DAVID HAMILTON 373
never more than begun, leaned against a concrete wall topped with
shards of broken glass, and where an iguana blinked his archaic
I'd never known heat like that, and more arresting than the heat
itself was its implication of looseness. Always before, heat had
meant relief from winter, then work and sweat as if our comfort had
to be paid for. It meant sweltering in midwestern fields in midsummer, baling hay or hoeing beans and corn. Or it meant the first,
suffocating early mornings in mid-August of high school football
practice, when player after player would collapse nauseated against
the practice field fence after wind sprints, his strength draining from
arms and legs through the heaves of an insulted stomach. Getting
something into shape, the fields or ourselves, we called it.
But that very shapeliness of things was here in question. Was that
iguana part of the concrete wall or a wayfarer upon it? The air that
seemed to cling at midday on the street corner, as if you were
wrapped in cellophane and caught under strong lamps, came
crossed with the scent of oleander and jasmine, which became dominant in the evening. And the loose-limbed people on the streets, in
cotton dresses, baggy pants, short-sleeved shirts, and in a full spectrum of skin colors, from off-white, to caramel, to black, seemed
never just walking, but sauntering or dancing. The heat was neither
relief nor penalty for them; it was their medium.
Against that background, Thompson and I stood alone in the
Centro's courtyard, which was basis enough for our meeting. Anyway, the courtyard was nearly empty - we could hardly ignore each
other -and it wasn't long before I'd offered him a couch in the
apartment I shared with two other novice teachers, each of us in his
first year out of a men's liberal arts college.
Thompson was fresh from the Air Force and a sports-writing
assignment for a base newspaper in Florida. Now he was launching
his career in journalism. He was a correspondent for the National
Observer, a weekly newspaper no longer with us, and a stringer for
several other papers. He was giving himself most of a year to nose
around South America, and Barranquilla was near his port of entry.
Just that afternoon he had arrived from the Guajira peninsula in
northeast Colombia with its Indians and contrabandistas.
So he set up his typewriter on a cardtable in our apartment and
spent most of his week with us working on stories. Then he would set
off up the Magdalena River toward Bogota; three hundred miles or