.

Hector and Julio were the next to congratulate us. They were also exited and asked if that meant I was their brother now. Jose Luis answered for me. “He has always been your brother,” he said, “except, yes, now he will marry Noelita and be your brother in the flesh.” Of course everything was said in Guarani. It was good to understand it, finally. There were yet a lot of words I couldn’t use, but the gross of it was digestible.

What a day for celebration! Now there was a good excuse for a fiesta and so I would not be a party-pooper. The neighbors heard and came quickly. It was as if there had been a party-bell raised to call all to a knowledge of it. Everyone came quickly to celebrate with us. Although I didn’t much like the part about all the liquor, it was a great time. They made me and Noelia dance the lover’s waltz, played by soft live mambo-drums and flutes. I held her in my arms and we danced on top of the clouds and we fell on top of unicorns that strode through the forest on the way to our eternal world. Softer arms I’d never held. She was, and had been mine and only mine. The only one for me from the day I’d met her. And during this dance, the sun set. I remember the twilight piercing through the sky, like the hand of God through earth’s creation.

She showed it to me and said it was a sign that meant I had chosen well (and I knew I had). Upon the horizon I saw the moon right on top the sun, almost pivoting on top of it. And up and to the left of it was the first star of the night. It lit the Earth with unity to those greater spheres, with a twinkled beam of light that flashed across the sky. Then another star appeared to complete that masterpiece of color, through clouds that had formed a window, or a frame, around that spectacle that God had painted for us. To me it was trinity. No other thought could describe it, and a more beautiful painting or depiction of the sky had never been seen. I remember nights in Rio de Janeiro, where I’d sworn there would never be a better sunset. But those sunsets were nothing compared to this one. It was a genuine illustration of what heaven was, and was an ornament that God had placed in the sky.

Sweet little Noelia, she was pointing it out to me. “El Tupa, says we are very good for each other.” I looked to her and laughed with delight. She was delicious.

“Yes he does, my Noelita. You’ll be mine forever, won’t you?”

“Yes, of course I will, I’m so happy now. You made it so right for us.” And with that we danced on and everyone clapped their hands for us.

“A toast to the great couple!” yelled Jose, and everyone raised their glass to bless us in our union. If that wasn’t the wedding, it ought to have been, for it was the greatest day of my life. As I said before, it was my “good day,” the best day of my life. Her eyes were looking into mine, sparkling with love for me, the luckiest man alive. What could be better in life than to have the love from a goddess? I found out nothing could, in all of life.

We celebrated until dusk and I danced all night with “My Noelia”. It was an “eye-opener” to see her dancing as she did. She never got tired and neither did I. Everyone took a turn dancing with Noelia: Her father, her uncles, the neighbors, the further down the way neighbors, her brothers, and even her mother; which was a good laugh for all to see. She must have danced even more than I did, and I never stopped – except for that time when we both snuck back to kiss, away from all the hullabaloo. The whole night was one big “great,” never to be surpassed in all my expectations, with exception of our wedding. I couldn’t wait for it! But every moment, even waiting, while with her, was in itself momentous and spent in the lap of honey-luxury.

That night was like a dream, except that I remember it in detail. Never had my heart ran faster to catch each event as if it were the last. Everything to be recorded with such accuracy, kept for me to remember.

I walked to my room that morning a changed man. I was engaged now – what a thrill! My blood and heart leapt inside me and everything I felt and saw told me that I’d done well, more than well, for it was the best decision I’d taken in my whole life! It was a good feeling: knowing, without doubt, that there could be no better place nor better thing I could be doing. I was in the right circumstance and at the right time, and best of all, I was the right man. I’d be married!

Approaching my door, I saw no reason to assume I’d find no note. It had been a day so full of everything, that it placed no doubt as I arrived… and there it was-stuck as always on my door.

STAR-MOON-SKY

Beginning where the landscape blooms and there is life from the creation

Is there a man who does the work?

The palm that stretches, and there is Light.

[
Then breath escapes, and man comes close to understand.]

