My last night in Antigua is one of those days stamped forever into the back of my eyelids and the inner curls of my ears - so perfect that every detail of that crowded porch and the faces in the fading sun and the endless song remains crystal clear, and in a quiet moment I can shut my eyes and return.

The Muse sits to my right, limpid blue eyes still bright in the half-light, long fingers teasing a torrent of notes from a guitar so covered in souvenir stickers that you can hardly see the wood. In front of me, Old Hen's banjo tunes form the solid treetrunk to Muse's wandering vines of song. The Sailor sits to my left, whitegold hair and lashes still catching every spark of light, next to Ana and her brother. Swifty, the old friend and new arrival, darts around like a bubble in a breeze, shimmering in her excitement; September's serene smile never fades. These and more friends weave a thick-knotted web of words and song that entangles me and pulls me up into the darkening sky, above the volcanoes and the rivers of streetlights, then eases me back down again onto the cool tiles of the kitchen floor, one spoke of a wheel of a dozen or so still hanging on into the wee hours, still singing. A single candle on the floor throws dancing shadows behind us; Swifty lies curled on the cot mattress that serves as a couch. I don't remember the goodbyes.

The next morning is golden and crisp and could not have been a more difficult day for a departure. I'm certain the sun streaming through the open, empty doorways of the ruins near our house knew exactly what it was doing.

acatenango in the morning candelaria

My bags are packed in a matter of minutes - to pause the flowery prose for a moment, I will never go back to packing more than one or two small bags for overseas trips; I adore being a turtle - and a few more precious hours are spent dallying at my favorite coffeeshop, drinking café con leche and doodling and getting doodled, which is less dirty than it sounds, and talking and laughing and forcing the imminent arrival of the shuttle to the airport out of my head.

table full of friends

swifty drawing birdie

image credit: September

the best barista

The shuttle finally does come, of course, and I don't cry too much at the last wave of embraces and kisses and promises to write and visit and sing again soon. But oh that poor cabbie - I wept for the entire drive.