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  • Robert John Andrews

Dangerous Curves - Curvas Peligrosas - ...the serialization




Chapter Eight


Con los pobres de la tierra

Quiero yo mi suerte echar


With the poor people of the earth

I want to share my good fortune


“You’re telling me you walked into a piece of barbed-wire?” Larry quizzed as he slid the second stitch into Rick’s cheek. Wendy stood next to him holding a small tray.

“Hmmmh,” Rich replied, sucking his lips.

“Relax, will you? You did have your tetanus shot before you came, right?”

“Hmmmh,” Rick hummed with a wince, imitating a kazoo.

“Well, this isn’t the prettiest stitching and you’ll likely end up with a scar but I bet this is probably as good as you’d get in any clinic around here.”

“Hmmmh,” Rick acknowledged, wishing Larry would shut up and finish.

“Sorry we didn’t bring any numbing cream, so I’m guessing it stings a bit.”

“Hmmmmrrr…”

“Sounds like you are making a yummy sound? Are you making a yummy sound,” Wendy teased.

Rick grunted though his clenched teeth. “Shut up, Wendy-Lady.”

“Me and my lost boys. Now how on earth did you walk into barbed-wire?”

~~~

. . . from a distance Rick sees a slab of moving rocks. The rocks corral all sorts of animals, humans too, then the rocks begin digesting them . . .

Rick slept fitfully that night. He couldn’t blame it on Sam’s snoring either.

. . . sailing a boat, Rick climbs the mast, swings on the sheets, flying with the wind, then sails it into a restaurant, the mast hitting the ceiling . . .

Bizarre dreams intruded to the point where he was never quite sure if he were awake or asleep. Several times he awoke to wipe the perspiration from his face with the edge of the blanket, or so he thought that is what he did.

. . . he’s driving down the windy road, lots of traffic delays, the road is filled with farm trucks and old cars, held up one way due to construction. For some reason he gets out of line and keeps driving, merging with other cars pushing ahead in a ‘v,’ now he is out of the car walking along a grassy slope; he ends up walking downhill, turning in time to watch his car rolling past him, then he turns and heads uphill. Walking up some steps he comes out the front entrance, up a stairwell, through many rooms, each connected by steps, up and down through the rooms he goes, till he comes to a room where Dawn is in bed, he climbs in next to her, she’s warm and arousing, she’s eager but he’s trying not to . . .

Sweating, Rick wakes up. This time for real. Waking up before either Sam or Don. The electric clock on the nightstand glared in red: 6:03. His face throbbed. During the night the bandage had been nearly rubbed off. Rick, careful not to yank at the stitches, pulled off the rest of the stained bandage, rolled it up, and flung it toward the bottom of his bed. He reached for the remote from the nightstand and clicked on the TV, immediately pushing the mute button. They were showing replays of soccer matches from Mexico. After they started broadcasting highlights from Argentina, Sam rolled over. Don stirred. Swinging his legs to the side of the bed, Rick sighed. “Let’s go boys, another day on the road.”

Don squinted at Rick. “You look like crap. What happened to you?”

“Nothing much. Just some barbed-wire,” he again lied as he ran his hands through his greasy hair. “Just another wonderful Honduran souvenir.” He stood up and hobbled toward the bathroom. “This country is going to kill me.”

He showered. After drying himself off he looked into the fogged mirror. He shook his head, then shrugged. Using the last of the water from his bladder canteen, Rick gingerly brushed his teeth, avoiding as best he could the molars on his left side, dribbling the water from his mouth instead of spitting, then he dumped his mug, shaking it out over the sink. Walking back toward his bed he put it back into his knapsack. He dressed, slipped on his work boots, left the shoelaces loose as usual, and finished stuffing the rest of his clothes into his dusty duffle. Sam’s snoring reached some kind of an intermission.

“I need coffee,” he said to Don. “Catch you downstairs. I hear we have another long drive today.”

Carolyn Rose looked up as soon as she heard Rick thanking the lady who tended the coffee urn. Her bright smile turned to concern as soon as she saw his face. She jumped up from the breakfast table and rushed toward him. Only a handful of the mission team members were there. None of the kids was up.

“What happened to you?” she anxiously asked.

“Where were you yesterday?” he asked, avoiding her question. “I looked for you after we got back. Most of the night too. I was worried.”

“It’s nice to have someone worried about me,” she said. Carolyn Rose reached up to touch his left cheek with her fingertips.

Rick folded his hand over the back of her hand and gently lowered it. He looked over her shoulder at the faces watching them. “I guess we’re no longer worried about being discreet?”

“Excuse me,” she said. “When were we discreet?”

With a shrug, he drank some of his coffee. The coffee was stinging hot, causing him to again wince. “You are the hardest person to get a straight answer from,” he said. Reaching out, he put his left arm around her and drew her closer to him. He bent his head forward and pressed his forehead against hers.

“You should talk,” she scolded.

“I’ll tell you what, love: you first.”

“If you insist,” she said. Then she pulled her head back, closing her eyes. “I had gotten a phone call from Tegucigalpa. There was some ACC trouble over finances that I had to handle,” she said with a slight blush. “Your turn.”

“Hmmm,” Rick hummed, studying her face. He looked down to the left. “Well, mine was just a little encounter with some barbed-wire. Razor wire, I think. I really don’t remember. You want to be rich in Honduras? Sell barbed-wire. I have never seen so many fences.”

Carolyn Rose pressed her forehead against his again and waited.

“Okay, I’ll confess. I guess I had a few too many rums last night. You can blame Sam. But you can thank Larry and Wendy for knitting me together.” Rick stepped back. “Don’t you think it makes me look a little more rugged?”

“How about stupid?” Carolyn Rose said with playful reproof. “I am going to have a talk with Sam.” She reached into her pocket. “I’m not sure if you deserve this or not.” She pursed her lips into a brief pout. But the twinkle in her eyes transformed the pout into the forgiveness of a sunrise smile. Carolyn Rose removed her hand from her pocket and held her fist over his outstretched palm. “I did find time to buy you this.” She let the black beads dribble through her fingers. Only when the crucifix emerged and joined the pile of beads in his palm did he figure it out.

“A rosary?” he guessed, raising his eyebrows in puzzlement. “Just what every Protestant needs.”

She beamed. “There’s something we can learn from dear Mary,” said Carolyn Rose. “Mother Mary tells us you can’t have the joyful mysteries without the sorrowful ones.”

“Huh?” he asked clumsily.

“Never mind, my dear.”

“Well, great minds think alike. Each for each.” He reached into the top pocket of his Hawaiian shirt and held out to her a small carving of a Macaw. His eyes embraced her face. “Got it at the gift shop at the ruins. It reminded me of a conversation from a few days ago. I can’t believe it has been just a few days.” A pause was savored before he reminded himself: “Turning on a dime.”

“I do believe, mi hombre sincero, I too am beginning to appreciate how quickly life happens. Which is why, mi corazon, I’m going to have to protect you from Sam’s evil influences.” She tapped the Macaw three times against his sore cheek. “Or maybe it was the other way around. I’m not sure I know you well enough yet.”

“Wouldn’t have happened if we had had that nice dinner I was planning on. While we wandered among the ruins Teresa told me about this fancy place outside of town I had hoped to take you to. El Jaral . . . well, something or other like that. She said it was quite expensive, one of the best.”

“How about breakfast together now?”

“I always enjoy eating breakfast with a lady.”

Amor es mejor,” she said, punctuated by a very public kiss.

