It was a dark and starless night that night as we headed for Bocas del Toro. For some reason I found myself standing alone next to a wooden bunk. I was patiently waiting for the girl of my dreams, my would be wife, the one who would make me a father, to return to my side from some errand or the other on board.
All of a sudden I stepped outside to get some air after breaking out into a cold sweat and walked towards the bow holding on to whatever ropes I could find in my way. Already I was feeling queasy until the smell of diesel and smoke from the old wreck of a boat made me out-and-out nauseous. I quickly headed for my mattress-less bunk inside but, before I could get to the open berth, I was on my knees puking up all that I had eaten before making the trip. All the anger that had been building up inside me towards that Chinese girl turned to self-preservation since I had come down with a terrible case of sea sickness. I felt like I was going to die. Where was she? I asked myself. She should be here at my side.
The more I tried to swallow my vomit and not look like a total landlubber, the more I suffered for it. At first I would puke overboard into the sea but afterwards I didn’t care where I vomited. I looked down at my poor black and white domino shoes that I had always worn with such pride and they made no sense to me anymore. Suddenly, someone was gently guiding me inside and I was meek as a baby who had lost his mommy. I remained violently ill and could not stay put so the captain came and steered me towards his room where I was constrained to remain for the rest of the night. During the night China finally came in and crawled into bed with me and remained with me there for the rest of the voyage.
By morning I had overcome my ordeal. I got dressed and ended up on deck as the boat came into the Bay of Bocas Town (Isla Colon) where we got off and sought Pug’s aunt’s home to stay there until we would board the ferry to a place by the name of Almirante, named after the mariner and discoverer of the continent, Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus).
The first thing I noticed as night descended and the ferry docked at that new and curious place that I would get to know as Almirante, was the local Cantina which had music blaring out of a jukebox. China held me close as we made our way towards the cantina to meet her mother. Night fell rapidly on old Almirante as we approached the front street room where I would meet my future mother-in-law and the grandmother of my firstborn, a person whom I would meet for the first time in my life.
I came in peace only to meet the total rejection I had feared from the moment China and I had met. And so, I stood outside the small room they shared overlooking the main street of the town, making conversation with an amicable man, a tailor who introduced himself as “Turo” for Arturo.
Both Turo and I listened to the appalling conversation between mother and daughter, witnessing how the mother berated her only daughter for more than an hour after not having seen her for quite some time. I could not take it any more as the woman’s abusive attack on a helpless girl escalated. Pug seemed utterly defenseless and she took the tongue lashing in silence. I rushed up the stairs suddenly, took hold of Pug by the arm and led her out into the starry night. She was in tears, sobbing uncontrollably. I began to worry for her health as well as the baby’s.
We found lodging at the local Chinese hotel not too far away and took a room for the night. It wasn’t a surprise to me that Pug’s mother, a mulatto woman with a touch of chinese blood herself, also worked there at night.
My feelings suddenly softened towards Pug about the events on the boat and everything else. I no longer felt angry or jealous towards this girl, even though she had gotten me to leave my dear old “Alma Mater,” Abel Bravo College, and ended up that night in a room in a town that might have passed for a western movie set, starry night and all, doing my part in a drama unfolding in an old American western railroad town. That was how Almirante in the Province of Bocas del Toro seemed to me that first night.
This story continues.