Excuse Me, I Think I’m Lost

by Mary Cuevas


            When the shuttle bus met all the new international teachers at the airport, the doors swung open, an old woman, with frog eyes and body to match, stood at the top of the steps, black bobby pins peeked out from the gray bun she wore high on top of her head. She pushed her eyeglasses up the bridge of her nose, smiled, and shouted over the noise of the airport, “I am Antonella, the concierge for the school. ¡Bienvenidos a Bogotá!”   

Dusk loomed beneath a silvery blue sky as we drove away from the airport. The drive through the congested and noisy streets was nerve-wracking. Drivers honked their horns non-stop, cars squeezed by in between lanes. Motorcycles do the same thing on the 405 freeway inLos Angeles. Always made me nervous when they squeezed by like that.

            Red brick apartment buildings, modern high-rises, and old Spanish Colonial-style buildings lined the streets. We turned down a street with shanty town shacks painted green, red, blue, purple, and orange colors. Antonella stood up, turned around to face us, and said, “The current mayor gave everyone living here cans of paint.”

            She leaned down, looked out the window at the colorful shacks, smiled, waved her hand like the Queen of England, and said, “Look at the result. Isn’t it just lovely?”

            At a red-light, I watched a shopkeeper walk out of a tiny tienda, wipe her hands on her apron, pull down the metal shutters, and lock up for the night. Men and women in suits stood near curbs hailing cabs, Colombian hipsters lined sidewalk cafes, smoking cigarettes, engaged in lively, animated conversations. A billboard on the side of the road with a model in a bikini, barely covering her enormous breasts and small boyish hips, on a beach somewhere in Colombia advertised Fanta sodas.

            The shuttle dropped us off one at a time. I was the last one dropped off. My building looked like something out of Architectural Digest. Alcoves of red brick, filled with potted geraniums, bordered the black wrought iron balconies on all floors. I was met at the entrance by Augustino, the doorman. Antonella introduced me as the international teacher from Los Angeles. Augustino smiled, and said in English, “Welcome to Bogotá.”

            Antonella led me to the glass elevator. The building had six floors—my apartment was on the fifth. All the apartments wrapped around an open atrium with a massive glass dome skylight at the top. The walkways to the apartments had potted ferns placed evenly against the wrought iron railings on all floors. What sounded like a babbling brook echoed through the entire atrium from the enormous three-tiered fountain in the lobby.

            Antonella unlocked my apartment door. There was a welcome basket from the PTA on the dining room table with a bottle of red Chilean wine, two wine glasses, a wine opener, fruit, bread, cheese, and a map of Colombia.

            The kitchen was through a swinging door with all modern stainless-steel appliances, the counters were black granite. There was a folder on the counter near the phone with the school insignia embossed on the cover. Inside were the phone numbers for all the teachers, parents, administrators, restaurant menus, along with the itinerary for the week.

            The living room and bedroom were tastefully decorated. Sliding glass doors to the balcony were floor to ceiling with a spectacular view of the city. There was a small table with two chairs on the balcony. A giant billboard down the street with the name of a cell phone company across the top had another scantily clad model. This time in a red mini-skirt, low-cut white blouse, holding a cell phone. Antonella joined me on the balcony, noticed I was staring at the billboard, and remarked, “That road, the one with the billboard, is the Septima. It’s a major road, like Wilshire Blvd, always very busy.”

            “You’ve been to L.A.? I asked.

            “Oh yes. I have family there. They live in Santa Monica,” she said.

            “Nice,” I said.

            “Hey, do you know of a good restaurant that delivers?” I asked as we walked back inside.

            She pulled a menu out from the folder on the kitchen counter, and said, “The food is excellent.”

            “Thanks Antonella.”

            “Bueno. I’ll leave you to it,” she replied, and walked out the door.

            I kicked off my shoes, opened the bottle of wine, poured a glass, glanced at the take-out menu, picked up the phone, and ordered. I turned on the TV, flipped through the channels, stopped at a local news, saw a journalist crouching on a street corner. Bullets from automatic weapons were whipping past him. Dust blew up from the road when bullets hit close to his feet. There was a person behind the journalist covered in blood splayed out on the street—not moving. People in the distance were running in all directions, screaming and crying, as they tried to escape the gunfire.

            The journalist, eyes darting back and forth to the camera and out to street in front of him, shouted into the microphone that the village was being attacked by the guerillas and paramilitaries. The camera man continued to shoot as the journalist ran behind a building. I watched in horror as the camera man captured what the journalist witnessed in the streets. The people in the village were being slaughtered in real time. I covered my mouth in horror and said in a whispery voice, “Fuck.”

