Extract from the continuation of To Hold The Sun can be read here
Return to Roatan
As I climbed out of the air-conditioned cab at the entrance to West End, the heat and humidity hit me like a blow. I knew it might take me days to become fully acclimatized to the weather. At least I had the sense to change from my travel clothes into a light pair of shorts, a t-shirt and the prerequisite sandals. I was going native already. The cafe where Paul and I had arranged to meet was a few minutes walk. Perfect. I wanted to take a short stroll and stir some memories.
There was a new road in West End; the rough sand street that had destroyed vehicles and ankles alike had been replaced with smooth concrete. Hugging the shore, it stretched in either direction from where I stood. If I turned right past the yellow beach house, I would be quickly at Sundowners, the bar on the beach where pretty much everyone ended up at some point. Every place to meet was a bar, a restaurant or hotel on Roatan, I mused, which I supposed was normal for a beautiful spot on a Caribbean island. Turning left, I started down the road at a leisurely pace, the beach and sea stretched out to my right; the water was perfectly still and vibrantly blue.
The sun felt great on my face as I walked.I imagined the sunlight soaking through my skin and spreading out throughout my body, refreshing and healing as it went. I knew that was not happening, but Paul had taught me that reality was what you created, and my perception was often more important than the facts. I actually felt like stretching my arms out wide from my body and letting the sunlight trail from my fingertips as I walked. I laughed - maybe I take the visualizations too far sometimes. No need to look crazy to all the other tourists on the road. I felt wonderfully alive.
It had been too many years since I had been back on Roatan. Tomorrow I would start scuba diving. This visit I had the financial resources that I had lacked on my last trip. I planned to take some boat trips and maybe even head off island, but first I needed to meet Paul and see if he would help me.
Wooden buildings packed tightly together, filled with souvenir stalls, hotels , dive shops and bars cluttered both sides of the road. Some looked familiar, many were new. Paul had once told me that there was a high turnover of people here as they often thought opening and running a business on the beach was the ideal lifestyle. The reality was far different as they soon discovered.
“We are all here because we are not all there!” he had joked once. It had the sound of an old and worn phrase often retold to visitors.
I was not exactly sure where I was going, but Paul had mentioned it was a little past the Blue Marlin restaurant and bar. The Marlin was still locked up, as it was too early to be open. Later today it would be packed with locals and tourists alike, drinking, laughing and dancing, and probably some cringingly bad karaoke. The bars fed on the constant flow of new tourist blood to the island. The atmosphere changed weekly, sometimes daily.
I walked a little further along the street until I saw the sign for West End Divers on the left. Some wooden stairs wound up the right side of the dive shop. The Cafe Escondido, where we were meeting, was a new place to me but one of Paul’s frequent haunts. Climbing the steps, I pushed aside a light curtain stenciled with a graphic of a giant Sumo wrestler and was instantly hit by a welcome blast of cooling air from a huge fan rotating on a stand in the corner. It slowly covered the room in a lazy back and forward motion. An espresso machine hissed loudly. The air was full of the aroma of coffee and tantalizing cooking that made my mouth water. The cafe was located on a large balcony looking out over the Caribbean. In addition to the six tables, there was a couch and hammock for the patrons which gave the cafe a relaxed cozy feel.
Paul was sitting with his back to me at a table that overlooked the water and the road below. One hand rested on a book that lay on the table. He seemed lost in thought, staring out over the docks and water taxis towards the horizon. I quietly weaved around the tables until I stood directly behind him.
“Anything else you need, sir?” trying my best to imitate a server.
“No thank you, I am fine.” His head turned slowly from the water view as he answered me, a small smile playing on his lips. “But you are welcome to join me.”
I sighed. So much for my fooling him. Rising to his feet, he grabbed my outstretched hand firmly and pulled me into a big hug.
“Great to see you again. It has been far too long.” He motioned to the road. “I saw you walk up. One of the reasons I enjoy this place is that I can watch the people from here without being seen. I find it fascinating.”
”That’s borderline creepy, Paul!”
He laughed. “I guess it would be if I knew the people, and I was spying on them, but I don’t. I will probably never see them again apart for these few minutes, a small window into their life. Yet in that tiny moment, I wonder who they are and what their lives are like.
I pulled out the chair on the other side of the table, sat down and took a few seconds to really look at him. It had been a few years since we had met, and if anything, he looked better.
“You look good. How is life on the island?” I asked.
“Not many major changes here, that’s why I like it.”
We ordered a round of coffee, passed on the offered food and spent some time catching up on each other’s lives. Paul had taken up yoga and was finding it rewarding but difficult, which I found amusing for a man who could do handstands. I brought him up-to-date on how my writing was going and my life in general. After a while, we had covered all the obvious points, and there was a lull in the conversation.
“I am happy to see you again on Roatan, but I have a feeling this is more than a social visit. What’s up?” asked Paul.
I sat back in my chair and fiddled with the cup in front of me.
“I am not sure what exactly I want, Paul. Last time I was here, I learned a way of living that has helped me grow and enjoy my life. But there is something...”
Paul waited patiently for me to finish my thought.
“It is hard to put into words, but you helped me understand myself, and I wondered if you could help me understand others.”
“Yes, other people. My work often requires me to interview people and write an interesting and fair view of them, but to be honest sometimes they drive me crazy. Their belief systems are incomprehensible to me. I can’t get inside their heads. They seem to be irrational, and honestly I often think there is something wrong with them. But then I think maybe it is me, maybe my thinking is too rigid, maybe I am the one that is crazy.
I stopped talking, feeling that I was beginning to ramble a little.
Paul just sat still, staring at me. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable and more than a little foolish.
“Can you help me?”
“Yes, I think so,” he paused considering. “We can talk about how to be more understanding of other peoples’ perspectives and maybe more flexible in your thinking. I believe I can even help you comprehend peoples’ motivations, but there are two things you need to accept. First, you can never know another individual’s thoughts. All I can help with is a general understanding of others that may or may not help you in your quest.
He stopped. I nodded my understanding. “And the second?”
He smiled. “You might be right, you might be crazy.”