Your embrace overpowered me as soon as I stepped out of the plane. Warm, crushing, I felt giddy with its strength. I had never set foot in this country before, but being welcomed with such an overwhelming hug, I felt as if I had returned home. I had only planned to be here for six weeks, but enveloped in your constant embrace, I changed my plans within days – committing to six months on this tiny island. We needed that time to get to know each other, to reach into each other’s souls, to leave a lasting impression, and I was determined to make the most of every minute.
You began marking me, your territory, right away. My skin shone in the humid air, then turned lobster red, before easing into a golden glow – the flush of love, an undeniable sign of spending far too much time with my new tropical infatuation. No second toothbrush appeared in my bathroom, but sandy footprints followed me everywhere, as if left by a faithful companion who did not deem it necessary to cover his tracks. I applied perfumes and creams in preparation for our encounters: aloe vera, citronella, factor 30. Lazy lunchtimes were the steamiest moments of this the island romance. I spent them at the little beach near my house, allowing my toes to be kissed by turquoise waters, my toes massaged by soft sand. The tropical sunlight, filtered through pattering palm leaves, caressed my shining skin, and my hair, already fuzzy in the humidity, became positively post coital after my encounters with sea salt and sand.
You produced gifts, all the more romantic for their simplicity. A fiery sunset, a conch shell, almost intact. A fresh coconut, a mango and a bitter green lemon. I devoured the fruits, an internal embrace, you infused me inside and out. In some ways you were very traditional in your tastes. You offered up flowers: ginger, hibiscus, in all the colours of your Caribbean sunset. You brought me chocolate, not in a box but plucked straight from the trees, not yet cocoa. You made me ill with your constant, smothering heat, but you cured me too, with the only kind of remedies you knew: lemongrass for my throat, foul-smelling noni for an infection, earthy, grated turmeric for inflammation.
You forced me to strip to the skimpiest of clothes – a bikini top and shorts, a light sarong, flip flops or bare feet. Sweaters, socks, scarves became things of the past; you wanted my flesh on show. You sent creatures to spy on me: chattering geckos, a boa curling up my balcony, a cicada screeching in the rafters, blocking out my thoughts with its white noise.
There were tricky times in our relationship. The steamy nights when all I wanted to do was sleep, when I switched on the humming ceiling fan to eject you from my bedroom, trying desperately to keep your searing fingers at bay. The red welts that rose up on my skin, when you ignored my citronella and rosemary perfume and bit me, battering my legs, infesting my thoughts with an eternal itch, only made worse by scratching. There were tumultuous times when you didn’t want me to leave the house, when you unleashed the full force of your tropical rage in a rainstorm, a hurricane. Squalls blew in through the shutters I could never quite close, and the sea whipped itself into a frenzy. You tore off roofs, threatened floods, brought down electric cables, plunging us into darkness. And there, in the calm amid your storm, I lit candles and began to laugh gently at your fury, and you wore yourself out with your huffing and puffing and your warm embrace eased around my shoulders, my neck, my waist once more.
As with all relationships, as the initial fire cooled, we settled into an easy routine. I learned to anticipate your storms, and the red lumps on my limbs eased as your bugs grew tired of me. I no longer panicked at the huge crabs you released around my house each evening; I tossed them kitchen scraps from the window to keep the waste from festering in my house. I swung in my hammock, listening to your music – the dry drumbeat of the palm leaves, the melody of the cicada, the looping wash of the sea, barely visible in the moonlit night, but always, always there. I soothed my burns in your tepid waters, washing sand from my skin.
I was in denial about me departure up until the end, using every bit of my time to create memories: the squelch of mud through my toes as I walked through your jungle, the glimpse of a sloth draped over a branch, lazy boat journeys across warm water, navigating each part of your archipelago, nuzzled by the sunlight. But our final evening came. Suddenly terrified of missing the last sunset, I ran out of my house, barefoot, across the sand, along the dock, and jumped into a waiting water taxi. It sped out across the waves, already glowing with the first of the sun’s dying rays. I turned back to face you, my island, as the palm leaves became silhouetted against the sky, a magnificent backdrop.
The waters were floodlit in brilliant hibiscus shades: oranges, purples, gold, fuchsia. It was a spectacular sign off, your best, brightest farewell, and before the sun hid itself for good beneath the horizon, I felt your final embrace once more, the final sunbeam kisses on my cheek, gentler, more tender than ever. Salt spray sprinkled my face, your island tears, as you let a black curtain fall over the island stage, and our final act drew to a close.
Unfortunately, I have never visited Panama but I am of Panamanian descent – my mother was born in the country. I have heard there are some very beautiful places there.
It’s pretty stunning – I only got to explore the Caribbean coast and Panama City but would love to go back to see more! You should definitely go if you have family connections there 🙂