By Jared Cappel
The driver pleads with me to stay on the bus. Torrential squalls toss stray umbrellas down the beach. Rain pelts the windshield as if in a carwash. The driver looks scared, for both my safety and his own culpability in dropping off some gringo in the middle of a monsoon.
I pass him a few crumpled bills, and he reluctantly opens the door. I step into the storm, my first shower in nearly a week. I rip off my shirt and kick off my sandals. I feel the electricity in the air. I feel alive.
Waves as tall as bungalows crash onto the shore and run over my feet. Further down the beach, the coast juts into the ocean, forming the perfect little cove. It’s there that I’m headed. El Hoyo. The hole.
A palm tree whips in the wind; its coconuts shake like maracas. I feel something land on my shoulder. A man’s hand. He’s dragging me away from the shore, pointing towards a row of cabins. He’s shouting something, but his words are swallowed by the crack of the thunder.
We race up the stairs of a small hut, panting, like dogs. He fights the wind to shut the door. He’s shouting again. “¿Estás loco?”
Am I crazy? I think about it. “Yeah, kind of.” My entire year runs through my mind. Overnight buses in San Pedro Sula. Cliff diving in La Quebrada. Cheap hostels full of vagabond foreigners, none of us staying long enough to probe past the pleasantries, all of us on the run from something.
The man switches to a lightly accented English. “You could have been killed.” He looks genuinely concerned, his eyes large and expressive, like a cartoon character. He rips off his wet shirt. He has the lean muscles of a surfer, his abs as perfectly sculpted as the moguls at Portillo.
I’ve been staring too long at his body; if my father were here, he’d smack me upside the head. “It’s not so bad outside. I’ve seen worse.” He looks at me like I’m some naive foreigner, with no understanding I’ve been in the region for nearly fourteen months. I sweep the long hair from my face. “If it’s so dangerous out there, why were you outside?”
He flashes a playful grin. “Is that how you thank me for saving your life?”
“It was just a little rain.” I look around the small hut. “Do you work here?” The far wall has a row of surfboards and a rack of wetsuits. Beside me there’s a dusty brochure stand and an unplugged soda machine.
“I’m the owner.” He sticks out his hand. “Eduardo.”
His grasp is rough yet tender. My cheeks flush. “John.”
He repeats my name but pronounces it as Juan. He’s being playful. He looks me up and down. “You’re all wet.”
I fake alarm. “How did that happen?”
He grabs one of the wetsuits off the rack and tosses it to me. “You can wear this. We might be stuck here awhile.”
He’s being dramatic, but I play along. I turn away and slowly step out of my shorts. I picture his eyes upon me, tracing the lines of my body, but when I turn back, he’s facing the wall, dipping a finger into a jar of wax and applying long strokes to a blue and white striped board.
I shuffle backwards towards him. “Can you zip me up?”
He pulls on the zipper, but the suit is too tight. He taps the small of my back with his greasy hand. “You’ll have to wear it like that.”
I pull my arms out of the sleeves and let the top half of the suit hang limply. I look to Eduardo, to the board shorts stuck to the flesh of his thighs. “What about you? Won’t you be cold?”
“I grew up here. I’m used to it.” He wipes his greasy hands on a rag. “So what brings you to my little hometown?”
“To practice my surfing, of course.”
He smiles. “Ah, you’ve come for the hole.”
I bite my lip. I’m not sure if he intended the innuendo. I picture his arms around me, our bodies intertwined, rolling across El Hoyo’s sandy shore. “Maybe you could teach me?”
He lifts a stubby silver board off the wall and sets it to the floor. He holds back a grin. “No problem, I’m good at helping guys get up.”
I release a nervous laugh.
He places me on my stomach and wraps his calloused hands around my biceps. “Pretend like you’re paddling.” He helps me through the motion. “Now, jump.”
I spring to my feet but fall sideways. My greasy back brushes against his face. He’s smiling. We both are. He insists I try again. He explains where to position my hands, how to balance on the board, how to shift from prone to standing.
Each time we practice, he touches my body in a different spot. A brush of the hip, a swipe of the thigh. I open my lips, but no words come out. I have the cojones to walk through favelas, to dine in restaurants without running water, and yet a grinning shop owner in his thirties has left me speechless.
He mentions something about the rain letting up, and I feel the end closing in. There are only so many countries I can run to, only so many places to hide. No matter how far I travel, I’ll never be able to escape the unrelenting fear that I’m not who I should be, that my father was right.
Eduardo lends me a surfboard, and we paddle to the cove. He carves across a large wave. I mimic his movements, but I’m too stiff on the board, and I fall to the sea. I call for him, but he’s onto the next swell, leaving me alone, gasping for air, awash in the understanding that only I can pull myself out from the depths of El Hoyo.