Jack glanced again at the little glyph on the window frame that looked vaguely Mayan and realized that he didn’t know if it was something that had survived in the culture or some thing someone had revived from reading Popol Vul in middle school. Or did the Nicaraguans have middle school? They did teach Popol Vul in school at some grade, but he’d never asked Maria about that.
Simon said, “Looks like a bird helmet with a sun over it, painted in WhiteOut. Jack, you don’t have to tell her anything. Nicaraguan girl friends and the phone company expect us to move back to the US suddenly. She’s got a Nicaraguan lover.”
“She says he’s just a friend.”
“You think I don’t understand the place? Or her?”
Simon shrugged and went up to touch the glyph. “Not nail polish, not slick. Probably not a cultural survival though. Jack, I don’t understand them and I don’t care. Eventually, you develop expat zen—what the fuck. Enjoy the flesh and the cheap beer and rum, and don’t try to change anything.”
Jack wondered again why he spent any time with Simon, who’d drifted through every Latin American country with his decent Spanish and his amorality, spending freely, but not involved with any charity, any projects to help the people. “I came here to help. I’m a Quaker, not a Richard Nixon Quaker…”
Simon finished Jack’s sentence, “…but an East Coast pacifist Quaker. All I’m telling you is just leave, don’t tell her you’re going back to your wife. That you had an affair with Maria makes you something more than an East Coast pacifist Quaker. It made you kinda fun.”
“But I owe her something. She’s only 17. I shouldn’t have…”
“She had a child when she was 15, and she tried to break up your marriage, and she isn’t even faithful to you. She learned English to exploit naïve old farts like you. She teaches Spanish to find old lonely gringos who have enough money for classes. She’s clever in a coarse poor girl on the make sort of way, but she’s poor and you’re her money walking out on her.”
“I believe her. He’s just a friend.” Jack wondered though, then went back to his dream of his future memories, the bitter sweet pleasures of a passionate Latin woman who’d been teaching him Spanish for his projects in bringing in American high school and college students to build schools and women’s centers in Nicaragua, the beautiful mountains and pastures. Some day, he’d look back on this as a transformational experience, a sacrifice that he made because of his responsibilities to his wife, the woman who’d born him children, who’d shared projects with him in the past, whose aging body wasn’t her fault. But he’d warm himself with the memories of Maria lying naked in the sunlight coming in through the bedroom door that opened out into the patio, then walking, still naked, to the baño at the end of the small backyard, the patio in local terms, small breasted, smooth belly despite having had a child, the brown brown skin. He was 56 now, and didn’t see himself as old or fat. He suspected that white skin was as exotic and so erotic to her as her smooth brown skin was to him. If he were faithful to his wife from this time forward, he’d still have the memories of his pleasures with Maria, her mask-like face with the indigenous stoicism, the little gasps and giggles of orgasms.
Simon said. “Last week, you babble about her wonderful indigenous mask-like face. That’s what all the girls look like when they’re with rich Nicaraguan kinksters and old gringos for the money. Do you have any more of the rum?”
“You’ve had enough. If you don’t mind, I’ve got some work to do and email to read, and airline reservations to be made.”
“I’m just saying.’ Simon picked up his canvas hat and straightened the brim after he put it on. “I’m sure we’ll see each other again before you leave.”
Jack wondered if Simon wanted Maria, if male sexual jealousy was what this was about.
At the Puma gas station, the man Jack spent five minutes talking to in his broken Spanish suddenly began speaking in English about trucks and parts and how the HiLux double cab with four wheel drive was the best car for the mountains around here. Jack had had this happen before—and wondered if all the people in town actually spoke English, but then felt vaguely guilty as though he’d though a typically stereotyped gringo thing, along with the “talk louder and they’ll understand you.” But it was disconcerting how people would let him sound stupid in Spanish before simply letting him know they spoke better English.
“Don’t all North Americans drive SUVs?” the man said. “If we can afford it, we all have double cabs.”
“I’m happy with the single cab,” Jack said in English, trying though to think in Spanish. “Don’t have a family here.” He got back in the truck and drove to tell Maria that he was going back to the US. Maybe that would be kinder than telling her he was going back to his wife? He drove past the remains of an American development now running to cow pasture, the only sign that there had been great dreams there the sign to the place and the guard house, and went on up the mountains to see Maria.