[
Where there is warmth, and the colors melt]

Where there is sun, but at last gone down

[
And there is more than can be felt]

Beginning where the sky meets the moon

[
There is a blaze from Heaven… Sun]

There is a blush from Earth… Moon

And in the far – a star

A sculpture of peace and skill

[
Eye cannot reflect]

Trinity’s glow that sun makes whole

[
Moments for a witness to stop for star and sky]

Where the dawn wrapped us in light in the hand of God

That paints the Earth to let men see on high

CHAPTER 9

Melancholy Again

The next day with my Noelia was heaven. We were together from the afternoon until the night. (Both of us had slept until noon, because of the celebration the night before). It was a harmonious time, well spent with the one I loved. Nothing on earth could have made it better, except, of course, the actual marriage.

So as far as happiness goes, I was happier than I’d ever been. I got to my bed, that night, and slept like a lamb, still held by the warmth of her arms, even though she slept at her house and I was in my room. With love and with the peace that comes by it, there is no distance while it is right.

It is funny how things can turn suddenly and events can make what’s good fade into the background…

The next day I also spent with her. Early that morning we got together, fully rested from the lost sleep and spent the better part of the day together. We went on a walk along the Oceanside, wetting our feet in the tide, then we ate some mangos from an enormous tree that leaned over the edge of a small rocky cleft. She talked me into climbing the tree and when I saw how high we had gone it startled me half to death. I wrapped my arms and legs around a branch and would have held my grip forever had she not come to my rescue. But she gently persuaded me to let go with her easy touch and soft voice, like a big sister would her brother. She made me hold her hand and with our other hand we felt the strength of the branches. There was no risk of one of them breaking. I could open my eyes without fear. And it was all better when we ate the mangos.

It was fun, and I wasn’t afraid anymore; instead, a little embarrassed from being such a sissy-freak. But she didn’t jeer at me; didn’t even make mention of it, just passed it by with sweetness, because to her it wasn’t as silly as it was to me. I wanted to reclaim my manhood and make sure I beat her, on the way down, but it wasn’t easy. She wasn’t sure what I was trying to do: swinging so wildly and jumping from the last branch about ten feet. She didn’t realize it was a competition until I tried racing her, and then she passed me; splashing me with the ocean water, the whole way back to her house.

We spent a little while with her family and then we were hungry again. I guess fruit never really fills you once you’ve tried meat.

Higinia offered to cook, but instead we went alone to a little kitchen, not far from my room. They were serving crab, freshly caught that morning, and it was very good. I got more than my fill and she thought it was very funny that I ate like a pig. I had forgotten all about table manners and went out on a limb. It was the inner animal in me that had forced this behavior, when finally given the chance to eat without a fork. And since on the island people hardly ever used forks, it was an opportune excuse for this transformation to occur. When I finally realized what a pig I’d become, it was too late because I had crab crumbs all over.

Our nice meal was interrupted by a phone call. The owner of the little place brought the phone, on a long line, to our table. There were only five other couples, besides us, eating there, so it wasn’t really a large place. There were no sophisticated waiters, just a phone on the table and an “It’s for you, don.”

That was odd, I thought. How could anyone calling know where I was, especially since I wasn’t at that restaurant all day? It was the strangest of things. Of course, whoever was calling had to want to ruin my day, so I tried to shoo off the phone, waving my hands insistently at the owner, but he didn’t catch on for a long time. Finally, he got the idea and tried his round at a very bad lie, but whoever it was wasn’t stupid and again the owner passed the phone to me. “They insist, Mr. Finch.” So I took it.

“Hello.” A minute and a half passed by, as my face went from annoyed to serious to sad and then a combination of both sad and mad. It was my boss. He had finally got a hold of me after several tries. The fact was that the only three phones on the island, other than the airport phones, were owned: one by the butcher, the second by a very rich lady, and this one here, (and who knows why this little kitchen had one). My boss had already been trying the airport and the other phones for several days.

He finally got word from the butcher, who said he had seen me and that I lived with Blanca, but that she didn’t have a phone, so he promised that he would get word to me next time he saw Blanca. I hadn’t seen much of Blanca for a week, so if the message got to her at all, it would be some time before it got to me. Thus it was by mere coincidence (if there is such a thing, because I don’t believe in coincidences), that he tried the lines again and happened to find me at one of them. Of course it was bad news he had to administer.

