We split into twos, Rodrigo and Patrick heading further south across the avenue, while I followed James, who was eager to go back to some of the murals we had already passed, wanting to get a closer look at the details. I brought the digital camera and he took his sketchbook for capturing finer details and for documenting where in the city the pictures were taken; that would help us piece them together when we got back home.
James found one of the larger and more detailed carvings, clearing away the foliage and moss to reveal its extent, about eight feet long. The four figures were prominent in this one as well, and he got to work drawing it.
I took some pictures, then stopped and noted with some humor that one of the figures looked like Rodrigo. James was too involved to get the same level of amusement from it, instead chiding me – good naturedly, of course – that just because they were both brown didn’t mean they looked the same. It was a long running joke in our group, and usually the one keeping it going was Rodrigo himself, so we both knew there was nothing malicious in the comment.
Despite James’s apparent devotion to this particular image, I knew we only had one or two days at most before we would have to leave, already having pushed back our return as far as we dared. I wanted to see as much as I could before then, so told James I was going to continue on and he told me not to fall down a holes or break my neck or anything. I said I would be sure to scream hysterically if I did, but assured him I had a walkie-talkie if I did have any trouble.
Without any sort of real idea where I was going, I started to wander the stone maze of the city, trying to see any kind of pattern or familiar shapes in the remains of the buildings. There were stairs which lead to long-gone second stories and the arched doorways jutting up from the walls.
I passed inside one, trying – and failing – to imagine what it must have been like to live in such a place so long ago. I knew the technical details that regional history had taught us, but that was a far different thing from understanding, from really knowing.
Building after building, I found much the same in all of them except one. In one corner, the wall formed a rounded lip into what may have once been a well, or water basin. I moved closer and was a little shocked to find it plunged down so deep the bottom was lost to my sight. I took out my flashlight, but still could not seem to discern the bottom. I looked around for a pebble or stick to drop, finding none and leaving my curiosity unsatisfied.
Leaving the well, a strange sensation took me, like a wind you can hear but not feel. I looked around to get my bearings and realized I had come far closer to the temple than I had meant. How easy it is to lose yourself in a place like this. With the sun already behind the mountains, darkness was growing despite it still being far from night, and I decided it would be best to start back to camp to meet up with the others.
After turning to head for the avenue, I noticed a sound behind me, like something moving through the foliage that was not the wind. I recalled how I had thought on the lack of any living creature, save ourselves, and how very wrong I must have been. Unable to swallow down my heart, I turned, expecting to see a jaguar or some other large animal sizing me up for dinner, but there was nothing. I strained my eyes but I could see no movement, and the sound had stopped as well.
I felt now it had been quite foolish to wander alone and the thought of screaming hysterically did indeed cross my mind as I tried to make my legs work. Though nothing was there – and I could not help but check every few steps – I could not shake the feeling of being watched, even followed, as I stumbled out onto the avenue.