I followed the train tracks through the moldy heart of the city. I felt good about everything except the smell. I walked past some pool halls, mostly deserted but open for business. There were a couple of shady characters inside, playing pool and drinking beer -- either the first of the day, or the last of the night. After the pool hall, I stopped to contemplate the prison. We’ve got ourselves a beachfront prison here in La Ceiba. Beautiful view. I took a right, walked past the old customs house, and continued on to the hospital.
I found Karine sitting on a bench facing the ocean near the emergency entrance. I was surprised to find her there, because she hates the emergency entrance. Karine is terrified she’ll glance in the direction of the entrance at the precise instant some horribly mangled body is brought into the hospital. She’s certain that some unlucky day she’ll look towards the beech and be surprised to see orderlies dragging some sorry dude from a pickup truck, his nearly severed head dangling from his body by a tread of bloody tendons and gristle. Karine would glance at the guy, probably machete "accident" victim, for only an instant. Just enough time to see his head pop clean off.
Things were quiet at the emergency entrance that morning. Thank God. I sat down on the bench next to my wife. She said that the doctor wouldn’t be in until nine, so we had some time to kill. We decided to walk the beach. Walking is a good way to move labor along. Karine wasn’t in labor in the technical sense, but we knew she was very close. I rose from the bench, helped Karine to her feet, and we set off in the direction of the massive concrete cross which stood between the hospital and the Caribbean Sea. I walked, she waddled.
We did a couple of laps between the faded cross and the ruined banana docks. It was a fine morning. A gentle sea breeze, with an actual salt tang, masked the smell of rotting garbage that usually fogs over this part of town. We walked towards the docks with the climbing sun to our faces.
There was an old man raking trash into piles along the beach. He was fighting a losing battle, but I found great dignity in his work. Not that it mattered to him. He wasn’t fighting this particular battle to be a metaphor for anything, just an old man doing his job. Only a gringo would turn an old man raking garage into a poem about dignity.
Karine and I watched the old man as we slowly made our way between the cross and the docks. We were talking, or course, about how EVERYTHING was about to change. We held hands and talked in low voices about the past and the future. I noted the ruin around us and the solitary old man raking garbage on the beach and remarked to Karine for the ten-thousandth time what a beautiful city this could be, if only….
It was time to return to the hospital. We left the old man and his metaphorical raking, hung a right at the concrete cross, and ambled off the beach to go see Dr. Fleisch. We made our way past the emergency entrance without seeing any severed heads, amputated limbs, or gangrenous puss-secreting lesions. Karine was relieved. We climbed the steps to the second floor and sat in the nuclear orange chairs outside the doctor’s office, waiting for our number to be called. We were number one.