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Xenolith, Page 7

A. Sparrow

  Chapter 5: Up the River and Gone

  The bus crept slowly through San Ignacio’s narrow streets. Frank clung to the window, eager for a peek at familiar landmarks, like the park by the soccer field where he used to picnic in with Liz, the little bookstore where they bought weeks-old copies of the Herald-Tribune, but most of all, the stucco walls and feathery trees of the defunct café he visited so often in his dreams. The bus must have taken a different route than usual, because there was little on the street he still recognized.

  If he scrunched his eyes, though, its ambiance felt familiar. San Ignacio looked much like any provincial town in Central America. Cracked concrete walls. Sheet metal roofs. Rusty dogs sprawling, prowling everywhere. It was greener than most, with some extra English signage on its shops, but any native from Panama to Mexico could feel at home there.

  The bus entered the terminal in a haze of diesel, its wheels easing over the speed bump like a rheumatic elder. The dusty lot had the usual boys vending snacks and drinks from trays, a row of other chicken buses and something new – a fancy express coach with air conditioning and curtained windows. The seated passengers had surged out into the aisles and clogged it with their baggage well before the bus had stopped. Frank lagged, his reactions slowed by a daze of fatigue. He gathered himself and collected his day pack and overnighter from the overhead rack. He had less than an hour to conduct business before offices started closing for the day. He squeezed into a space between a wide screen TV upended in its box and a thick bundle of plastic irrigation tubing.

  When the door squealed open, the packed aisle oozed forward like a human glacier. A smoky breeze greeted him as he finally limped down the steps, squeezing past a gaggle of vendors and cabbies congregating around the door. He found himself following the man with the broken guitar down an alley leading away from the terminal. The man carried nothing but the ruined guitar, his preternaturally long fingers wrapped loosely around its neck. The man glanced back at Frank. Their gazes met and bounced away like colliding soccer balls.

  They parted ways where Burns Avenue split off from the river road. The man went on towards the Macal. Frank entered a place on Burns called Tigris Auto Rentals.

  New roads connected San Ignacio and Santa Elena with the villages that were formerly river-bound and numerous ecotourism resorts that had popped up along them. Launches still plied the river, but that was one aspect of his time here with Liz that he had no desire to replicate. Something about being on the river felt too raw, too close to the pain of losing Liz. Seeing the quarry again would be hard enough.