Was it her upbeat, soulful music which initially drew me to her? Or was it her golden hair, dancing in the breeze like Tibetan prayer flags? Or was it my blue mood, the urge I felt inside me for some company? Or was it just fate, just the way the Gods of travel work?
I had just arrived at that far-flung lodge on the back of quitting my job – the one I had come to Panama for -. It had been a difficult decision to make and although I knew it to be the right one, I still had the nagging feeling that I had somehow let myself down. She, on the other hand, seemed to be flying high on life and I knew I needed some of that boundless joy in my life.
In his remarkable book, The Yellow World (El Mundo Amarillo), Albert Espinosa speaks of the yellow people. The yellow people who sit somewhere between love and friendship. People who cross your life for only a moment, share with you maybe a single conversation, and yet cast a profound shadow over your life.
“Hey buddy! Are yu looking for the recep…?” Asked the blonde dude who had turned around at my approach. “Wait, you are the new volunteer, aren’t you? Hey, Sam, your new volunteer is here man.” He yelled toward the small room by the restaurant I assumed to be the lodge’s office.
“I don’t think Sam’s here. He is probably off somewhere collecting avocados or something. Anyway, I’m Brad. Grab a seat!”
Slightly taken aback that this she had turned out to be he – to be fair, with her delicate features and long, golden hair, anyone could have mistaken him for a girl from a distance – I did as I was told.
“Yeah, nice to meet you, Brad. I’m Nav, the new volunteer.” I finally managed to respond, offering him my dirty hand.
He shook it without hesitation, confirming he was of my breed.
“Some awesome beats you got there,” I said, once I had made myself comfortable. “What are you playing?”
“It’s actually just Spotify doing it all for me! I literally just signed up to it and it’s been killing it with mad beats ever since. I think it knows me better than I do!”
I chuckled. “Fair enough mate! So, what’s your story? You a volunteer too or…?”
“Nah man. I’m sadly just about to leave this little paradise.” He said, gesturing with his eyes at the green hills that surrounded us in all directions. “Yeah, back to Colorado.”
“But not before I’m done with this bad boy!” He said with a cheeky grin and pulled out a half-smoked joint from his canvas backpack.
Things unraveled rather quickly from that point on.
We grabbed some beers and smoked and shared our stories. He told me of a Swedish traveller he had met, crazy dude, and how he had taken on a logging company who were planning to destroy a parcel of native forest at the foothills of some mountain and the dude had taken them to the court, to the actual fu*king court and actually won and now he was looking to build an eco-lodge on that land so that the locals would benefit too and if he wanted to join him as business partners and how he had said yes and that’s why he was heading home now, to sell all his stuff and fly back to Panama. Or some grand, insane story like that. I was under the charm of the grass, remember.
“So yeah man. Panama’s home now. Isn’t that insane?” He said, passing me the joint and leaning back. He sounded as much in awe of what he had just said as me. And all of a sudden, my walking out a job that I had thought I had liked but didn’t make me happy anymore didn’t seem all that bad in comparison.
A while later, while we were sitting in a moment of silence, so high that we needed to take some time off to digest everything we had just talked about, a butterfly landed out of nowhere on the table between us. As if in a daze, I watched Brad reached out to it, gently coaxing it onto his hand. The butterfly took a few tentative steps and perched on his index finger. He looked up at me, smiled and opened his mouth to say something. But all he could only muster was the word “Wow” as if we were trapped in a moment on the edge of believability and absurdity.
The butterfly was still sitting on his finger when the joint finally died. He looked at his watch; “Right, it’s almost 4. Time to go man. Gotta go…” He lifted his hand gently and gave his wrist a quick flick, making the butterfly take flight, which it did, somewhat reluctantly, before disappearing in the distance, as if it had been nothing but a dream.
I walked down to my room and began unpacking my bags. But I found myself thinking of all the other yellow people who I had met on my travels. I couldn’t remember all of their names, could not recall all of their faces, or even some of the moments we had shared. But what made me believe that they had all been there, was the fact that I was still here. For without them, my days of travelling would long be over.
Just before he left, he yelled out to me; “Keep living your life man.”
“Will do man!”I yelled back. “And thanks…” But I wasn’t just thanking him.
I was saying thanks to all the yellow people of my travels.