Before we can leave the cantina, Gizmo seems compelled to run over and sniff another patron and plunk himself contentedly and firmly by the man’s feet. He is fulfilling his duty, I know, in reminding me that time is of the essence in locating a mate for me. “This one smells nice enough,” he seems to say.
Brooks does smell rather nice, like expensive cologne, and he’s picked up some excellent dance moves from our new Selvadoradian friends, but my collector’s heart is hungering to unearth a treasure to bring home that originated here in the jungle. Brook’s city-slicker sweater and easily-pronounceable name are too convenient, too familiar. The path forks, and here I wholeheartedly choose the more treacherous, uncertain way forward. Gizmo sniffs with disapproval, but dutifully follows me down the way I have chosen.
The decisions from here on out come a little easier. The answers to “Which vine should I slice next?” are much easier to come by than, “Whom shall I marry and spend my life with?” Probably this is because the consequences are much less permanent. I can always go back for that other vine later. I only get one primary spouse.
I’m grateful to new local friends for teaching me how to avoid some of the jungle’s dangers, and to myself for taking the time to hear what they had to tell me. These flies swarm, but do not attack, and I am free to press on unharmed.
Now I can focus on butterfly wings instead of stinging lightning firefly wings. Though, come to think of it, I might welcome the distraction. There’s a downside to everything if you just keep looking.
Even with something as simple as opening a chest, I wonder . . . what if I left it alone? It’s contents are no doubt valuable, but also likely cursed.
I’m just as likely to be rewarded with spiders as I am with wealth.
Gizmo is a help, mostly. He urges me forward. He tells me when he’s weary and needs to rest, which usually means I would feel the same way if I’d take the time to notice. However, his courage leads him to rush headlong into bushes. He’s bitten by squirrels three times before we’ve even reached the temple. I have to concede that I need another companion. I need another head to help me make decisions. I need more hands to unearth artifacts. I need pep talks.
And I need the comforting warmth of another person’s touch.
I’m not going to find that in the depths and crypts of jungle temples.
So I take my treasures back to the marketplace, and my dog back to the safety and shade of our rented bungalow, and I wait for the butterflies’ wings to flap, to see what they will nudge my way.
The temple did grant me a small gift that provides some of the warmth I’m seeking, and perhaps casts a bit of light in the right direction. This time, it’s behind me.
Daniel is a marketplace vendor I’ve not seen before, but I instantly warm to his bronze skin and baby face cheeks. Whether it’s the miniature sun, the steam rising off the jungle, or something to do with my own natural charms, he seems to warm to me, too.
The next time we meet, I’m feeling considerably less attractive, but then again, a damsel in distress is said to be irresistible. I’d had a run-in with a dart on my second temple visit, resulting in alarming green spots and a general feeling of nauseated unease.
He saves my life in exchange for a few handfuls of bone dust.
And then I offer to buy my hero a glass or two of bitter foam.
This may have been a cultural faux pas of some sort.
Nevertheless, he accepts with only a bit more encouragement.
I can’t help but feel that my personal light is guiding me in a very good direction, indeed.
A date happens, in which I may commit one or two more faux pas.
And tell perhaps one too many folk tales about llamas in hats.
I leave the next morning before sunrise, but I promise to call him as soon as I can.
This, as it turns out, is never. I distinctly remember punching his number into my phone, but just as I set off for the perfectly-timed Romance Festival, I find it isn’t there. The number, I mean. I can call up and invite every one of my Selvadoradean friends. Every single one except Daniel.
City-slicker Brooks is there. “Imagine meeting you here!” he exclaims. “This must be a sign!”
“It isn’t.” I insist. I wish him a good night and stubbornly walk away to harvest flowers.
I’m concerned that this really is a sign, though. What if I finally make a big decision and it turns out to be wrong? Can I really be this bad at this? Should I have followed my dog instead of my heart? Is that really the message? I seek counsel from the guru at the festival . . . and find out I truly am doomed. I should have known.