The Girl In The Daisy Hat
By Sandy Olson
I wasn’t thinking about death the day we went to Carlos‘n Charlie’s bar in Ixtapa. I had plans with friends who also lived in Zihuatanejo, on the Pacific coast of Mexico, American expats in Zihuatanejo don’t have much interest in Ixtapa: the manicured lawns, the tourists with their “all inclusive” ID wristbands, or the timeshare salesmen on every corner. But Carlos ‘n Charlie’s is fronted on the beach, has a pool, and for the price of a hamburger lunch we local expats can - and often do - spend the day.
The waiters that day were professionally friendly as usual, the open air restaurant relaxing, except of course for the ever-present TVs and Mexican music, and my companions were as lovable as ever. Still, after a long game of dominoes I felt restless and wanted to take a break. I decided to stroll the beach alone.
Swimming is not particularly safe in Ixtapa. The hotels face the open ocean and surf warnings are prominently and permanently posted--not on the Websites advertising the tropical vacation, of course. Nevertheless, there are always people in the water.
Parasailing is also popular. Sometimes at the descent the tourist lands on the beach with an audible thud. Sometimes the tourist lies quite still for a while before getting up. Mexican operators do not carry liability insurance. That day was normal for Ixtapa: beautiful sea and sky, the more affluent Mexicans enjoying their “vacaciones,” American tourists--pale or sunburned--strolling and jogging along the water’s edge. “Unsafe Surf” warning flags snapping in the wind.
What was unusual that day was that there was a crowd gathered down the beach. Curious, and hoping for excitement, I picked up my pace and hurried to see--what? A beached whale? Some exotic flotsam?
I joined a large quiet circle of people surrounding a man: flat on his back, large pale body, legs splayed and eyes shut. Balding, with a large pot-belly.
A man in a blue uniform was pounding on the man’s chest. Several others in uniform were hovering, silent and intent and ignoring the silent crowd. Any noise came over the roar of the surf from a pudgy girl in a skirted bathing suit and a brimmed straw hat with a large bobbing daisy. She pulled on the man’s feet, screaming “Stay with us, Daddy! Stay with us!” Then she ran around his body several times more, pulling on his feet again, still screaming. His wife sat at his head, silently weeping. Two boys, young white-faced teenagers, stood by, stunned, shoulders tensed.
Other officials eventually came running from the direction of the hotel with a stretcher. They loaded their victim’s body and they headed off, the family trailing behind.
The crowd began to disperse. Some of us, young and old, looked at each other, in a moment of our common mortality. Nobody said anything.
I headed back to Carlos ‘n Charlie’s, back to the music, drinks, food, and the handsome young waiters, where tourist life was going on as usual. I, feeling subdued and mortal for the moment, said to my friends, “I just saw somebody die, right here on the beach.” They were mildly interested but didn’t press me for details. It was too nice a day to think about death.
But sometimes now I am reminded of that beautiful day on the beach in Ixtapa, the sunshine and surf, and the girl, and her dowdy bathing suit and silly little straw hat with the bobbing daisy.