Juan motions me to follow him and he moves toward the slippery wall raising up two stories in front of us. He gets right up close to those narrow, slipper steps that go up and up and I start to mumble that maybe I’m not wearing the right kind of shoes for that. I’m starting to get really nervous. He’s not listening so I stop and just say it out.
“Juan, I don’t think I can go up like that. Here, these shoes…”
He turns to me and laughs. His black hair against the red rock wall. He laughs and laughs. “I was testing you. No way could you climb that.” He laughs one more time and passes me going back down the narrow path toward the truck. “Come.”
He’s still laughing but walking fast. “You’ll learn to walk softly, holding your weight up above the earth. Walk like a deer. You got that?”
I have no idea what he’s talking about.
“Too bad you got those shoes, leaves that pattern in the sand.”
I’m so confused. First he insults me with being a chicken, now my choice of footwear.
“Like a deer, tip toes, light.”
I follow him over the packed dirt that runs along the edge of the cliff. No path to be seen, just him knowing the way. I’m trying to keep up with him because he’s going like a roadrunner now and I’m not sure I’m walking like a deer. I’m stumbling and feeling like the clumsy guy I’ve always been. Each step I feel like a cartoon of the fat guy running after the bad guy. And I’m not fat.
The heat is on now. My chest is on fire. Recently quit smoking, or sort of. My eyes dart from Juan to the dirt beneath my feet. How far is this crazy man gonna make me go. But now is not the time to inquire about our itinerary. All I can do is regret the first inquiry I made into knowing the chief, who turned out to be a strange guy named Bob. I got nothing on this Juan, except the crazy chief told him to meet me.
I’m running now, and not feeling at all like a deer. Juan looks back, probably to see if I’m still with him. “Deer.”
I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this up.