Nicholas hadn’t intended to get married that day.
After sleeping late into the morning, the team was welcomed to the campfires of the Mayan tribe members with promises of a hot breakfast served with hesitation and suspicion.
The strides gained toward building relationships the previous evening had waned in the daylight as the tribesmen still couldn’t grasp the purpose of the scientists’ invasion of their jungle nor their interest in the sacred temple pyramid.
Rather than leading the team of scientists to the pyramid, the chief decided to bring them to his village. He reasoned they could take the time required to understand one another, eat real food, replenish their dwindling water supply from the tribe’s hidden cenote, and rest. The village was also significantly closer to the temple pyramid and involved an actual path rather than needing to chop through the jungle with machetes. The team could hardly argue.
So, they packed up their tents just as they’d done the previous morning and followed the chief and tribe members without much choice. They weren’t quite being led at the tip of the warriors’ spears, but they were followed closely by tribesmen on all sides.
The walk wasn’t long and by mid-day they entered a surprisingly large village with thatched roofs made of palm leaves and low rock walls along paths of earth. Dwellings were small and spread out across a large region to avoid the need to disrupt the tree canopy, keeping them hidden from airplanes. The village was so well-hidden that the LiDAR scans had barely picked it up as man-made. The remote sensing analysts had dismissed the blip as outlying antiquities near the main temple pyramid.
To describe the village as off the grid was an understatement. The tribe subsisted off the land, growing their own food and utilizing the jungle forests as their natural gardens. They had a few animals and in honor of their guests had slaughtered a large calf and were in the process of preparing a meal for the entire village. There would be a celebration that evening.
Upon arriving in the village, the scientists set up their tents in the locations they were shown and treated the site as they would have any other campsite along their way.
They were taken to a small cenote of crystal-clear water and were instructed to refill their water jugs. The tribal members drank water directly from the sinkhole of groundwater, declaring that it was perfectly safe. Knowing the likelihood of microorganisms to which the scientists have zero immunities, they chose to purify their drinking water prior to consumption.
The afternoon was spent introducing the team to the village and touring the many structures, most of which were small homes crowded with many children.
The chief was fascinated by Nicholas and Levi, wondering how they could be the same person, living in two bodies. He had no concept of twins. He also wondered how the men shared one wife.
Levi stepped away and shook his head, explaining he was not part of Nicholas and Becky’s relationship.
Nicholas explained that he loved Becky but that she was his girlfriend not his wife. That upset the chief. He was insistent that no one should sleep together until they were married. Although Nicholas and Becky both agreed with the concept in principle, there wasn’t much they could do about the challenge until they returned home to America. Married or not, he wasn’t letting Becky sleep alone in the jungle.
“Yaan u ts’o’okol beelo’.” The chief pointed to himself and nodded his head definitively. “Le áak’aba’.”
“Uh… I think he said he would perform the wedding.” Levi chuckled nervously. “Tonight.”
“Very funny,” Nicholas said. “We’ll get married when we get home to America.”
“K’a’anan ts’o’okol u bey ma’ weenel múuch’ le áak’aba’.” The chief looked angry.
“He says you need to be married before you sleep together tonight,” Levi said.
“Humor him,” Becky said out of the side of her mouth. “It’s not like it’s for real. We can still have a wedding when we get back to the States.”
“Are you sure?” Nicholas asked, just as quietly. “Don’t you want a white dress and cake and dancing and your father to walk you down the aisle?”
“Sure, but if performing some traditional Mayan ritual will make him happy, what the heck?” Becky said. “We need him to help us get to the temple pyramid. What could it hurt?”
“If you insist,” Nicholas said. “You know what they say, happy wife, happy life.”
Becky giggled and stepped closer to the chief, bowing her head in respect. She didn’t know how to say yes or thank you in Yucatec, but she could answer in Spanish. “Si, gracias.”
The chief nodded his approval and said something to his daughter, waving her over. Tiani seemed surprised and looked them up and down with a creased brow.
Levi translated what he’d said and spoke directly to Becky. “The chief wants Tiani to help you get ready for your wedding. You’re supposed to follow her.”
“Uh… okay.” Becky squeezed Nicholas’ hand and stepped away from him, then glanced behind and offered Nicholas a nervous wave. “See ya at the altar.”