The enchanted hammock

Dawn broke one more clammy jungle time. Roosters and howler monkeys told the tale.

Across the peninsula campesinos sang their way to work perched happily on rickety bicycles, their machetes held tightly in leather sheaths against the handlebars or strung over their shoulders like prison chains. Accompanying them were small helpings of gallo pinto and tepid tea which would serve as the daily luncheon special. Memories of an early breakfast among the mango trees consoled them, and thoughts of dinner…more beans and rice and maybe a can of Imperial Beer. On Sunday there would be chicken. They could still live off the land, at least for the time being.

Why be sad? Why worry? Nothing was going to change and besides, each had his family to hold onto, his village and at least a small garden to tend while the evening sun dipped over the Golfo Dulce.

Marcelo Ramirez woke up early too. At 89 he still had chores to do. His lazy son Juan refused to help with the farm preferring to lounge in his hammock all day. After feeding his livestock and raking his front yard the old man washed, drank coffee and saddled up his aging bay mare, Carmen. It was now time for his daily pilgrimage to the village of Amarantha, three miles down the dirt road that connected LaPalma to Puerto Jimenez. There he would visit with the friends he had known for almost a century.

Passing children in navy and white school uniforms, sweating palm oil workers, a stray horse, a few citrus farmers and an occasional air-conditioned Gringo on the way to the eco-jungle lodges of Corcovado, he choked from the dust. Dry season was hell on the lungs but at least the corps of engineer bridges would not be flooded as they were in rainy season. Marcelo waved and chatted, as he and Carmen surveyed the edges of his farm. He reflected on his good luck since in all of his years he had not been forced into the dirty, dangerous work of palm oil extraction.

Today many of his neighbors spent the day in the palm forests, engaged in back-breaking labor. The fortunes they had been paid for their homes had quickly disappeared and they were once again destitute only this time landless as well. Now Nortes perched on their former property, building large houses, driving SUVs and cultivating gentlemanly banana crops.

As Marcelo wandered into town on the back of Carmen he was quite the sight to behold. Carmen, his mare of almost two decades was definitely slowing down but the slow stroll seemed to perk her up this morning. The pair had become as familiar a sight as banana trucks, scarlet macaws and the tour buses that had just began to reach to Osa Peninsula, bringing with them monetary salvation as perceived by the impoverished locals.Thet’d all be rich. It was just a matter of time.

He was a tough old vaquero with a heart of gold and a smile for everyone…except perhaps his off-spring. Juan, was a worthless bum and his daughter-in-law was no better. He saw himself as the local ladies’ man while Penelope regarded herself as a definite femme fatale, despite her extra 40 pounds.

Some thought Marcelo better off for having even questionable company out on his place, but he would have preferred solitude. His two grandsons, Mario and Alberto, still had potential but that diminished as they watched their parents sleep away the afternoons while Marcelo did all the work. They might have become closer but the parents discouraged it. Some day their grandfather would be dead and they would inherit the land. That’s what Juan had told them.

Across the washboard road the local brujo, Bernardo Espinozo, watched the daily parade. Hidden from view by thick fig trees, banana leaves and bougainvillea he peered out at the world crowded with inferior mortals.

Espinozo desperately sought respect from those around him. His continued witch status required displays of dark power and the casting of mighty spells. He could not comprehend how or why Marcelo would allow these parasite relatives to live off him. Clearly, after having served six months in prison for polygamy and car theft, Espinozo had many unresolved issues with mankind.

When Marcelo returned from the village he saw his son asleep in his hammock. The dishes from breakfast were piled high in the sink while his daughter-in-law, cracked open her first beer of the day. The two grandchildren were playing in an derelict pickup parked in the driveway. His son had promised to repair the old truck’s transmission three years ago. He passed the snoring Juan and the sipping Penelope without comment. He went out to the garden intent on doing battle with tropical weeds and grasshoppers. bu soon he was on the patio napping away the humid January afternoon.

That’s when Carmen died.

The grandsons found her and ran to tell Marcelo who rushed to the side of his longtime companion. Old age had taken its toll. Marcelo loved the horse. He stared down at her, a tear rolling down his tan, weathered cheek. Now she must be buried. The hired hand from the next farm got wind of the situation and showed up with a shovel, as did the neighbor and the owner of a small pulperia nearby. Juan lingered on the hammock refusing to lift a finger to help his father. He mocked the grave diggers, suggesting they join the animal in the hole.

The brujo, eager to regain his tenure and rejoin the celebrated ranks of sorcery, watched from across the road as the drama played out. Marcelo ignored his son while the neighbors openly glared at him swinging on the hammock. The story would be told in town that very afternoon of an evil son too lazy to help his father bury his beloved horse.

Espinozo conjured up a plot to rid Amarantha of Juan and his wife for good. He would need a charm, a hex, a pinch of voodoo and a vehicle through which to channel his power. He must have an instrument, something linked to Juan. He’s in that hammock almost all the time. It’s almost like a spider web but first he must lure the lazy couple away while he applied  the finishing touches. This called for serious incantation—witchery of the highest degree.