~~~

Carolyn Rose fell asleep within fifteen minutes after they left the cobbled streets of Copan, her head resting against Rick’s chest, his left arm wrapped around her. The wind from the open windows blew her strawberry blonde hair onto his face. Don, squeezing in with them on the back bench of the van, sat to Rick’s right. Every couple of miles, Evelyn would crouch over and peep something into Jane’s ear, and they, like parakeets, would periodically turn their heads around to glance back at them. Billy, squirming in the jump seat, tried to read. Larry and Wendy silently watched the landscape pass by. Deb, after reminding everyone that it was ‘malaria Sunday’ (time to take their chloroquin), nursed idly her warm bottle of water. Kevin looked bored. Jimmy and Annie kept pointing and gawking at the scenery, until by the time that the two vans drove through La Entrada, brother and sister had worn themselves out and fallen asleep, their heads leaning back, their mouths open. Annie drooled. Teresa sat in the front seat as usual so she could talk with Gabriel. The other members of the team tried to make themselves as comfortable as they could for the eight hour ride. Sam posted himself in the front seat of his van whispering conspiratorially the entire trip with a tense and subdued Miguel.

When they first drove west to Las Mercedes a week ago, the team was energized, animated, excited. Now nerves were frayed, bodies strained, emotions saturated. Some were simply trying to get themselves mentally ready to accept they were here for another week. A few hinted they should have kept the trip to a week. They all sweated. The other difference in mood became evident when Sam exploded at everyone clamoring for him, picking away at him, needing him to translate the signs alongside the roadway or name objects they saw. He snapped. “You’re like a litter of puppies always demanding mommy,” he steamed before he buried his nose in his dictionary.

The drive to Talanga retraced the steps of their trip to Copan on Friday. La Entrada to Lake Yojoa and then eastward. The same relentless mountains, the same crowded buses and overloaded fruit trucks, the same wobbly wheels on transport trucks, the same speeding SUV’s and Toyota pick-ups, the same rest stop at Siquatepeque for refreshments and bathrooms. The same bench near the aviary. Rick believed the Macaw looked worse.

Rick, with Carolyn Rose nestled against him, her hair dancing against his lips and cheek, managed the discomfort of the long drive by retreating inwardly. He puffed at the top of her head and instinctively stroked her hair. Has this been too easy, he began to worry? Tomás aside, for sure. More of a nuisance that, but at least he won’t bother them anymore. Better still, he won’t bother her anymore. I didn’t mean to do it but he wanted it that way. At least Tomás was sent away with his tail tucked between his legs. I can’t feel too smug about it. All thanks to Miguel. How do I thank him? Maybe there’s something he needs I can give him. Yes, I owe a real big thanks to Miguel, because, yes, she’ll be safe now.

But am I okay? Am I ready for this? It does seem too easy, too fast. Second thoughts invaded first thoughts. What would Dawn think of me now? Is it too soon? Am I being fair? Dawn wanted kids, so why didn’t we start sooner? I was selfish. I guess it was best we didn’t. How cruel that would have been. Maybe the baby would have been in my car with her when the truck hit her. If she hadn’t stalled. Too many thoughts. Whirling thoughts. Too many ifs. Too much blame. But is this too soon? What will her parents say when I come back and announce Carolyn Rose to everyone? Let me introduce you to my new lover. Will I introduce her? Maybe what we have is just for now, like adolescents at the Jersey shore for the summer. Enjoy it for now. Till the bubble bursts. We are different. Kind of. God, am I misleading her? Hope not. Hope I’m not being selfish. Feels good though. I am being selfish. What is she expecting? I don’t really even know her. What did she ask me at the door? Can I love again? If I really loved Dawn would I be doing this now? Too soon. I’m sure Don thinks so. He seems disappointed in me. Oh, I don’t know.

The vans drove by the entrance to Monte Carmelo before anyone noticed, then turned left at the police stop beyond the cemetery onto a road filled with pot-holes. The road skirted the northwest rim of Tegucigalpa, and eventually headed due north on a fairly flat and decent two-lane highway.

The change in direction plus the bouncing of the vans from the pitted roads fanned and kindled a renewed excitement. Maybe it was because they got some sleep. Maybe it was because they traveled new roads and new sites. Soon enough the familiar jokes and the predictable banter bubbled inside both vans. The youth stirred and became alert, looking out the windows and chattering away about the farms, pigs, and shacks. Deb chirped: “I can’t wait to see this new place.” She called out for Teresa. “I do hope it is like that darling town. Back where we were. The one we didn’t get to visit. What was its name?”

Larry, eavesdropping, remembered. “La Esperanza.”

“Yes,” Deb agreed. “I do hope this is like that. It seemed so charming. Quaint. I just loved all those balconies and the terra cotta. Charming.”

Teresa smiled a sheepish smile, like a child caught by mommy sneaking a cookie. For ‘charming’ was not a word often spoken in describing Talanga.

Over in his van, after cresting a high mountain followed by a long descent, as they approached an intersection where the charred terrain flattened out, Sam called from the front seat and pointed right, the intersection marked by several pulperias, a tire shop, gas station, and a huge lumber yard. “That’s it, over there. Talanga. Down that road. Miguel tells me we’re going on a few more miles to where we’re staying. Don’t get your hopes up. It’s still going to be pretty rough living.”

Trash littered the gutters along the roadway. Plastic bags and pieces of torn paper swirled, stirred and swept by speeding cars and trucks. Two buses, pumping out dank fumes, waited for an ox cart fitted with rubber wheels to make its lumbering turn. Shanties sat among the banana and lemon trees. Blue smoke from burning sawdust hung in layers over the downtown which was a kilometer down the road at the base of the slope of rocky hills.

In her van, meanwhile, Teresa was explaining much the same to the group, though more optimistically. “We will be housing at a very special place to us in ACC. It is outside town by about 10 minutes. We have dormitories, a kitchen. We also are building a room for classes and for worship. We will talk more later.” Teresa looked blissful as she folded her arms.

Carolyn Rose spoke faintly: “The fact is, they don’t want the people in town to know what ACC is planning for the place.” Wendy and Larry cocked their heads to listen. “It’s going to serve as a refuge for single women and their children. Abused women who have no where else to go. If the town heard about that, well, the refuge might get attacked.”

“Attacked?” Wendy said, startled at the force of the word.

“Where we were before was, shall we say, very native. A rural community. Insulated, if you will,” Carolyn Rose continued. “Look, see -– see the telephone poles and wire?” They did. “This is more city. Which means we got city problems here. Drugs. Major unemployment. Gangs even. Yes, unfortunately, if the young men discovered ACC was building a refuge for abused women, they’d vandalize it, maybe even torch it to the ground. That’s why Teresa’s not saying much. Nor should we.”

The vans continued driving through a valley filled with flat farm fields spreading out until they butted up against the next range of stark and ragged mountains. At a block and brick factory Miguel turned left onto a dry and rutted dirt lane. When the rains come the road churns to mud. When the rains end, the ruts are baked by the hot sun. Gabriel trailed, causing the gringos to close their windows because of the dust from Miguel’s van billowing inside. A few minutes later Miguel braked and honked. An old man, his face withered and taut as worn leather, sprang up from squatting near a fencepost. He removed his cowboy hat, exposing to the light his deep-set yet glistening eyes, and wiped the furrows of his wrinkled brow with the back of his tattered sleeve. With gnarled, quick fingers he unlatched the barbed-wire latch and pulled the gate inward.

