Part IV & V of a 6 Part Series
10 YEARS LATER
The snow that had fallen all through the night was crystal white from the deep cold when Tom Stafford walked out to the mailbox on that Saturday morning. He waited until he was inside and warm before sorting it, piling his wife’s letters and catalogs at one end of the dining room table and his at the other. One envelope for him had a foreign stamp with no return address. He opened it first. It was an invitation printed in Spanish. He stood staring at it for several moments before he noticed Emma in the room.
She watched his absorption and waited until he looked up. “Big news?” she asked.
“Not really. Just kind of a surprise.”
“Well, what? Let me see.”
“It’s in Spanish. It’s from the faculty and students where I taught when I was in the Peace Corp. They built a new school and are inviting me to the dedication.”
“That’s great. When?”
“Next month, the tenth. Too bad it’s right in the middle of the semester.”
“You’ve got personal days coming. How long would it take?”
“Forget it, Emma. I couldn’t leave you and Sarah alone in winter weather.”
“Listen Tom, after ten years those people still remember what you did to help them. That’s a tribute to you as a teacher, an honor. You can’t disappoint them.”
“I suppose you’re right. I’ll talk to administration Monday. I still feel uneasy leaving you and Sarah alone.”
She knew administration would okay his request and so did he. She also knew his concern for their daughter and her was sincere and she liked that in her husband. She would have to think about putting that worry to rest over the week-end.
On Monday afternoon, Emma heard Tom’s car pull into the driveway. She left Sarah watching cartoons on television and went to the kitchen.
Tom came in and she looked at him, and waited. “I got five days and the week-end,” he said. “But I still don’t feel right leaving you alone in the country with a three year old in the winter.”
“You won’t have to,” she replied. “I’ve got it all worked out. The three of us with fly to Miami. Dad and Mom can pick up Sarah and me at the airport and you can go on from there. How many days will you need?”
“Four and I can be back in Miami.”
“Good you can spend a couple of days with us in Hallandale before we fly back. And you know what? Dad wants to give us the round trip to Miami.”
“You called your parents already?”
“Sure, I knew you’d get the time off.”
“You didn’t ask your father to buy us tickets, did you?”
“No, honestly. It was his idea. Now give me the places you need to go and I’ll make all the reservations with the travel service tomorrow. I checked your passport from our honeymoon. It’s still valid.”
Tom shook his head and smiled. “Sometimes I wonder how I functioned before you,” he said.
Her parents were waiting for them at the luggage carousel in Miami. Sarah cried when Tom said goodbye and headed for his flight to San Pedro. That bothered him at first but then came the waiting, the check in with the passport business and more waiting before they finally boarded. He had a window seat. Emma had seen to that.
About a half hour into the flight the stewardess came by with lunch and asked him what he wanted to drink. He opened the lid on the box and looked at the sandwich. It had white meat and he told her vino blanco. When he finished with his sandwich he munched the plantain chips, sipped his wine, and looked out at the cloudless azure sky and then down at the flat blue of the Caribbean and thought about his life with Emma. There was no equivocation about her. She was decisive and willing to plan and handle the details. He hated the details that resulted from decisions and so he agonized over decisions. He had an intellect that saw the gray of issues and he could balance the pros and cons and rationalize the best probable course, but it was his wife who acted. Without her they would not have the place in the country they both loved, or have had Sarah quite so soon, and he would probably not be going back to a place that held memories he had shared with no one.
As he tasted the vino he thought about that splendid cache of wine in the casa in the mountains years ago and then about the woman he had called the Dragon Lady, and then about Emma and he tried to block the time of ten years ago from his thoughts. He felt to remember it all would be like committing adultery in his mind. He closed his eyes and dozed off.
When he woke he looked down and saw the jet was breaking over the coast line and soon there were mountains with the big plane that had flown so flat over the ocean now jostling lightly in the turbulence rising from the terrain. He felt small flutterings begin to work in his stomach. He knew he was back.
