I woke up on the swinging bench. Maria Terèsa was still sitting next to me and Leòn was near at hand.
“Señor, you have returned.”
“Yes…” I was exhausted.
“She was there, sì?” asked Maria Terèsa.
“Yes. The jaguar is gone.”
They both nodded and smiled. “Go to la señora, go to her,” said Maria Terèsa.
My exhaustion was replaced with giddiness. I ran into the hacienda and up the stairs to the bedroom. Alma must have heard me, was just sitting up in bed. She saw me and held the mosquito netting out of the way and welcomed me into her arms.
I knelt on the bed and held Alma. Every place our bodies touched echoed with the energy that surrounded us in that nether state. I don’t know how long we stayed in our embrace, but time and space dissolved. We slowly returned to our essential selves. We leaned back from each other; neither of us could stop smiling. Even through her smile, tears came to Alma’s eyes. She hugged me again and whispered in my ear, “Take me home, Emilio, I want to go back to America…I want to go home.”
“Yes, yes.” The thought was exhilarating. I imagined us on an airliner headed to the U.S. I kissed away Alma’s tears. “Of course.”
“Thank you, Emilio.”
We needed the Jeep. Our plan was simple. Take the Jeep to the northern part of the plateau, wade across the cienaga on the rock shelf, cross over the land bridge to the village of Loma Libre and from there get on an autobus to Loja. The project was now an afterthought. I didn’t care if I lost my job over it. Everything in the past, everything that led me to this moment became a receding dream.
Being with Alma was so different than any of the other women I had known. I could see now that those other so-called relationships and affairs were mere dalliances. There were nine women who I lost fifteen years of my life to. Years I watched my contemporaries marry, start families, find their purposes. In each of my relationships I hoped for the best, but in my heart there was always doubt, not only with the women but in myself. Maybe I chose the impossible to guarantee an impossible outcome. No more. Alma was worth fighting for, I was worth fighting for.
We didn’t know when Hector would return from the plateau. Alma told me during the drying process he might stay away for four or five days at a time or he might return later that afternoon. We couldn’t arouse his suspicion. I did some cursory work on the project. I made an over inflated estimate on what the solar collection system would cost. Alma gathered those few things that she wanted to take; mostly some of her cousin Julia’s personal items, a photo album, and her poetry books.
With her packing done, Alma came into the bedroom and sat on the bed. No words were necessary. I knew that impish smile. Alma slipped her sundress over her head and let it fall to the floor. I undressed and joined her. We were gentle with each other, gentle and soft and deliberate. Our bodies were sated by the storm of our earlier passion. Now each caress and kiss was cherished, given and received like a gift. We were happy. I hadn’t been truly happy since I was a boy.
As for Alma, I saw a change. The angry flash in her eyes was tamed. She even became somewhat modest; after our love making she covered herself. I didn’t mind, that made me love her even more. I think she re-discovered herself after five years of disappointment. I discovered myself again too, after a lifetime of ridiculous expectations that guaranteed failure.
I loved the way I felt right this minute, the present was the only important thing. I had no expectations, no fantasies that I would rely on someone else to fulfill. What happened before was meaningless, no more than a dead leaf floating away on the stream of time. And what would happen in the future, would happen. I wasn’t afraid to lose Alma. We had merged in that strange world of dreams, drank from each other’s cups, we were part of each other and if I loved her, I had to love myself.