The vans lurched down along the path that followed a dry stream bed. Yellowing grass and prickly weeds grew up between worn tire tracks. They passed several scummy ponds and brown corn fields. Three Quarter-horses grazed in a nearby pasture. Barbed-wire fencing, attached to trees and to posts from which green branches sprouted, edged the entire lane. As they approached a second more formidable looking gate, the old leathered man reappeared on the opposite side. He took a key from his pocket, unlocked the small metal padlock, pulled its shackle from links of chain, then with both hands pushed open both gates. One side, slightly tilted, remained open, the other side of the gate he held back as the vans entered the compound. Off to the left was pretty little pond edged by several skinny trees.

“Oh, dear Jesus, look at those latrines,” Jane gulped as soon as they bounced around a corner through the yard of a farmhouse. She immediately repented her blasphemy.

“Oh boy! Double-seaters!” Jimmy hooted, clapping his hands. “Pooping with a friend!” Annie snorted a laugh, then felt embarrassed because Kevin heard her snort like that.

Devilishly, Sam again turned to face the passengers in his van. “Miguel recommends we use the one on the right. The left side floor is a bit . . . How did he say? . . . Unsteady?” Sam tossed a wadded up candy wrapper at the smelly kid. “Especially for fat, stinking, and lazy gringos. He’s not sure if the floorboards can handle our weight. One sit, one fall, and it’s a very nasty baptism.” Sam grinned maliciously. “And no one is going to come to help pull you out.”

“That’s disgusting,” complained one of them.

“That’s Honduras,” chuckled another.

Casa Refugia consisted of eight unfinished concrete block buildings topped with tin roofs laid out to form a wide ‘U.’ A windmill and a storage shed sat at the open end of the horseshoe. Beneath the windmill a blue tarp was draped on a frame of 2x4’s, forming a five foot high booth for washing up. Inside sat a metal fifty gallon drum of water, filled from the groundwater pumped up by the windmill. A small red plastic bowl floated on top of the water. Dried leaves and dead bugs floated on the surface.

The vans pulled near the first block building. The group was familiar with the routine by now. Each person gathered up their gear as it was tossed from the roofs of the vans and they staked out bunks in the block buildings, girls to the left, boys to the right. The block houses contained pine board bunk beds, each one no longer than five foot, the mattresses offering foam rubber comfort four inches thick supported by planks spaced five inches apart. Sam’s first step on first rung of the dried out pine ladder cracked it.

Supper was taken in and around the small farmhouse situated to the left of the latrines by forty yards. Teresa introduced the team to Bertha and Hector. Bertha, her graying hair tied back in a tight bun, her faded floral dress billowing to her ankles and hiding the firm plumpness of a woman who had experienced many births, would mind the cooking and cleaning, while Hector, the leathered fellow, lean and angular, the one who first met them at the entrance, would tend to other chores. Teresa mentioned briefly that Hector patrolled the compound every night.

By 6:30 it was pitch black. Stars filled the crisp sky. Larry tried to spot Polaris, eventually going around behind the block building and locating it only inches above the horizon. Lightning flashed silently in the distance. The lightning’s mute incandescence spread through the clouds then disappeared. Later, back in the candlelight of the bunkhouse, Larry and Don played a game of chess on the hand-carved set Don bought in Copan. The kids stayed outside talking. Rick and Carolyn Rose strolled together, Rick enjoying his pipe. Others pretended to read by flashlight or citronella candlelight. A few tried to fall asleep that they might dream of who and what they wanted the most, remembering special moments far, far away. Arms reached out for pillows imagining they were more than pillows.

~~~

The roosters began crowing around 4 in the morning, immediately joined by barking dogs.

Grace at breakfast was offered by Evelyn who, hacking a harsh cough after inhaling smoke rising from the stove, did not insist on longer devotions. The team lined up near Bertha’s sink. Everybody ended up rubbing their eyes from the layer of blue haze caused by green sticks of wood burning in the stove. Most preferred to go outside and sit on the porch. The flies, fresh from exploring the manure of cattle and horse, now attracted by fresher meat, soon had all the team members waving their hands over the plates. Rick laid his bandana over his food. Four dogs, each brown and lean, more coyote than pet, stood in front of those seated near ground level and stared impassively. Those careless enough to set their plates down next to them, distracted by conversation, would reach down to discover that the dogs already had licked their plate clean. Team members took their turn washing the plastic plates and cups. Dish washing detail meant you first scraped the leftovers into the buckets for the pigs (the choicer bits to be picked out later by Bertha for her grandchildren). A rag soaped up from the bar soap sitting in a cracked dish was used to wipe down the plastic plates, followed by a light rinse with a trickle of water from the sink’s faucet. Then it was plunge the dishes in the nearby bowl of bleach water to be dried with a damp and greasy towel.

The entire team moaned from stiff joints as they piled into the vans and squished onto the seats for the drive into town, each one holding their knapsack on their lap. The plan was for Miguel to stay with them in town, but Gabriel would drive back to the compound and later return in the afternoon to pick them up. Gabriel had been assigned other chores.

~~~

Pastor Raul Ruiz Salinas, chief liaison with ACC in Talanga, greeted them in English at the door of the Iglesia Evangélica Santidad, welcoming each of the gringa women with a robust hug and each of the gringo men with a firm double-handed handshake. The name of the church was hand-painted on a wooden sign swinging over the dirt lane in front of the church building. Pastor Raul was a portly man, immediately exuding the infectious contentment of a man keenly aware of his fortune and importance in life.

Don and Evelyn were introduced to him as pastors also. When Don shook his hand, he complimented Pastor Raul by saying: “You have a lovely church.”

“Yes,” Pastor Raul replied, “they are beautiful.”

Don nodded with appreciation at the distinction. Evelyn missed it.

When Carolyn Rose came up to greet him, Pastor Raul gave her an extra squeeze. The top of his forehead came level with her chin. “My heart is glad to see you again, Señorita.” He placed his hands familiarly on her shoulders, stepped back, and studied her face. “Talanga is a prettier town when you visit us, though today, my rose, you seem extra pretty.” Then he smiled a broad smile, his gold tooth glinting in the harsh sunlight. “And how can this be? Is there no Tomás with you?” He laughed heartily. “He must be either very foolish or very busy to leave you alone, our special northern flower.”

Carolyn Rose blushed. She leaned forward and pecked him on the cheek, the way young girls will kiss their favorite uncle. “I believe, my handsome friend,” she replied, “it was you who taught me a saying of your people: La vida no avisa. You, if anyone, should know how life never gives notice. Maybe Tomás has finally accepted that he hasn’t a chance with me when you’re around.”

Raul beamed with delight, savoring the public flattery. Then he went to work. Within minutes of the welcome, Raul, demonstrating an efficiency the gringos had never seen before on this trip, had arranged them into three work teams, two to head to two work sites in the neighborhood, one to remain at the church and help the older women of his congregation with the construction of metal frames. Raul’s eyes glinted as he noticed Carolyn Rose moving close to Rick. He raised an eyebrow as Carolyn gently stroked the back of Rick’s hand with her fingernails.

“I need to stay behind to talk with Raul’s wife about the sewing ministry,” she said to Rick. “You go have fun.” She pointed to two young men, one of whom carried two long-handled shovels over his shoulders. The other pushed a wheelbarrow filled with a plastic bucket, five bags of concrete mix, and a pick. “They’ll take you to your house.”

