On Tuesday, we went to the closest Mayan ruins. They weren’t particularly big or impressive ruins: I’m told that across the border in Guatemala, Tikal is simply astounding, worth spending a couple of days exploring. These ruins–Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun–were pretty low-key, really. Lots of rocks tumbled about, with reconstructed piles showing how it might have once been. But both ruins had local Mayan women selling crafts. In Nim Li Punit, they had tables, but at Lubaantun, the women had spread blankets on the ground on the path up to the ruins, almost like a Californian tag sale, the kind people have in San Francisco. (Garages are rare there, but tag sales are not.)
On the way up, I spotted a wooden crocodile. It wasn’t anything impressive. Belize had lots of wood carvings for sale that looked almost machine-made in their precision. This was more like a piece of curved wood in which a not-very-experienced artist had seen a crocodile. The lines depicting the croc were rough and jagged, a little wobbly. But he had personality.
I ignored him. What do I need with a wooden crocodile? But on the way back, I couldn’t resist. I stopped. I picked him up. He was smooth and solid in my hand. He felt real, in a weird way. Warm from the sun and heavy. And he had such personality. Little black beads marked his eyes and his crooked teeth were smiling. I liked him. I paid $15 for him, thinking maybe I’d give him to my nephew as a souvenir.
In the car, on the way home, I decided he needed a name. Suzanne suggested Shane and I rejected it immediately. I could tell he wasn’t a Shane. I thought maybe Ramsey, after the captain of our boat. That night, falling asleep, I felt something solid and startled awake. It was Ramsey. I’d left him on the bed. I went to sleep with my hand over him, smiling at the memory of another magical day.
Alas, in the morning, he was gone. I looked everywhere. I shook out the sheets, lifted up the pillow, looked under the bed, searched along the window ledge. No Ramsey. I tried all the same places again. No Ramsey. I looked through my pile of clothes, not so neatly stacked on the floor. No Ramsey.
I got determined. After all, I went to sleep with the crocodile in my hand. Ergo, he had to be in the bedroom. I dumped out my bag on the bed. Re-folded and sorted through all my clothes. No Ramsey. Re-packed everything. No Ramsey. Made the bed, shifted all the objects around it to look under and behind them. (We were staying with Dale, a friend of Suzanne’s husband, Greg, so it was a house, not a hotel–there were crates stored under the bed and extra blankets.) Still no Ramsey.
R had a bed on the floor in the same room. I saw no way that Ramsey could have wound up on R’s side of the room — I don’t generally throw wooden objects in my sleep and Ramsey was heavy enough that I’m pretty sure I would have woken up at least a couple people if I had — but he must have gone somewhere. So I started sorting through R’s clothes, picking each item up and dumping it on top of his backpack.
The weather had gotten cooler. We hadn’t run the fan the previous night. But R hadn’t used the blanket Dale had set out for him, so I picked it up. No Ramsey. But what was that?
I think I was almost calm as I said, “There’s a scorpion here.” Then I added, less calmly, “I’m going to jump on the bed and say ‘eek!’ until someone comes and deals with it.” I jumped on the bed. I said, “Eeeeeeek!!!!!”
I’ve actually seen scorpions before. My parents had them once or twice. This scorpion was not like those. As soon as S sends me the pictures I’ll post one, but I’m not sure the picture will do it justice if there’s nothing in it to show the scale. This scorpion was BIG. Big and black and terrifying looking. It wasn’t a bug-sized scorpion. It was the size of my hand. It was to my parent’s scorpions what a jaguar is to a house cat. Standing on the bed and squealing was absolutely the only sensible reaction.
Dale and Suzanne came running. Suzanne to take pictures, Dale to kill the scorpion with a broom. Mild chaos ensued. My contribution was to stand on the bed but Dale and Greg collaborated to kill it and then sweep it out of the house.
Lots of adrenaline, lots of laughter, lots of relief. Wow, it could have been bad. If R had put that blanket on during the night, he would have been stung for sure. It would have been miserable midnight madness.
In the midst of the laughter, R reaches down to pick up his plastic bag of toiletries, now lying in the middle of the floor. And then he paused. In an absolutely calm, absolutely deadpan voice, he said, “There are babies.”
Major chaos ensues.
At the end of it, I realize that I am sitting on something hard. I’ve collapsed on the bed, and my pillow is digging into me. Somehow Ramsey the crocodile–who has been invisible, even though I’ve moved my pillow approximately eight times–was in my pillow case all along.
If I hadn’t been searching for him, I wouldn’t have moved R’s blanket. R might have found a mama scorpion, with babies, the hard way that night when he pulled the blanket over him. I am very, very, very grateful to my new lucky talisman. He is definitely not going to my nephew. He’s going to be sitting on my desk, watching me write, from now until forever.
That night, we return to the house after a day that included a pleasant wander around Placencia, a ride on a purple school bus, a delicious lasagna dinner and early evening bird-watching, some fun stories from a couple of former hippies including one with the punchline “But you have to wear a mask!” that would be way too complicated to explain in the midst of this novella but that made R and me laugh and laugh and laugh again on the plane on the way home when we were remembering the trip. A truly nice day, as in fact, all of them were in Belize. And I’m in the bathroom when R gasps and my heart leaps into my throat until I hear him say, great relief in his voice, “Thank God, it’s a cockroach.”
I bet that’s a sentence you’ve never heard before.