No one had died, but I was late on a deadline for a yearly article that I was supposed to write. It was a very important story for the paper and one that I was assigned to every year. Since my vacation had gone over for as long as it did, I now had only days to finish the assignment. Mr. Freior was very angry and impatient over the phone, asking me how much longer it could possibly take to arrange my business and get back on the job. If we didn’t get this annual report printed, while the other papers did, it could cost our paper millions of dollars in dropped subscriptions.

To clarify the predicament properly, I have to explain that our paper had bought exclusive rights to cover a story, that we’d been doing every year, on trading agreements between a stock company from California and a New York firm. These negotiations were supposed to be the pivot point for increases or decreases in a number of stocks dealing with agricultural products from California; of which businessmen from around the world relied highly for their calculations.

Although those types of negotiations took place every year and around the same time, it was by mere luck that our newspaper had managed to deal a sole-coverage on the event. We were supposed to interview the president of the company, in California, in relation to the possible market value that the product was to have in the next few months. And that’s where I came in… I was the reporter who was supposed to interview and write the story; and I had known it since the exclusive. Now, my stay on the island was about to jeopardize the interview and if we didn’t print those results, many people were going to be very upset. It had been our campaign for the last four months, and we had spent millions of dollars advertising about our exclusive coverage of the story, with much success over our competition.

But further, if we didn’t print the damn thing, someone had to – and we would most likely lose all exclusive rights to it. It was very nerve racking, for I knew there was nothing to be done. I had to go back and I had to go right now! My angry boss asked me when I’d leave and I said “tomorrow,” to which he answered, “You have three days, or you’re fired!” Then in anger he must have pulled the phone from the wall because I heard a loud noise and then the line was dead.

My face became very long. Noelia asked me what was wrong, but it was useless for me to try to explain. Everything was amiss and where could I start? How could I explain corporate demand to her? She wouldn’t understand and most likely would get mad. But what could I do? I had to go, or I’d lose my job. She didn’t like it a bit, as I thought, but I couldn’t transfer my brain over to hers; she’d have to just trust and try to understand. I was too stressed to fight again; but she didn’t want to.

She was upset, and tried to make me give her a good explanation as to what could be so important that it called for me to go that very hour. I couldn’t give her one, so she kept harassing. It must have stressed her, as it did me. I think the only thing that calmed her was that she could see I also didn’t want to go. Because of that, she lessened the tension, even when I became more apprehensive to her. Without a doubt my stress was at its peak. It threw my mind into a tumult, on the extreme of foreboding, making me unsure of how to cope with all of it, as if a wrench had been thrown into my mind – straight into its gears.

There was no time to waste. She went with me, but her attempts to stop me were in vain. My mind was a dark tunnel. She cried some, because I was a little rude, but in spite of everything she stayed very sane and tried to brace my instability with her strength. The first place to go was the hotel. Blanca had to know, and that didn’t help my situation at all, once we got there.

In all decency, I couldn’t just leave; but her reaction was so expectantly irritating that it sent me further down the dementia-drain so that I could no longer deal with it. I think I was even ruder to Blanca than I’d been to Noelia. When we left, Blanca sat crying as if I’d told her that her firstborn was dead. They were the loudest wails I’d ever heard. I didn’t even bother going through the formality of exchanging addresses and promising to write. I just left (an ungrateful slob). Noelia tried excusing me to her, but it was of no comfort. To Blanca, I had betrayed and abandoned; and Noelia didn’t think I should be so heartless, but I wasn’t in the mind for calmness.

The most unpleasant part was done and there was still plenty of time to extricate myself from the island and return to duty. I could send for Noelia after arriving in the States and then make all the arrangements in their proper order. The taxi-man lived down the street from Blanca, so we went there next and I hailed him to take me to the airport. He wasn’t happy about having to leave his asado (BBQ). We had caught him during the siesta, so we practically had to drag him out before he finally said he would take us. It was amazing to me that a man as he would not jump at the opportunity to get some cash from a North American. Of course we had infringed upon the sacred “siesta-time,” which was in essence an unwritten law on the island.

