(Click here to read the first episode.)
In San Jose’s airport my friend Pedro is waiting at the gate. When I ask him how he got past security, he winks at me and touches his nose. He takes me and Emma to a courtyard ristorante behind the runway while we wait for the puddle-jumper, which may arrive any time but probably minus a part somebody will have to scrounge before it gets too dark even for these native stunt pilots to try flying to Puerto Jimenez. After we’re seated, Pedro closes the menu and takes first Emma and then me to the restrooms where he ceremoniously treats us to Peruvian flake, which he says comes through Panama.
While we’re drinking cerveza and waiting for huevos rancheros, Emma jumps up and returns three minutes later with a pair of scissors. How she’d do that? She doesn’t even speak Spanish. Excusing herself, Emma glides out of the courtyard and I can’t help noticing how every man in the place stares at her. She soon returns with the frazzled white tips of her hair snipped off—the remnants of a bad hair-salon experience that bleached her hair so it looked like cotton candy. Now a honey-colored nimbus ripples the air surrounding her head; soft curls fan away from her face.
Her eyes gleam, taking in the sun and road, the palm trees, and pastel-painted cement block shelters. She looks delectable in her little white shift and dirty sandals. I pull out her chair, thinking, good enough to eat—or better yet hold by the wings and keep in a jar. Yeah, I know, evil thought. No keeping Emma in a jar. No keeping her until she’s anxious and stifled and I start to hate her.
A local kid runs in and says the airplane is leaving in ten minutes. Emma must be awfully high because she asks how many people fit in the bus.
“Depends how much you weigh, Emma,” says Pedro. “It holds a maximum of six Americans or eight Costa Ricans. But you and Scott are both skinny. We better run before we miss it. The bus, that is.” He winks at me.
The propellers have started already but I don’t think Emma notices. We enter through the back and she says she’s afraid of getting carsick.
She can’t get her seatbelt fastened and come to think of it, the plane does look like a worn out van: three long seats, a few missing seatbelts. When we pick up speed and the scarred metal crate lifts off the runway, she startles, rising from her seat. “Oh! Wait! What?”
Pedro and I are cracking up. Pedro turns around and asks Emma, “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of death?”
The girl is too cool. Sweet little Emma crosses her perfect young legs, raises her chin, and shakes her head. “Afraid of death? Not unduly.”
(Click here to read the next episode.)