“Despacio!” My sewing teacher yelps at me. “Mas despacio! Por favor!”
My translator, a young Mayan kid, takes a gulp off of his pineapple Boing soda and says, “Not fast, not going so fast.”
It takes me a minute to realize that Roberto is speaking to me. I am concentrating on pumping the treadle on the sewing machine I am sitting at, with all of my might.
Roberto finally gets my attention and I still my pumping foot.
My sewing teacher shakes her head in disgust.
After my last fiasco, the “Teachers” that babysat the five of us teenagers decreed that each one of us needed some noble endeavor to keep us occupied and out of trouble.
And it wasn’t just me. Two nights before, Michael had been brought home by our town constable and two other men. Skinny little 15-year-old Michael had gotten hammered in the local cantina and climbed a Coconut tree. He stole a couple of coconuts. It was a punishable offense in this poverty-stricken part of the world. Akin to cattle rustling in the old west.
One of the men with Felipe carried the two coconuts, for evidence I suppose. Or he may have been the injured party. I don’t know, they were all shouting in Spanish while Michael stood by weeping quietly.
I can’t understand them, because when everyone was in a language school for two weeks, I was on a toilet, suffering from a bout of Montezuma’s revenge.
I had eaten some pink ice cream from a street vendor. I think the flavor was “Squash”. But how would I know? I couldn’t understand the lady vendor when I asked what it was.
It took me down for two weeks.
Our Chaperones, Pam and Miguel call a meeting the day after the locals had dragged Michael back and the school had to part with many Pesos and apologies.
Aleta of course, was going to read “One Hundred Years in Solitude” in original Spanish. Had I been a few years younger I might have stuck my tongue out at her, the smarty pants.
Ken and Michael were going to work on a local fishing boat. Sarah had found some kind of Hippy temple in the next town over. She was going to go live with them in silent meditation or something like that.
Everyone in the room stared at me.
I announce that I would like to learn how to sew. I have very little summer-wear with me. All of my clothing is too heavy for this tropical peninsula. This way I can make the school buy me the fabric to make a skirt. The teachers agree. They don’t really give a damn what I do with my time as long as I am out of their hair each day.
The truth is, I was lazy as shit and had little interest in anything beyond boys, booze or cigarettes. I did love to eat and was hungry more often than not. I also enjoyed a good read but in English. Everything we had available in that language had already been consumed by everyone’s eyes several times already.
Except for Aleta’s Journal.
Journal I knew, was only a fancy term for a diary. In fact, it was because of Aleta’s Journal that I got so burned in the first place.
Up until arriving at this dusty village, I had been having a pretty decent time.
Most of the places we traveled to had museums, restaurants, colorful Mercados and plenty of drinking establishments.
But Sisal only had the one restaurant and the one cantina in town did not permit women.
Unless you were a prostitute.
For some inexplicable reason, the student’s daily allowance had been reduced to less than half. Even if there was a place to spend money, I certainly didn’t have any of my own to spend.
There was the beach. But the sun was mighty powerful in this part of the world and the beach just wasn’t safe for my maggot white complexion after ten in the morning. I had learned the hard way to shield myself from the heat of the sun, between the hours of 10 and 4. If I was in it for over twenty minutes, I ran the risk of heat stroke and a terrible sunburn. My cheeks were pretty rosy already from dashing around when I had to leave the house.
That morning, after returning from my morning foray to the local tienda for my daily vittles, I lay like a slug on my red Yucatan Hammock.
I swing myself with a foot on the ground. I am so bored in this dusty village with nothing to do, I could scream.
Aleta interrupts her journal writing to give me a long glare. Once a roommate and best friend, she began to hate me somewhere back in Queretaro but won’t tell me why.
She is razor smart and cuts me with her remarks regularly.
Her intellect is so laser sharp that it usually takes me several minutes to even interpret the insults she flings at me. And by that time it is always too late for a retort, even if I can come up with one.
I am too dull witted.
Instead I stand dumbly, blinking my tears back trying to shrug and act like I don’t care what she thinks.
But I do. Terribly.
I peer out of the door. The sun is too high to safely head outside for long. My friend Wayne is still sleeping anyway. He is on the other side of the village, rooming with two Canadians that do not speak a lot of English. I am so self-absorbed I don’t even try to discover why he is with them.
He cannot speak French.
Aleta glares at me again, this time she shakes her head, disgusted.
“What?” I whine a little.
She shakes her head again and slams her journal shut. She sets it on the milk crate next to her hammock.
She stands up and announces to the empty room, avoiding my eyes, “I am going to Merida.”
This is a full day of a trip. The ride alone is anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on the conditions of the road and transport.
Then she gathers her day-pack and flounces out the door.
I stare at the abandoned journal.
I bet any amount of money that the reason Aleta hates me is written in that journal.
Go ahead, I tell myself, she is going to think you read it whether you do or don’t.
I contemplate the outer leather binding of the book. Someone spent some money on that Journal I think. Probably a Christmas present from a parent to record memories of the trip.
Will her parents read it I wonder? Will they hate me the way their daughter does?
Even at my tender age, I have a few ethics. (Very few). And giving people privacy was one of them.
I know that Aleta probably has many good reasons to hate me. But already burdened with so much self-hatred, I decide not to add to the evidence of my shortcomings by reading Aleta’s opinions of me.
Instead, I peer out the door again. The day seems cooler than I had originally thought. Overcast and a little breezy.
I can’t stand another second inside this roomful of hammocks.
I launch myself outside into the direction of La Playa.
The shore is only a few minutes walk from our place. The whole village is perched on the coast. At least half of the community’s revenue comes from fishing.