“Oh, great,” Rick whined. “Mas cemento.”

They walked to their work site led by the young men who turned left at the first dirt road above the Iglesia Santida where the purple painted Pulp Claudia sat at the corner. Sam raced to the Dutch-door of the pulperia and chattered away into the darkness inside where the proprietress sat on a stool and dandled a toddler on her knee. Sam caught up with the group a few minutes later, munching on what appeared to be a large biscuit. “Pan dulce,” he explained, pulling a second one out of a dirty plastic bag and tossing it to Jimmy. “Sweet bread. It’s the closest they have to a doughnut here.” Sam broke off pieces and passed them around making sure he jogged up to the young men and handed them each a half of the third one.

Jimmy smacked his lips and stuck out his tongue. “A little dry,” was all he said.

The group nibbled as they kept following the two young men as they passed the shirtless shoemaker, then across the compact soccer pitch toward a fancy church building. A brass plaque bolted onto the front wall, high and to the left of the large doors, advertised the name of the church: La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Últimos Días. It was a beautiful structure. Freshly painted. Two tones of brown. Two stories high. The sanctuary, visible through its locked glass doors, appeared airy and spacious. At one corner of the tidy, raked yard rose an impressive bell tower. A truly handsome latrine, commodious and formed of concrete, a Cadillac of latrines, sat on the shady side of the building. Trimmed green grass, the only lawn they saw in town, surrounded the building, opening to the basketball court at the rear of the yard. The yard itself was surrounded by a cyclone fence topped with six rows of silvery barbed-wire. The wire was stretched between metal arms that leaned diagonally out toward the road. They didn’t see any one using the building that Monday morning. They never saw anyone using the building.

The work team continued down several blocks until they came to the carpentry shop where they turned right and went past the vegetable stand. They took the next left and walked up a rocky, eroded lane past two houses. A young boy pushed his rusted wheelbarrow with its rubber-less wheel-rim up the bumpy lane. Two other boys walked down the street carting lengths of hewn trees over their shoulders. The work team heard the pick-up truck before they saw it. A voice was amplified to the point of static inaudibility. The noise grew louder. The truck turned the corner. A loudspeaker was wired to its roof. The back of the truck was filled with crates and bags. Two young boys sat on the edge of the tailgate.

“He’s selling vegetables and seafood,” Rick interpreted to the group. Turkey vultures circled above in the blue sky spying down on the brown and orange terra cotta roofs and on the tin roofs weighed down by concrete blocks.

Still following the young men, they entered a vacant lot. They hung their backpacks in the shade. For the next four hours it was dig the foundation trenches for the footers, 26 x 20, then fill the trenches with large rocks. Once again, Rick found himself outside cooking the concrete recipe: thirty shovelfuls of sand (preferably without disturbing the dog asleep on the top of the warm sand pile), stab open the bag of cement with shovel blade, drag open the bag, pour it out, thirty more shovels, turn the pile over. Reverse it. Crater the mixture, form your volcano, add water, scoop the mixture, mix, pour, and go crazy time, turning it to plop. Fill the footers by bucket.

At noon they retraced their steps, again passing by the fancy church building, again spotting no one using it, and returned to Raul’s church building for lunch. Backpacks and hats were hung on the wrought iron fence. The gate remained opened to the courtyard between the sanctuary and the adjacent home of the pastor. It resembled more repair shop than churchyard. Saw-horses and rebar and wire and tools and bags of cement and remnants of wire twisties cluttered the area. Rick’s Leatherman, loaned to a determined Deb, finally found worthy use in snipping the wire twisties. She showed him her split fingernails with pride. It was cut the metal rods and bend them into triangles on a wooden form, using as a wrench a piece of bent rebar. Attach the triangles to the rebar to form frames, 9 meter lengths of rebar with 45 triangles per rebar. Gringos and Hondurans took turns marching through the pastor’s home to use the only toilet. In a cramped room upstairs, the church taught girls how to sew using old fashioned, foot-treadled sewing machines. The three new sewing machines smuggled in from Pennsylvania were busily being used.

Inside the sanctuary, scattered about the pews, the workers ate lunch on paper plates. Rick, lingering behind until everyone got their meal, noticed Teresa holding her hand up to Pastor Raul’s ear. She was pointing out Evelyn. Pastor Raul tapped his finger on his temple. The table that was normally stationed near the pulpit for communion had been carried to the rear of the sanctuary where it served as their buffet table. The water jug wobbled on another table nearby. Throughout the day the linoleum floor became slippery from them spilling the water as they filled their canteens from the five gallon jug. After lunch, the pews bore weary, napping gringos, dirty heels smudging the benches. Love tends to damage.

On a paper mural behind the pulpit, above the turtle-shell drum set, words beckoned. ‘Volviendo A Dios’ was written in black ink across the painting of a gray mountain. Returning to God. At the base of the mountain, figures of people representing a variety of cultures, colors, and countries were drawn.

While the others sank into oblivious, deserved rest, Sam caught Rick’s attention. Rick swung his legs off the pew, tied the laces to his scruffy work boots, slung his black knapsack over his shoulder, and met Sam at the door to the sanctuary. Together they exited the gate and headed toward the main street of town.

“What’s up, Sam?” asked Rick. “Need to find a pool hall?” Sam’s camera hung around his neck. “You want to take some shots of the town?”

“Not a bad idea,” replied Sam. “Pool hall, that is. No, I told the kids I was going to scout out a good place to buy machetes.”

“Okay. That’s nice.” He paused. “But what’s really up?”

“I just thought we should talk. Privately. Don’t need to worry or involve anyone else.”

Rick’s mind raced to imagine what it was that was bothering Sam. Had there been some kind of offense given? Is someone in the group in trouble?

“I was talking with Miguel last night and again this morning. I don’t think you realize what he did for you the other day.”

Ah, Miguel, Rick realized. “Saved my ass. I know that,” said Rick.

“And screwed his own in the process,” Sam added bluntly.

“What?” said Rick, grabbing Sam’s elbow.

Sam didn’t answer. Instead he pointed at a nearby house and snapped a photograph. ‘Hay Frescos Charamuscas y Hielo,’ announced the paper sign taped against the concrete block wall beneath a small wooden cross. “You want some ice?” Sam asked distractedly. Still upset by what Sam said, Rick shook his head. They walked on in silence. At a vegetable stand Sam offered two Lempira and paused to peel and taste a succulent red mango. Women walked by, their backs arched as they balanced heavy baskets on the circular cushions on top of their heads. Barefoot boys knelt in the dirt shooting marbles.

“I don’t think it’s a con,” Sam said confidently. “Miguel’s not the kind to get worried unless there was a good reason. He might try to con a stranger, but not a friend.”

“I thought Tomás was out of the picture.”

“Maybe. Maybe for you. Maybe for your new lady. But Miguel’s ass is grass.”

“From Tomás? You mean Miguel is in trouble from him?”

“For helping you.”

Rick didn’t know how to answer. Rick stumbled for words. “I assumed we saw the last of him back in Copan.”

