I nearly missed him. His skinny brown body clad in well-worn, faded clothing blended in with the bare, soiled mattress. The thing that caught my eye was his hand sticking in the air frozen in a claw-like position. I didn’t hear any sound, didn’t see any movement, and didn’t detect any life coming from the figure curled up in fetal position. I started toward him, but thought better of it. I whispered: “Chaco, Chaco.” No response. I backed out of the room and went to get Jan from the kitchen where she was still sopping up water from the floor with Reid.
Reid asked me for a butcher knife. “If I just poke the ceiling a whole bunch of water will come out. I could just make a slit in between the wooden planks so it wouldn’t make a huge hole and we could get the water out. It’s dripping out of the light fixture, but the leak is happening somewhere else. I bet this whole ceiling is full of water.”
Picturing a huge cascade dumping into the kitchen, I said: “No! Don’t do it. We may have a bigger problem. Let it drip. Jan, come with me!”
Her eyebrows shot up. She pointed her index finger at her chest. “Me?”
“Yeah. I found Chaco.”
“Who? Oh, Hermano.” Jan couldn’t grasp his name, so she took to calling him Hermano (brother). Like I said, over a couple of months, I had gotten used to him and somewhat immune to his unusual appearance and demeanor. Walking in cold to the scene, coming from Capitola, to what she had envisioned to be a tropical paradise, with treefulls of toucans and hibiscus floating in the pool, was immensely different from what she found. My invitation to come stay with us painted a picture of tropical fruit platters and mimosas, not this!
We tip-toed to the bedroom, paused at the doorway and looked at each other. Jan whispered: “Is he dead? He looks dead. Oh my God, what if he’s dead?”
“He does look dead.” My heartbeat quickened. “I think he is dead. We have to do something!”
“What do we do? Call 911?”
“No, no. It would be a nightmare. We could be here for hours. And the paperwork. Oy, veh! No, we don’t want to do that. I hate to say it, but there’s an empty field across the street. They were going to build a golf course there. It’s over-grown and …” I blew breath out through puffed cheeks. No, you’re right. We can’t do that. We have to call 911. We have to do the right thing.”
“Feel his pulse. Maybe he’s not dead.”
“Eeeeewww. No, you do it. You’re closer.”
“Unh uh. I’m not doin’ it. Let’s get Reid!”
We both turned and started for the kitchen. “Reid!”
We scampered across the floor like two water spiders skimming a pond. When we reached the kitchen, Reid was still dealing with the flood. Jan grabbed his arm and said: “Come with me. We think Hermano’s dead.”
“Hermano is dead? You sure?”
“No! We’re not sure. That’s why we got you. Take his pulse, OK? If there’s no pulse, we have to call 911. Or else, carry his body to the field across the street and run like hell. We haven’t loaded the car yet, so it could be risky. We could load it pretty fast, and then dump, but if somebody sees us and calls the police we might not have a whole lot of time to get out of here. On the other hand, based on past history, it could take them hours to respond.”
Jan added: “Also, we have to watch out for the bushwhacker.”
“Bushwhacker? What are you talking about?”
“I dunno. Carole said something about a guy who hangs out at the edge of that field where the beach starts. She calls him the bushwhacker… some naked guy who wears a bright green tee-shirt wrapped around his head. She said he looks like he’s leaning against the bushes but he must be sitting on a rock ‘cause his hands are free and making rhythmic motions she doesn’t want to stare at, but she thinks he’s whacking off.”
I jumped in: “Yeah, it’s so weird. I mean, the guy can’t be there 24/7, but it seems like every time I walk the dogs in that direction, he’s there. I act like I don’t see him, and walk fast looking out to sea or straight ahead pretending to look for Don. It gives me the creeps.”
The three of us stopped the chatter and moved toward the bedroom where Chaco was either sleeping or dead. Reid went first and Jan and I huddled together right behind him. As we neared the bedside, Chaco came to life as though being snapped out of a hypnotic state. His hands unclawed, his feet uncurled, he swung his legs to the floor, and picked up the conversation about going to his sister’s for lunch as though nothing unusual had transpired. My mind flashed on the Animal Planet show about the “Fainting Goats”; one minute they’re romping about happy and free and the next they keel over, legs stiffly sticking up in the air, eyes closed, still as cement and they look, well – dead. A little time passes, they spring to life, jump up and continue romping, seemingly unaware that they were scared stiff for roughly ten seconds. In a herd of goats there can be any number dropping to the ground periodically, triggered by panic or excitement. Some goats collapse at the mere prospect of knowing they’re about to get fed. I’m guessing that Chaco got bored rather than scared and simply took a nap.
I hastily ushered him to the door, asked if he had his key, handed him an umbrella, and wished him a pleasant visit with his sister. As soon as he left we started just throwing stuff in plastic garbage bags, the few cardboard boxes that were at the house, laundry baskets, pillow cases – anything that would hold anything. It was still pouring so Reid backed the car as close to the house as possible. Jan and I were running back and forth like two coolies pulling rickshaws, schlepping as much as possible with each run, dropping the load at the threshold while Reid tossed the goods through the back door of the SUV. When it was almost full, I thought maybe I could slip the framed family portrait on top of the crowded, disheveled mess. This was the professional photo of me and the kids taken at Natural Bridges, Santa Cruz, which I had to disassemble to fit in a suitcase to get it to Costa Rica and which Don lovingly reassembled so I could hang it on the wall of whatever dwelling we were calling home at the time. Since it was taken in 1998, it has hung in a prominent place of our home. I stuck it under my arm and started for the car, stopped short, took a breath, and put it back down. I would have to come back for it. It hung neither here nor there. I didn’t live here any more; I didn’t live there (Atenas) yet. Yes, there was still more to do before I was home.
As I approached the car to see if we were at capacity, there stood a bone-soaked Reid, looking up at the sky shouting: “FUUUCK!” He then looked down at his leg where blood was running down his shin. A thin smile appeared on his lips and then in a soft voice: “I cut my leg on the edge of the bumper.”
As we drove away in the rain, I felt a sense of relief and dread at the same time, knowing I would have to come back with Don for the rest of the stuff. Perhaps I left the family portrait to ensure that happened. The bicycle and surfboard were replaceable; the portrait was not.
After dropping me and the load of stuff at the Atenas casita, Jan and Reid were heading off to an all-inclusive luxury resort for a well-deserved five day retreat at the exclusive Aguila de Osa Inn in Drake’s Bay, where they could watch baby butterflies take their first flights, hummingbirds hover over hibiscus, and monkeys meander through the mangroves. I would be stashing 1500 square feet of goods into a 500 square feet casita. Plus look for a suitable spot for the family portrait.