101: The Eleventh Hour

101: The Eleventh Hour

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

The Eleventh Hour

There is always another layer of awareness, understanding, and delight to be discovered through synchronistic and serendipitous events.

~Hannelie Venucia

There is never a good time for a Category 5 hurricane to roar through our lives, but for me the timing could not have been worse. After months of unrelenting conflict with my landlord, who threatened to have me deported for refusing to pay his electric bill, I announced that I would move out of my rented bungalow on November 1st and see him in court. Then, on October 23rd, Hurricane Patricia battered my isolated little fishing village in Mexico, shredding my plans.

It took almost an entire day for neighbors to free my pets and me from our refuge, which had held its own against the storm. A rooftop water tank blocked the only door, power lines choked the vegetation, and the contents of someone’s art studio fluttered around my yard. Picking my way through the debris, I headed for the beach in the fading light to see if my home-to-be — a funky trailer — had weathered the storm. Along the way, friends and strangers shared the news: No potable water. No telephone service or cell-phone signals. No way to get money, an essential in a cash economy. And no way for delivery trucks to bring in supplies, as the road into town was blocked by boulders and mudslides as well as the army, which had been charged with clearing the highway and maintaining order along the coast.

Hot, dirty, and dazed, I walked along the beach, aghast at the devastation. The Bambu Bar was gone. My favorite restaurant was gone. Josie’s sweet little house was gone. The structures that remained upright appeared to be askew without their signature palapa roofs, as did the palms without their fronds. The trailer I was going to move into had been totally demolished by Patricia’s fierce winds, its parts and pieces buried beneath five feet of sand.

I had only a week to find another home at a time when virtually everything had been booked in advance for the upcoming tourist season. It was impossible to communicate with absentee owners, and much of the housing stock was no longer habitable. On my way back to the bungalow, I could see that locals were already moving together into the most stable building occupied by an extended family member. My prospects were bleak. I would need a miracle.

While awaiting it, however, I could help in the cleanup and reconstruction effort. Given the unrelenting heat, no electricity, and no way to flush a toilet, staying indoors was unbearable; rinsing off in the Pacific Ocean was the only way to bathe. So I joined every other able-bodied person who took to the muddy streets from dawn to sunset — making towers out of rubble, reinforcing tipsy structures, and delivering donated food, water, supplies, and mattresses as soon as the road into town was clear.

Power was restored late on the fifth night to elated shouts of “Hay luz!” (“There is light!”) But the joy of whirling fans, dry bedding, and running water was extremely short-lived. Only two days later, the Costalegre was drenched by torrential rains that closed the airport and flooded the town ten miles away on the next bay — the site of the nearest bank and gas station and source of our food, drinking water, and provisions. The downpour was another major setback to the local economy, which had come to depend on income earned during the winter high season. Village residents were already racing against the clock, and so was I. The word-of-mouth culture had turned up no leads; in just one more damp day, I would be homeless.

Weariness gave way to despair the next morning as I set out, past heaps of trash and cars disabled by broken glass, hoping to find friends who might agree to shelter my pets and possessions while I camped out on the beach. The beach was the shortest route to everywhere, so I traipsed along the shore. Soon I heard English-speaking voices spilling down from the roofless top floor of the town’s most luxurious beachfront complex. I looked up to see two blond women sitting on the open deck, engaged in conversation as they stared forlornly out to sea. “Did you just arrive?” I called. “Can I help you with anything?”

The younger woman motioned for me to climb up the exterior stairs. We introduced ourselves and briefly shared our stories. As soon as the airport was operational, the mother, who owned the multi-unit rental property, had flown in with her daughter from Los Angeles to assess the damage and decide what to do. They didn’t know where to begin.

“Do you speak Spanish?” the mother asked me.

“Yes,” I replied. “I’ve lived in Mexico full-time for more than thirteen years.”

“Can you use a Windows 10 computer?”

I nodded. “I’m a translation editor, so I have two of them — one programmed in English, the other in Spanish.”

“Do you know any construction workers or landscapers?”

“In the past week, I’ve met everyone in town that I didn’t know before.”

“Could you give us a minute, please?”

After a self-guided tour of the spacious, soggy rooms, I rejoined the women on the deck.

“Well,” the mother began, “I need a personal assistant, and I’d like someone to maintain my deceased partner’s home. If it suits you, would you be willing to help me a few hours a week during the high season? In exchange, you could stay there rent-free. The housekeeper lives across the street.” I nearly fainted.

Nothing could be accomplished on a wet Sunday afternoon, so she drove me to the house in one of the few cars with inflated tires that still had gas. Embraced by a verdant tropical forest on the banks of a stream, the house was quirky, charming, nicely furnished and, except for several scratches from toppled trees, unscathed by Patricia. In the back were a lovely covered porch and a huge, walled-in patio — a pet playground extraordinaire. And it was located only two short blocks from my makeshift animal sanctuary, whose occupants included twenty-one cats, six dogs, and a ninety-year-old widower who was no longer able to care for them. I could easily walk over to their sprawling, dilapidated quarters to feed the critters and check on Don Luis.

Trying not to gush, I said, “I absolutely love this house… but I have pets.”

“How many?”

“Three rather traumatized cats.”

“That’s fine with me. When can you move in?”

“Tomorrow, November 1st, would be great.”

“And when could you begin assisting me?”

“November 2nd is the Day of the Dead. All of the usual events have been canceled because the cemetery is inaccessible, but the locals will gather in the church plaza at noon to praise the town’s patron saint because everyone survived the hurricane. I’d like to join them and come to your place after that.”

We shook hands.

Then I headed back to the car with my fairy godmother, dressed in her clever disguise as a wealthy American businesswoman.

“By the way,” I said, “thank you for the miracle.”

~Lynne Willard

More stories from our partners