No Puedo Llegar

Despues de los años mil, torna el agua a su carril.

I drove back carefully, the night was dark, barely a moon out, and the roads were in poor condition. The dirt roadway gave way to cracked pavement into a a small ciudad just a few miles along the coast from my destination. The buildings had an ancient Spanish feel to them, some of them dated back to the colonial period, bright colors of orange and yellow and white, but next to many a beautiful building would be a burnt out ruin. Random road blocks would block off the narrow streets without warning. At one point, I took a wrong turn, it wasn’t the nicest looking neighborhood, prostitutes and shirtless men walked about the road despite the perfectly fine sidewalk. I got some interesting looks as I turned around at the dead end. As I left the dim lights the road became dirt again as I drove into the undulating hills that would alternate between dense rain forest and clear areas with small buildings, houses, stores. In these areas, people would be sparse, but the yellow glow of the eyes of stray dogs in the headlights was a common sight; they seemed to breed like rats on the island. I had been losing my way all week on this part of the island, away from the tourist areas Google Maps was next to worthless, generally it was best to stop to ask for directions. The locals seemed to travel by landmarks instead of street names which were dubious and inconsistent at best. My Spanish was poor, but enough to get by; I was one of two white people I saw the entire trip.

My adventure to the casino that night had been enjoyable. The locals only seemed to play slots, I got some funny looks when I sat down at one of two blackjack tables in the whole place. I left in the middle of a streak after having increased my buy in over ten fold. I had gotten my entertainment for the evening, and I wasn’t going to let the complimentary drinks keep me there until everything I’d earned returned to the house, I tipped the dealer and made my way to cash out. Unfortunately, it had been a somewhat lonely evening, the language barrier didn’t help me make many friends during my stay, all the same, it had been an experience.

My Japanese rental compact pulled to a brief stop, the red octagonal sign read “Pare” in the reflective light. The vehicle that had been following me for a brief bit came to a very close stop behind, inches from the bumper, the headlights looked like they belonged to some kind of jeep. Come to think of it, those headlights had been following me for some time, despite the tropical heat, a slight chill ran down my spine as I accelerated from the stop sign. Two or three more turns, they were still following me. Certainly the rental car license plate holder made me stick out like a tourist, did that make me a target? While I’d felt safe for the most part of the trip, there was something sinister that had been lurking beneath the surface, the bars on every window, fences around every home, armed guards at hotels, they weren’t there for nothing. Come to find out later that the murder rate had peaked that year I’d visited the island, almost 1500 people killed, mostly in drug wars and robberies.

Beneath my charcoal gray suit, my body was sticky with sweat as I drove on through the night with the windows open, listening to rain forest’s beautiful chorus. I had just learned to accept being sweaty the whole time day and night, there was no way around it in 90-100+ degree heat and tropical humidity, the only time I wasn’t was when a 5-10 minute downpour would tear across that part of the island and drench my body if I was caught outdoors, welcome, cleansing, and refreshing. I studied the pervasive lights through the rear view mirror as they followed me at every turn. Probably just coincidence that we were headed the same direction. I would know shortly as I came to the turn off which was a dead end straight into the seaside resort I was staying at, but as I turned the lights followed growing closer until they were right off my bumper shining right into the car. But then they screeched to a halt, off to the right a guard shined his flashlight towards us. I saw the jeep sit idle for a moment, before reversing back out to the main road. I finally got a good look at it, it was a top-down jeep with four unsavory looking fellows in it. The guard nodded to me as I drove past.

I parked, I didn’t realize till that moment what danger I’d been in, my heart raced a bit, but I breathed deeply and collected myself. I walked calmly past the bungalows, the soothing sound of the tide in the distance. I turned down the dark passage between mine and the next, but was met with a dark figure at the end walking towards me, my heart stopped for a moment.
“Buenas noches,” I said in my high school Spanish.
“Buena noche,” came the mumbled reply as the figure squeezed past practically ignoring me.
Finally, I reached my patio overlooking the cove, the dim sliver of moon shining behind the clouds across the blue pearlescent water. I looked out and took in the view and the sea air. I turned back towards the bungalow and unlocked the front door, then entered, but not before picking up the ash tray next to the patio chair where I’d sit bare chested and dripping after a swim and enjoy a cigar in the afternoon. The room was dark, but some silver moonlight poured in from the window grates, everything was open air and couldn’t be sealed fully. I dumped the ash tray’s contents in the trash beneath the sink and picked up a glass from the counter. I pulled a bottle from the ice box and held it to my forehead, beaded with sweat, before pouring the cool rum into the small heavy bottomed glass and slumping down in the wicker chair in front of the coffee table. I loosed my tie and sat drinking in the darkness. The air conditioner was going in the bedroom, and I heard the occasional snore escape from the occupant. A lone sand crab kept me company as he scuttled along the tile floor.

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