The contractors were back working on the apartment downstairs. This probably came as a surprise to the tenants downstairs, who had arrived unexpectedly the night before, and probably thought they were being robbed when they woke up to hear Spanish voices in their apartment first thing in the morning.
Jaime, the lead contractor, came upstairs to tell us the washing machine had been hooked up downstairs. He showed Erin around to the back entrance at the laundry room and she put our first load of laundry in five days into the washing machine.
The cold water hose was hooked up to a spigot above a utility sink. There was no hot water hose. There was no hot water spigot. There was no hot water heater. There was no hot water.
Erin turned the spigot. Water sprayed from the hose connection. She fussed with the screw connection a bit, then came up to have me take a look at it.
I fussed with the screw connection until the spray was mostly directed into the sink, and placed a piece of plastic packaging on the sink to deflect one errant stream from the plaster wall. I started the washing machine and stood watching it for a few minutes to make sure nothing exploded.
The door to the downstairs apartment opened and a woman about my age poked her head out.
"Hi," she said, "I'm Lynn. This has been such a nightmare."
I almost laughed, but restrained myself. They had running water last night when they arrived. What else could have gone wrong?
"It all started at the airport. The rental car company charged us double the cost of the car for some mandatory insurance coverage."
I smiled knowingly.
"Then I went to the bathroom and got jumped by five people. They held me down and took one of my bags that had a bunch of cash in it. We had planned to get a hotel, but I was so upset that I just wanted to get here, so we left at 11 PM and drove through the night. But we drove the wrong way out of the airport and got halfway to Colombia before turning around and driving all the way back here. We got in at five in the morning and went to bed. Then I woke up two hours later to hear Spanish voices in our apartment and thought I was getting robbed again."
I wasn't smiling anymore. "My god," I said, "How horrifying! Are you alright?"
"I'm still really shaken up. I think they broke my foot when they robbed me."
"Oh," I said, "Did they use a watermelon?"
"Nothing. Never mind. It would just break into pieces."
"Well... how has your trip been going so far?" she asked.
"Fine. Great. No real problems," I lied, eying the water still spraying from the washing machine hose. "You're going to love Panama."
We did two loads of laundry and took outdoor showers after playing on the beach. Before we finished rinsing the kids, the water shut off. Lynn opened a window and said their shower had just stopped working.
"You know, we've had some issues with the water pump," I told her. "I'll check it."
I opened the tank. The contractors had added a low water level float switch that would shut off the pump when the tank was near empty. The wire had gotten hung up on the high water level float at the top of the tank. I unhooked it and the pump started running again.
I knew it was a simple fix!
A couple of hours later Lynn's husband Robert asked me to show him the pump and tank so he could keep an eye on the water level. I took him back behind the house.
Water was gushing from the PVC pipe connections leading from the pump to the house. The new connections the contractors had made when they recharged the compressed air on Monday had failed.
The contractors had left for the day. Not only that, but Jaime, the lead contractor, was leaving for another city the next day for the week of Carnavales. I unplugged the pump so it wouldn't drain the tank and emailed a photo of it to the owner.
For the fourth night out of five we couldn't flush the toilet.
I was almost asleep around 10:45 that night when I thought I heard a voice outside. There were other houses around us so that wasn't too unusual. What was unusual was what I heard the voice say.
Not hola. Hello.
I laid there a minute, then poked my head up to peek out the window.
There was an SUV parked in the road outside our driveway gate, half obscured behind a tree. I didn't see anyone, just the car. From what I could see, the gate appeared to be closed and locked.
Then I remembered my email to the Owner. It's Jaime, the contractor, I thought. He must be coming to fix the water pump.
Then I thought again. It was almost 11:00 at night. Jaime was supposed to have left town already. We had been coping with the water for four days, so my email to the owner hadn't been urgent enough to warrant stealth plumbing in the middle of the night. I doubted you could even get that kind of service in Panama.
I picked up my phone. There was a response from the Owner that I hadn't seen. It said Jaime was going to send a plumber in the morning.
In the morning. That wasn't Jaime at the end of our driveway.
I heard it again. English words in a Spanish accent. They knew there were English speakers in this house.
My mind started racing. Was someone trying to break into our house, targeting American tourists? Lynn had reported her airport robbery in our town that day. Was a crooked cop coming to shake them down? Most horrifying of all, was someone coming to steal water out of our tank?
I peeked out the window again. A flashlight was coming up our driveway towards the back of the house, where the stair up to our apartment was.
"Erin, wake up, there's someone on our property."
"What?" she said, dazed.
"Someone's on the property. There's a car in the road and a flashlight in the driveway."
Vera's room was closest to the door. I had to get her first. Erin could get Oliver. We could get onto the front porch and lock the outside door. If we unhooked one side of the hammock it might be long enough to climb down to the ground and -
"It's Jaime," Erin said, still half asleep, "He's coming to fix the water pump."
"I don't think so, we got an email saying-"
"It's Jaime," she said, looking out the window. "That's his car."
"Are you sure? Go talk to him."
"It's him. I don't speak Spanish. You go talk to him," she said, laying back down and putting her eye mask on.
I wasn't convinced. I threw on clothes and went to the back door, looking around the apartment for blunt objects to weaponize. I listened for a minute, then opened it and peeked out.
A light flashed up at me from the water tank behind the house, blinding me for a second. They were stealing the water -
"Hello!" said Jaime. The light was a head lamp. He was using it to see the pump he was fixing.
"Hola, Jaime," I said, relieved. He kept the light on me, waiting for me to say something else. I didn't actually have anything to say, and I don't actually speak much Spanish anyway.
"Buscas la photo?" I said.
"Si! Si!" He replied. He had gotten my photo. He took the light off me to look back at his work. Our conversation had ended.
"Buenas noches," I said, and went back inside. Twenty minutes later I heard our toilet tank filling, and shortly after the car pulled away. I flushed the toilet triumphantly and went back to bed, finally able to rest.
I imagined Lynn and Robert must have thought they were getting robbed again.