While they hiked around the neighborhood, while Sam smacked his lips from the juice and tossed the peel and seed of the sweet mango into the gutter, Rick counted three white and two black ribbons pinned to doors. Single axle ox-carts were parked in front of the pulperias, the foreheads of the yoked oxen strapped in black leather. Goats contained in pens of chicken wire and sticks chewed like old men. Sows with hanging teats rooted for food among the garbage. Armed guards looked bored in front of banks. Men on horseback trotted through town, their stiff white cowboy hats motionless, their machetes slapping the flanks of the horses. A procession of young mothers, some seeming no older than 15 years old -- accompanied by shrunken grandmothers who were probably no older than forty -- carried swaddled babies to the Centro de Salud, for it was, as Sam found out by asking one cute young momma, vaccination day.

“Miguel gave me his full biography yesterday on the ride.” Sam continued, after getting permission to take her photograph. “Hell of man.” Sam unfolded Miguel’s story.

~~~

Miguel Reyes, Sam explained, was seven years old when he came to Tegucigalpa from his home in Julticalpa, and decided to stay. He came with his one sister, who now lives someplace in Los Angeles, to celebrate Christmas with his eldest sister and her family. Holiday visiting.

“In those days, Miguel told me,” Sam said, “Olancho was much harder; now he and his family have much more money. Even as young as he was, he dreamt of living in Tegucigalpa. What he said was that he ‘wanted the opportunity.’”

Sam continued the story. His mother and father, back in Julticalpa, were not so happy with his refusal to return. His mother especially wanted him to remain in school. He already had made it to second grade. She hoped he would stay in school and help take care of his four younger brothers. She didn't want the family separated. She wanted him to go to school to take care of his little brothers. His father was not that upset. Mother was very angry though; she came after him to talk him into returning, then came dad, then mom and dad. By that time he had found work as a cement mason's helper for three Lempira a day. He tried to study a little but liked working better.

“’So they came too,’ Miguel told me with an amused shrug. The whole family moved to Tegucigalpa for opportunity. Two of his brothers became painters. The other two, like him, work as cement masons. Though now he drives mostly for ACC. It takes him away from his family these weeks, but the pay is better. But he still helps his brothers out when there's work to go around.”

Rick listened to the rest of the story.

At first Miguel lived with his aunt in Colonia Kennedy. A few years later he began working for his cousin for five Lempira a day, making concrete, learning the cement trade, beginning to learn basic construction, carpentry, and even how to install electrical wiring. But suddenly there was no work. That’s when Miguel entered the army. He says he was Special Forces, but who knows for sure. After two tours he came back to Tegucigalpa and moved back in with his aunt.

One Sunday a young woman visited his church in Colonia Kennedy with her friend. He noticed her. He had seen her around the Colonia before. She took care of a family's children. She must have noticed him too. He played guitar during worship services. She invited him to come to her church, El Cordero de Dios, and play there. Miguel got permission from his pastor to visit El Cordero. He began to attend often. He doesn't play now at his aunt’s church, others do.

Maria Augustina and Miguel soon married. They then moved to the hilly Colonia Estados Unidos and, over the next several years, rented four different homes. His first born, a son named Olvin Maurisio entered the world two years after they married. Two years later they welcomed a baby daughter into their home, Kelin Griselda. A few years after she was born he began doing work for ACC. His pastor at Iglesia El Cordero de Dios, Ephraim Amador, also worked for ACC. Their church appreciated what the Agency wanted to do for the poor.

Maria and Miguel saved 5,000 Lempira and were finally able to purchase a plot of land from the municipal government. On that plot he and his brother built his own home. Their third child, Jonathan Miguel, was a year old infant when a fire destroyed their home.

Watching their home burn, Maria was crying. She was worried.

Said Sam: “Miguel told me that he looked at her, held her, and said, ‘It is not a problem. We will put ourselves to work.’”

~~~

“We got to find some way of helping a guy like that,” said Sam as he kicked a stone. “Listen, friend, what you got with Tomás is more than a spic with a blade who’s ticked off because you stole his woman.”

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean is that Miguel crossed an unforgivable line back in Copan. For you. And for her. Maybe especially for her.”

“I still don’t get it.”

“You dumb gringos drive me nuts sometimes.” Sam pulled his Penn State cap off and scratched his scalp. “Listen, Rick, didn’t you notice Tomás back at the airport terminal when we arrived? Why do you think those custom agents jumped like rabbits when he snapped his fingers? It’s got to be more than because of his good looks and charming disposition. I’m betting he’s connected big time. Payoffs. Kickbacks. Skimming. Who knows what? Money laundering? Politics and drugs, I’m betting. They usually go together. Tomás has probably planted himself inside ACC to work his networks. And they at ACC are blind to what’s going on because he’s a man of influence and they need that kind of influence and they probably believe him to be a man of honor. It sure explains why Miguel is as scared as he is.”

Rick puffed through his moustache and scratched the stubble of his beard. “What should I do?” He restrained himself from scratching the itchy stitches in his cheek.

Opposite the Centro de Salud, Sam secreted a picture of a mother who stood off the side of the road. Her one hand held the hand of a listless three year old. The toddler stood in bare feet without moving, without smiling. Vacant, blank. As if waiting. The mother’s other arm carried an infant, a smiling baby girl with a brutal cleft palate. A moist triangle of bright red glistened from her nose to her lip.

“You do know we’re being followed,” Sam said discreetly, nodding his head to the left. Rick, pretending to adjust his hat, glanced at three young men who stood in the shadow of another pulperia.

“Probably want to roll you,” Sam joked. “I can see the headlines now: ‘Rich Norte Americano Found Dead in Talanga. Beaten to Death While Friend Snaps Photograph.’”

“I think they like your camera.” Rick patted his hip. “Good thing I’m carrying my buck knife.”

“You’re getting spooked aren’t you? Maybe I am too. Well, I’m guessing we needn’t worry about them, so long as we stay public,” Sam suggested. “They’re probably just curious. Talanga, if you haven’t guess, is not your typical tourist spot. Let’s assume the boys are probably enjoying a little harmless Gringo TV.”

Turning the corner, they peeked through an open door inside the front room of a house and saw a dozen young girls in white blouses and blue skirts sitting at tables learning to sew. Rick worked out the translation of the sign above the door before Sam told him what it meant. ACADEMIE DE CORTE Y CONFECCION. Of course, the fact that the students sat behind sewing machines and piles of fabric gave some indication. Cut, cut. The sewing mistress sat behind an ancient black Singer sewing machine, her feet pedaling. The headmistress of the school stood in front of the blackboard pointing out features of the patterns the young girls were cutting out. All blushed and giggled as Sam disrupted class to take their photograph.

