“They are cooking a turkey for us.”
This came from Secret Agent Jeanne when we returned to the Tikal Inn. All the women were in the kitchen. The Mayan women and the American women and they were huddled over this tremendous pale bird and speaking broken English and broken Spanish. But not Jeanne, she was at the empty bar, nursing a cold Belikin beer. She looked rather perturbed, perhaps she had missed her connection that day, the one that she was to pass the secret codes on to. But it became apparent very quickly what was really gnawing at her, “Do you think its really a turkey? I mean do they have domestic turkeys here? Or is it a coatimundi they just found out back and put an arrow through?”
“Its a bird Jeanne, I’m sure of that.” Nigel was craning his neck to get a look at the patient, splayed out on the table being stuffed with mangoes and chili peppers.
“So, its not a buzzard is it?” Jeanne took another long sip of her beer and there was a twinkle in her eye, she was just playing Nigel.
“No, its a turkey. The indians raise turkeys, not many, but they do raise them. But they don’t roast them whole in the tradition of American Thanksgiving.” Nigel waved me over, ordered three beers, one for him, one for me, and one for Miss Ghandi, who announced very pointedly that she was a vegetarian and would not be eating any turkey, Thanksgiving or no Thanksgiving. London appeared in the doorway, he started to giggle. “London! Where have you been?”
“Went to Flores with a friend. Tried to find a new engine belt. No luck man, no luck.” London plopped his black scarecrow frame next to me at the bar. He made the sign of one to the Mayan boy behind the counter and the boy quickly produced another cold Belikin beer. There we sat with our backs to the bar and faces toward the kitchen watching the women truss the gigantic turkey. The Mayan women looked bewildered and the American women determined to make certain that bird was cooked properly. Jeanne, Nigel, London, Miss Ghandi, and I were like the men out in the living room watching football. We had no business in that kitchen, our only business was to belly up to the table when we were told to do so.
Hours went by and the Guatemalan sun god retreated beneath the crest of the jungle and sent up a pure white crescent moon to dangle in the sky just above the pool. Candles were lit, music began to play, and our party joined the opposing environmental party for a real down home Thanksgiving. Suddenly everyone was lonely for family and we began to tell the stories of our family Thanksgivings -- if we couldn’t be home at that moment, we could conjure the spirits of home, just like Mayan shamans conjuring the jaguar goddesses and bringing the rains to the indians’ crops. It was a holiday for sure and weirdly the Americans explained the story of the pilgrims to the Mayans who joined us that night, never mind the fact that the Pilgrims betrayed the indians who feasted with them on the first Thanksgiving, never mind, what mattered was we were there and a turkey had been slaughtered and roasted.
Mizz Rockbottom even partook of a glass of wine that evening, which made her ever so tolerable. She approached me and raised her glass, and I in turn raised my bottle of beer to clink delicately, “Happy Thanksgiving Wolfy!” yes, yes, “Happy Thanksgiving Rockbottom,” you old battle ax, maybe you aren’t so bad after all, perhaps your near-death experience in the jungle has transformed your dark heart? But it would only prove to be temporary. I would return to Sherpa status at dawn.
The generator kicked off at 10 p.m., leaving us all in the glow of candlelight, full of turkey and mashed plantains, and thoughts of our loved ones far from this old stone hotel in the heart of darkness. As the guests faded away to their rooms and the candles burned down, I listened to my Mayan humming to herself while cleaning the night kitchen. I felt happy, but only briefly, because I remembered what London said, that he hadn’t found a new engine belt for the bus. We would be leaving the next day, and it was a long rough ride back to Belize. I just hoped the belt we had, or what was left of it, would hold.