The School

            The next morning the shuttle bus picked me up. There was a gate at the entrance of the school with armed security guards in a booth. The guards grabbed a stick with a mirror attached, ran it underneath the shuttle bus, looked for bombs, then waved us through.

            The meeting with the director, Dr. Martin, and other administrators was scheduled for 10 am in the teacher’s lounge. A buffet was being served on a long table with a variety of fresh juices, eggs, bacon, sausage, and some sort of flat-round-bread-looking thing about the size of an English muffin. A woman wearing an apron behind the buffet line saw the puzzled look on my face. She smiled and said in English, “Arepas. A traditional corn meal bread. Very common. You should try one.”

            I put one on my plate. There was regular coffee and something called tinto. The same woman saw me looking at the small espresso size cups, and shared, “Tinto is a coffee served in espresso cups with lots of sugar.” 

            I put a tinto on my tray.

            I found a spot at one of the tables. The woman across from me smiled, and said in a raspy voice and southern drawl, “Hi, I’m Lizzie Gillespie.”

            I laughed. “So, are your parents’ big fans of Dizzie?”

            “Yep, huge fans.” Lizzie replied. She clinked her fork on her plate, and continued, “You know the public schools in New Orleans had Styrofoam plates and sporks in the staff lounge, not real plates and silverware like this.”       

            Lizzie was in her late 20s, looked like Botticelli’s Venus, with her long blonde hair, and sea green, almond shaped eyes. “What’s your name and where you from,” she asked.

            “Maria, Los Angeles.”

            “So, what made you decide to teach in Colombia?”

            I looked at her, paused, thought about whether I should tell her the truth or some bullshit story.

            “Well, while you are deciding whether to tell me the truth or make up some fake story, I’ll tell you why I came.” She paused to take a bite of her food. “My parents are civil rights lawyers, want me to follow in their footsteps. I told them I would like a gap year after I earned my BA. And here I am five years later.”

            “Okay, well I decided to come here because I was still working in the same diner I worked at all through college. Oh, and still sleeping with a busboy who is barely of age for the past year or so. That’s how I’ve been spending my ‘gap year’.”

            Lizzie laughed. “Oh, I think you and I are going to be great friends.”

            “I think you are right. I could use a good friend,” I said.

            Lizzie gave me the skinny on the school. The school was one of the best private schools in Bogotá. No discipline problems, parents actually respected what we do, lots of embassy kids attended the school and the newly elected president’s kids attended our school.

            “That’s why security around the school has increased exponentially this year,” Lizzie said.

           “In what way? I asked.

           “Well, tons more military police in those mountains right up against the school,” she said, glancing out the window to see if she could spot one lurking in the grass.

           I took a sip of my tinto, looked out the window, saw nothing, but the beauty of the lush Andes Mountains.

           “And the maids you see mopping hallways are part of the security detail for the president’s children—some of them anyway, not all of the maids,” she reported.

           “Seriously?” I asked.

            She nodded, then continued, “Listen, I have heard some pretty harrowing stories from parents.”

            “Like what?” I asked.

            “So, one of my parents’ told me that she found a note on her windshield that read, “We know which way you drive your daughter to school.”

            “Jesus. That just gave me the shivers,” I said.

            “Yeah, I know, that one haunts me. They left at Christmas that year. Think they are in Miami,” Lizzie shared.

            “Don’t blame them,” I replied.

            “Another parent told me about her uncle who was kidnapped, held captive for a year, nearly had to have his feet amputated,” Lizzie added.

            “Why?” I asked.

            “From all the walking in the mountains in damp ill-fitting shoes. She said they were a bloody mess, looked like raw hamburger meat,” Lizzie sighed.

            “Just awful,” I gasped.

            “Yeah, that one shook me to my core,” Lizzie admitted.

           Dr. Martin, various administrators and a few of the seasoned international teachers got up to speak. The international teachers shared entertaining stories about their experiences in Colombia. One of the teacher’s, Peter, from Seattle invited all of us down to the-hole-in-the-wall bar he bought in La Candelaria for drinks that night. He looked to be in his early thirties, tall and wiry, with curly brown hair.

            I asked Lizzie if she had ever been to Peter’s bar. “Of course, she replied, “It’s a rad place. I’ll take you there tonight.”