It was time to get back to work. Walking away from the Academy, Sam and Rick, careful to look over their shoulders several times, made a compact to help Miguel get out of the country, if that was what he wanted.

~~~

The last to board the van, Rick patted Gabriel’s shoulder as he stepped toward the back. After settling in next to Carolyn Rose, he noticed Jane seated in front of him. Her head rested against the window. It sounded as if she was crying. Rick whispered into Carolyn Rose’s ear. “What’s wrong with Jane?”

“Jane discovered her Spanish wasn't as accurate as she had thought,” she said, also at a whisper. “She was doing one of her puppet shows near the other site. Apparently this morning one of the local women approached her and asked if she could take her children too. Well, you know, Jane. She has such a very kind heart. She told the woman, ‘Yes, of course, they are welcome.’ So this afternoon the mother arrived with her children. She carried two small plastic bags. They contained her children’s clothes. It seems what this mother had really asked was for Jane to take her children . . .” Carolyn Rose paused. “ . . . Back with her to the United States.”

“There’s another one,” said Rick. He reached over the back of Jane’s seat and rubbed her shoulder. The sniffling turned into sobs. Nobody in the van said anything. She had a right to cry.

As soon as they parked inside the compound at Casa Refugia, Teresa turned with a tired sigh and announced: “Please settle in yourselves quickly as you can please. Remember, we have the joy of worship and supper at town tonight. They would be expecting us soon please.”

“Honduran time?” said Don, bending forward over the seat toward Larry.

“Why didn’t we just stay in town?” whined Annie.

Ignoring Annie, Sam, standing at the open van door, reminded everyone in the van: “It’s church, folks. A quick clean up and try to look respectable.”

The ladies retreated into their rooms and fussed, changing into long skirts and brushing their hair. The men sniffed their armpits. A majority changed shirts.

Twenty minutes later, Miguel and Gabriel revved the engines and they moved out to return to town, Hector minding the gates. They drove back with the headlights shining a dull light on the trash alongside the road. Miguel tailgated a truck traveling the slow journey south, then darted into the oncoming lane for a hasty pass. They turned left at the gas station as usual, but instead of driving toward the center of town, Miguel took the second right and drove past the eight foot high cinder block wall enclosing the town’s soccer stadium. After ten blocks, the van parked in front of a different church. A new pastor stood at the sanctuary door ready to welcome them and escort them to an upstairs hall where the ladies of the church, wearing their Sunday finest, served a dinner of precious chicken and rice with vegetables. No tortillas though. They served rolls. Decorations of plastic banners depicting snowmen and snowflakes stretched across the ceiling of the church hall. Jimmy, ever the puppy chasing robins, discovered a chicken heart in his rice mixture, which he thought was pretty special, and held it out in his fingers to torment Annie. For dessert, they were given large slices of cake smeared with a thin but sickeningly sweet icing.

Deleanna, the appointed leader of the women, called out the names of their guests and presented each one with a hand-made gift. She giggled whenever she struggled with a difficult name for her to pronounce. Jane’s name gave the whole room giggles. The gringa women received a vase containing a plastic pink rose. The gringo men received a hand-painted plaster-of-Paris plate the size of a CD. The Honduran women, absent from labor at the various work sites this day, had spent hours at the church cooking supper and painting on each gift the name of the recipient, along with the message: "Gracias, por su ayuda. Honduras. C.A. Thanks for your help. It was the widow's mite.

“Here’s quite a welcome,” gushed Wendy.

“I’m embarrassed,” confessed Larry to her. “We really haven’t done anything yet.”

Pastor Raul stood next to the other pastor and spoke through Carolyn Rose so that his people would hear what he had to say. "We do not need words to express our feelings. We have the same blood. Thank you. We know you stay with us just a few days but you will remain in our heart forever.”

Pastor Jose Allende of the Iglesia Cristiana Reformada, the host congregation, nodded politely to Raul and spoke in educated English. Teresa translated in Spanish for the Hondurans. "We do not give up hope, we do not give up faith. We fall but we are not destroyed. In these struggles, we grow stronger each day. We want a different world. We are creating and looking forward more and more to a different world. We can only create this world together in pure love and giving love together."

Pastor Allende plunged into his mini-sermon, describing how the Honduran capacity for selfishness grieved his heart. Because they are so poor, too often his people hoard what they can, looking out for themselves first and foremost. From their North American brothers and sisters who come and work with them they have begun to learn how much they need to rely on each other. Allende confessed, "You teach us to think and care about others, you share in our sufferings."

Rick understood. Not that the Hondurans have an exclusive claim on selfishness. So, is protecting yourself and what little you have really a sin? Can generosity be a luxury only to be given by the affluent? So busy surviving, so drained taking care of themselves, struggling to survive, how can they have room, how can they have opportunity, how can they have energy for compassion? Yet they do. He rubbed the blisters on his hand and smiled. That text has bothered him for years. People say it all the time: you can move a mountain with the faith the size of a mustard seed. But they don’t really get it. He finally got it. He finally grasped the mystery behind it. To move a mountain, all you really need is a good shovel and blisters.

The Honduran women, wiping welling tears, huddled near the kitchen door and sang their last gift, a gift of song joined in by Pastor Raul and accompanied by Pastor Allende strumming chords on his out-of-tune guitar. Staying seated against the far wall and looking uncomfortable, the young Honduran men with their hats and caps still on their heads moved their lips to the music. Pastor Allende translated the words of one of the several Honduran folk songs they offered their brothers and sisters from the north:


Come with me and sing with me;

Let us sing together;

I do not want to sing alone;

I want to sing with a chorus of birds.


The singing ended. The final chord was strummed. Allende invited them to stand together in a circle. Hands clasped hands in a circle inside this Talangan upper room. North American holding hands with Central American, Central American holding hands with North American. The room was too small for the whole circle, so the circle serpentined within the hall. Don, urged on by more than the formalities of ritual and good manners, deliberately stepped forward. He dragged Sam to stand beside him. Together they spoke for the North Americans, thanking them for their hospitality and the chance to work together in this solidarity of love. Don paused. His eyes moistened, his voice wavered, his face grew thoughtful. He gulped, and ended by saying that the richest are those who love richly. Pastor Allende offered the parting prayer in Spanish. Everybody, including the smelly teen, understood the closing words: ". . . en el nombre de Jesucristo."

~~~

Back at the compound, Don and Sam sat on upturned plastic buckets and sipped from their mugs. Jane, her broken heart soothed by the worship, had gone to bed, leaving Wendy, Larry, and Deb to listen as Evelyn vented loudly. Raul had assigned her to remain at the church to cut the wire. She sulked. She wasn’t invited to do real work because she was woman, she complained. If they weren’t going to have her do real work, she’d just as well stay back here and read, she threatened. Deb, reaching out with her hands to her, tried to reason with her. Larry rolled his eyes. He had had it. He got up. “I’m going for a drink.”

He turned to leave, then turned back. “Blast it, Evie. You’re a pastor, for God’s sake. Nobody here ever is going to ask you to do anything. You want to do it, just step up and do it. Stop waiting to be asked.” He stomped off toward his room. Evelyn fumed. Deb again reached toward her.

The teens, including Billy, sat in their own circle near the windmill, where Kevin had kindled a small bonfire. Some nibbled on peanuts. Some handed around their hoarded bags of M&M’s.

Carolyn Rose and Rick slipped off into the darkness and wandered up the lane beyond Hector and Bertha’s house as far as the pretty pond, where they stopped and stood on the bank. The still water of the black pond reflected the moon’s Cheshire Cat grin. They kissed eagerly, hungrily, him excited by the sensation of her mouth, A swift splash of a tilapia startled them, rippling the moonlight. Rick squatted and reached down toward the water. Along the edge he spotted a brown shell the size of a doughnut hole. He picked it up, rubbed it free of mud. In the thin moonlight, he admired its glistening smooth lines, the expanding spiral from the nipple to the bell, it resembling a miniature French horn. He stood up and placed it in Carolyn Rose’s palm.

“A present,” he said.

“A caracol,” she said. “A snail. Very fine protein. The hope is that this pond will help feed the women when they finally arrive here. Plenty of homegrown fish and snails.”

Rick breathed a deep breath and admired the silhouette of the mountains facing them, paler than the darker clouds beyond. He drew her closer. They kissed lightly. “I’m learning why you love it here. It’s so terrible yet so wonderful. Hard to explain. Just raw, I guess. Tonight made quite of few of our gang ashamed because of where we come from.” He kissed her on her cheek. “But I don’t feel that way. Sure, I know I’m fortunate. And I remember what you said before: how this is what most of the world is, that back home we’re the exception. I just feel closer here. Can’t explain it.”

