The story of JINCAN begins in southern China (Macau), introducing Shen and his quest for the perfect poison to carry out a final mission. While Shen sails across the Pacific to San Francisco, with the hope of escaping his past, Greystone attempts to arrive in California before him, taking a route that cuts across Panama.
In my previous post, I described San Francisco: https://lobomarco.com/2019/11/
Here, Greystone arrives in Panama.
A THUNDERBOLT HAD ME JUMPING OUT OF MY SOAKED SKIN. It was close enough to taste — metallic, acidic — and to feel its charge in my fillings. Even more horrifying, the light-burst exposed the ocean. Heaving beneath me, it was viscous and black, conjuring up the images of my darkest fears — tentacles as thick and long as the ship’s mast, curling up, studded with suckers, each ring armed with a beak ready to tear flesh.
A few of us chose to brave the storm up on deck rather than to suffer in the airless hold. Clinging to a pole or rope while being lashed by icy rain was preferable to the misery belowdecks. Down there, men groaned with each roll of the ship, clutching their bellies, squirming in pools of vomit. From time to time one would claw his way up through the hatch. The denizens of the stinking hold would manage only a few shaky steps before again spilling their guts and scurrying back down to the stink. Shivering under my raincoat and hat, I hid from the storm as best I could, pressed into a corner.
At dawn, the downpour softened to a drizzle and with a calmer sea I began to feel safer from the retreating squall. Then, as if in defiance, the storm released a deep, slow rumble — nature telling me with a belch that it had its fill. Another roar shook me to the core before ebbing away.
Under a burst of light, purple welts lined the sky. Panama seemed to wink at me; a weary gesture from her bruised eyelid that said, “So, now you too.”
Hers was a story of turmoil. Thrust off the seabed by its cataclysmic coupling she was smothered in layers of sludge. Driven ever upwards, she eventually broke surface. With first breaths she conjoined the landmasses to either side, cleaving the Earth’s ocean into two.
Coveted as a prize long before she was named, her slenderness was what made her so alluring. Separating Atlantic and Pacific oceans by a mere 50 miles at her narrowest point she so served as a bond between them. For centuries, conquistadores, mercantilists, and pirates fought to have her. Even my former homeland Scotland had tried its luck at setting up a colony on her Atlantic shore in order to establish an overland trade route. The 17th Century Darien Scheme failed miserably after only a few years, resulting in the destruction of the finances of the entire country.
There were several versions as to the origin of the name ‘Panama’. A fellow passenger regaled us one evening saying,
|Some ascribe it to the fact that a species of tree abounds there. Others say that it is because the first settlers arrived in the month of August when butterflies are plentiful, and that the name means ‘many butterflies’ in native tongue. Perhaps the best known story is that a fishing village originally bore the name Panam , named after a nearby beach, and that the name meant ‘many fish’. Yet still another version says that a Kuna chief gave the land the name ‘pannaba’, the Kuna word meaning ‘very far’.|
Whether the name referred to trees, butterflies, a sandy shore or plentiful fish, I had indeed traveled very far, and still had farther to go.
Panama had declared independence from Spain just thirty years earlier and was now part of Colombia. Given the recent interest in California, I wondered what designs America had on her. There was already talk of a railroad straddling her back to link the two great oceans.
And so, yes, now me too, I thought in reply to a final burst of light from the receding storm.
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My new book, JINCAN is available via Amazon and other booksellers.