A Night Out

            Peter’s bar was in the heart of La Candelaria. It was a small place, with adobe walls painted a bright blue, red concrete floors, space for six bar stools around the bar, a room off to the side with five wood tables. The bar was packed with bohemians and young university students who lived in the area. I noticed other international teachers from our school standing at the bar. We grabbed the one empty table in the other room. Peter brought over two shots of Aguardiente, a traditional Colombian liquor. Tasted like licorice, reminded me of Sambuca or Ouzo, but harsher. It burned my throat on the way down.

            There was a great vibe to the place. Salsa music pulsating through the stereo system, young university students sat at tables engaged in what I imagined was some lit or philosophy class they were taking, a young Colombian man was engaged in a lively discussion with Peter at the bar. They both turned their heads in my direction, looked at me, and waved. The Colombian man walked over to the table with three shots of Aguardiente. He looked like a young Che Guevara. “I’m Santiago. I teach history at the school.”

            We talked and talked like we had known each other forever. He loved to travel, lived in various countries around the globe, doing odd jobs, until he finally returned to Colombia and began teaching.

             Would you like to dance?” he asked after we slammed our third shot of Aguardiente.

            “Go, Santiago is a great dancer,” Lizzie drawled.

            We danced in between the tables until we were drenched in sweat. I leaned against a wall to catch my breath. Santiago grabbed my hand, placed it against the wall, over my head, and shouted over the music, “Feel that? The walls are sweating.”

            Santiago put his other hand on the side of my face, kissed me softly, and asked, “Want to get out of here?”

            Lizzie was at the bar with her tongue down the throat of a long-haired Colombian man. I tapped her on the shoulder, told her I was leaving with Santiago.

            “Oh, okay, cool,” she said, then continued, “Hey, this is my boyfriend, Pablo.”

            Raising my eyebrows, I put my hand out, and said, “Nice to meet you.”

            Leaning toward Lizzie, I whispered in her ear, “You didn’t tell me you had a boyfriend.”

            Lizzie shrugged her shoulders, said nothing, just smiled. Santiago kissed Lizzie and Pablo on both cheeks, grabbed my hand and led me toward the door.

The Morning After

            I don’t know how long the phone rang before I realized it was not a dream. It was the day doorman telling me the shuttle bus was here to take me to school.”

            “I’m so sorry, I’ll be right down,” I blurted.

            Santiago was nowhere to be found. I ran to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, washed my face, grabbed some clothes from my suitcase, ran a brush through my hair and bolted for the elevator.

            Today was the first day of school. I stopped by the staff lounge to grab breakfast. Santiago sidled up to me in the buffet line, whispered in my ear, “I had a great time last night.”    

            “Me too,” I said.

            Wondering if I would be labeled the school slut, I looked around, saw no one noticed, or cared for that matter, filled my plate, and quickly sat down in the empty seat next to Lizzie.

            Lizzie looked at me, shook her head, and smiled. She was talking to the new mousy international teacher from Utah. The mouse was small, with large black rimmed glasses, a button-down shirt, and ankle length skirt. I remember seeing her on the shuttle bus from the airport. Thought she might ask all of us to start singing Kum-Ba-Yah-My-Lord.

            “I’ll tell you one funny story about an international teacher we had here last year,” Lizzie said. She looked right at the mouse, and continued, “Get this, she taught ethics in the high school, and was married to a man who worked at the U.S. Embassy.”

            She took a sip of her tinto, “Anyway, on a trip back to the states for the summer, she was stopped in Miami. Guess what they found inside her suitcases?”

            “What?” the mouse asked.

            “Cocaine!” she blurted.

            “You’re kidding me,” I gasped.

            “Nope. The irony had all of us just reeling. The ethics teacher was a drug dealer!” Lizzie laughed.

            “Unbelievable,” I laughed.

            The mouse looked down at her plate and shook her head.

            Santiago sat down next to me and asked, “What’s so funny?”

Road Trip

            Since my move to Bogotá two months ago, living with fear has become a part of my daily life—like I’m playing some sick game of Russian Roulette. Bombs go off around me, rattling the walls of my apartment. Sinister undertones of kidnappings, lurking around any corner have me in a state of hypervigilance most of the time. Road trips through the countryside are ripe with the danger of encountering roadblocks—and you never know if the men in military fatigues are the guerillas or the paramilitaries.

            I felt trapped—like I was suffocating—not just from the exhaust cars and buses spewed below my balcony as they sped by, but the weight of the never-ending civil war. Afraid I might slip into a scratch-the-yellow-wallpaper-off-the-walls type of episode, like the woman in the Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story, I said yes to Pablo’s invitation to his family’s finca that weekend, before asking if it was safe to travel to the region. It was the first long weekend of the school year.