The siesta time started at about midday and ended sometime after four or five. The main idea was that everyone ought to take a break from work and have a large meal, then sleep for a few hours to digest it. I didn’t find the siesta to be productive nor of a cognitive nature, for why would one sleep during the day? Sleeping would only ruin one’s desire to work and would waste all available good time; for what could one possibly get done after five, and especially after a nap. It was an ideal that was completely contrary to capitalism. Imagine going to the bank at three o’clock and not being attended because everyone was at home sleeping. The notion was ridiculous!

We got to the airport and I told the taxi-man to wait for us. My nerves by then were to a limit. At least I remembered my chivalry and opened the door for Noelia. It was good that I did that one thing, for it was shameful the way I treated her.

Even though the concept of opening doors and throwing jackets over puddles wasn’t a part of Noelia’s culture, it was still nice for her and she noticed it, repaying me with a smile. But I was sure no bag of sugar. Romance was far from my busy brain. What was she doing there? I asked myself in exasperation. She’d only get sad, or even worse, irritated and provoked into losing her good nature. She was always the Peacemaker. I didn’t want her to experience my ill nature. This mess with my job would soon be over and things would be back the way they should, but now I was too deranged to treat her as a princess should be treated, so I told her that it would be better if she went to her house while I fixed my problem. But that’s what made it start and she became disagreeable.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want her to be with me. She misunderstood it. I wish I wouldn’t have said anything, but she was bound to get upset. How much wear and tear can the best of crutches take before they break? She was my support and my peacemaker, but even she would break under my spoiled spirit.

Noelia didn’t care to speak to me any more, as I made my way to the ticket counter. The lady behind the desk was dressed professionally and at first polite, but I would soon spoil that and make her day a little worse. The first thing I did was ignore her pleasantness and interrupt her in the middle of her first sentence. Whatever she tried to say was cut off by my demands. Things would be done my way and she was going to have to understand that from the start.

“Yes sir, I am sure we can manage something if you can give me your ticket and I can . . .”

“No, you don’t understand. I need a flight tomorrow to New York, non-stop, in first class, if you have any in first class, and here is my ticket.”

“Yes sir, but if you don’t have any reservation I’m not sure what we can . . .”

“Not what you can – what you have to! I have a first class, pre-paid ticket here. I had to cancel it, but the lady I talked to last said I could work whatever out whenever I wanted to leave. So you have to give me a ticket now.”

“I don’t think she told you that, sir. We have a very strict policy around this time of year, but I’m sure if you will show me your ticket we can work something out for you.”

“No! You don’t understand! The lady that was here before told me that I could book on whatever flight I wanted to, so you better get me on tomorrow’s flight because I have to get back to New York pronto.”

“I don’t know what she told you sir, but we can’t do anything about tomorrow if you don’t have a pre-paid ticket…”

“No! You will get me on that flight! She absolutely promised me…”

“Well, do you see the lady who helped you?”

“I don’t see her now, but…”

“Do you remember her name?”

“No, of course I don’t! But…”

“Well then there’s nothing I can do for you. Whoever told you that you could reschedule whenever you wanted to must have made a mistake. But I don’t see any way we can help you in . . .”

“Oh you better help me lady… I don’t care what it’s gonna take! You better let me talk to your supervisor so we can get this mess straightened up right now!” By that point I was yelling so loud that she didn’t need to get her supervisor. I had attracted his attention already and he was trying hard to keep me calm. He took over the situation and signaled the attendant to go. She went without complaint.

“Sir, what is the trouble here?” said the man, “I’m sure I can be of assistance to you.”

I kept the obnoxious attitude. My eyes were bulging out, blood-shot like an alligator infuriated over its struggling prey. “Oh you better help buddy! My job demands I be there tomorrow on a very important interview for the worlds largest newspaper, and your rude attendant seems to think she should make things hard for me. Your measly second-rate airline better find the time and way to get me back!”

The man was trying to be calm, but I was good at offending. One could tell it in his eyes that he did not want to deal with another imbecile that day; but there I was, another fool, yelling and screaming at the top of my throat. Noelia became very embarrassed and tried tugging at my shirt, to get me to calm down. Instead, I turned around and was rude to her.

