There are two houses on this stretch of coast – the one I currently call home, and, across the quebrada, or stream, the caretaker’s house, where Carmen lives with her husband, William. The quebrada that divides us is dark, home to bull frogs (and apparently the occasional tiny crocodile), and flanked by the big broad leaves of plantain and heliconia. Following it up with your eye, it’s soon lost in thick forest, where the shade is black. That deep forest provides stadium seating for anything that wants to watch the human activity down below without revealing itself.
There are many times when I am walking along the trails or heading down to the beach at dusk, when I know I’m being watched. There’s a certain feeling you get, a zinging tension in the air, when you’re being observed by a predator. I can’t rationalise it; but it’s true. Each time I’ve stopped, turned around, and scanned the forest, waiting for some leaf to move, or twig to crack, but he doesn’t move, although he’s in there, tensed up, statue-still but interested. It’s a kind of jungle stand-off (‘Among twenty snowy mountains / The only moving thing / Was the eye of the blackbird’). I always give up first, “I can’t hang around here all day waiting for pumas”, I say aloud, “I’ve got things to do”.
Anyway, while the puma has most likely been eyeing me, the person he likes watching the most, is Carmen. Carmen is best described as ‘jolly’ or ‘buxom’, or perhaps ‘larger’. Or in puma terms, ‘delicious’. It’s not exactly a sweepstake, but there’s jocular consensus among the workers, that if anyone gets to have a go at outrunning a puma, it’s going to be . . . well. . . The puma has been behind her house, in front of her house, and she had a rather close encounter yesterday. Apparently, she was on her way back from picking oranges above the beach at 4pm, and just pausing by the quebrada to look for freshwater shrimps, when a large tan face with bright, round eyes caught her attention. The puma was studying her with intense interest from a clump of heliconia 12 ft away.
“Oy, Sorrah! Oy-eeee!” says Carmen, laughing and doing finger flicks at the memory. She threw up her arms and all the oranges flew into the air, she says, and then screeching “WILL-EEEEEEE-AM! WILL-EEEEEEE-AM!” she ran as fast as someone not given to much running can, and flung herself, breathless and shaking, through the kitchen door, which she re-enacts.
I had a good laugh at that. Although I’m not dawdling by the quebrada anymore.