Pablo, drove us to the finca in his black SUV. Santiago planned join us the next day.

“It’s a couple hours outside Bogotá,” Lizzie said when I asked.

 “The area is considered a FARC stronghold, but my family pays a “tax” to them for protection,” Pablo explained.

            “Protection from what?” I asked.

            “From the other guerillas groups, the paramilitaries, and the drug cartels,” she replied.

            “Jesus, that does not sound good,” I said.

            “Don’t worry Maria. We have never had any problems on the finca,” Pablo assured me.

            “Well, that’s good to know,” I muttered.                  

            “You’ll love it out there, trust me,” Lizzie insisted. “Far from the madding crowd, wide open spaces, a pool, horses, bikes to ride, a million stars in the sky.

            Pablo is an artist. Spent a year studying in Florence. Several of his paintings hung in high-end galleries in Bogotá. He was a fast talker—almost euphoric every time he spoke.

            Once we left the city limits, the road down the mountain was curvy with tons of nail-biting switchbacks. Pablo drove dangerously fast around these switchbacks. Instead of the call from the U.S. Embassy I was sure my parents would receive, informing them of the fiery crash they pulled my mangled and scorched body from, I tried to concentrate on the view.

            About an hour outside Bogotá, we hit a roadblock. Men in green army fatigues, black rubber rain boats, brandishing machine guns, lined both sides of the road. Cars were stopped ahead of us. I thought this is it, this is how it’s all going to end.

            “Hey, who are these guys?  Why are they stopping cars?” I asked Pablo and Lizzie.

            Pablo said, “That’s the thing, we can’t tell. Could be the guerillas, the paramilitaries, or the Colombian army.”

            Lizzie pulled a joint out of her purse, lit it, turned up the radio, and passed it back to me. I took three hits before passing it back. I shouted over the radio to Lizzie and Pablo, “Might as well be high as hell if I’m going to be raped, kidnapped, tortured, and killed.”

            It took about 30 minutes for us to get to the front of the line. The closer we got, the more I felt like barfing. A soldier walked to our car, Pablo rolled down the window, Lizzie turned down the radio. The soldier leaned on the car door window, asked Pablo where we were headed, looked at me in the back seat, paused for a moment, then waved us on.

            “Who was he?” I asked as we drove away, my heart racing.

            “I don’t know. Could have been the FARC or the paramilitaries,” Pablo said.

            We drove on in silence. My hands would not stop shaking. Lizzie turned the radio up real loud blasting legendary Cuban singer Celia Cruz’s song, “Life is a Carnival.”

            It took another 45 minutes before we made it to the guard post for the finca. The guard, in a Rolling Stones t-shirt, faded Levi jeans, a machine gun slung over his shoulder, smiled, and stepped out of the guard shack. Pablo introduced him to me, “Maria will be staying the weekend, Santiago is coming up tomorrow.”

            We drove down a long dirt road, pulled up in front of an enormous white ranch house. Red geraniums hung from the archways, hammocks from the ceilings in the corners of the wraparound porch. A young maid with long braids stood at the front door to greet us. A man in a western style shirt and jeans brought in our luggage.

            The living room was massive. Adobe white walls, dark wood beams across the ceiling, a fireplace against a wall, surrounded by comfortable couches and chairs. The bedrooms were in wings to the left and right of the living room. The dining room had a long wood table, big enough to seat the disciples and Jesus for a nice dinner.

            Another maid came out from the kitchen, wiped her hands on her apron, smiled, and asked if we were hungry. Lizzie shook her head, but asked if she would bring out a bottle of Bacardi Limon, bucket of ice, and a pitcher of lemonade.

            “That’s Marisol, and the one with the braids is her daughter, Catalina. The man who brought our luggage in is her husband, Raul,” Lizzie reported.

            Lizzie walked me to my room. French doors opened to the porch with a view of the pool and the Andes in the distance. I put my purse down, washed my face in the adjoining bathroom, came back out to the living room just as Marisol brought out the tray of rum and lemonade.

            “Hey, can we move the party to the pool?” I asked.

            The pool was Olympic size in length, peacocks wandered in the distance, old fashioned wood chaise lounges covered with thick cushions ran the length of the deck. Tables with umbrellas were in all corners of the pool deck.