“I know, I feel it too,” she said in a faint voice. “I believe it has something to do with scars. Here, they’re bleeding, they’re hungry. Life is harsh every day. Back home, most of us don’t know how hungry we really are. We’re fat, but terribly, terribly hungry. We expect prizes from game shows or someone to blame. Yet you see something different here. You see it in their eyes. An acceptance? A patience?”

“I see it in Pastor Raul. I saw it back in Las Mercedes in Rejino’s eyes. I see it with what Teresa, Gabriel, and Miguel are doing. I saw it with what they’re giving up.” He turned toward her. “I sure want to avoid romanticizing this place. I see how cruel it can be. Only idiots romanticize poverty. You and I both know that not everyone here has it. Perhaps it has something to do with being rich. With not knowing how to suffer. Money and power: it’s a toxic mix. It stains what we think is love. It poisons us.” Rick reached out and stroked a strand of hair from her face. “You know exactly who I mean.”

“I am so glad he’s gone. I’m so glad you helped me be free of him.”

“I didn’t do anything. I just fell in love with you.” Rick touched her cheek again. “Whoa . . . I believe, yes, I believe I just answered what you asked me Saturday.”

“You are simply wild. I'm so boring."

“Me? Never wild. You? Nor you boring. Me? Just itchy and hungry and restless. Always have been, as if I'm constantly grabbing something I can't hold."

Carolyn Rose gently tossed the snail back into the pond. The splash rippled concentric rings.

"I offer a chauvinistic confession, and very incorrect but accurate, I believe: I have always envied women and their deeper contentment of being. We guys are naturally restless because what we need to create is external to us. You are life, you are naturally creative. If you'll forgive me if I'm terribly paternalistic but that's why women and children are first off the sinking ship -- we men don't matter. You do because you don't just represent life, you secure it, you are promise and hope. You are bringers of life, not destroyers of life. You deserve to be cherished, protected, but never smothered, never possessed. You’re not porcelain, you're a woman. Pretty exciting one too. My identity is purely derivative. I guess that's why we men can view women as utensils rather than a gift of wholeness.”

"To want to be so merged....then, alas, the return to separateness..." said Carolyn Rose with a deep sigh. "Yes, I want children but they will sometime grow up and leave."

"Forgive me if I sound as if women shouldn't achieve or that you lack that hunger to achieve -- thank God you do and have -- such as yourself -- and certainly the kids move on and your identity isn't tied to them -- it is just that you own a being that is something deeper than us guys -- far more whole and complete. Your way of knowing what love is far more comprehensive. I once asked Dawn to describe what she experiences but she really couldn't."

"Not sure I could. More than something physical. Or should be…"

"Physically, it is telling. We have to enter you. You receive and absorb us. When you receive you are giving everything. You are opening your inner being and are so utterly vulnerable. For me sex was never so exciting as when Dawn said no contraceptive and she opened and risked all. That was two weeks before she was killed."

"What you are saying just breaks my heart."

"Sorry for that, and sorry for being so antique. It is just that when you really make love, you get as close to oneness as this flesh allows. To fully want to please the other with your whole person. I'm not talking moves or techniques. To pour myself into you as you encompass me. We hint at it when we guys say how much we want to be inside you, when we say how we could eat each other up. We quite physically try to suck life from each other."

"To absolutely lose yourself -- yes, I understand. At least now I'm beginning to."

Rick reached out and held her waist with both of his hands. "There's something quite magnificently life-giving about females, says this mere male. And this ain't putting you on pedestals. It is valuing the very real person." He tightened his hold on her. "Okay, I'm feeling philosophical, others might call it batty."

"I’m feeling right now I'd very much like to find out how batty you are. Where have you been?"

The curved sliver of the moon shone down on them. “I once was happy,” he said. “I lost it. The worse part is how I look back now and I realize I never noticed her enough, I didn’t appreciate her enough. I took her for granted. Those are the worst words possible. God, I missed so many chances,” said Rick lifting his eyes to the night sky. “I think I’m finally beginning to accept that I will never have that second chance with her.” Rick didn’t see Carolyn Rose wiping her eyes.

As they strolled arm-in-arm back to the compound neither Rick nor Carolyn Rose heard Hector’s soft footsteps following them fifty yards behind.

~~~

They woke to a Tuesday of light drizzle and gray clouds. Several of the team mouthed prayers of thanksgiving. Work today would be easier without the brutal sun beating down on them, turning their hats soggy inside-out from sweat. They ate Bertha’s pancakes in the drizzle with cold syrup and oily margarine. The four dogs watched them.

“Sleep well?” Carolyn asked Rick as she settled down next to him on the porch.

Rick looked glum, his shoulders sagging, his tone pitiful. “I didn’t sleep well at all. Not at all. Way too many dreams.”

Don threw a stone at one of the dogs. “I can vouch for that.”

Glancing over at Carolyn Rose and seeing worry cross her face, Rick ignored Don and continued nursing his distress. “Not sure what it was. Yes, I was restless and uncomfortable. All night. The entire night.” Rick snuck another peek to make sure she still looked concerned. “But I think I got a solution in mind. You know, Carolyn Rose, you could help with this.”

The worry on Carolyn Rose’s face smoothed into feigned sympathy. “Hmmm, really?”

“Yes. You bet. You see, my dear, the secret to a good night’s sleep is two simple things: first, make sure your appetite is completely satisfied; second, you go to sleep on a full stomach. What do you think? Could you help with this problem?” he pleaded. “It’s a big problem.”

“Oh, you poor boy,” Carolyn Rose sympathized. She downed her coffee and stood up, tossing her dirty plate onto his. She patted him on the top of his head. “Nobody’s died from it yet.”

“So far,” he moaned. “But I might be the first.”

“Hey, does anybody know what is going on in the world?” interrupted Larry.

“Who cares?” chirped Kevin.

“No, really. How many days has it been? I mean, New York could have blown up. California could have fallen into the sea. We wouldn’t know. Is anybody else tired of being so isolated?” he asked. “Sam, do you think you could try to pick up a paper today? I just need to know what’s happening out there. Do they sell papers in Talanga?”

“What’s happening for you, my friend,” Don chimed in, “is quite simple. Two words: mas cemento.”

But it turned out to be more than a ‘mas cemento’ day. Far more. It was a day when the drizzle and gray skies evaporated by the time they arrived at the church. It would be a mas mas cemento day. And mas. Yes, it was an eight batch day. It was a day carrying twenty foot rusty iron rebar rods from the hardware store downtown. Rick used his hat and leather work gloves as a cushion as he carted the bars on his shoulder, occasionally shifting them to the other shoulder because of the pain. They passed several young men who sat on the curb mocking them. They passed the drunks in the gutter who had been rolled out of the way of traffic by the police. They passed the deformed man sitting inside a doorway. They passed the vegetable stands and shoemakers and pulperias. They carried the heavy bars over a half mile delivering them to the work sites.

It also was a day admiring the stuffed iguana on the shelf in the stick shack across the dirt lane from the church. The young mother, bouncing her baby on her hip, reported that it tasted very good. It was a day for Sam to persuade one of the young men to let him borrow his horse. Sam swung onto the wooden saddle and galloped off around town. It was a day carrying rocks and filling the foundations, busting rocks with four pound hammers to make smaller rocks. No one owned a sledge hammer. It was a day sawing planks of green lumber with a rusty hacksaw. It was a day to unload a truckload of bricks. It was a day to come back to the compound beaten and sore. It was a day for Rick and Sam, staying in the van after everyone else exited, to slip Miguel 250 US dollars, with a pledge for more. It was a day for Miguel to make plans to flee with his family to friends in Mexico.

And it was a day when the Honduran women, having been personally asked by Pastor Raul, planned to surprise Pastor Evelyn and celebrate her birthday. They had baked her a special little cake and brought it to the church at lunchtime just for her. But Evelyn missed it because she kept her word and remained back at the compound in her own petty boycott. Jane, disgusted, later informed Evelyn what a lovely gesture she missed.

Evelyn had indeed kept good her threat. Having announced it last night, she felt she had no choice. Some, frankly, were grateful that she had decided to punish everyone by staying back in her room for the day. Following breakfast she pretended to feel a bit ill, and announced, to Teresa’s discomfiture, that she would remain behind. Annie called out and asked: “Aunty Ev? Do you have the splatter foot?”

Staying behind? Teresa did not like the idea of leaving someone behind. These North American are delicate, Teresa thought privately. She did notice how the team seemed to be coughing more. Many were complaining of sore throats. Teresa, keenly aware of her responsibility to care for her guests, asked Bertha to keep a close eye on Evelyn. Perhaps she might be well enough for a light lunch. It comforted her some that Gabriel would be around, and if anyone was reliable it was Gabriel. Gabriel, in addition to shuttling the van back and forth from Talanga, looked after things at the Refuge Center. Hector, with his shotgun cradled in his arm, patrolled at night. Gabriel patrolled during the day. Teresa’s heart sunk from a canyon-like grief. If only there was better employment opportunities and better pay, then Hector and Gabriel might not have to keep an eye out for these young men. Gabriel did scare away several yesterday. Best not to tell the group, Teresa thought, not even Sam. Yes, what they don’t know won’t hurt them. It was a secret which made her heart sink even deeper. Hector’s been carrying extra shells lately. He too spotted three young men last night near the horse paddock. A tiny worm of fear curled itself up inside Teresa’s heart. Could it be?