Chanting ancient words, he mixed the bellies of kinkajous with the eyebrows of a bulldog bat and the tongue of a tayra. He added the dust of a moonless night with the course fur of a peccary and the toxins from a poison-arrow frog. He concentrated some more, adding Tamarind seed and volcano ash, adjusting his brew, when, as if on call, along came the bait, the beautiful Maria Mendoza.

Every man in town had yearnings for Maria. She was 23 years old and a lovely creature. About a year ago her husband Hector had been crushed by a palm oil press and she was left alone with three children. She survived on money from her family in Cartago and gifts from her gringo dates. Her mere arrival in LaPalma at the Friendly Bar on the Corner caused guaro-chugging patrons to go mad. Fist fights and even a knifing or two were chalked up to her account.

Now she was swinging down the road within view of Juan’s hammock. He opened one eye and saw her. Peering around for his wife, Penelope, Juan slid out of the hammock and sneaked outside. Maria had already passed the farm and was headed toward one of the newly built tourist restaurants above the river. He followed her unaware that he was shadowed by Penelope.

The brujo watched the three figures disappear into the jungle. He saw that Marcelo was still asleep and that the two boys had gone to swim in the Rio Rincon. Bernardo Espinozo let himself in., quietly letting the dilapidated screen door close behind him

The first order of business was to employ personal articles, possibly articles of clothing, belonging to his potential victims in the spell casting. Then he knew he must touch the hammock with a pinch of his concoction so as to give it life. He found one of Juan’s many combs and stared at the hammock waving the comb back and forth, whispering the simple words “eat him-eat every bit of him” over and over. He did the same thing with one of Penelope’s sandals and the scarf, encouraging what he hoped was now an enchanted hammock’s appetite. Then he scurried back to his shack to await the return of his prey.

Maria had reached a group of customers at the restaurant before Juan could catch up to her. Penelope, however, had caught up to him. By the time the two returned to the farm they were in a heated argument but Juan, enticed by the thought of Maria, was in the mood for love. In less than an hour he had apologized for his conduct and had invited his wife to join him in the hammock. He kept inviting. What else was there to do that evening? He persisted and she resisted. Then a smile crossed her fleshy face. They were both in the little cottage alone for a change. After all, he was her husband. The hammock looked inviting.  Unaware of the danger she joined him.

That’s when the now enchanted hammock took over, quickly swallowing both of them without further adieu. It was business as usual at first but then Juan noticed his arms had turned to noodles. Then his neck seemed limp. Penelope’s smile had turned to fear as gravity came to play. Juan’s hair stood on end. His very veins became a target to the hammock’s aggression. His brain turned to mush. Penelope screamed as her ankles became embroiled with the netting. Soon Juan could not move. His entire torso glued to the lowest points of bodily contact with the web. He was gasping for breath as Penelope looked to him for some ungodly answer. Moments before death they both made a sort of contrition, hoping that this was not really the end. The hammock showed no such emotion.      

“We have so much to live for,” they both wailed. “The children…Marcelo…If only we could be given a second chance…We could make good…”

 It was all very clean, very complete. There was no blood, no broken bones, no residue of a struggle. The brujo had done his homework and the mission was accomplished in just short of five minutes.

Espinozo watched proudly while the hammock sucked them both into the abode of the condemned. The hungry hammock performed beautifully, leaving not so much as a crumb. As the short struggle subsided the brujo thought for sure he heard the smacking of hammock lips and even a slight burp.

“Good,” he said.

Hours later when the boys returned from the river and Marcelo had awakened from his nap there was no sign of Juan or Penelope. The hammock, however, swung back and forth contentedly, as if still occupied. Later that day a neighbor told Marcelo that he had seen the two walking in the jungle near where a prowling jaguars had been spotted only the night before. Somebody else claimed to have smelled a witches’ brew. No one went out to look for them. No one, even the family, cared. After week Marcelo discarded Juan’s  hammock and bought a three horses in LaPalma. The grandchildren, who had miraculously taken to working the farm, had accompanied him on the trek. His neighbors smiled as they approached. They were quite the sight to behold.

Espinozo, who openly claimed responsibility for the disappearance of Juan and Penelope, was soon after arrested for transporting a stolen vehicle across the Panamanian border at Rio Sereno. After countless escape attempts he remains incarcerated at a maximum security prison near David, where he enjoys telling this story.

Meanwhile Marcelo’s farm has flourished. With the help of his two grandsons it now boasts dairy cattle, sugar cane, corn, beans, rice, abaca, hemp and tobacco. It was now a peaceful, thriving farm and Marcelo does little of the work. The neighbors say they have never seen him looking better and that he will be sure to reach 100. His grandsons and he named two of the horses after Juan and Penelope and they named the third one after the jailbird, Bernardo.

– Kevin Haley

Filed Under: Fractured Opinion


RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Comments are closed.