            We drank and smoked weed until the wee hours of the morning. I stood up at one point, walked to the far end of the pool, gazed out into the darkness, saw hundreds of what I thought were flashlights. Petrified, I ran back to the table and shouted, “It’s the guerillas! They are coming straight toward us!”

            Lizzie stood up, looked out toward the fields, and burst out laughing so loud it echoed up and down the surrounding fields and mountains. “Those are fireflies!” she exclaimed.

            “Wow! I must be really stoned. I honestly thought we were going to be ambushed,” I said.

Bike Ride

            I woke up just after 6 am, pulled my camera out of my suitcase, and discovered I was out of film. I threw some water on my face, brushed my teeth, pulled a pair of shorts and t-shirt out of my suitcase, put my sneakers on, and headed for the living room. I heard laughter behind the swinging door to the kitchen. I knocked, and slowly swung the door open. Maids and ranch hands sat at a long wood table with benches. They all turned, looked at me bewildered. The maid with long braids, Catalina, asked, “¿Tienes hambre?”

            “Si, tengo hambre,” I answered.

            Catalina pointed to a seat at the end of the wood bench, filled a mug with coffee, handed it to me, poured what looked like bacon grease in the pan, scrambled my eggs with onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. There was fresh juice—some sort of melon, a plate full of bacon in the middle of the table and a basket of arepas.

            I asked where I could buy film. One of the ranch hands said, “There is a small village called Doima was about a five-kilometer walk from the finca.

            “So, walking distance,” I said.

            “Yes. Would you like to ride a mountain bike to Doima instead of walking?

            “I would love that,” I replied.

            I thanked them for inviting me in for breakfast, headed back to my room, grabbed my backpack, left a note for Lizzie and Pablo on the dining room table, walked out to the veranda, and waited for the ranch hand. He came back a few minutes later with a nice-looking mountain bike.

            The weather was perfect. The sun was out, but dark clouds loomed in the distance. I stopped at the guard shack, told him where I was headed, then began my ride down the dirt road to Doima. It was a flat straight road through much welcomed wide-open space. The snow-capped Andes to my left, cows, goats and horses roamed in green fields to my right.

            I arrived in Doima to find a tiny park square—no bigger than a suburban backyard. Cows grazed under trees next to park benches. The square was surrounded by a tienda on one side, a little restaurant with huge speakers outside on the other, and a church at the far end.

            I walked into the little tienda, saw a young man with an old man in the room to the left, struggling to maneuver a pool table through a doorway. There was an old woman behind the counter. When she smiled, her face filled with deep creases and cracks like mud flats at the bottom of a dried-up river bed. She pointed at the pool table, rolled her eyes, and shook her head. She told me her husband and son were moving the pool table to the restaurant on the other side of the square, that she told them to get a couple more men to help.

            I acknowledged her annoyance with an I-know-what-you-mean nod, smiled, asked for a bottle of water, film for my camera, paid, and walked back outside. Instead of sitting on one of the white plastic chairs outside the tienda, I sat on the sidewalk curb.

            The water was refreshingly cold. Except for the cows, the square was empty. I watched as the old man and his son crossed the square with the pool table. Even the cows stopped grazing to watch them. I pulled my camera out of my backpack, loaded the film and took a few shots. I stood up, brushed the dirt from my shorts, got on my bike, and rode out of town.

            At the last minute, I decided to take a different road than the one I came in on. Thought I would ride down it for a while, turnaround, and make it back to the finca before Pablo and Lizzie woke up. The slight decline on this dirt road allowed me to coast without peddling. I rode past a cluster of colorful shacks with barefoot kids playing a game of jacks just like I did when I was a kid—except they were using rocks for the jacks. A group of girls played double Dutch with what looked like sections of a raggedy rope tied together, men sat on milk crates, smoking and chatting with each other, the women inside swept floors made of dirt. I smiled and waved as I rode by.

            Within minutes, I was back in the countryside. The fields on both sides of the road were full of roaming horses grazing behind barb wire. The smell of horse manure permeated the air.

            About an hour into my ride, I came upon a roadside tienda. The tienda was a small wood shed with a dirt floor. A young girl with a toddler in a high chair were behind the counter. The clock on the wall said it was 3 pm. Pulling a couple of bottles of water out of the glass fridge, I asked the young girl if the clock was right. She nodded yes. The toddler threw peas at her as I approached the counter. Just as I was pulling money out of my wallet to pay, a man in faded and torn army fatigues walked in. The look on the young girl’s face changed instantly from friendly to fear. As I handed her my money, I felt his gaze upon me.