Fifteen minutes later they began to descend and the stewardess spoke instruction in Spanish and then in English and his ears were plugging and his stomach flutters came a little faster. He was surprised at the breath of urban sprawl around San Pedro. Just before touchdown he saw the little church by the runway flash past and he was glad to see it was still there. The plane braked to a stop, turned, and taxied back toward the terminal and he could see the covered passenger ramp waiting unlike the portable steps he remembered walking up when he left. There was very little of the airport terminal that he recognized. So much of it had been upgraded. Immigration was handled politely and efficiency and he saw no soldiers as before, only a scattering of policemen. Since his return to the United States he had followed the reports of civil strife, the work of the death squads, and had been relieved when finally leaders from neighboring countries had intervened and the fighting stopped. He had followed brief reports in the newspapers about open elections and large reductions in the army and some arrests for crimes against the people and a process for general amnesty. They were always inside articles not journalistically dramatic enough for the front page and that was a good sign he had thought.
Emma had booked a room for him at a Hampton Inn not far from the airport that the travel people had told her was new with a restaurant nearby. He towed his carry on to the taxi area and told the driver the name of the motel. The driver began a conversation in halting English and Tom answered in fluent Spanish.
“I try for English,” the driver said. “We have many turistas from Estados Unitas and Canada. Now too from Europe.”
Tom dropped the Spanish. “You’ll have to learn French and German too,” Tom laughed. “Probably Italian also.”
“Now for only English,” the man replied. “One only now.”
When Tom left the cab, he gave the driver four dollars and the driver started for change but Tom waived him off.
“No, para tu.” He said.
“Mucho gusto, Senor,” the man said and drove away.
From the airport to the motel it had gone from twilight to darkness. Tom registered, locked his bag in his room and walked to a restaurant next to the motel. He ordered Mahi Mahi and a small carafe of Concho y Toro white. The food and wine made him feel sleepy. When he finished he paid and walked back to the motel. He put in a call for eight, went to his room, and directly to bed. Within moments he was asleep.
The pulsating ring of the phone wakened him promptly at eight. He was surprised he had slept so soundly and so long. By eight thirty he was showered and dressed. When he checked out he was told there was a shuttle that would take him to the airport for his flight to San Lucas. It would leave in twenty minutes so he ate the continental breakfast provided in the lobby while he waited. Things here are becoming too like the United States, he thought. Maybe that was a good thing. Peace had meant outside investment and tourists; good if it didn’t go too far.
The domestic airline waiting room was in a small building apart from the main terminal. It was as it had been ten years before except for the crowd of tourists. He checked in at the ticket counter and waited. The plane to San Lucas was scheduled to leave at nine forty five. They called for boarding at ten thirty. One thing has not changed, he thought.
The plane was a fifteen passenger commuter type aircraft and all the seats were filled. It took off, banked to the south, and rose over the mountains, it’s two engines pulsating in a monotonous drone. He remembered that he thought the mountains looked like green brown humps of whales breaking the ocean’s surface when he flew over them ten years before and, looking at them now, he thought the same.
The plane flew between two of the tallest humps and then began to descend over the far slopes. He could see the ocean and begin to feel the humid warmth rising from the coastal plain. They left the mountains and flew low along the coast a short distance. He looked at the crescent shape of San Lucas bordering the wide harbor looping in from the ocean. Then the plane banked and dropped onto the macadam runway nestled between rows of palm trees.
When the propellers died the passenger door was opened. He stepped down and waited for the baggage to be unloaded. He grabbed his bag and walked toward a small cinder block building with a tin roof that served as a waiting area. He wanted to ask about transportation into San Lucas. There was no building at all ten years ago, he remembered. Before reaching the building he heard a young woman’s voice calling his name.
“Senor Stafford, here,” she shouted and waived her arm, smiling brightly.
He walked toward her, studying her face, searching his memory.
“Do you remember?” she asked. “I am Teresa Vargas. I was a student with you.”
“Yes, of course I remember you. But I wouldn’t have recognized you. You’re all grown up.”
“Come,” she directed. “Over here.” She led him to a polished new van with “Escuela de San Lucas” lettered on the side.
“What’s this?” Tom asked.
“For the new escuela. To bring the little ones too young to walk.”
All the way into town Teresa never stopped talking. She told him she could not wait for him to see the new school.
“Are you with the school?” he asked.
“I am a teacher for the elemental ones,” she declared. “Do you know all the time I learned from you I was wanting to be a teacher. And now, you see I am a teacher.”
She took her hands off the wheel and gestured. The road was unpaved and full of curves. He held onto the armrest and wished she would slow down and watch the road, but he kept quiet.