"See that moon? It looks fuzzy." says my wife as we pull into the drive way in our little house in Augusta. "That means its going to rain."
Panamanians have a thing for rain. When ants swarm and get agitated, its going to rain. When bird flocks congregate in the trees and make a lot of noise, its going to rain. Its a safe bet its going to rain, because the way I remember it, when I lived in Panama it rained like a mad bastard for nine months out of the year, and the other three months were dry as west Texas. Panama has two seasons. Rain on. Rain off. Panamanian ladies like my wife are that way too. When she gets mad, all hell breaks loose until its over. But when its over, its like nothing happened. They get that from the rain. In Minnesota, where I grew up, rage is more like a slow radiation leak, silently poisoning you. "Now I know how you feel. Okay. I'll just remember that." That's how it rains too.
When I lived in Panama a few years ago, I remember thinking, with some snobbishness, that the outside facilities for telephone and electricity had a sloppy third world, give a shit look. Everything seemed to be done that way.
Its morning in Altos Del San Pedro and I'm working on the engine of my old car on the street in fronto f my mother in law's house, where we live. As the planet I'm standing on rotates, the shade of the coconut plam I'm standing under has wandered away and I'm now in the full sun, baking and sweating and parrots screeching down at me. There's this screw, a really tiny dedicated screw only made somewhere in Germany, the pride of German engineering, that holds the throttle linkage together and I'm trying to get it in the hole that fastens it to the throttle, if I can just get this little shit turned in the threads so it'll stay in place, but the chain link keep slipping - and- sonuvabitch! The screw pops out of my grasp. That's what I get for cutting my nails. I can't see it. I only hear the ting-ting-ting of doom as it cascades down the dark cast iron canyon of the engine block and I've lost my ride. Now I start to understand why things are the way they are here. I can't stand the heat, I'm going insane and I don't want to do this anymore! I can't even think! - except my car is disabled now and I look up and the rain is coming too. Noon. Right on time. Soon the Rain Dancers will be here.
The American plains indians referred to this kind of rain as "walking rain". You see it in the tropics and in vast open spaces out west. Its not the monotonous, morose rains of Seattle or Minnesota that go on for days and send up the suidede rate. This is passionate rain that comes looking for you. It falls so hard it hurts.
Suppose you're standing in a parking lot of a shopping center maybe in the Canal Zone and the sky is such a bright clear blue you can't even look at it, cloudless, except for the apocolyptic science fiction beast coming in your direction, always west to east, always at high noon, without fail, and always gone by one o'clock. Standing beside your car you'll see that one half of the lot is in dry bright sun, every pebble and license plate visible. The other half is vanishing. It’s being eaten by a solid wall of water stalking towards you on legs of lightning at about jogging speed, obliterating everything it touches. This rain cannot be defeated or resisted. Umbrellas will buy you a little time. But they will be overwhelmed. If you're driving, you have only seconds to pull over before the windshield wipers go under water and you're blind. This is the walking rain which has snuck up on me while I was peering and feeling around for the screw in the dark cave of my car engine housing, and before I can make the ten running steps from the curb to the veranda it’s got me. I go down like a gazelle with a lion on its back. I'm soaked through. I can only make out the shape of the house dimly. A diving mask might help. Once on the veranda the women folk won’t even let me in because I'm a mess, so I just watch.
Here they come.
The young men have stripped to their underwear. Sometime there are girls too. They run like Olympic sprinters to the end of the street, turn around and sprint back the other way. There's no purpose. They're made insane by the rain itself, They just want to feel flesh on bone in motion. The lightning comes and there's a cannon shell explosion someplace down the street when a transformer is hit. These guys don’t care. They're dancing now. They're in their clinging underwear boogying down to some Dionysian beat from the machine gun drumming on the tin roofs, and the white water torrents running down the gutters. They've gone primitive with the passion of the moment. Before the Conquistadors came and turned their ancestors into Catholics there'd have been an orgy. The rain is slacking off a little now. If I move quick, I can hang out with my friend.
I run around the little house to the back yard where a homemade ladder is leaning against the edge of the roof. I climb up the ladder and the rain beats me back, as though I were assaulting a medieval castle. Once over the top, I see him there already ahead of me.
In Panama, Iguanas get huge, with long tails to help them jump like squirrels. People have a dozen ways of cooking them. The gaudy iridescent green seems as though it would make them easy to spot, but when they climb into the bright sun dappled leaves of a mango tree they vanish like bubbles.
He sees me but stays where he is. This is a very old, very clean iguana. He’s not scared of anybody and he wants his daily cold shower. I stretch out next to him and we watch the near naked kids in their shorts running and gyrating until whatever carnal possession working in their soul has run its course. The sun is coming out and the tin roof is bursting into clouds of heady steam. Even my clothes are steaming. The kids walk home looking happy and a little shook up. The iguana has slipped off, jumped to the neighbors roof and bounced off to the coconut palm in my neighbor’s yard. He shinnies up and as soon as the sun hits the leaves he’s just gone.
Tonight I turn off the engine of the van and we start getting our groceries from Walmart out.
"Yeah, the news said it might rain." I tell her. “I miss snow.”