Chapter 10: San Ignacio
The young woman behind the counter at the rental agency gave Frank no clue that he even existed in her universe. Flitting about the room with a phone tucked under her chin, she loaded paper into a copy machine, rinsed a tea cup in a bathroom sink, rattled through the debris clogging her massive purse. Frank was patient. He knew how things worked in Belize. People didn’t like to be rushed.
He leaned against the counter and marveled at her mass of frizzy hair that threatened to burst through the scarves restraining it. Frank knew she would need to deal with him before she could close shop. The phone slammed down abruptly. Her smile disappeared. She tossed Frank a glance.
“We have got no cars, sorry,” she said in a patois more Caribbean than one usually heard so far West.
“What?” said Frank, losing his cool. “Why didn’t you say so, before? You should know why I’m here.”
She interrupted, clarifying. “But we should have somethin’ comin’ in the mornin’.”
“Oh,” said Frank. “Any chance you’d have a Land Cruiser?”
“I seriously doubt it,” she said, sweeping the floor gingerly to not displace some loose linoleum tiles. “Seein’ as our agency doesn’t own any Land Cruisers.”
“Well, that’s okay. I’ll take whatever rolls in,” he said.
She hefted her purse and led him to the door, holding it open. Her eyes regarded him fiercely as he passed outside. He tipped his head and gave her a feeble smile. She disappeared, high heels clacking, into an alley. Moments later, she came roaring out on a Vespa.
Frank found a hotel after discovering the guest house he had stayed in with Liz was no more. He washed up and changed clothes. The lingering spell of his daydream lured him back out to the streets, seeking the Scarlet Macaw, or whatever establishment possessed its environs these days. Even if it had become a gelato joint, he needed to see it, if only to recharge old memories.
San Ignacio had lost many of the old landmarks that had once guided him so Frank let the geometry of street, river and hill show him the way. The Hawksworth Bridge lay just ahead. Across it, glowed the sister city of Santa Elena. He walked a block along the river then doubled back and doubled back again. He found the place where the Scarlet Macaw should have been, but it looked nothing like his dream. The trees, the wall, the patio floor, none of it matched the setting he imagined. Had they never been real, but all a figment?
He walked back to the hotel, disappointed. Little remained of the San Ignacio they knew. Renovations disguised some of the older buildings. Others had been razed. New shops and offices ones filled the spaces that once made the town feel so green and spacious and quaint. Only the post office stirred any sense of that earlier time, that, and the hills across the river, dark against the glow of a sinking sun.
He had a quick meal of jerk chicken and beer back at the hotel’s restaurant, then dragged his carcass back to the room. He had pictured this pilgrimage as a way to remember the good times. So far, all it had done so far was reinforce how old and alone he had become and how drastically the world had changed in twenty years. He unboxed the bottle of rum he had picked up at the duty-free in Miami. No dreams haunted him that night.
When morning came, he and his headache showed up at Tigris (did they mean tigress?) Auto Rental ten minutes past their posted opening. The interior remained dark. After twenty minutes of watching the shadows creep, a light finally flicked on and a bug-eyed young man with natty braids let him in.
“Good morning, sir. You know … ah … we ain’t got no cars.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Frank. “But the young lady last night said that some might be coming in.”
“She did? Kristina said that?” His eyes bulged and blinked at Frank. “Let me check.” He disappeared around back. A minute later, jangling a set of keys, he slipped behind the counter and, without a word, began preparing a rental contract.
“You have one, then?”
The young man glanced up, but remained silent.
“There is a car?” Frank repeated.
“Yes. A Sidekick,” the man said, exaggerating the consonants. “Su-zu-ki,” he played with the name. “Driver’s license and passport please?”