My Heart of Darkness


El Yunque

I must have looked like hell when I came out of the rainforest. Maria did gasp when she opened the door and saw me standing just outside, under the jutting roof. Her grandmother’s home is humble, to say the least. If it had been darker out, I would have cut my forehead on the house’s jagged eave. I had to bow my head to come inside. As I stepped into the small kitchen, the fluorescent light overhead hurt my eyes.  I stood there blinking and tried to imagine what Maria saw when she looked at me. I looked down at my mud-smeared legs. My already large feet were super-sized with layers of mud and leaves from the forest floor. I hadn’t stopped to take off my sneakers at any time during the eighteen-hour trek. I must have known I wouldn’t have been able to get them back on my swollen feet if I had. An older woman, striking for her waist-length hair, black with several streaks of silver, brought a chair from the back. She covered it with a cloth and indicated I should sit. She was small, with coal-black eyes like Maria. She could have been eighty years old, or sixty. It was hard to tell.  Maria poured me a glass of water from a clay jug. As I gulped it down, Maria looked at me affectionately — like she used to before the night of my birthday, when she left San Juan.  I didn’t know if I’d ever see her again, after she left my apartment that night. But she had texted me somehow. Said I could find her here if I wanted to talk. Sent me a map for the rainforest surrounding her grandmother’s house.  She was sad and remote again, as she refilled my glass.  After she did, she left the room. The older woman introduced herself as Maria’s grandmother, “Tanee.” She said she hoped I would be comfortable staying a couple days. She said that she had something in mind that would help Maria resolve the past. Something that would likewise help me to “envision a happy future.” She said that as things were, there could only be unhappiness for Maria and for me. She said all of this in such lulling tones, I wanted to agree, to completely acquiesce to whatever plan she had for me, and for Maria. Most of all, I wanted to sleep. I must have appeared to be nodding off, because her tone changed abruptly. “You must take everything off,” she said. She pulled a fifty-gallon metal tub out from under the only table. “Put your clothes in here. Then go to the back of the house and find the shower. Pull the string. It will wake you up!”  I am generally modest, but I knew I couldn’t stay in wet clothes either. So I pulled everything off except my BVDs.  She pointed at them when I sat back down. “Those too.” She held the tub by two handles and stood waiting. I did what she asked, and I swear she checked me out.  Instead of following her outside to the shower, I pulled the cloth from under my butt, sat back down, and covered my groin.  Where had Maria gone? I began to wonder. In truth, I hardly cared. I just wanted to get dry, clean and warm. I hoped Maria was making me something to eat, actually. I sat and waited, remembering the dark of the rainforest and the feeling of being lost.

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