A Journey through the Sandwiches—Pambazo (Chapter One)

The roof gave in on Wednesday.

For weeks we had watched helplessly, myself and Fran Javier, as the situation in our trailer by the riverside deteriorated. First it was the rain battering down, not just on our roof but on the heavy branches above, assaulting them until they fell down on our tin ceiling with tremendous weight and clamor. These were tall trees out here on the river, big ones, that had rooted themselves into the banks some hundreds of years ago and never bent nor broke since then. And now this storm was giving their tops a savage trim.

The following day, we did not realize that the drainage pipe that would have otherwise solved the problem had been sheared clean off the side of the building, leaving rainwater in the center of our flat roof that pooled dramatically creating a waterlogged depression in the tin that you could see bending from inside, as the metal creaked and sank lower. And I had a droll thought then that you never realize how much water can weigh until it’s caving your home in.

What was wooden in the roof had been rotting, and you could hear the occasional sharp crack as another little piece of it splintered and gave way. I didn’t know enough about architecture to really understand how close we were getting to the breaking point, but I didn’t have to be an expert to realize the place was in a bad state. So I wasn’t entirely surprised when I woke up to find the roof collapsed, falling into the living area at an incline, safely tenting Fran Javier in the side of the room where he slept and deluging me with stagnant water on the other, full by now with insect eggs and lily pads. I angrily drank the last of the whiskey as I extracted myself, and dried off.

After we’d excavated Fran Javier from his impromptu lean-to, the two of us assessed the damage.

“We’ve gotta get the water out.”

“Towels are still soaked.”

“Ugh, so is my mattress. Soaked through. Okay, use them anyway. I’ll get the buckets and the squeegee.”

Fran Javier looked up. “God, the roof is fucked.”

I looked up into the open sky, through the dark and leafless branches over us at each tree’s highest point. It was gray—not the dark cloud cover of an imminent deluge, but gray enough to tell us that there would be no sun today, and probably for a while.

I had bought the trailer cash for $1400 near the middle of last year, and paid a nominal sum in lot fees each month at a steeply discounted rate. I knew about the landlord, see. I knew he had these secrets. So he let me get away with quite a bit. Being that he lived in an entirely different country at the moment, he didn’t come around often. And why would you? This was a swampy, humid place, difficult to access, unrewarding on arrival. And the people were scarce, the only neighbors I discovered during that first month of residency met by chance. I tried to be pleasant—raised in the Midwest, I’m a fairly pleasant person—but there was such an edge to all these interactions. I met six or seven people, a few who lived alone, and got bad vibes from all of them.

Fran Javier felt much the same way, and we’d spoken about it during our first weeks together here, trying to gauge the social temperature. “I was with these two dudes, y’know?” He’d pointed south, downriver. “They were sitting on the dock with a cooler, fishing, drinking beers. Younger guys, fourteen, fifteen. And they didn’t offer me a beer.”

“Were they cold to you?”

“They were cold to me! I don’t know why. Maybe people just aren’t nice, here. I’m from Guatemala, man. Everybody gets a beer there.”

“Well, have one of mine.” I reached behind my stool for the last two bottles of Stella Artois, dirt-caked at the bottom from being cooled all night inside the river mud.

I thought back on my own interactions, in light of the revelation that Fran Javier was getting the same cold shoulder. “Fuck ’em, anyway,” I said. “What are they, scared of us? That’s the sense I get. They didn’t call me a faggot or anything like that. No one’s been brandishing guns.”

“No, no. But they do have guns.”

“Yeah, that adds an edge to it.” I flipped a silver dollar from knuckle to knuckle, every turn devaluing it a little more. It was minted in 1889, which meant something for some reason. A mint one would get you tens of thousands, but it’d been too far gone when I received it for me to care for it. But even in the state it was in now, I wouldn’t use it as a dollar. It’s worth like thirty bucks. “We should have come more prepared, man. Maybe we should’ve come strapped.”

Fran cocked his head, his lips pursed in an expression of mild amusement as he leaned forward, reached into the back of his Levi’s, and withdrew a silver Smith and Wesson Stealth Hunter, a revolver, model 629. The first thing about it that I noticed was that the embossing was garish, and cheap-looking. The second thing I noticed—”Hey, that’s a .44 magnum, isn’t it.”

He nodded.

“You know, usually…” I started—but I let myself trail off. It didn’t need to be said. I was happy that we had the gun, no matter how much it worried me that having it could lead to us inevitably using it. And I didn’t want to get involved any possible scenario in which we’d need to.

Now I sighed, of fatigue and resignation. It was Wednesday, dusk. Night was coming soon, and I sat on the part of the wooden dock that served as our trailer’s porch and faced inland, at the eerie living tangle of the woods. There were people around here. People who could help, and we’d help them. But for some reason, we’d all developed this distrust. Despite myself, I was scared of them, especially at night, when the mind goes wild. Perhaps they see us as invaders, and they’re uncomfortable with our lifestyle. Maybe they don’t like us being here very much at all.

I went to sleep that night in a trailer on which repair work had only barely started. We’d gotten out the water, and now everything was damp. The roof still touched down into the ground on one side, turning what was once a rectangular trailer into a much smaller, scalene triangle sort of lean-to. Fran Javier and I wedged ourselves in there together with all our clothes on, no sleeping bags or bedding dry enough to use. I managed to mash a torn-up novel ruined by water into the shape of an angular pillow, which we split up and shared. And then we slept, eyes never on each other, but toward the darkness of those woods, and whatever may be in there, waiting for a moment of weakness on our part to pounce.

I’d resigned myself to an entire season of this, with months to go, and in my mind I tried to steel myself for the coming hardships. I didn’t know this at the time, but this ordeal would actually be over in a matter of days. It wouldn’t come from human aggression, not on the part of our neighbors. And we wouldn’t be flooded out into the river, the trailer destroyed and in pieces. Would that it would be so simple, to fall to nature, or our fellow man.

No, the end of our time here in this settlement would be brought down upon us by something unimaginably worse, something which, at the time, I had no reason to expect even existed—the python with arms.

TO BE CONTINUED FRIDAY… AT ONE O’CLOCK

Photo Credit: Chef Roger