T hanks but no thanks we tell the Mexican police as though their jail cell offer is nothing more than a local kid showing off hand-made bracelets. Freddy and I are very polite as we hold hands and inch away even though it’s near impossible to flee the scene of the crime when the landscape repeats itself. The beach we’re on is lined with boat after fisherman boat; all anchored less than three feet off shore. Walking with us, the police are persistent, almost like they grew up selling unwanted goods.
The two guns had a glamorous sheen as they were passed between our three captors. Three boys who obviously had no idea what they were doing. Not like it mattered. Wave a gun and people shut up.
“No sex on the beach. Jail tonight,” they repeat their offer.
“Oh but we were not on the beach,” Freddy says nonchalantly, running his free hand through his hair. “We were on a boat.”
Despite only four hours of knowing each other, our boat was rocking. Freddy biting my bottom lip while my nails dig into the part of his shoulder that has a tattoo. It’s a perfect night in the Caribbean to watch the stars. The breeze intermingling with our conversation tickling our bare skin, exaggerating the parts of us not touching. Of course Freddy and I got distracted.
Then interrupted, the screams from shore forcing us to prematurely come up for air. Those policemen should have been looking up. Telling each other the stories behind the constellations. How in some tribes Gemini is thought to be a turtle, not twins. But those policemen must have lost their romanticism back in the academy, because just now they’re waving their arms.
It’s all I can do not to yell this is the wrong make-out session to interrupt. Where the hell were they three weeks ago when the boy biting my lip had a gun. His curious fingers fumbling with the expertise of an 11 year-old, it’s obvious he’s unsure of bra hooks and jeans with a button down front.
The woods that night were serene in comparison to the brutality of our situation. The moon, a waxing gibbous, was spreading a pleasant glow on my fellow hostages and me. The two guns had a glamorous sheen as they were passed between our three captors. Three boys who obviously had no idea what they were doing. Not like it mattered. Wave a gun and people shut up. They stop asking questions.
The boy bandits push us out of our bus and drag us behind the brush lining the highway. All eight of us squat, forced to hide from passersby, regrouping, before walking further into the overgrown Guatemalan jungle. I hadn’t been hiking in a long time. I remember thinking I should do it more often- only not with such pushy people. The boys yelling for us to keep going, to go further and the now bus-less bus driver asking where exactly. There’s no path in no man’s land.
My co-worker, the only other gringa in this hostage clan, not understanding a word. I’d like to translate for her. But there’s no real point. A hand presses too hard on her back and she trips. Leaving a flip-flop discarded in a thick puddle of mud, she keeps walking. Clearly, she gets the gist. A few more stumbles and we’re there. On a hill, less than 40 meters from the highway and all that potential help. There are five Guatemalan men, a small Mayan woman, and two gringa girls – my coworker and me. No Jack Bauer. No hero. At this point, I never would have dreamed that one of them would steal from me too.
I’m just stoked we’re not at some hidden cabin. These boys passing their guns back and forth like hot potatoes, they aren’t really serial killer types. Just poor and in need of money and so I silently give them permission to have my four year old digital camera and my Lonely Planet and whatever else is in my purse just now. Like I deserve a lollipop for all my generosity. A hug. A pat on the back. Maybe just a ‘thank you’ would be nice. But the boys are thinking it’s not enough. The leader paws at my ears and neck, checking me for jewelry. He asks me just how much money was in my purse.
Feigning extremely bad Spanish isn’t so hard. I tell them just enough for the bus ride home. I’m not admitting to the 300 Quetzals in my front pants pocket. That wasn’t the question. If they find it, I’m wondering what my punishment will be. I’m hoping for just a black eye as the man next to me sniffles. His nose was bashed in when he refused to hand over his backpack. There’s a waterfall of hardened blood down his face. No doubt it hurt something bad but he needs to get in control of his whimpering.
I know I’m just a hostage in this situation but I’ve got a few notes for them on how they could’ve done better. For starters everyone should have his own gun. If you are going to hold people up, don’t admit to being afraid.
So does boy bandit #3. His whole body is shaking. He’s stopped feeling me up. His head is in his hands and under his breath I hear him moan ‘tengo miedo, tengo miedo’ I’m scared. My fists are clenching and I’m just now getting pissed. If you have the gun you aren’t allowed to freak out.