~~~

That night, after most of the group had slipped into their sleeping bags, Rick and Carolyn Rose strolled toward the last block house, waving to Sam and Miguel who were seated on bags of cement talking quietly, and again they walked down the lane. Standing together near the bank of the tilapia pond, with the slim curvature of the moon giving them faint light by which to see each other, Rick embraced Carolyn Rose. The kiss tonight was fierce. She welcomed him. They echoed each other’s joy and passion.

“It has been a while,” he breathed into her. With his right hand lightly folded, he traced his fingers from her waist up along her side and gently stroked the side of her left breast, drifting slowly the heel of this palm back and forth across her nipple.

“Some things might have to wait,” she purred as she nestled under his chin and brushed her cheek against his chest hairs. “But we can enjoy now.” She pressed herself closer into him, inviting him to burrow himself between her slightly widened legs. “You are so furry.”

“Now and tomorrow,” he promised as he felt himself becoming aroused and wanting her to sense his passion. His hand lowered and caressed the curve of her bottom as her fingers reached down between them and delicately traced his excitement.

I feel like a kid again, like I’m back in High School,” he continued. “I’m glad this is no dream. Was it a year ago we met? It cannot have been only ten days.” Again he kissed her with a burning kiss, so tempted to lift her and hoist her onto him and have her wrap her dancer’s legs around his thighs. Instead of panting and pushing himself deep into her, Rick breathed heavily, gulped, and cupped his palm onto her cheek and kissed her gently. “Te amo. I believe now you know my answer.”

“And I love you too.”

Carolyn Rose’s ears heard the cackling but she presumed it was the horses neighing, until the three young men rustled through the bushes opposite them.

Rick turned to face them, placing himself in front of Carolyn Rose. His heart raced. His skin paled. He gulped nervously. As the three young men stood there grinning, he took advantage of the time to compose himself. Carolyn Rose prayed all they wanted was money.

They spoke rapidly to each other. They snorted a mean, rancid laughter. Rick understood nothing but he did recognize them as the three young men who followed Sam and he around town Monday. Even Carolyn strained to interpret what they were saying to each other. The speed and jargon left her picking up only the occasional word, most of it vulgar. Rick stepped forward and held up his hands in front of his chest. “Tell them we want no trouble.” Carolyn Rose translated. “How can we help them?” Carolyn Rose again translated, adding a few more sentences.

They spread out in an arc to box them in.

“Ask them if they want money.”

Carolyn Rose pleaded something in Spanish. The leader of the three spit. The phlegm splattered Rick’s boots. This man stood in the middle of the two. Skinny, but tall for a Honduran, he also was lighter skinned, his nose sharp like a ferret. He clucked his tongue and spoke directly to Carolyn Rose. The man on his left, appearing the youngest of the three, fidgeted with something in his pocket. Rick removed his outback hat and began wrapping it around his left hand.

“What he say?” he demanded. “What do they want?”

Her voice was as cold as a glacier. Her suspicions were confirmed. This was no random attack. “They’re here to teach us a lesson. Apparently, certain men are not to be insulted.”

Rick guessed: “Tomás.”

The leader grinned maliciously. “Sí, Señor Morazan. He added a sentence that Rick struggled translate.

“Tomás sends us his regards,” Carolyn Rose reported with disdain.

Still keeping his eye trained on the young men, Rick turned his head slightly, and, over his shoulder, instructed Carolyn Rose to be ready to run back to the compound as fast as she could.

“I’m not leaving,” she protested.

“The hell you aren’t,” he cursed. His mind raced back to his college soccer days and what Coach Fitzpatrick told him. Never hesitate. Constant pressure. The moment you let up, they have the advantage. Rick exploded toward the three. His advantage was weight, surprise, and his fear for her. He slammed into the leader with the battering ram of his shoulder. He heard a thin crack as the leader crumpled to the dirt. The young man to Rick’s right flashed a knife out of his pocket and rushed Rick. Rick knocked his hand away with his protected left hand and jammed the heel of his palm into the side of his head as he whirled around. He fell, tripping over the ferret nosed leader. The other fellow tried to grab Carolyn Rose, who squirmed out his hands. But he grabbed her blouse by the neckline and held on. She was kicking, twisting. He threw her down, ripping her blouse. She continued to kick and roll as he jumped on top of her. Rick spun and punted him in his ribs as hard as he could with the steel toes of his work boots. The fellow grunted and half flew, half rolled into the pond water. By the time Rick turned back, the ferret nosed leader was on his feet, though slightly bent over, his left hand holding his side, his right hand now fondling the handle of a long thin blade. The other fellow, the youngest of the three, stood next to him panting, blood streaming from the pocket of his eye. Their eyes pressed into slits of venomous shame. Rick picked up Carolyn Rose and dragged her behind him. He backed away from them, moving her behind the nearest tree. The other fellow, muddy and dripping, slipped then steadied himself. Pulling on weeds, he climbed up the bank and joined the other two. Gray clouds obscured the thin light of the moon.

The two nearly simultaneous blasts from Hector’s shotgun stunned Rick and Carolyn Rose, deafening them. The three young men spun, flailing wildly to the ground, falling from instant pain. Hector instinctively, fluidly, pushed the release with his thumb, broke the breech open, reached into his front pants pocket, and reloaded two shells.

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