“What do you expect me to do with these pig-face people. What do you want me to do? Do you want me to back down like an idiot? Do you think I’m some stupid fool that needs to take this? What do you want?” I was talking in Guarani to her and pig-face was the only insult I had learned. Of course, the attendants also spoke Guarani, so I made myself louder so that they could hear. “They are pig-face, all of them, that do not know how to serve the public! I’m not going to stand around and let them walk all over me! What do you want me to do when I see they are lying to me? Do you want me to stand around like an idiot?”

With those words I turned my eyes to the man and spoke even louder. “He is lying to me, right to my face, and thinking I’m some kind of pig-face that’s going to believe him. I know that they can arrange it for me, but they think I’m STUPID” (I spoke this word in English, then went back to Guarani), “and he’s a l-i-a-r.”

Noelia couldn’t take it any more so she walked off and left me to make more of an idiot of myself, if I wanted to, but she wasn’t going to be there to see it. It made me really embarrassed and angry with her. These people were going to take me for a fool, now that she had walked away. How was I supposed to make out like the one who was right, if even my girlfriend wasn’t going to listen?

And I was in the right here! I went back to my attack on the manager, returning to English again. “Look, are you going to help me or not?” I put my papers and my ticket on the counter. He didn’t bother to look them thoroughly, just gave them a glance and walked away. He was through dealing with a pompous blockhead.

“I’m sorry,” he said, as he walked away, “I’m not going to be able to help you. You will have to take it up with the airline in writing, if you have any complaint, but I am very busy. You’ll excuse me.” I screamed out to him, but he didn’t return. Then the attendant lady came back.

“Was he able to help you out?” she asked cynically. By now my answer was given from the bottom of my lungs. It must have been a spectacle for everyone.

“No I was not helped! This airline is a joke! I will never fly with it again and you are taking a big chunk of business away from yourselves! I travel more than six times a year and work for a huge firm. Once I get back to the States, none of my firm will ever fly with you again! You are going to make your airline lose out on millions of dollars!”

“If you get back to the States,” she corrected. Her answer was so cynical that I don’t even think she knew what she was saying. It was more like a dark prophecy than a sarcastic comeback. It must have set her back a bit and made her try to be nice again. If it wasn’t that, I don’t know why she started trying again. Her boss had already taken me as a nut, but she decided to try some more.

“I am sure we don’t want to lose you as a customer, sir, but . . .”

“Well then you better do something about it now!”

She looked through my tickets a little better than the man did, but didn’t get the results I wanted to hear. Then I resulted to blackmail again. I find it funny that people that lose their temper, like myself, often tend to embellish what they’ll do as a result of being crossed. Sure, I could have gone back and held a banner over my head and picketed outside the airport. And maybe all that would have made some bad publicity for the airline. But who had the time to for such revenge? I sure didn’t and even if I did, I wouldn’t waste it outside an airport. I’d go golf or something. I didn’t even fly six times a year; but even if I did, that money wasn’t going to break the airline. And as far as my company was concerned, I didn’t even have say over what the mailroom did, let alone the company. And yet I found it necessary to lie, to try to put a fright in this girl.

“I’m sorry sir, but it was as I feared. We won’t be able to help you…”

“What do you mean, you won’t be able to help me!”

“Well you see sir, your ticket was canceled two weeks ago BY YOU, and you never made any arrangements for another ticket…”

“Yes, but she told me…”

“Whatever it was she told you, I can’t do anything about that now. I am trying to be more than nice to you sir, but you don’t seem to get it! There is nothing I can do.” The girl was really frustrated now. I really think she was trying to help, but she just couldn’t get around anything, especially my thick skull.

“What do you want me to do,” she said, “put you on the plane and kick someone else off? I can’t do that. You should have made your arrangements two weeks ago when…”

“I didn’t know when I was going back!” I yelled.

“Well then, I’m sorry, but it was your fault. Now you’ll have to make other arrangements, but that’s all I can tell you.” The poor thing was crying now, because of me; but it didn’t faze me.

“Other arrangements! What sort of other arrangements? What’s the soonest I can get off this bastard island?”

She paused for a second, not appreciating my language at all and then answered. “It will be at least two weeks.”

“ Two weeks @ ## *** # @...”