Maria, wearing plastic imitation Crocs and a tee shirt for a defunct US rock band, was sitting in a white plastic chair in front of her tiny brick house out of town. She looked up at Jack when he pulled into the yard, then went back to sorting through beans in a wooden tray with a wire mesh bottom, pulling out trash that didn’t fall through the mesh. Hibiscus, crotons, and a lot of things Jack didn’t recognize surrounded the house. Maria said, “You told me you were coming to take me out to dinner at five,” she said. “At sunset.”
“I got finished in town early. Can I help you with the beans?”
“No,” she said. “You don’t know what to look for.”
Jack noticed another plastic chair under a mango tree, and pulled it over. She glanced up at him again and then looked back at the beans. The chair wiggled on its legs and he wondered if he should double the chairs, but decided simply to be cautious.
“I’m going back to the United States,” he said. “In two weeks. Have to wrap up some business here.”
“You’ve been on the phone with your wife.” Maria didn’t look up from her beans.
Jack realized that his maid must have overheard the conversations. Again, more English lurking in the people than he’d realized. Or the maid knew from the tone of his voice and that he was speaking English with a woman.
Maria said, “You will give me the truck.” It wasn’t a question.
“I’ve got to sell it before I leave. You couldn’t afford to run it. There’s insurance and gasoline and maintenance.”
She kept her face pointed at the beans. “If not the truck, what will you do for me?”
“I’ll pay you a month’s wages when I leave.”
She shook her head. He hoped she wasn’t going to start crying. Her Nicaraguan friend stepped out of the house, bare-chested, still wet from a bath, scratching his lean belly with well-trimmed nails. Nicaraguans did keep themselves clean. His hair was wet except for some hair that had dried and risen up over the rest. Jack realized he didn’t know the man’s name. They all froze there for an instant.
“Your wife posted to a web group for gringos looking for you,” Maria said. “The gringo men told her she was an old bitch trying to spoil your fun.”
The man just stared at him. Jack wondered if this would end in a beating. “That was mean of them.”
“You will give me the truck.”
The man said something about the camoneta, the truck. Maria shook her finger in the Nicaragua wag for no. Jack felt old and very foreign. What had been a picturesque brick two room shack suddenly looked squalid with its dirt floor, the cooking smoke billowing out the door. Maria’s child came out and stood in the doorway. Maria said something about being very poor.
Jack said in Spanish, “Te tenen esta casa.” He hoped he got the tense right; he expected her to correct him if he didn’t.
“El es un borracho viejo,” the man said. “Gordo y feo.”
Maria said, “El no es un borracho.”
“Pero est muy gordo, feo, y estúpido.”
“Yo no soy estúpido,” Jack said.
“Lo siento,” the man said. He stood looking at Jack for a long moment. “Perdoneme.”
“He has something to show you,” Maria said. “Take us in your truck to his house.”
“Then can we go out to eat? I’m sorry, but I really must go back to the United States. Business.” Jack imagined tears and passionate leave taking lovemaking. “We can spend time together between now and then.”
“Venga,” the man said.
They got in the truck, with Maria sandwiched between the two men. Jack drove. The man pointed where to turn and turn again. They pulled into a lot in front of a building with power lines and cattle and pigs in pens to the left of the building. Jack froze for a second while the man and Maria got out of the truck.
The bandsaw seemed incongruous there, clean, well-maintained. He looked behind him. The man had pulled a machete off the wall and was sharpening it with a file.
“You didn’t bring me here to see a bandsaw, did you? Why?”
Maria came up to him and took the truck keys as the man cut into him with the machete. She said, “We use it for cutting up meat. Saved dragging your fat ass around if we kill you here.”
After the gringo was dead, they cut up his body and distributed the parts in various cow pastures, but modern science and driving around in the truck betrayed them. Maria told the police that she’d done it alone, which nobody believed but they couldn’t prove she was lying. She played on the women’s soccer team in prison, one of its stars. In seven years, she was out and told the journalists that she was going on to nursing school.