“It is mistakenly said that human beings possess only a restricted amount of emotions. It is what we are taught from a young age, and without realizing it, we tend to limit ourselves to feel only what we have been shown is possible. Not many are blessed enough to discover all that life has to offer. ”
These were the words of an old man, a taxi driver I had met in one of my travels to Costa Rica. He had an intriguing voice, filled with an accent whenever he spoke in a sort of broken English. One that made me feel guilty for being too stubborn to learn Spanish before. It was a long car drive, and my mind was fuzzy with nostalgic memories from the past. I was sure he could tell, from my lack of reciprocity every time he made an effort to spark a conversation.
I watched from the passenger seat as the vast tropical forest consumed the sides of the road when we deepened into the eastern coast of the country, and the smell of humidity and salt tickled my nostrils. The driver seemed eager to know my name and my story, so I reluctantly told him what I had told people before. The love, the adventure, the magic, the loss: the woman. Strangely he appeared to understand better than anyone. The man seemed like he had lived a good life, even though he had probably spent many hours of it on the front seat of a taxi car, meeting every kind of ignorant foreigner, such as myself, and taking them to crowded, touristic places that meant nothing to those who really knew the ways of the town.
His particular memory flooded my mind then, ten seconds before sunrise. Ten seconds before the foamy water of the Caribbean hit my bare feet. I had waited for years, just to feel the timeless spray wash my soul for a few seconds, before the waves softly pulled back into the infinite mystery of the ocean. Yet somehow, the moment was crossed by the memory of the taxi driver and his words that had made a way into my life. Concentrate, I told myself.
I focused on my breathing instead, and started to count down from ten when I spotted a wave form in the short distance, as a result of the friction between the salty wind and the clear, greenish water.
I looked up. The sky was a different kind of blue. A darker, deeper blue. The moon still hid somewhere between the palm trees, and a couple of white birds playfully flew into the water and created a little splash. I was under that same sky the day I met her for the first time. María was her name. She was twenty-two at the time, and I was only two years older. Our love had started under those palm trees, with our feet buried in the sun-colored sand. I let my eyes close rapidly in a flash. My heart weighed me down like an anchor. Reminiscing about her beautiful, curly, black hair and her brown eyes, that seemed to be the result of the mixing of every color in the universe, while standing on the spot where fate had made us stumble upon each other for the first time, made me drift away slowly.
The Sun was starting to peek on the verge of the horizon. It’s marvellous golden light flooded the clouds and blinded my weak eyes. María had told me a story once, a folk story, about the Sun and a girl who prayed to it every sunrise. She was the daughter of the tribe’s chief but had fallen in love with an enemy warrior who had no gold, no pearls, no fortune. The tribe’s priest had found out about her affair and told her father, who was displeased with his daughter’s actions. She then turned to the Sun, and cried and prayed for ten days and ten nights, until the glowing God took pity in her and turned her soul into the most alluring cotton cloud in the sky. The warrior though, never found her again and died of solitude. He was buried in a green prairie, where he would lie in peace. Or so his people thought. A few days after his burial, a mountain started to emerge from the ground of the prairie and turned into a mighty and frightful volcano that grumbled once in a while. From that day on, every time the Sun rose on the East, you could see the delicate white cloud wrapping the body of the volcano, longing to never be separated again. I wonder if María was a cloud now too, she often felt unreachable like one.
The tubular wave at the distance had already risen briskly and started to crash on the right side. It folded gradually, forming a thick foam that garnished the turquoise of the ocean with the white of the heavens. Before María, I was used to running away from the fizz of the waves. She taught me how to be unafraid of the untamable ocean. Still, while standing on the damp, cracked sand, my heart started to beat faster as the wave approached. Gave me the kind of shivers that I knew would always be part of me. The same feeling rushed me the first time I saw her dance in a bar near the old port. They were playing Calypso, and the loud, rhythmical drums made my inside adjust to the overwhelming beat. She stood in the middle, her pale green skirt flowing more graciously than any oceanic wave ever could. Every presence in the room could tell she was one with her body, mind and soul. And of course, the vivacious wilderness in the music she danced to made me float astray again. We had many nights like that.
Near the shore there was a sloped palm tree, different from the rest. Its elongated body seemed fragile and its leaves concealed the perfectly round coconuts that had refreshed me every excruciatingly hot summer day. From the tree hung a swing. Its seat was made of deteriorating wood and the ropes that held it were splintery and harsh on the skin. The view, however, was marvellous. I remembered how the swing gifted me the sight of María tanning on top of a purple towel, or the children chasing the waves that destroyed their barely finished sand castles.
The wind made a shushing sound that startled me. I observed as a few brown, dead leaves peacefully rolled along with dry grains of sand. The day we got married, the wind seemed to be stronger than ever, causing her flowery yellow dress to lift up quickly. It made her angry and stressed, which was not a surprise to me. I knew her strong character and her determination to make our wedding day unforgettable. As for me, I was never much of a perfectionist during my youth. Small details never were too important in my eyes. María was different. She was the kind of person that would focus on the craters of the moon, rather than admiring its magical, silvery light.
I felt my heart beating faster on a never ending loop as the wave approached, just like when I saw her walk down the aisle that day. Just like when carefully grabbed her hand and placed a silver ring on her finger.
I started counting faster. The tide was high and the water accelerated towards the shore. I turned my head to the far south. The curvy island was still there, right where I had left it the last time I was able to set foot on that beach without my eyes tearing up instantly and my heart crashing down. I remembered she showed me how the island projected the shape of a woman sleeping on her side. I thought it looked somehow like María; serene, ethereal, grounded. Our daughter Isabel, well, she differed with both of our views on the unusual figure of the island. When she was around eight years old, Isabel announced in her high-pitched voice that the island had the shape of a Baula turtle laying on its stomach, like the ones we had seen hatching from their minuscule, spotted eggs that past October. María looked south at the peculiar isle, squinted her almond eyes, and instantly agreed.
The wave started getting closer, the foam melting as it hit the rocks near the shore. I lost the pace of my count and my eyes started to water. All I could think of was the day she died. María died on that beach. In the waters of the Caribbean Sea, specifically. I started to back away, trying to avoid the water that would hit my feet in a second. Scared of the salt water that would sting my wounds. I regretted my decision. Maybe I should have just left the memories in the photographs, maybe I shouldn't have gone there. Maybe everyone else was wrong, I was certainly not feeling any kind of closure. Just panic and flashbacks that came unexpectedly as if they had a wicked mind of their own. The day we lost María the sun was shining, the sky was full of beautiful clouds. Her nails were painted a pearly blue, and captivated against her dark skin. I had set our towels underneath the palm tree with the swing, so Isabel could nap with the light, tropical breeze cuddling her to sleep. Our daughter had just turned eleven.
It was around four in the afternoon when it happened. It was a blur. One moment she was there, her eyes sparkling with life, then she was taken by the sea. The paramedics did not arrive until fifteen minutes after. Apparently a pregnant woman saw me screaming for help, while Isabel was holding tight to my arm with her eyes wide open, and called an ambulance. They said the high tide hit her head against a rock. They said they were sorry.
The wave finally hit me, and went up to my ankles. I collapsed to the ground as the water covered me up to my chest. It felt like an ending, the sun was up and the water had hit the shore.
I thought of the words of the taxi driver. My wife had shown me everything I did not know was already inside me. She made me float away with her every time she hugged me from behind. She made me feel like the savage waves of the ocean when she danced with me. She could see the beauty in a changing world and taught me about family, about gratefulness and the everlasting beauty in the mundane.
She showed me what life had to offer, like the old man said. I wondered if he had ever been in love.