I bite into the juicy pulp of the mango I hold in my hand, starring out at the empty and deserted town center before me. They had come earlier for the fence pieces, loading up two large trucks full of the remnants of a planned baile now discarded. When they came, I watched them from my front porch, waving at the men from a distance, thinking to myself, and so it begins. That was still an hour before the standfast email and message, ordering us into a lockdown that ruins more plans than bailes.
We knew the standfast was coming, like the coast knows a hurricane is approaching from the way the wind and the tides shift. We did not know yet what was coming, how severe this hurricane would be, or for how long, but everyone was already battening down the hatches.
Baile: A community dance with traditional music and traditional dancing.
Juice streams down my hand and forearm, the mango appearing as an orange heart in my hand. The news reports had scared me – not from the newscasters talking 24/7 about the virus and resulting panic, but from the ones who were already living it. The ones who, a week ago, were living their lives as normal, treating this threat as a measly flu bug. Reading, while I sat in the hotel the night before, enjoying the last night of good cell service and of freedom for what I realized is a matter of many weeks, and not days, that life will be completely different.
Now, back in my community, I walk from my back porch around my house to the front gate, and lean on the fence. I look into the quiet field before me, at the empty soccer cancha, the deserted front steps of the church where people normally gathered for cell signal. I had already hashed out the personal consequences of this global disruption in my mind – no goodbyes to the volunteers ending their service and heading back the U.S., no visit from the group of new trainees, and the ever-looming threat of evacuation and what that meant for the rest of my long dreamed of service.
I throw the mango seed in the grass to my left. My hands are stained orange, juice has dripped onto my shirt. In this moment, none of that matters. The storm has arrived, and I’ve been predicting it for years, although that gives me little comfort. I look out at the world. The afternoon is fading in an eerie orange glow and all is still. It is beginning, and I don’t think we are the least bit prepared. Now is all about getting through the next few weeks, which will stretch into an empty eternity full of quiet, lonely still evenings.
I drop my sticky hands from the top of the gate and walk back to my house. My refuge and my prison, and begin the wait out of the storm.