Dispatch from El Estor, Guatemala, #79

The yellow house on the northern shore of Lake Izabal was filled with weather-stained labels denoting nouns in Spanish and Kekchi, remnants of the Mormon missionaries - industrious, disciplined beings who built the sturdy little bridge across the creek that flowed after monsoon storms, a bridge that no one else had ever bothered to build since hopping from rock to rock had sufficed for many decades.  When we moved into this house, one of a half-dozen wooden houses remaining in town, relics from the days when the valley was filled with giant mahogany trees, I took to labeling one thing for myself.  I had asked the old man his name and thought he replied Don Miel, though later when I reported this to my husband, he doubted I'd heard correctly.  Still, we never called him anything but Mr. Honey.  

He lived in a stick shack across the dirt path with his ancient wife, a handful of little grandchildren, and an abject dog.  Mr. Honey collected wood, catching pieces that drifted out of the wetland and onto the lake's pebbly beach. Under the cashew tree, where a small family of howler monkeys spent many days, Mr. Honey labored, first sweeping the dirt, then erecting the drift wood into small tee-pees. At first, I took the old man for an artist and was thrilled by his sculptures. But soon enough my husband tempered my enthusiasm, convincing me that he wasn't making art, just drying his wood.  

Every evening before sunset, Mr. Honey entered our gate and crossed our yard to the lake.  There, alongside the boulders that once held the dock used by the ferry before the road around the lake was built, Mr. Honey carefully undressed and bathed.  Once, when he was returning from his bath, he climbed the three steps to our porch, took a seat, and spoke at length to me in Kekchi.  A sweet-smelling cloud of alcohol floated around his large face.  He talked for a long time, gesturing at me, the sky, the lake.  I recognized only the words for god, good, and thank you.  He repeated these words many times and I repeated them back to which he nodded his approval.  After a while, I had the feeling he was asking me for something and since he wasn't wearing a shirt, I assumed that's what he wanted.  I went inside and returned with a grey t-shirt that said "Dannon" boldly across the chest.  I set it in his hands, and he regarded it as if it were a steering wheel for a car he'd never own.  He sat in silence for a time, then stood, said thank you, and slowly descended the steps.  The next morning, as I was going to town, I saw him passed out, in the shade under the cashew tree wearing the Dannon t-shirt around his neck like a piece of jewelry.

Weeks later, Mr. Honey disappeared for several days.  He returned late one afternoon, lumbering towards home, dragging, by a strap wrapped around his forehead, a tree truck.  He spent the next four days alternately whacking at the wood with an ax and whittling a stick in the shade.  Eventually he turned the tree into dozens of sculptures meticulously arranged in his dirt yard.  I never saw the t-shirt again, nor did Mr. Honey ever venture onto our porch for another conversation. I never knew his real name, and he never lead me to believe it was anything but Mr. Honey.   

No comments:

Post a Comment