The next morning Orville had to be aroused by Francisco so they would not miss their connection to get him back to Belize.
“I am sorry to disturb you, Senor Orville.” Francisco said as he gently shook Orville on the shoulder, “but if we do not leave soon we will miss your pick up.”
Orville opened his eyes in confusion, looking up at Francisco and for just a second or two forgetting where he was and who Francisco was. Then as he woke fully it hit him and he apologized.
“Forgive me, Francisco,” he offered as he hurriedly got dressed in the cool morning air of his room, “I just overslept. Sorry you had to come get me.”
“No worries, Senor Orville,” he replied, “I will meet you outside and we can walk to the town square where my cousin, Fernando, will take us to meet your shuttle.”
Orville just nodded and busied himself with gathering his things together to try and hide his embarrassment at having imposed like this on his host. He walked quickly outside where Francisco was standing with his normal satchel slung over his shoulder as his wife and children came to say their goodbyes. Orville felt a lump in his throat as he hugged them and set off with Francisco, still touched by how welcoming they had all been to him. He joined Francisco on the path and they headed off going past the outbuilding and down the several dusty pathways that led back to the El Zapote town square where they had been the evening before.
“Maria packed some of her tamales that you loved so much as well as some beans and rice for your ride back to San Ignacio since you missed breakfast this morning.”
Again Orville felt bad that he had caused so much extra work for them all, but he just nodded and thanked Francisco. They got into the rickety and barely functional car that Fernando had waiting for them and Orville and Francisco chatted as Fernando drove as quickly as the decrepit old sedan would allow.
“I am very sorry about this morning, Francisco….please tell Maria I how sorry I am and how much I appreciate her making food to go.”
“Did you not sleep well, Senor Orville?”
“Had a little trouble last night, yes….not sure why.” Orville replied between bites of the delicious tamales.
“Was your room not comfortable?”
“Oh, no, Francisco…..nothing like that. The room was fine. Back home….where I live….I sometimes get insomnia…you understand insomnia?”
“Si, Senor Orville…”
“I could not sleep so I got up and sat out on the porch for a bit.”
“You did not go into the jungle, I hope.”
“No…I remembered what you told me when I arrived last week. I just sat out and listened to all the night sounds.”
“But it did not calm you?”
Orville hesitated, using a mouthful of food to delay his reply, wondering how crazy Francisco might think him if he told him he thought he might have actually spotted La Mala Hora. Finally, based on what they had talked about after the event in the town square, Orville decided to sound him out….who better to talk to about this than Francisco? Certainly no one at home would do anything but laugh at him.
“When I first went outside, it was nice. Quiet other than the normal sounds of the jungle I have come to recognize and love.”
“But something happened?”
Orville nodded as he sighed.
“Don’t think me crazy, Francisco, but….I am beginning to think I might have actually seen La Mala Hora last night…”
Francisco went silent and looked away.
“Tell me what you saw, Senor Orville.”
Orville thought back and as carefully and in as much detail as he could recall, he recounted the experience for Francisco. He sat back and watched his friend take it all in and look as if he was mulling it all over before replying.
“I do not mean to discount your experience, Senor Orville,” Francisco finally said, “but it is unlikely you saw her.”
“Yes….you see, though your description is accurate for what others have said about her when they saw her, the area where you saw her is all wrong. La Mala Hora is an opportunist. She hides among the shadows and in the culverts of crossroads and along well-used, though isolated byways. Seeing her so close to a house and in the bright light of the moon is just not her way.”
“Then what was it?”
“It is hard to say, Senor Orville. Maye a combination of Senor Vásquez’s presentation and your fatigue and the way the light in the jungle can sometimes make you see things.”
“Sure did not seem like a trick of the light, Francisco. It…or rather she, I guess, looked right at me and it was like…well….like I could not move. Like she had me hypnotized or something.”
“Please do not take offense, Senor Orville, but I think maybe what I said to you last night….about things not explained so easily with our mortal senses…..do you remember?”
“That on top of Senor Vásquez’s talk may have caused you to try and create something out there that was not real. Sometimes the mind can do odd things to us, no?”
Orville nodded and appreciated his feedback. He was still not so sure it had not been the actual La Mala Hora, but now in the light of day, Francisco’s explanation made a lot more sense to him. They rode in mutual silence the last few minutes until Francisco waved to the shuttle driver he knew well who was to take Orville back to San Ignacio. The man came over and loaded Orville’s bags into the van and went to his spot behind the wheel while Orville and Francisco said their goodbyes.
“So long, Francisco….thanks so much for everything you and your family did for me. It was quite an adventure.”
“It was our pleasure, Senor Orville. Did our talk on the way here help?”
“It did, Francisco….I am sure you are right. I think I just let my imagination run wild and saw maybe what I wanted to.”
“Perhaps, Senor Orville. But just in case I am wrong, I want you to have this.”
He dug into his satchel and brought out a necklace. It was a round, hand-carved stone piece strung with a stand of black leather:
He handed the medallion to Orville and placed the disk into his palm.
“To my Maya ancestors this is called Tijax. The figure insert is a swordfish and it symbolizes a warrior’s strength and power. As long as you wear it, it will give you strength and resolve in challenges you face in your life.”
Orville looked at the simple, yet detailed obelisk as it sat in his palm. It was beautiful in its simplicity and he was again touched that Francisco would offer it.
“I cannot, Francisco…”
“Yes, Senor Orville, you can. It is my gift to you. I sense a time in your life…maybe not soon, but someday, when the Tijax will see you through it.”
“I am hardly a warrior,” Orville replied as Francisco tied the lanyard at his neck and watched the disk hang at Orville’s chest.
“Do not underestimate yourself, Senor Orville,” he said as he stood back and smiled, “the actual ways of the warrior of my people have passed away long ago. But in our hearts and in our souls the spirit of the warrior will never die. It is in this manner that I pass it along to you.”
Orville nodded as that familiar lump in his throat came back once more. He hugged Francisco tight.
“Thank you my friend. I will never forget you or this magical place in the jungle.”
They separated and Orville got in the van and Francisco watched as it drove away.
“Nor I you, my friend….” Francisco said as the dust from the van blew away off into the jungle in the afternoon wind.