Roberto reclined in his favorite rocking chair, sipping on a sweaty glass of lemonade and fanning at his equally sweaty face with the sports page. The summer sun was sweltering, and the humidity of the jungle was thick like a sauna. Dark spots of moisture stained any place his clothing touched his skin, his ample belly taking the brunt of the disaster. He watched as his small children bounced a rubber ball and swiped their dirty little hands at jacks. It seemed the heat was strong enough to even sap their youthful bodies from the desire to play. Beyond the shade, his small airplane sat on a dirt runway that scarred the thick jungle. Heat waves rippled off the yellow wings. A tinge of guilt ran through his poor heart as he found himself wishing against the idea of business making its way toward him. The idea of crawling inside of that flying oven was simply too much to bear.
The silence of the jungle was broken by travelers being led up a narrow trail swallowed by thick vegetation. A small and sweaty man, Roberto’s cousin, trudged toward them with delirium on his face and a burro led by a piece of rope. Two Americans followed behind the burro, a man who was looked on the edge of maintaining civility, and a woman who was clearly free-falling from that mental cliff. Roberto perked up at the thought of American money possibly finding his pockets. He took a long draw of lemonade, felt the cold liquid swirl into his stomach, and hoped for a renewal.
It never came. The heat strangled all hope.
His cousin led the burro into their small camp, released the rope, and simply fell onto a large bag of beans. The American man looked on with concern for the poor fellow, motioning Roberto for assistance. Roberto merely waved his hand. The woman, her face streaked with sweat and tears, only scanned the airport with self-concerning fear.
“Is he alright?” asked the man.
Roberto looked at the American and said nothing. Through his years of seeing various travelers, he had learned that the best thing to say to an American was almost always nothing.
The man wiped his brow, stepped over the collapsed guide, and approached Roberto. “Can you fly that plane?” he asked. “Your friend here said you could. We’re trying to get back to Caracas.” He pointed to the boiling plane sitting in the sun.
Roberto put on a puzzled face and looked at the plane, then the man, then the plane, then the lady who was nearing hysterics, and then finally the man. “Si. Fly.”
The American gave a curious glance to his female companion. “You can fly the plane to Caracas?”
Roberto took a long look at the plane. The wings looked to be swimming as the heat bathed them in a shimmering mirage. He sighed, looked at his children who had paused their jacks game, and then sighed even harder. He held out his hand and flapped his fingers. “Dinero por favor.”
The American smiled with teeth of gleaming white as relief spilled from his face. “Caracas,” he said again, loudly and slowly. “Ca-Ra-Cas.”
Roberto nodded and looked at the woman. He was amazed that she was still standing. Her hair was frayed and unkempt. Her clothes, quite inappropriate for any travel through the jungle, were dirty and torn. The money in his hands had drawn his interest, but it did not quell his fears. He stood, glared at the furnace of an airplane waiting for them, and noticed a roll of duct tape. He smiled and waved the two travelers on. The American man smiled, speaking too quickly for Roberto to understand, and the two of them hurried toward the craft with renewed life.
Roberto kept his composure.
While the two stood in the shade of the craft, Roberto made his way around, feeling at panels and bolts. He touched his fingers to small leaks and kicked at the tires. Near one of the propellers, he made a sour face. He grunted, shook his head, and began wrapping duct tape around the metal paneling. The woman, seeing this, careened from her state of borderline hysterics into the abyss of pure insanity. She shrieked and screamed, pointing her fingers wildly and trashing about in the arms of the American man. He spoke in soothing tones, but it was no use. She spun free and ran from the plane as though it were created to condemn her to death. The man hurried after her.
Roberto smiled. The money was safe in his pocket and all it took was the random placement of gray tape to create the illusion of shoddy repair.