What You Think There Are Taxis Here

I met Marcus six years after the patrons of the village’s primary school snuck into his yard at dusk to shoot him in the leg, because they knew that he knew about their blackmailing schemes.

‘How did you get away?’ I asked.

‘Crept up behind those motherfuckers,’ he said, ‘and hit ’em over the head with this bit a wood I had. Just to knock them out. Coulda shot them, I had my gun. But I wanted to show everyone I’d changed.’

He grinned and took a swig of black coffee.

‘And your leg?’

‘Well, I crawled to the hospital. What, you think there are taxis here?’

We were eating breakfast in his kitchen: scrambled eggs, salty beans, avocado from the backyard tree.

‘And that,’ he said, ‘—in answer to your question—is how I got into eco-construction.’

It took three days to get to Marcus. I went on the overnight bus from San Cristóbal de las Casas to the Guatemalan border. Took what they call a ‘chicken bus’ from the border to Huehuetenango, another from Huehuetenango to Quetzaltenango, from there to Chichicastenango, to Guatemala City. Old U.S. school buses: three to a seat, plus baggage and the occasional pig or chicken. The woman next to me pulled a folded note from her bra to buy some hot beans and eggs – the kind that kids sold from steaming baskets when they jumped aboard at stops. From Guatemala City, a ten-hour bus to the coast. I found the only hotel, patchy dogs dozing in the foyer. In the hallway old men played chess and squinted through their cigarettes. I ate rice and boiled eggs with handmade tortillas on a table outside under a leaky tarp with one swinging lamp.

In the morning I took a tinny to Lívingston, and at the wharf nobody knew what to do with me. A tall guy with dreads walked me around town. He asked shopkeepers for assistance, using the only information I’d had about Marcus' location – that I was looking for an eco project that took in volunteers. But I didn’t even know Marcus’ name at that point. My friend Dom, who I was seeking there, had stopped replying to my emails a week prior. When we found the house, Sofía was sweeping the floors with a long feather stuck in her bun at a jaunty angle.

‘I am the mother bird,’ she said. Her nose was sharp and her glasses shiny.

And there, flat on a mattress in the corner, was Dom. She opened her eyes when she heard my voice, smiled as though she’d really emailed me the directions she’d promised.

‘I knew you’d find me,’ she said. ‘I’ve got dengue.’

A goat pushed her head through the low window, licked Dom’s forehead in a long sticky slurp.

‘Marcus is in the jungle,’ said Sofia. She brought in a pile of bush mangoes from her tree. You could fit three of them in your palm at once. They were fermented; the flesh bubbled on my tongue.

‘Careful for the worms,’ she said.

We waited for Marcus to come.