By Brenda Hill
My heart stopped when I saw the gun aimed at my adult son, Matthew.
Maybe our two assailants were hungry or on drugs; forgivable if they robbed me out of desperation instead of cruelty. Guns and drugs don’t help countries or their people.
As one young man continued to point the firearm, the other dragged me across the gravel road, grabbing my backpack and tearing my clothing.
Matthew inched toward the armed aggressor whose hand shook so violently I imagined the weapon firing a bullet into Matthew’s heart.
I wanted to cry out for him to shoot me instead, but could neither breathe nor remember one word of Spanish. They were boys—maybe seventeen years old—committing a crime on a weekday morning. Did they have family? It takes a village to raise a child.
Time lost its meaning, a day could have passed. My attacker released me, fleeing with my backpack, his accomplice one step behind.
Mathew supported my broken body and spirit. The outline of the ship—on which we had passage for a ‘learning at sea’ program—punctuated the horizon. We were too shaken to walk to it.
Incredibly, a taxi pulled up; a friendly cabbie offering his services to a pair traumatized travelers. But once inside, the driver sped in the opposite direction to our destination.
Escape came by way of Matthew’s physical and mental strength, his size thirteens kicking and pushing the window and back door. His actions distracted the driver and the tires spun in a deep rut, momentarily anchoring the vehicle. The door flew open and Matthew pulled me to relative safety.
The dust cleared. A few people dotted the sidewalk outside a closed milk store. A mother balanced a toddler on her hip and offered her son’s help. She nuzzled the clinging child, stroked her son’s hand, and delivered a mother to mother communique: trust. With the assistance of a few Samaritans, and eventually the Panama police, we arrived on board before the vessel departed for Costa Rica.
The ship’s doctor bandaged and splinted my injuries, offered pills for pain, and ordered rest, but when the haunting whistle blasted three times to signal departure, I wanted to watch us sail away.
I dressed to cover my injuries then hobbled to the top deck and collected two flutes of champagne from the bar.
I found Matthew at the railing.
“Salud.” We spoke the toast in unison. Simultaneous smiles. Tinkling of glasses. A tangerine sunset mirrored in the bubbles.
He’d gifted me passage on this ‘learning at sea’ reunion, my best-friend-son, my rock. We’d added knowledge—the kind cultured from land-adventures of seafaring souls. We sipped, we stood, we savored our renewed gratitude with breaths of tropical air; the self a safe harbor.
I’ve not written about this incident until today, the anniversary of the Panama Canal treaty, signed by the U.S. and the U.K. In reflection: perhaps some Panamanians are still angry with us.
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