The cook ducked out of his hut, avoiding the overhanging palm beam that had threatened to brain him since his first day in the village. He walked the stone path with the easy nonchalance of one accustomed to his surroundings, slightly bored, but still alert. He carried his two knives and a steel wrapped in an old dingy apron, once white and shiny, now dulled and frayed, but still clean. The threads of the ties were nearly gone and had been replaced with a length of climbing cord, tied in a simple square knot.
His first day off in 24 days had begun two evenings ago at around nine. He had fled the kitchen and its grinning cooks with a passion born of travel and study, studying the surf, which had been pounding since his arrival, until night stole the light from the sky and stars winked overhead, unshrouded by light pollution, as they had for a millennia. He left his perch on the short rock outcrop for the village bar, in search of a score.
He had arrived in the village from points north, broke and injured, a nasty cut along his rib cage from an attempted mugging. The rusty knife had chattered along his rib cage as the assailant tried to rip his pack from his back. The point failed to find its mark between his ribs just over his liver. He had managed to get in one hard, lucky punch and a kick to his assailant’s groin before beating a hasty retreat to the nearest bus stop, where he had dressed his wound as best he could with bandages pulled from his dwindling first aid kit. The bus ride over seemingly impassable roads, rutted heavily and drowning in spring rains, had done little to allow his cut to heal, unaided as it was by the lack of stitches.
The doctor had grinned at him, then mercilessly sewed up his cut unaided by much in the way of painkillers. The further south he went, the more macabre the doctors. The sky had been an impossible pink that evening, and a loud native band thrashed and abused a damaged guitar and drum set in a ramshackle bar filled to the brim with grinning Nicos.
He had awakened the following morning in a strange bed, at daylight, as was his habit. A soft, gentle breathing and the smell of clean hair alerted him to her presence. She opened her eyes sleepily as surf pounded on the beach, only a few hundred yards away. Her fingertips traced a path along his back as he stretched out some of the kinks and cleared his fuzzy head.
The wave was amazing. He surfed all day, coming in only to guzzle water and munch on goat tamales.
The restaurant had hired him the next day. Twenty-four days ago.
Now he made his way back to the kitchen, mentally dreading the moment he would arrive to the bedlam of corruption he had survived for nearly a month. The surf the day before, his day off, had been flat. For twenty-four days, he’d listened to the blue-green water pound the sand-covered basaltic outcropping that thrust up the water into a ridable wave, pearling along its lip and dropping its secrets, born thousands of miles away in the Pacific.
His one day off. The ocean had turned into an empty space, devoid of movement, the surf gone as if it had never existed.
Now, it was booming again. Judging from the shouts and crows of accomplishment, it was really cranking. His depression, imagined only a few moments before, blossomed into its own malignancy. The stones under his feet, worn by an untold millennia of tumbling about in the ocean, thousands of miles from their Andesite depositional environment, seemed far away, just out of reach of his lurching feet.
The kitchen door burst open and a Honduran cook threw a pan of scalding water, festooned with shellfish parts and pungent bones from the stew the night before into the morning earth. The green, ripe, pregnant smell of the rain forest was contaminated with the scent. The cook squinted at him in the early morning hazy sunlight. His teeth were set at crazy angles, rendering him threatening even when smiling. Which he rarely did.
They pass with barely a word. The kitchen door slams behind him as he ties on his apron, Chaco sandals on his feet, barely clad against the onslaught of heat. He hones his knives and sets about re-positioning his mise en place, glancing quickly at the work list to gather the ingredients necessary to placate a group of eco-tourists, vegans all. He simmers a haunch of goat in a huge cast iron pot, marveling once again and the enormity of the thing, the sheer weight of it. It took three of them to clean it properly, which they rarely did. Rust flakes mix with the fat and detritus of the barely cleaned goat, the base for the vegetarian soup to be served later to the unsuspecting white people in overpriced shoes and weather proof shell jackets, their glasses fogged over with humidity.
Eighteen days later, he stands once again by the beach, his pintail surfboard thrust into the sand beside him. How he has managed to hang onto that board is beyond him. His depression is worsening, born on the walk to the kitchen. The surf is once again flat. The girl, a brief repository of feeling, has moved on, holding one of the billionaire eco-investors hostage with her smooth skin, full breasts and grinding hips.
He tucks his board under his arm and grabs his bag, his constant companion of so many years. His knife roll, tied tightly to deter thieves, is barely visible and he subconsciously tucks it away. The tools of his trade. He melts into the tree line, his swarthy skin and silent tread causing one to look twice, if you noticed at all. His breeding showed.
He never liked this village anyway.