As I approach the intersection, my hands claim autonomy; all ten fingers tighten around the steering wheel, jerking my body up and forward, eyes wide open. Ah, to be a dragonfly and be able to see all around me without having to turn my head!
I look from one side to the other several times, holding my breath, right foot firmly pressed on the brake pedal. It is the furious blare of a claxon that finally propels me to move on, but not before looking up and down the street one more time.
Years ago I exchanged my business suits, pumps and Honda Civic for shorts, flip flops and a bicycle. I live in paradise. But even in these 24.21 by 7.94 miles of heaven called Cozumel, it is necessary to drive a car every now and then. And when you do, no amount of defensive driving classes can prepare you for the experience.
There is no sacred space when it comes to the road. One shares it with tricycles, horse-drawn carriages, parked cars, street vendors, left-their-common-sense-at-home tourists, and mopeds carrying up to five passengers swirling around like flies in a garbage dump. Sometimes there is one of each, lined up side by side, all in one lane, waiting for the traffic light to change! If there is a rule, it is to be alert – and you can never be too careful.
If the experience of driving here is challenging, try to imagine what it is like to be involved in an accident. There was a moment in particular, or rather a series of moments that culminated with a crucial meeting in an intersection that will forever be rooted to my spirit.
One splendid morning, due to road repairs, I was forced to take a detour. Unfamiliar with the area, focused on finding my way around, I hit a lady on a moped, sending her to the hospital and me to the police headquarters. Thank God, her injuries were not serious, but my sorrow for having hurt her was and continues to be beyond measure.
The police headquarters in Cozumel is not a cozy place, as I imagine neither is any other police headquarters in the world. It is a place inhabited by egos inflated by the false power of authority. A moment in this environment can be devastating, but it can also feed the spirit.
With hundreds of minutes at my disposal without anything more to do but wait, I devoted myself to concentrating on my breathing, convincing myself with every inhalation that everything was going to be okay, and with every exhalation, obliterating all doubt. More than ten hours had passed when the possibility of spending the night there became almost certain. It was then that I thought “anywhere but here” – pleading with the universe to remove me from my immediate reality.
At the mere idea of having to spend the night there (in jail, if we are going to call things by their name) my mind became a growing monster of images fed by stories told by other people and the thousands of movies that paint horrific scenes of the jails of the world. My knees began to tremble like castanets and all I could think was how very unpredictable life is. Short of getting on my knees and begging for forgiveness, it took a lot of persuasion and goodwill to convince the Public Ministry legal representative in charge to put through the paperwork for my release that same night.
The whole ordeal lasted all of fourteen hours, but there, where I experienced so many anxious moments, I also found compassion from a few public servants. Among them, police women who radiated humanity in their smiles, an official who insisted on bringing me something to eat (scrumptious pork chop tacos that I ate without reserve in spite of the fact that I claimed not to be hungry) and a Public Ministry aide who turned off the air conditioning when she noticed that I was shivering – gestures that one may expect to find anywhere, but there.
There were moments that day that tested my level of tolerance; one of them, finding out that had I called my insurance agent sooner, I would not have had to go through the whole judicial process. But who can assure me that things would have been different had I lived somewhere else?