Trees covered the entrance to the cave, but Don knew exactly where to find it. We followed him closely through vines and weaved our way in. Cool air swooshed as if an air conditioner had been switched on. It took away my bravado, and my knees began their involuntary knocking. Don struck a match and lit a kerosene lamp. Sulfur clung in the air briefly but the sickening smell of damp, rotting cigarette butts overpowered the space. Everyone sat cross-legged in a circle. Don pulled out a brand new pack of Winstons and Jack unscrewed the cap of Southern Comfort.
High up on the avocado tree, a motionless owl surveyed the land below seeking a midnight snack. Its eyes fixed on tall grass that shivered despite the still air. It trained its ears to gauge distance, in hopes of a tasty field mouse. It waited patiently for its prey to make the tiniest sound so that it could launch into flight with precision. At last sounds reached its ears—not mice squeals, but the moans of two humans consummating their hungry hearts far away from other human ears. A half blink betrayed the owl’s disappointment. It continued its night watch.
We walked through brush and bramble to reach the oasis ensconced deep in the woods. Humid air thick with the scent of wet banana leaves, ripening almonds, and rotting mangoes punched our noses. We peeled off our sweaty tops and shorts. Crickets, coquis, and birds harmonized their trills for the quenepa trees shut out the sun creating the illusion of permanent dusk. We sat on the mossy ledge of the pond, green imprinting our undershorts, and dipped our toes in the cool water. We created circular currents, shooing tadpoles. On the count of three, we jumped in. Green surrounded us.
“You think I don’t know what you’re saying,” said Abuela in Spanish, “but I understand fully.”
A quick shiver ran down my spine. They spoke quick jeringonza when they exchanged private messages. Yet, my sister and I mastered it quickly. None, however, knew English; that was our private language. Could it be that this woman who had lived in the mountains her whole life and received no formal education actually understood us? Did she know I mocked her and her whole lot for their backward upbringing? I didn’t realize at the time that body language speaks louder than any lingo.