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.
“England, huh? So what language do they speak there?” It sounds like the punchline to a rubbish joke, but this was a question I was once asked by a Panamanian boat driver. As we cruised between Caribbean islets, I wasn’t exactly feeling close to home, but the question reminded me just how far away I really was.
In town, across the twinkling waters, the bugs are fewer, replaced by leech-like men: loco locals and pickled expats, attracted to light eyes and freckles and exposed skin like moths round a candle. “Hermosa” they say “Que bella!” They give you a hibiscus, a blessing, a kiss on the back of your hand, and their bloodshot eyes are mournful and lost and lonely.
At five foot ten, Juan the shaman was unusually tall for an Aymara indian. He lived alone in the forest under the dense canopy of a mahogany tree, alongside the jawbones of his long-dead ancestors.