My language had slipped into the pit, so she didn’t feel like she had to take it any more. She left me to yell as loud as I wanted and walked away; now with a broken spirit towards humanity because of me. I tried to get her back, but by then no one wanted to help any more. The only thing left was to leave the place, so I did, with a few more cursings in regard to what I called “lousy service”. My language usually never became horrid, but this was a time when I was beginning to lose my composure. All my goodness was failing.

I walked back to Noelia, who was waiting outside, with a few complaints on my mind, for she was partly at fault.

“Why did you leave? Do you realize you made me look like a fool in front of everyone?” I tried keeping my voice down as best I could, but already I was faltering.

“Well, you were very rude to me,” she said, “and I told you I wasn’t going to be around when you made a scene.”

“Yes, but did you have to ridicule me in front of everyone? They must have thought I was a pig-face who didn’t even have the attention or support of his lady. You could have stayed, at least.”

“Well, I’m not going to fight about it any more,” she said, and then stopped arguing with me. It was a silly thing, but of course, I stayed grumpy for a long while after that. It was nice of her to stop the fight that could have escalated into something more. The fact of the matter was that I was totally incorrect and in the wrong, but she didn’t take too much offense. She just ignored me until it went away.

In the meantime, my anger towards her faded as the more real problem intoxicated my mind. I didn’t have a plan any more and didn’t know what to do, for there was certainly no longer a way to get back to the States on time. Three days, my boss had said. Ha! It might as well be three years. The boss had given me an ultimatum that I could not beat, and although I could have sat back and accepted my circumstances, instead I chose to let it break me into pieces.

As we walked away, the airport fell from sight and its civilization became background to the island’s true atmosphere. During all this I kept insisting about the States. I said that there we wouldn’t have had such problems, as we’d had here, but Noelia wanted to hear nothing of it.

“I don’t see why you can’t just stay here with me,” she said. “You can fix all your problems and then tell him you can’t come back.”

“I can’t do that, Noelia, can’t you see? My boss has already told me that if I don’t go back tomorrow he’ll fire me.”

“Well then there’s nothing you can do about it if you’re already fired. Didn’t you hear the lady that told you there is no way for you to go back until two weeks?”

“Yes, I did. But she didn’t know what she was talking about and… Oh what can I tell you? You don’t understand a thing.” I was only getting more and more frustrated as she tried to help. I wished I wouldn’t have talked to Noelia with such anger, because it wasn’t her fault at all. She was right, I wasn’t listening to reason. She was so dear… If only it could be done over again. If I could change any of it, my mean words would be the first to go; replaced by tender kinder words, spoken at every opportunity and even out of context. Instead, I had to be ferocious. Everything I said had to hurt.

“You don’t comprehend any of it,” I yelled, “How could you, living on this island all these years? To you, the world is flat and everything revolves around your island. There is more to life than sand and palm trees and drinking maté.”

She felt stupid against me, trying to say anything. “Yes but… Oh, forget it… I just wish you could stay.” I could tell I’d made her feel dumb and for a second my conscience found its way out. Making her feel unlearned was cruel. She wasn’t a primitive island girl, she was one of the smartest and most vivid girls I had ever met. In fact, there wasn’t anyone whom I looked up to more than she. She was the most rational and life-loving girl I’d ever known. I admired her even more than myself.

She backed off – she was too kind. Her hand beside me was undeserved, even though I longed for it like a dog. I’d found the best thing in life – love – and now I was a failure. What was I supposed to do? How was I going to take care of her? Who would give me a job so that I could support her? Who would pay for the bills? And surely there would be a baby! What could I do? I was a failure.

“My sweet Noelia, what can I do?” My depression and desperation alarmed her. She tried to help, but I didn’t let her. I had no job and would lose my apartment and my car. So what could I do? Despair had won, with all its argument.

With that assessment, my mind cracked. I made her loosen her grip on my arm and walked off. For some reason or other she let me go. Maybe because she knew that I wasn’t going because of her. It was just that my emotional state was wavering and I probably needed some time to work things out on my own. (At least I hoped I could work things out). She wasn’t threatened by me, or by my leaving her in the middle of a field. She just let me go… She must have loved me more than I realized, to be so understanding.