The night before, a whole parade of boys, adolescents and fishermen came marching proudly down the street right past the house. Four men bore one of two poles on a shoulder. Tied to the poles was a mammoth fish, almost as long as the men. It had bulging eyes and big cartoon lips.
I don’t know what kind of fish it was but it was quite a celebration down at the Cantina.
This is why Wayne is still sleeping.
I walk to the end of the pier and see Sarah standing around. Suddenly, an enormous fish leaps out of the water.
An excited murmur goes through the crowd of fishermen standing there with hooks in the water already. These are the unlucky independents with no boat or job.
I watch as a man rummages through his gear and produces a fist size hook. Another man flings bait out on the water presumably chumming to get that monster to return.
But after twenty minutes or so it becomes evident to Sarah and me that the big one is gone.
Bored, we walk back down to the beach and dip our bare feet in the warm surf.
A teen-aged boy floats by, polling a long boat. As he navigates the vessel towards us I express interest to Sarah. I wonder aloud how much it would cost for a ride.
“Just ask him for a ride.” Sarah encourages me.
I look in his direction, trying to construct a sentence in my poor Spanish. But he meets my glance and motions for me to come take a ride in his boat.
I hesitate but Sarah gives my shoulder a little shove as he beckons me vigorously.
I look at the sky and see that the clouds are clearing. I know I should get back home under shelter. I am not even wearing a hat.
But after all the fuss I don’t want to look like an asshole and my Spanish is too poor to explain why I need to leave. So instead I hold my finger and thumb together in measurement and say out loud, “Un poco.”
The teen smiles and nods, as he helps me climb into the boat.
There is not a seat in this tub, so I sit on the floor of it while the youth poles it further and further down the coast.
Away from any shred of civilization.
It strikes me that this is different from when Felipe took me on an outing. Neither Sarah or I have any idea who this kid is or where he might be taking me.
A half an hour has passed and I am certain that we are miles from the village now.
Finally, he stops and drops a paint can overboard as an anchor.
“Un Bezo.” he tells me.
“Como?” I ask. I ask this after every single thing anyone ever says to me in Spanish. They must all think I am profoundly deaf.
“Un BEZO! Un BEZO! He says again more emphatically. I don’t have my pocket English to Spanish dictionary with me, so I think frantically what the word “Bezo” might mean. I am pretty confident I have heard the word before.
“Un BEZO!” He says again, almost snarling this time. In the recesses of my mind, I recall the meaning.
He is asking me for a drinking glass. (Later I will discover the word I have located is Un Vaso. Beso, I will discover, means “kiss”).
“No tengo,” I tell him sadly. He must want one in return for the ride I think. I hold my hands up, empty, to show him I have no such thing on my person.
Disgusted, he poles the canoe up close to the land and orders me onto the shore. That is, I don’t understand what he is saying but I can get the meaning alright. He wants me the fuck out of his boat.
Bewildered, I climb out. Again, I have enraged someone and have no earthly idea what I have done.
He poles away and I stand staring at the coast, incredulous. The sun is now at high noon, for the next three hours, it will only get hotter.
Where the fuck am I?
The heat is starting to make me a little dizzy. Should I take off my shirt or pants and put them on my head I wonder? What if someone comes by?
I decide that of all my body parts, my head it the part most used to exposure to the elements and revealing my chest or legs to this sun, would be even more dangerous.
I don’t improve my attitude at all, as I cast my mind back to all of the desert scenes I have either read in a novel or saw in a movie. I think about all the stages the thirsty dying go through, as they approach that dry and hot demise.
In my memory I see them crawling on the sand, begging for their mothers.
They will usually, at this stage, begin to see mirages, dragging themselves along in a final burst of energy only to succumb to their end at the disappointment of this optical illusion.
I try not to imagine crawling on the hot sand.
As if on cue, between the rise of dunes, a small hut is revealed. Painted on the side, words proclaim that they sell cold soda and ice cream. At least I know enough Spanish to read that.
Sure that it is a hallucination, I stumble towards the structure but it does not disappear. Instead, I push through the swinging door and nod at an older couple. They nod back silently.
I want to ask them why they have this place miles from anywhere. But I don’t have the language skill. Instead, I invest what ability I do have by asking in Spanish what things cost, pointing from ice cream to soda to bags of ice.
If I am going to make it back to the house safely I need to cool down and hydrate. I only have eight pesos left for dinner. But I am going to have to spend them if I want to make it back to the village.
I decide I will sleaze dinner out of Wayne somehow. I have been hankering for beer and deep fried duck since my per Diem was so reduced.
I choose two of the largest cold drinks they sell and an ice cream pop. I hope the water they used for this stuff is purified because the print proclaims all of these products locally made.
A few boats pull up, all polled by fishermen who come in to purchase ice, cigarettes, and sodas. I am the only one with an ice cream.
I begin to worry that my previous ride might appear so I finish my second drink and hurry away. I can’t take the bottles with me because I don’t have any peso’s left for a deposit on them.
The house is in an uproar. Our custodians have become convinced that I have been kidnapped for human traffic.
They are pissed as shit when they see me and are not the least interested in my pitiful whine about my sunburn or imagined heatstroke.
Then the men dragged in Michael.
“We are having a MEETING, FIRST thing tomorrow morning!” Pam declared. She turns to our male chaperone Miguel and says. “I’m heading to the Cantina. Come with me.”
“But only prostitutes are allowed in there,” I objected.
But Pam’s back was already to me as she stormed out the door.
“I don’t give a shit!” She announces to no one in particular.
I decided to leave too. I didn’t have any money left, or a Cantina to go to.
But I had my friend Wayne and I needed to get drunk.