I remembered the feel of his words, rough and dirty, rushing over my skin. His vowels were elongated. Each unfamiliar structure tumbled from his mouth quickly, tenses unformed, everything infused with unintentional urgency.
“Podemos hablar en español,” I said, but he ignored me. After a while I stopped listening and just watched the way his stomach moved on his inhalations, and the drops of sweat snaking their way down his chest onto the mattress, bisecting him at his rib cage.
I wanted to be back on that dirty mattress with him, drunk and dizzy, not caring.
His friend dropped us off in front of a yard with a rusty chain link fence.
“Talk,” Fernando said and gestured toward a woman sitting at the far end of the yard, “entre mujeres.”
I walked back, threading my way through old car parts and metal barrels filled with newspaper and rags. The ground was muddy with green weeds pushing up everywhere. There were a few children running around and a couple of skinny old dogs. The woman stood as I approached and asked if I wanted a coke. She addressed me using the formal “you,” and I felt uncomfortable. I wiped the back of my hand over my mouth, hard, trying to get rid of the stain of last night’s lipstick.
The toucans began croaking in the banyan trees. Dark clouds were moving in and the salt-tinged air was thick and heavy. I felt my skin, nostrils, lungs, throat being hydrated.
She sliced white crescents from a coconut, squeezed lime and sprinkled chile, and then handed the pieces to her children. When she bent down her braid fell forward. I wanted to grab that braid and hold on. It was black and shiny except at the tips where it had lightened and dried out, bleached by the jungle sun. I thought it would probably feel warm and real in my hand.
“You don’t have to stay,” Fernando had said when we woke up that morning, still half drunk.
“Yes I do,” I said. “Now I do.”
“Why are you here?” the woman asked.
“Vacation,” I lied. Her eyes shone.
“Have you traveled?” I asked. She shook her head.
“I want to move to your country,” she said. Her kids were gathering under the tin roof and sitting on boxes, getting ready for the rain.
“This is paradise,” I said, and gestured to the palms hanging low, the reddish gray sky. She looked at the children, the rotting wooden floorboards, her husband and Fernando smoking cigarettes by the road. “No, this is not paradise,” she said.
We took a taxi back to my hotel. Fernando couldn’t hustle me for anything else, I was broke, so he kissed me and walked across the street to the lagoon. I waited on the beach for a while, watching the sun set in slivers where the clouds separated. When I went inside the chill of the room shocked me. I turned off the ac and opened the sliding glass door to the balcony. I opened the screen and turned off the lights. I didn’t care about mosquitoes or other bugs right then. I kind of wanted the sting or bite, a red bump, some explainable itch to make me feel real again.