Day after day, Rob checked the weather forecast on the Tico Times app. It had rained a lot lately, but that did not bother him. He had surfed in a storm before and would do it again. Plus, storms create swells and swells carry waves. He hoped the rain would be over by the end of the week though. His flight was on Saturday morning on Easter break. One week in Costa Rica, not bad for a new hire.
Rob landed at noon. He rushed to the oversized luggage carrousel and waited, anxious. Three hundred dollars to bring his board from Florida, more than the plane ticket! He grabbed his board bag and unzipped it in a hurry. Then, with the precision of a neurosurgeon, he laid it on the ground and removed the bubble wrap. He swiped his finger along the rails, scanning for any imperfection. The board arrived undamaged. Good start.
Rob had no specific destination, itinerary, or commitment. He rented a small Toyota 4x4, strapped his board to the roof, and exited the airport on a cloudy blue sky. The road weaved through mountains and steep green cliffs that reminded him of Hawaii. He drove to Jaco, the closest beach town, along the Tarcoles river and stopped. Hundreds of cars lined up before the bridge blocking the traffic. Tourists were taking pictures of crocodiles tanning on the riverbanks. Fucking gringos, he thought.
Growing up in Florida, Rob had seen too many crocodiles. When he was a teenager, one snuck into his neighbor’s backyard and ate the cat. They found the croc in the pool, a massive prehistoric predator, and a ball of fur on the grass. Since then, he learned to stay away from them.
As he approached Jaco, Rob drove by it. The town was too casino-like for his taste, too close to Florida. He kept driving and pulled over ten minutes later, at a restaurant with a view on the beach. A young man in uniform helped him park, and addressed him in perfect English.
Clerk: Welcome to Playa Hermosa amigo!
Rob: Thank you. Do you know where I can find a good snack and go surfing?
Clerk: You came to the perfect place.
Rob: Where is the surf spot?
Clerk: Right here, go down the stairs and walk to your left. You'll see surfers.
Rob: Great! What food is good here?
Clerk: I like the shrimp burrito.
Rob: Cool, I'll have that. Can I leave my board at the restaurant? I want to check the spot before I go.
Clerk: Of course. So, a shrimp burrito?
Rob: To go please.
Clerk: Right on.
Rob: Thank you.
Clerk: Pura vida!
The midafternoon sun was pounding strong. Rob took his lunch to the beach and passed a cemetery of broken surf boards. Looking for shade, he reached a stream of water flowing into the sea. He walked up the stream and found a tree trunk in the banks of the water, with a direct view on the waves. Rob sat down and took his first bite. The burrito was delicious. He devoured the first half and paused to breathe.
Around him laid the wrecks of the last storm. Broken branches, tree trunks, and plastic bottles hung on the sides of the river. Rob realized how quiet the place was. He heard the faint sound of the waves in the distance, but everything around him was silent. The air, heavy with water, seemed to absorb all sounds, as if tuning the noise to a mute. He felt uneasy.
Rob stood up and stared at the water. The smooth surface moved small branches and water lilies in slow motion, all in silence. He searched for something unusual but his senses caught nothing besides the cringy sensation of being watched.
The silence turned his worries into paranoia. He yelled "holaaaa" and threw a piece of wood into the river. The splash made a few ripples, and stillness returned to the surface. Slightly relieved, Rob sat back and resumed his eating.
In the corner of his eye, he saw something moving. He stopped, food in his mouth, and noticed a trail on the surface of the water. There was no object floating and nobody around. The silence engulfed him in fear. Fuck this place! he thought. He stood up and the water trail appeared a second time.
Rob stepped back and tripped over the tree trunk. His body made a deaf sound as he hit the ground. In a reflex, he sprung back on his feet and stared at the water, alert. It was then that he saw it, a black slit on a glazed olive sphere, still and watchful, a window into terror.
Rob leapt back into the bush and climbed to higher grounds. He clung to a tree and hopped on a branch, at least ten meters from the river bank. Panic crippled his breathing. Panting, he looked back down at the river.
The trail had disappeared but his feeling did not. The vision revived a forgotten trauma, releasing fear like pus from a wound. The black pupil had slit his soul and turned a grown man into a scared child. Rob realized he had dropped his burrito. Looking down where he was sitting, he saw it again, much closer this time.
The unblinking eye stared at him and vanished, ever patient, below the surface. Rob was shaking. Droplets of sweat formed on his temples. He felt the horror tearing his flesh, imagining a painful and cruel death. He stayed on that branch and watched the water surface. The beast was huge, silent, and deadly. Once his shaking stopped, Rob walked back to his car and drove away from the coast.
A rainy week made surfing difficult and so, he did not go to the water. Rob spent his week doing tourist activities, like every gringo in Costa Rica, and had fun at it. He returned to Florida a week later, with a nice tan, colorful pictures, and a fresh reminder of his childhood trauma.
Back home, Rob was chilling on the couch when he got a notification from the Tico Times app. It read "Unidentified man devoured by crocodiles after jumping from a bridge". He deleted the app, put his phone away, and sighed.
He never forgot the intensity of that encounter. When he closed his eyes, he saw it again. A black slit on a olive sphere, glassy, silent, and unmoved. He shivered and blinked.
The green eye never did.