Much has happened since the last time I saw my parents. They had moved to Costa Rica, specifically to a town located near Zancudo beach. I had been about to visit them but the work had not given me a truce. Without expecting it, they called me from the airport, and asked me to pick them up. It was not a problem for me because I was at home enjoying my day off. The truth is that they have always been so lucky! First, I went for gas, since the airport was forty five minutes away from where I lived. I wanted to have enough to don’t stop during the return, although, they are those who hate having to go directly to a place, and less when it comes to the house, almost by force of habit, we end up in a restaurant-bar. We shared a few beers, and ordered some tasty crab cakes, which turned out to be the only breaks that merited our talk. My parents have the ability, that comes naturally, to make me laugh out loud; I always forget it. We didn’t go to bed late that day. I helped them prepare the second room, whose bed still had the clothes I’d washed a month ago. As expected, my father ended up folding the clothes he placed into the drawers; of that binomial, my father was the most devoted of the organization. When the house returned to stillness, and I was finally in my bed looking through the window at the crooked birch trees, I felt lonely again.
Saturday morning came, and a breakfast feast was on the table. I had fallen so tired the night before that I didn’t even hear them get up. The sun hadn’t woken me up as usual because one of them, surreptitiously, had come in and drawn the curtains in my room. It was nothing but the smell of cooked bacon that got me on my feet. Although, I had to be at work early, I took time to enjoy, sitting on the porch, my coffee with milk, which I do not forget to mix with an essential additive: the calm of the morning.
That day everything was slow at work. I had to prepare only three quotes for projects in Tennessee and North Carolina. Teresa, the new Human Resources girl, in one of her weekly carelessnesses, left a piece of bread warming for longer than required, and lit up like a smut. The microwave ended up in the trash, and the break room windows open. All of us with frozen food in the fridge visited the Korean taco restaurant that was in front of the company. A little spicy for my taste, but they were not bad at all. My mother called around one in the afternoon to find out how my day was going, and she told me that the next day we would go camping in an area near Ruby Falls. I think it was his enthusiasm that made me say yes, ipso facto. I needed to get out. The fiasco of each e relationship had left me in a hole, like those that cause collective euphoria and predict a possible end of the world; perhaps similar to the Berkeley Pit in Montana. That abyss flavor on my tongue lingered.
I was willing to enjoy my parents to the fullest, and if it were necessary, I would call out pretending to be sick. It was not difficult to convince my parents to stay at least three days in the mountains. They are always ready to challenge those limits, which age so maliciously sets; although they were also aware that they could not embark on extreme activities, as in their early years. But they clung fervently to saving a little of that youthful sap: with which all the mountains seemed small, no desert was extremely extensive, nor the winter so cold as to corner them at home.
That Sunday seemed more like a Saturday. The three of us agreed on that. We told each other the same stories along the way. We made a stop to fill not only the tank of the jeep, but a spare one I always keep inside my tool case. When you go into the mountains, everything that comes to your mind could happen, and more too. We bought ice, beer, a pack of band aid and Advil, for mom’s back pain. We had enough food for five days, although we planned to stay only three. Before restarting the trip, we all smoked some cigarettes, but keeping our eyes on the the jeep that we had parked in front of the gas pumps. A beggar tried to snoop, but my father approached him. It seems that he asked for a cigarette and my father ended up giving him the almost new box he had in his pocket. The beggar put it in his shopping cart, which he pushed until it disappeared into the next block.
We had about forty minutes to get there, and the sky start threatening with a heavy rain. We pulled over to the side of the road, we needed to put back the roof and doors on the jeep just in case. We could not allow the rain to twist our day. The trees stretched and got taller with the passing of miles, reducing the sky to a thick gray line that joined the endless road in a sort of uroboro. Nature has mysterious ways of writing.
We arrived at the path that would take us to the place where we would establish our camp. Thereafter, a map would be our only guide. My father replaced me. He is much better than me driving on all kinds of terrain. It was only three miles away. Usually, we don’t stay further than five miles, in case we had to walk our way out.