There are flashlights in the woods where we exited the highway. Police maybe. I can hear their distant walkie-talkie fuzz. Boy bandit #3 has stopped breathing. He’s probably thinking how upset his mother will be if he’s taken to jail. I’m wondering if they were stupid enough to leave the empty 15-passenger van, our bus, on the side of the road. Maybe Mr. Bashed-in-nose left some of his blood on the plants, red drops screaming like an arrow to our whereabouts. The CSI team would figure it out, although, I don’t have so much confidence in the Guatemalan police.
The boy bandit in charge yells for us to shut up and lay down. My arm gets entangled in the thorn bush behind me and I curse out loud. Boy bandit #3. He’s not so bad. He wads up my empty purse and places it behind my head. The word ‘gracias’ escapes my lips. There’s no reason not to be civil.
A few hours pass. Or maybe just minutes. Don’t ask me, my watch was just stolen. I’m thinking about how if I’m killed someone is going to find the bathroom in my apartment a true mess; the toilet bowl black, the shower drain clogged with hair. I watch the moon and breathe deeply hoping I don’t accidentally pee my pants. I consider telling one of my captors that I need to go to the bathroom. Call me girly but I don’t want to poop in front of this group. And I don’t think anything good would come of me going off in the woods with a scared boy wielding a gun. Lost in my thoughts, time must be passing because the three boy bandits make a few phone calls and eventually just walk off. The leader pauses long enough to tell us to wait two hours before exiting the woods.
They don’t even tie us up. I know I’m just a hostage in this situation but I’ve got a few notes for them on how they could’ve done better. For starters everyone should have his own gun. If you are going to hold people up, don’t admit to being afraid. It’s bad form and unfair to the hostages who should have a monopoly on fear. Steal money and possessions only and if you evacuate the bus, don’t leave it bloody and empty on the side of the road. Oh, and bring rope.
These are just the observations I made while listening to their retreating footsteps. Two car doors on the highway open and slam. A car peels away and not three heartbeats later we’re all standing and brushing off the dirt and leaves. There’s no way in hell we’re walking straight back to the road. We hike further into the jungle but parallel to the highway.
While the Guatemalan police are chatting to the other hostages, my coworker and I check our purses. Mine is empty but she still has her passport and a bag of mints we bought in the city. The best mints you’ve ever had. Chocolate on the inside, hard mint-flavored candy on the outside. She hands one to me and to the Mayan woman standing close by. The Mayan woman snatches the bag and passes mints out to the rest of the hostages. She busies herself dusting the dirt and leaves off everyone like we’re her children. She tucks the rest of the mints in her own purse.
This woman is 4’9” and doesn’t have a gun. She just took our last remaining possession.
We’d like to ask her for another mint but we’re laughing too hard. She’s right. There’s no reason to rob the rich. No point in trying to take nice things. We stare down our group of hostages. No one here has money. No one I see is worth stealing from. Boy, would Robin Hood be disappointed. I have one more note for our captors. Rob the rich not the poor. Still, the Mayan woman’s actions tell us otherwise. Anything will do. Hard candy even. Take something that belongs to someone else and already you’ve got more than you had before.
Back in Mexico, the police are simply looking for something more. They are content to stand and discuss jail with us as though our crime is negotiable. I make the mistake of taking the Mexican police literally. But faced with adversity, Freddy’s a charmer. He’s trying to explain things away with a few lies. The police don’t understand. We’re boyfriend and girlfriend on a vacation even though we don’t have so much money. We’re staying in a hostel in a room with 30 other strangers. There’s no place to, ehem, reconnect he says as he places his arm around my hips. Not taken over by his smooth talking, the policemen ask a question:
“If this is your girlfriend, where is she from?”
“Yeah, where am I from?” placing my hands akimbo on my hips, I’m drunk and not really helping our cause.
There are a few moments hesitation, but Freddy gets it, my American accent probably harsh sounding to his French ears. The policemen look us up and down. My arm now also wrapped around Freddy, both of us smiling sweetly, water dripping from our clothes. They play the bullshit card, shaking their heads pointing behind them into the dark night. They repeat themselves. No sex on the beach. Jail tonight. Their proposal is quickly getting old. Freddy recognizes it for the salesman pitch that it is. He digs in his backpack for his wallet. He shows them the empty pocket where bills go and proceeds to dump all the change into my hands. Counting out loud he stops at 25. Digging into my pocket I pull out a 2-peso coin and drop it in with the bunch.
Holding out my hands towards the policemen with our offering of 27 pesos (just under 2 US dollars) we repeat our no thanks. This time the policemen listen to our plea.
“That’s it?” they say. These two imposing men become deflated. They’re disheartened. They shake their heads and walk away. It feels like it’s our fault they wasted their time.