Our plan was to keep Melinda waiting for a few minutes to give her a dose of her own medicine.
We dawdled purposefully on the Malecón, the walkway that lies between the modest strip of businesses in Esperanza and the sea. We stretched and yawned and commented on stunningly inconsequential sights.
At three forty-five, thoroughly bored but certain that Melinda would now be anxiously awaiting our return, we sauntered back into her rabbit warren, prepared to forgive her tardiness.
It could happen to anyone, we mentally rehearsed telling her if she apologized too profusely. Let bygones be bygones, and so forth.
But this time the place really was empty. Not a soul in sight, not even Señorita Cold Cuts.
Shaking our heads in disbelief, we sat down dejectedly on the front steps, unsure of our next move. We were almost beyond words.
People walked up and down, joking, laughing, giving every indication of enjoying life. We felt like throttling them.
At about four o’clock Melinda’s assistant came waddling up the road, fortifying herself this time with a rapidly melting ice-cream cone. “Ah, you come back!” she exclaimed delightedly, as if our return was the most astonishing occurrence of her life.
“Have you heard from Melinda?” Michael asked.
With a quick dart of her bright pink tongue she polished off the ice cream (slurp slurp), and then the cone (crunch).
We waited in breathless silence.
“Yes, she call,” she said at length.
With a dull thud, she sat down at the other end of the porch, which creaked ominously under her weight.
“She has rummy-tummy problem.”
Michael drew in his breath with a sharp, sucking sound.
“You know,” she said, blushing slightly.
She blushed deeper still. Finally she made a vaguely lady-like raspberry sound, rubbing her stomach all the while.
As pantomimes go, it was lame. But we got the point.
“She no come,” our friend concluded.
We drove back to the house in silence, barely noticing the litter strewn along the side of the road.
After all, it was somebody else’s problem now.