Walking, walking, walking. Down through the streets that weren’t really streets, but sand, dirt and vegetation that made the pathways to be walked on. Everything was miserable, not a moment easing up. Could I be taking myself into an inescapable trap of self-pity, idling my mind to become catatonic; burying myself in a catacomb? There was no hope now, in this Garden of Eden. Somehow my life would be ruined with whatever decision I took.

Was it that I was stuck where destiny had taken over? Could there be such a thing as a limbo here on earth; because whatever I tried, I could not win! I had no say any longer, for it was as though someone was directing my decisions. Luck no longer played a role in any of my dealings; there was just the rhythm of some bass drum that set the beat of motion. Deeper “in the beyond” it struck the chords of my life – tuned through destiny but not through choice. “Choice” was a luxury that had left me long ago. Now I was left like a jester, to do as the higher hierarchy commanded. And to be made a fool of, knowingly, because I saw it all.

Next in series: Book 2 Dead Awake: All the Light I Cannot See

About The Author

Born from The Pit Hades has traveled to the ends of the world, and drunken in all cultures. From the height of Berlin to the dawning of mankind, one of his greatest boastings is his many titles.

After the dark ages Hades quickly realized that education was his primary focus. His first goal was to travel to the four corners of the world and spread his mission to the churches. Shortly thereafter, he gained his credibility by embracing science as the new religion.

Since then, Hades has continued to travel, focusing on the younger generation, targeting the cause of what is now being perceived as this country’s collapse. From traditional methods to alternative techniques fostering a women’s choice, Hade’s full endorsements across the media have facilitated his invention, ingenuity, and success. He has become revered through the intricacies of plunder, mayhem, and the secret combinations of men and women everywhere. Most of his loyal followers stand accountable to no one.

His previous works include: The Great Tower, The Fall of Man, Girl in the Train, Inferno, The Pit, Off Grid.

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i God of fate.

ii God of fortune.

iii Prayer to Gauchito translated from Spanish: “Gauchito Gill, protect us from the enemy’s hands. Keep us as you have kept us, as so many of us that pray to you, from the claws of Satan. Oh, Gauchito, tell us how to live a better life so we may serve in peace. Now that this great evil is upon us, take the weight from off our hands and we will promise to serve you and help all those that act for good. Oh, with your goodness, as you have done in your mortal life, as you escaped from your enemies and left upon them a just reward for murderers-you that foretold and prophesied in your life. Today keep us and take us from this darkness, I beg you!”

iv There are three common ways to prepare maté. The first is made from the maté leaf, crushed into the bottom of the cuia, then hot water is added. That is the most common of the three. The second is more complicated. It requires a mixture of burnt coals, which are mixed along with the leaf, then added into warm milk with sugar or honey. They call this variation “cosido,” which means, “cooked”. That was my favorite of the three, because of the distinct taste the charcoals gave to it-as I imagine tea and milk while smoking a cigar might taste. The third form is mostly used in the summer, although not as often as the first form, which be-wildered me because one would think that they would not drink something so hot in such extreme heat. Anyway, it is made through the same concept, except that the cuia is filled with ice, then either water or any citrus juice is added; and the name is changed to Terere.


Dead Awake: The Last Crossing

Compared to the #1 New York Times Bestsellers "A masterpiece of narrative fiction” “An enthralling story of the dying awake.” With nothing in common, love sets the trap and they have everything to lose . . . “Gripping and powerful Dead Awake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of true love as it is thrust down to dark realms of self-doubt and despair - where the delicate details of intimate meaning are torn and obscured by human error.” Los Angeles Book Daily Stunning sense of physical detail and elegant metaphors” (New York Reader) interweaving two lives from opposite ends of the globe, illuminating the way against tradition. A deeply magnificent novel from an author “whose sentences never fail to make you catch your breath” (Los Angeles Reviewer). In the style of A Doerr, a masterpiece. For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, this inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir of a dying man as he hopes for beauty in the face of insurmountable odds and attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living? True love. But what makes life worth dying?

  • Author: Mr. Noriega
  • Published: 2016-07-14 17:05:14
  • Words: 42254
Dead Awake: The Last Crossing Dead Awake: The Last Crossing