Returning to the field. A cocktail of excitement, dread, nostalgia. We were here less than 3 hours before I heard that a dear friend and informant, the person I wanted to see more than anyone, passed away 6 months ago.
Here is the first thing I ever wrote about him:
The first time I met Colfax he rolled us a joint. Sarah had bought the marijuana from Renny, the man who runs the hotel above the bar. When buses from Belize City pull into town and leave newcomers standing around in a cloud of dust looking left and right, they end up at Renny’s place: cheapest rooms on the main street, he says. Of course, you need only go a few blocks to find cheaper and seedier, but that’s another story. Months later, I found out that Renny lived in New York for a while, back when he was in the Belize Navy and had docked in Philadelphia a few times. He ran the streets hard then, and you can still see it in how he walks about town: always stoned, but always in the know. Whenever you need something, just ask Renny. He won’t remember you the next time he sees you, but just ask him: he’ll do anything to help you out, for a small fee. And if he ever offers to watch your beer, he won’t drink it. He’s that kind of guy.
It was nearly closing time, the bar stools and table chairs already stacked, and Daily running a mop around the place. Colfax is brown skinned, his eyes and checks sunken and shiny, his chest concave in the stained green t-shirt he wears every day with a pair of old black trousers and some work boots, worn. His eyes glittered in the near dark as he offered to roll the joint. Of course he wanted a smoke, too, so we went out in the back by the toilets. Ernando was there, the painter married to the Danish woman but carrying on with everyone who passes his balcony. He paints up there, right above the street, and sings to himself like a bird in a cage. Never go up if he offers to paint you.
A few strewn chairs and we gathered around – Daily with his mop too. Daily is the closest thing San Ignacio has to a queen. This night he was wearing high heel boots and a pair of shiny purple pants with an old madras print button down. His head is small, shrunken with age and work, and shorn. He plays a flute he carries around in a plastic bucket. He speaks Kriol and that only rarely and I never had a full conversation with him that I can remember. We did dance one night, him playing the flute and fluttering and stomping and leaping around the dance floor. Teri played the turtle shells while we blew into our empty beer bottles.
Muttering, Daily now swoops around us with his mop as Colfax carefully pulls weed from the plastic bag. Ernando brings a round of beers. Oily feathered grackles settle in the tree beyond the toilets and make their pitch to the oncoming night. Colfax speaks and his voice surprises me, coming as it does from his tightly strung frame. Deep and rocky, I lean in closer to better hear as he begins to unravel the first of many stories.