A change of scenery is essential for a change of mood; move from houses and buildings to trees and mountains; from the streets to the roads; from the sewers, to the rivers. I sat on a rock in front of the mountains that seemed to hug each other and looked at me while my parents were preparing the tent. The tent was large enough to accommodate four people. When I was little I closed my eyes, to open them quickly. I thought that I would surprise the trees walking towards me. I even got to surround them with small stones, but I knew that they were too smart to fall into the trap that I had prepared for them. This childishness that make you smile without you noticing! My little cousin, when was eight, got a bad habit to eat pieces of paper; but not just any piece of paper, but the ones that had the pagination of the books. My uncle Alberto wanted to kill him when he realized about that. He devoured the pagination of those reference books that my uncle used regularly to prepare his college classes. The punishment was to put my cousin to number the pages.
My mother sat next to me, put her hand on my knee and looked at me with the same intensity with which a blind man examines a face. There is nothing like mother’s love to give her kids back their worth. We stayed for a few minutes staring at the same silence, silence full of sounds that smelled of green and petrichor.
We all went looking for logs for the campfire. My father took his ax and also his rifle. There didn’t seem to be a soul around, but one is never protected enough in the middle of the forest. I always carry my gun. I was looking forward to practicing my shot. We already know that city life and the dynamics of modern societies gradually demonize activities like these. The aversion to risk is such that they end up rejecting what could protect them, as a result of an idealistic conception that ends up being naive.
About six hundred feet away, we found logs that were cut, and perhaps left behind by other campers. We had forgotten to bring the rope for tying them up, and thus drag them to the grill that we had improvised by moving some stones that were next to the pine tree that provided us with much of the shade. My father went back for the rope. Meanwhile, I did a temporary shooting range with three empty beer cans next to the logs. My aim was still sharp. I had that revolver for a long time. It was a gift from my father when I turned twenty four, and my initials were inscribed on the hilt.
We sat around the fire while the meat was cooking. I was so hungry but I managed to trick the hunger with beers. We were finally at that almost surreal hour when the ground is stained with dark and light patterns, and the rays of the sun persist in not leaving us in the dark. My mother shot photos of the abstract shapes formed by the projected shadows of tree branches on the ground. She has always been the creative soul of the family! She said that this had given her many ideas for some paintings. She showed them to me and the truth was that they were not bad at all. I owe her my sensitivity, although at times it has been a drag. They told me stories of their neighbors in Costa Rica, and of a monkey that goes every afternoon to eat a banana. Their house has a separate room that they rent to tourists, and thus they manage to have a fixed income. They looked so happy but they have never depended on anything to be. I told them about some all the distractions of the girl from Human Resources, and they convinced me to invite her out. They didn’t believe me when I told them that it was just pure sympathy. My father asked me if she was cute, and I said yes. However I had not thought of that before. I changed the subject by telling them how wonderful it had been for me to get out of the house and their visit.
The steaks were delicious and the wind began to make itself felt in the dark. It had been a long day. My mother went to bed early, but my father and I made jokes, and we ended up laughing so loud that my mother yelled at us and asked us to lower our voices a bit. We remained without speaking for a while. I amused myself in observing the movement of the fire, and enjoying the chirping of the crickets that was gaining in intensity. It was very hot night.
Crickets are very interesting creatures. Because they are unable to regulate the temperature of their bodies, the speed of their processes also increases with an increase in ambient temperature. It’s easy to convert chirps into degrees Fahrenheit, you just have to count the number of chirps that occur in fourteen seconds and add forty. Of course it is not something exact but it is really close. Only the male cricket is the one that sings, it is a way of marking their territory, and telling others “do not dare to approach”. In fact, the weak cricket renounces singing due to the constant attacks of the strongest, so they only have to “perfume” themselves through the production of cuticular hydrocarbons, a substance related to reproduction, and which would be the same as the beautiful plumage to birds.
