Chapter 2

This entry is part 03 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Two — Reminiscing

Brother Bill once told me, “Joe, life is a game like poker. You are a terrific poker player, and having sat in many a game with you, I know you are hard to beat. When you play poker, you sit and bluff, you lie, and you do everything in your power to win that hand. Life is like that too, and when you learn to play the game of life like you play poker, then you will find happiness. You are too honest, Joe, and you take things too seriously, letting people hurt you. They are only playing the game and you are not.”

Bill had been right. Life was a game all right, quite a game and I had tried to play it, but somehow I had failed. Although tonight I had won over Ty, so maybe I was learning. But what a game! I shuddered. I poured myself a glass of Flor de CaƱa and drank it slowly. Damn good rum, I thought to myself, kills the bugs in your belly. I went to the open door and gazed up at the heavens. I was reminded of Maria. Maria had stars in her eyes — little dancing lights that kept flicking on and off. Maria… I had almost forgotten her.

Then I thought of Connie, Rosa and Juanita, and that made a great feeling of loneliness come over me again.

My old beat-up suitcase was on the floor at the foot of my bunk. I opened it and saw the several albums of pictures, a Polaroid camera, a little tape recorder and many rolls of tape. I took up an album, opened it and grinned at the picture of Juanita and me taken at Fermin’s. I studied it for a long time. Beautiful blond Juanita. Yes, a woman good enough for any man, but I hadn’t played the game right and I had lost her.

I put the album back in the suitcase and took out another. In this one was a picture of Connie and me standing by the wing of the big transport plane at Siuna. Jock had taken the picture. Thinking of Connie I went outside.

The moon was getting higher overhead and already the oxen in camp lay bedded down for the night. I could see the welts on their necks and shoulders where the natives had prodded them with sharp sticks to guide them. I noticed that the ox carts with their large, wooden wheels didn’t even have a steel band for a tire.

A big log that the natives had dragged in with the oxen lay nearby. It had been set on fire, then covered with earth to make charcoal for our huge mud oven which was really a work of art. It looked like an igloo from Alaska and was about the size of one. The natives had started with mud and straw and fashioned it until it grew into a big mud ball. A little guy had hollowed it out working with a knife, then a fire had been built inside to bake the mud. To cook with the thing, a charcoal fire is built in it. When the oven is hot, the charcoal is removed and replaced by whatever is to be baked. Once the heavy walls of the oven are hot they will hold enough heat to cook most anything. Primitive, I assure you, but the darn thing produced very good bread.

Down the trail I could see the three little cabins that were empty. Below on the big mud lake sat the gold dredge. I could see no light, so I concluded that the natives must be asleep. Here was the mud lake with a gold plated bottom — more damn gold than I had ever dreamed of. The lust for gold and the love of a woman. That is what had brought me here. I thought to myself, “Gold and women are the root of all evil.” Someone had said that, but I didn’t remember who or when. One thing I knew for sure, gold does not by happiness. A man must have a companion; a good woman to grow old with. God had meant it that way. I’d had my chance, tried to play the game and lost. The feeling of loneliness inside me I knew was not for Chuck and Jock, but for a woman. Every man needs a woman — a good woman.

I walked back to my cabin. I had set the tape recorder on the table and as I stood looking at it an idea came to me.

I had several rolls of tape; enough to last for several hours. I had planned on writing a story about my life, and the many things that had happened in this faraway country.

The ribbon on my old typewriter was worn to a frazzle, and I was almost out of paper. Then I thought, “Why not sit down here and tell my story to this little recorder?” Later, I could put it down in black-and-white!

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