He’s a talker, the angry man, talks the whole time. Talks as he picks me up in his pretend cab, talks as he turns the wrong way toward Maya Beach instead of toward town, talks as he extends his hand with a knife. He tells a winding story about his son who was taken from him, his ex-wife who he hates and loves, the government on his back, a $10,000 fine for holding a joint. He considered killing himself this morning, he needs money, my money, he’s going to take my money, he’s going to take other things from me too, his knife is in charge, he has to get home, he can’t live without his son. I’ve always been a good listener, so while he traps me in the jungle beside the Caribbean Sea and brutishly inserts me into his story, I listen to him carefully, hoping to find clues about how to get out of this alive. His story isn’t hard to follow, but it shifts. One madness becomes another until it takes a turn down a dark dirt road in Maya Beach. There it splinters in kaleidoscopic bits of me, him, me, him, me, him, with pieces of both of us sprinkled over sand and sea. That night I believe what he tells me. Now I’m not sure. Maybe he told the truth about himself, maybe he lied, there’s no way to know, and what does it matter? That night he says what he says, he does what he does, and I respond, my own fragments of the story turning and turning in the kaleidoscope’s jewel-cut eye. On the morning of the angry man, I’m on vacation in Belize on a peaceful Caribbean beach. The air tastes like salt. Warm air surrounds me with thick arms, and I welcome its insistent embrace. This isn’t my life in Los Angeles. Here I’m relaxed, unhurried. The breeze is slow, like the waves. Even the salt takes its time from the sea to my lips. Low wooden chairs with colorful chipped paint sit empty in front of rustic cabanas. One or two tourists walk the white packed sand close to the gentle water. Several Belizeans sit in the early shade of a coconut palm, one of the few trees still standing after a devastating hurricane wiped out much of the beach. It’s Sunday, the fourth day of what I think will be two weeks of bliss in this tiny village with the quick crossing from sea to lagoon, the long sidewalk officially deemed “narrowest main street in the world,” no hospital, only a police sub-station, and a long glorious stretch of beach dotted with hibiscus and the sea’s natural debris. I’m used to my city’s saturated smells, at home my senses are fine-tuned for safety, and I’m a fairly experienced traveler alert to my surroundings, but here I don’t detect a scent of danger. I’m a teacher so I take advantage of holidays and summers to explore. I’ve interviewed theologians in South Africa, walked along the Great Wall of China, helped organize an arts festival in Zimbabwe, followed migrating butterflies in Mexico, ridden an ostrich, and lived on a boat. I trust my instincts, choose adventures that don’t carry excessive risk, after all, I’m a single woman and usually travel alone. But I also trust in people’s good nature, mostly have positive encounters, and have made lasting friendships with people I met along the way. Still, it’s important to be careful. In this quiet village, I’m happy. The sun, that great dream doctor, rises; the sun, that fierce lion of love, sets; the earth spins and spins, and I’m like an eager child, my heart wide open to whatever I’m about to find. I’ve returned to fall in love with the diver I met on this same Belizean peninsula three months ago. The one who sat down uninvited at my wooden table under a thatched umbrella, bought me tall glasses of rum punch, and talked with me into the night while wind and residue of salt water tangled my hair. It rained lightly, drizzling off the fronds of the umbrella onto the sand around our chairs. It wet my skin and despite the warm night I shivered. In the past I’ve become friends with men in other countries but never started a romance. This diver, though; he’s smart and sincere, attentive and kind. We made plans to meet again the next day. By the time I left the country a week later, we had met for dinner every night, explored the peninsula together by boat, sped across the water to a soccer game in Monkey River, danced to a reggae band at the beach bar, talked, kissed, and held hands. It was sweet; he was sweet. I wasn’t in love but I thought he was sweet. I returned to Los Angeles, and we began three months of daily emails and phone calls. We were curious about each other. We played with the possibility of love. When summer break arrived, I decided to return. Embarkment. Los Angeles. Disembarkment. Belize City. Back again? asks the customs official. You must like our country. Yes. On the morning of the angry man, I sit looking at the sea and wonder if I could adapt to living here. The diver and I are having a wonderful time, falling in love the way we hoped we would. I’m falling in love with the diver, falling in love with the village, falling in love with the sun, sand, water, air, and sky. The diver has always lived in this paradise. He swam before he walked, blends Creole and English in a voice as smooth as deep water. His voice, my God, his voice is so soothing, even and low. Living on the water has made him calm. He slows my city pace down, and I appreciate that. What’s the rush? He balances my thinking, too. I’m an analyzer; he’s a simplifier. It’s a relief to not get entangled in heady debates, but to take in wisdom from the stories he tells me of the sea. He’s a dive master and professional fisherman, spends his days exploring the coral reef. Elkhorn, brain coral, leaf coral—it’s hard to name the corals because of how many there are. Fishes likewise. Groupers, snappers, marlins, barracudas, blacktip sharks, reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, and the rarely seen tiger sharks. When strange things come to where we live, the diver says, we tend to look at them with curiosity. Same way with the fishes. Most things under the water are curious. Most will look but won’t approach. We’re interfering in their world, yet they won’t swim away except if we swim toward them and spook them a bit. His birthday is next week, and I’m here to celebrate. I made him a book of the emails we sent back and forth since we met, each page uniquely designed. I think I’ll give him the book on his birthday. I think the week will be carefree. I think my biggest worry is whether I’m being foolish and naïve starting a romance with this man. I’m aware of our differences, of course I am. I’m city; he’s ocean. I’m let’s make a plan; he’s let’s see how it goes. I live inside art, theatre, and books. He lives in an underwater galaxy I’ve barely touched floating on the surface. He doesn’t mind our difference in age or culture or race and neither do I. I’ve been through enough disappointing relationships to take a chance on this sweet younger man. Last night sitting on the beach, he told me he thinks we can be happy together for a long time.
I trust my instincts, choose adventures that don’t carry excessive risk, after all, I’m a single woman and usually travel alone.
The angry man wears a jaguar tooth necklace so that some of the jaguar’s power will rest on his chest, as if the energy of the animal can be transferred, like heat to cold.