            “¿Es que tu bicicleta afuera? he asked.

            Hands shaking, I nodded, turned around, and walked toward the door.

            In English, the man in army fatigues called out to me just as I slipped outside, “Nice bike.”

            I was a few steps from my bike when I heard him say, “Wait. I want to talk to you.” My body trembled as I stood in front of my bike, frozen like a statue. How could he possibly know I spoke English? I could easily pass for Colombian with my Mexican father’s looks.

            He followed me outside and asked, “Where are you from?”

            I became aphasic. Goosebumps covered my legs and arms. The clouds that loomed in the distance at the beginning of my ride were overhead now. They could no longer hold back and let loose a torrential rain. The road became a muddy mess within minutes. We took cover inside the tienda.

            “You okay?” he asked, offering a handkerchief he pulled from his pocket.

            I nodded, took the handkerchief, and wiped the rain from my face.

            “I’m Arturo,” he said.

            “Maria,” I said.

            “Where are you from?” he asked again.

            “I live in Bogotá, but I’m from Los Angeles.”

            “You teaching in Bogotá?” he asked.

            “Yes. How’d you know?” I asked.

            “Just a guess. You staying at that finca with all the peacocks?” he asked.

            “How’d you know that?” I asked.

            “Just do,” he said with a fatherly smile. Then continued, “You are miles from there. You want a ride back?” he asked.

            “No thanks. But can you tell me how to get back there?”

            “Tell you what, you ride up this rode for about a mile. You’ll see a house on the right with birthday balloons on the gate, lots of cars down the drive, loads of people, loud music.”

            “Okay,” I said.

            “You ask for Abby. She’s American and it’s her finca. Tell her Arturo sent you. And that I asked her to give you a ride back to the Vargas finca. She knows it.”

            The rain stopped as abruptly as it started. I handed him his handkerchief, and said, “Thanks.”

            “Keep it,” he said.

            My heart racing, I quickly got on my bike, and sped down the road like I was Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France. The road was a muddy mess. I looked over my shoulder every few minutes to see if he was following me.

             By the time I reached the finca owned by the American, my face, arms, legs and clothes were splattered with mud. It looked like a party was going on, the smell of meat cooking on the barbeque, cumbia music in the background. A fair-skinned woman with blonde hair walked to the road.

            “Excuse me, I think I’m lost,” I stammered.


            The guard came out of the guard shack as we approached the gate, looked directly at me, and shook his head. “You know, they sent a search party out for you,” he reported. “There are several cars out right now looking for you.”

            “I’m really sorry. I had no intention of being gone this long or causing so much trouble,” I stammered.

            He walked back inside, yelled over his shoulder, “I’ll call off the search party—let them know you are safe.”

            When Abby pulled up in front of the house, Lizzie was on the veranda, hands on her

hips. She came up from the pool in her bikini, a beach towel wrapped around her waist, thanked Abby for returning me safe, looked at me, and snapped, “You are grounded.”

            “I’m so sorry,” I said, looking from Abby to Lizzie. “Wait, do you two know each other?” I asked.

            “It was Arturo who sent her to me,” Abby said.

            “Arturo?” Lizzie asked, eyes wide. She looked at me and said, “Arturo is who Pablo’s family pays the ‘tax’ to keep us safe.”

             A ranch hand pulled the mountain bike from the SUV.

            “You cannot leave the finca again,” Lizzie ordered.

            As Abby drove away, Lizzie continued, “You have no idea how much you worried us.”

            “I’m so sorry. I meant to come straight back, but I took a different road,” I replied.

            “Santiago got here around noon. He’s out of his mind with worry,” Lizzie said.

            “Really?  Where is he?” I asked.

            “He’s out with the search party looking for you!” she yelled.

            Like a second-grade girl being led to the vice principal’s office, I walked behind Lizzie to the pool. Pablo, sitting at a table under an umbrella, picked up a pitcher filled with rum and lemonade, poured a glass for both of us, smiled, and said, “Well, I hope you didn’t give Maria too hard a time.” He paused, looked directly at me, continued in his fast-talking way, “She probably had the adventure of a lifetime today.”

            I gulped down half my drink. The rum warmed my veins. A sense of safety slowly return. I smiled at Pablo, then turned my head to look out toward the fields. Fireflies flickered in the distance.

Mary Cuevas, an international teacher, who taught in Bogotá, Colombia, is a PEN America/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers nominee. Her short stories have appeared in Courtship of the Winds and Glue Gun. Mary currently resides in Tucson, AZ.