It was half past ten at night, and we decided to go to bed. I could not sleep. I was a little restless. My father’s snoring, I am sure, could be heard from miles away. There they were still holding each other after forty years. As the crackling of the burning pieces of logs faded, that hug of my parents was the only thing that kept the tent warmed. At that time of night, instead of resting my mind, I filled it with doubts and preoccupations. A fine rain broke on the awning. And the light night wind turned into harsh roars that were softened as they passed through the tangled foliage. I opened the tent zipper a little to let in a bit of a breeze. Outside, an autumn was forced by the abrupt fall of the leaves hit by the blizzard. I managed to sleep shortly after that.
I dreamed that I was in my house and could not turn on the ceiling lights, but all the other equipment still had power. When I tried to leave the house, something that I did not know exactly what it was, prevented me. There was no one outside, just a vast desert terrain. It was fear or something mystical that kept me inside, locked up, and unable to light my own home. I heard a sound of footsteps on leaves that I could not relate to the oneiric passage, it was when I became aware that I was dreaming, and woke up.
The noise was gone. I stood still. It was around four thirty in the morning. When I was enraptured by sleep again, I felt the same sound that had woken me up. It was about thirty feet from the tent. I thought it was some animal, but due to its frequency and the consistency of the steps, it didn’t seem like it. We had not seen anyone in the afternoon. It was possible that they were hunters, although the steps seemed to draw circles around us. It was still far away, so I breathed a bit of calm choosing to maintain the hypothesis that it was some animal. I determined not to go back to sleep. I didn’t want to worry my parents, so I would wait for the threat to become more obvious. I took the revolver that I had kept in my backpack and put it under my pillow. After three turns around us, the noise disappeared again. My eyes betrayed me and I went back to sleep. The noise of the zipper closing of the tent woke me up. I called my father and asked him if he had zipped up the store and he said no. This time I did get agitated, though I tried to control it the best I could. What was outside had now come close to us, and perhaps even contemplated us asleep. My father woke up and was vigilant just like me. We did not discarded the possibility of whoever was walking around, once he realized that we were awake, would stay distant or leave. In the distance we heard again the same steps accompanied by something that seemed to be dragged. Neither of us dared to go out until we knew if it was one or two people. We were trying to figure out what he was doing. Evidently, he knew we were awake. Would he like us to go out? Would he be armed? He abandoned whatever he was dragging near the fire. I thought about the movie that had been filmed there and what the place was so well known for, a kind of mokumentary in the style of The Blair Witch Project. This did nothing to help me calm down. The outsider was now a little far from us but still was not leaving. My mother was not yet awake and my father did not take his eyes off me. I had the impression that we are thinking the same and looking for the same inklings. He picked up the rifle and set it next to him. I longed for the morning light to come. It was all calm for about twenty minutes. I thought of all the different outcomes for that situation. I was scared but I pretended not to be. It was that other fruitless attempt to relax. The footsteps began to approach us again, I wasted no more time, and quickly I loaded my gun so that the sound was a clear message that we were armed. The stranger began to run in circles again. My father and I yelled at him that we were armed and we reloaded the rifle and revolver insistently. My mother got up agitated and the drowsiness kept her confused. She saw us armed so it wasn’t long before she realized what was happening. We were determined to step out, when the stranger began to run away. We didn’t hear him to come back. We were startled until the first light of the morning finally appeared. I went out, and after me, my father. We checked the whole place. What we heard that he was dragging were the logs that we had kept for the remaining days. We tried to locate the rope with which we had tied them up, but he took it. But, why create so much fuss over a rope? My mother gave a frightened scream. My father and I ran to her. In one of the branches of a cedar tree, our rope was prepared with hangman’s knot. We didn’t analyze the possibility that it was all a very bad joke i, so we didn’t think twice, and we picked up the camp and return to the city.
On the way back we thought of the campers who had cut the firewood for several days, and who had, perhaps like us, abandoned their plans and returned to the city.