Calm Before the Storm (Promise)


She kept her promise.

“A what?”
“A water opossum. Some people call them yapok.”
Yapok, I parroted, taking a closer look at the picture of the small creature, with its furry back hunched over and its black beady eyes trained on something apparently more intriguing behind the photographer. Its long thin tail was furless and pink, and had some sort of wound on it. As so did its small face, on the upper-left side by its ear.

From the high branches overhead, we can hear warblers all in gleeful chorus, chirping away beneath the downpour of the sun which spills its rays and warmth between trees dotted around the woodland edge. We are placed on a simple vector-patterned picnic blanket, pistachio green and beige in colour. The remains of a humble lunch rest in a lunchbox in one corner. Her and I sit with our legs stretched, flicking through a small photo album she’d packed in her shoulder-bag.

“A local from the village found him when he went out fishing with his two boys,” she says. “It was actually the younger of his sons who spotted the opossum from a distance. The father saw immediately that poor little Santino needed medical attention, and so they rushed him to our vet.”
After saying this, she raises her head from the picture and blankly looks at a patch of empty space in front her for a few moments, as if trying to read the next details to her story in the air.

“He’s real lucky. There’s no way he would have survived more than, what, three-four days out there in the wild without at least having his wounds tended to.”
“What happened to him?” I say, looking to her, “He got into a brawl with another water opossum for trying to pinch his snack? Or over some territorial issue?”
With her gaze still hanging in the idle space before her, her lips curl into the shape of a smile, and she lets out a small nasal laugh. It then dawns on me, so suddenly, so astringently, how long it has been since I last saw her or that smile.

“Possibly,” she says, now reinspecting the picture of Santino with a softer expression, “Or he could have hurt himself while hunting for food.”
“Right,” I say.
“There’s been a lot of deforestation and construction work going on in that particular area where Santino was found. They’re planning on building a kind of stadium there or something. Developments like that can prove to be quite detrimental to the health and safety of the water opossums and other wildlife who share the habitat.”
“I can imagine… How inconsiderate! Wait, so the council gave a green light to this operation?”

Both the mien her face carries and the tone of her voice seem to become slightly more tensed as she explains: “There have been multiple requests and protests against the planned construction. The locals, as well as our organisation, have appealed for them to stop, plenty times, for the well-being of the wildlife.” She relaxes her demeanour at this point. “But we’ve never heard back from them. They’re already underway with the project, and it doesn’t seem like any amount of appealing or remonstration will compel them to stop.”

She kept her promise. It’s not that I thought that she made the promise and had no intention of keeping it; I just figured she would forget sooner or later, or that she wouldn’t prioritise fulfilling the demanding duty of flying halfway across the globe to come and see me once she’d really had time to mull over it or realised how busy she’d be. But she came. She is here now with me, filling her lungs with the very same air that is around me. Gawking at the same scenery I observe. She flips through more photos of different animals that are at her clinic back in Guadalajara.

We talk for a little while longer before my mind begins to meander off into a different space. Somewhere distant. I catch glimpses of names, or one or two lines from a story –Lucia the manatee likes to eat ‘this’, or Axel the mischievous tamandua was brought in to our clinic by so ‘n’ so – but slowly, irrespectively, my mind drifts in retrospection. It lands in a very particular moment in time, just over 14 or so months earlier when I last saw her; we were on a hilltop together. Laid beside each other, we were peering aimlessly into a deep, blue sky.

I recall her asking me if I’d ever been in love. I remember I told her that I didn’t know what love was. And that all I’d known up until then was a series of short-lived infatuations and meaningless compromises. I also remember not asking her if she had ever been in love.

I ponder on whether or not this would be a good time to ask; to inquire if she has ever been in love or not.