I opened my eyes. Colors flowed over and around Leòn and Maria Terèsa. Their sparkling eyes expanded and made mirrors out of their faces. I still heard the echo of the chant. It curled above them like smoke and shifted back and forth in colorful strata as a puff of breeze whispered through the veranda and took the chant away with it.
I could hear everything, our hearts beating; the blood coursing through our veins, even the sound of Maria Terèsa’s hair as it brushed against her cheek. Each and every sound from the selva became so clear and distinct.
“Señor, find yourself in your dreams.”
I opened my eyes. I was in the selva. I looked up. Sunlight sparkled through the canopies of the huge trees. I called out, “Alma, where are you?” I stood and cupped my hands and called again. From behind me I heard that terrible ratcheting growl and quick and harsh exhalation. I turned and looked into the golden glow of the jaguar’s eyes.
“Alma, is that you?” I held out my hand. The jaguar swatted at it with her massive paw, her extended claws left a visual echo that trailed just a second behind her movements. I pulled away at the last instant. The jaguar then rubbed against my leg as a housecat might. While it rubbed against me she closed her eyes and lost herself in that strange feline ritual.
With some trepidation I extended my hand and patted her on top of her head. The jaguar lolled her head back and forth enjoying the sensual energies of my caress. I knelt and closed my eyes. I thought about the words Maria Terèsa uttered, that the jaguar could not hurt me. I liked the animal’s body being against mine. Energy surged around us. I went from patting the jaguar’s head to a gentle embrace around its neck. I felt happy and very relaxed. When I opened my eyes, it was not the jaguar I embraced but, Alma.
“You have come for me.” She hugged me so very tight.
“Yes, I have come.”
We both stood. I took her hand. I looked around me. The trees and plants, the sounds of the insects and birds pulsed against us. The sweet smell of decay hung heavy in the humid air. The whisper of the breeze as it ruffled the leaves suddenly stopped, all sound stopped.
We heard that familiar, fearful growl. And we turned to face the inevitable. The jaguar was now immense, three times taller than me. Her quivering lips pulled back away from her yellowed fangs and teeth. She growled again, ever louder. Her searing, fetid breath caused me to pull back. Time slowed. I pushed Alma behind me. The great cat lunged. She swiped at my chest. I made a mantra of what Maria Terèsa told me. I repeated the words, ‘the jaguar cannot hurt me…the jaguar cannot hurt me…the jaguar cannot hurt me.’ I stood there waiting. I could see every muscle, ever sinew, ripple or stretch or become taut, the gleam in her eyes and the flash of her teeth and claws. I looked at my naked chest and watched those claws tear at my skin and flesh. I felt that first shock of pain; the stinging shock that comes with a deep wound. The jaguar struck again, this time at my neck and the side of my face. Blood spilled from the torn muscles. The pain was excruciating. Then I felt Alma’s hands reach around from behind me. She hugged my chest, the pain stopped. She ran her hand over the wound, the blood stopped flowing and the muscles healed. I felt an unbelievable release and joy. I was whole again. Alma took away my fear.
The jaguar became ever larger, larger and now translucent as it spread across the heavens. Its growl echoed and stirred the branches and leaves. I looked down on all the colorful birds that frantically flew away. Although we were beyond our corporeal selves I could sense Alma was near. We too grew in size, ever expanding upward, spreading out from ourselves into the sky.
The wind rippled the dark, endless canopy below us and the heaving clouds above. The hacienda looked like no more than an architect’s model. I saw the scar of the red clay road travel north through the plateau, dividing the rows of coffee bushes and cacao trees, and all the way to the forbidding cienaga and beyond to the sparking, snow covered mountains.
We ascended above those tumbling clouds, the chaotic combination of the rising jungle heat and the heavy, cold air from the Andes. And it was there, above those golden, sun-blushed clouds that Alma and I faced the beast.
We had transcended the physical and became part of the whole. We became the selva below and the clouds above, our essence not only rode on the breeze, but was the breeze. We were the nectar of each and every flower, the scales on the lizard’s back, the shiny reflective dots in a million eyes of a million insects, birds, and any other animal under the Amazonian sun. We were the rustling leaves and the waters that flowed from the living sky down into the ancient streambeds, over the time polished rocks into the greatest of rivers.
The energy of all life embraced us, like a loving mother embraces her children. In that surreal, sacred state, like water, I rushed into Alma’s soul, she rushed into mine. Her memories became mine, her dreams and regrets. Alma entered into the labyrinth of my being, taking on my fears and foibles and longings. There was no understanding this strange miracle, a miracle in the sense we not only took on each other’s weaknesses and sins, but also our strengths, our lost goodness, our hope to claim our futures.
The great cat became a dark storm cloud that growled with thunder and her teeth and claws flashed like lightening across the vast sky.
Alma left me and became the wind, and the force of the wind blew against the storm cloud and scattered it into swirling eddies. I became sunlight and changed those tumbling remnants of the storm cloud to shadow and mist.
The jaguar after all, could only rely on its savage power and cunning and our fear of her. When that fear of her, which was really no more than our own self-inflicted inertia, was conquered, her growl meant nothing, the flash of her claws and fangs was pitiful. And so, the jaguar disappeared.