The older man visibly relaxed as Joun, one of the warriors from the beach, pushed through the underbrush. He was bare chested, his shirt tied around his pants, and he was holding a spear tightly in his right hand. His face was flushed red and he was soaked with sweat from head to toe, no doubt from the growing, steamy warmth of the jungle.
"And Diego." the warrior quickly added, glancing past Johanas. "The hell are you two doing out here?"
Before Diego could respond, Johanas spoke for them.
"Felt like going for a little walk." Johanas he said casually. "Little Diego here wanted to come with so it seemed like a good chance to show him a thing or two about tracking."
Joun's eyes narrowed more in confusion than suspicion and he very plainly glanced down at the cripple's damaged leg and his cane. The older man, in turn, simply smiled wider.
"Ain't that right, boy?" he said, glancing over his shoulder.
"Eh...yea. That's right. My mother wanted to make sure someone was with him so I went with." Diego confirmed the half truth.
"That wasn't you we heard then, was it?" the warrior asked.
"That popping sound? No. We were wondering ourselves." Johanas confirmed as he took a drag from the cigarette.
"We think we have an intruder on the island." Joun stated flatly.
"Explains the tracks." the older man said with a nod. "Was wondering why they looked so weird. Diego pointed em out to me."
Joun glanced back at him again and looked a little impressed.
"Really now? I would have figured it the other way around. Maybe you've got the workings of a hunter in ya, Diego."
Diego shifted uncomfortably.
"Maybe." he muttered.
"Alright, you two head back to the village. We don't need anyone wandering around here while we're looking for someone, particularly not someone...eh..." Joun seemed to get stuck on his words for a minute before finishing. "...as venerable as yourself."
Johanas burst out laughing which quickly broke down into a mild coughing fit.
"Venerable! Ha! Yea, alright. Come on, Diego, let's get my old ass off this mountain."
"Why did you lie to him?" Diego asked as they broke through the tree line and they stepped out into the blazing sun of the open beach.
"What?" Johanas asked indigently. "Well I never! Ain't never lied in my life."
"You lied to Joun, though."
Diego ran out in front of the cripple, stopping him from walking any farther.
"You told him I showed you the tracks."
"You did, didn't you? I didn't know about 'em til you told me."
"And that you were out for a walk."
"And I was!" Johanas confirmed. "You even said it yourself: your mother didn't want me going alone. After all, he didn't ask why I wanted to go for a walk or what I was doing while walking."
"But..." Diego stammered, not sure where to go with this. "You know there's an intruder!"
"I figured there was based on the tracks and what you told me." the older man said, his grin threatening to split his head in half. "Joun only confirmed my suspicions further."
Diego was speechless.
In the moment, he had felt confused and even a little ashamed that Johanas had seemingly lied to the warrior. Now, with him plainly explaining how expertly he'd gotten around the man's questions, he couldn't decide if he actually felt better or not.
"Listen, Diego, let me tell you something." Johanas said, his voice taking on an air of sincerity. "You're smart. You always have been. I blame your mother personally."
The older man punctuated his statement with a short, barking laugh.
"Problem is," he continued. "Most people think they are smart. Now this can mean that someone who doesn't know any better than you is going to make a decision that might effect whether you live or die. But, in return, it also means you can also use that same lack of smarts against em."
Johanas tapped his head.
"Make 'em think what they think is actually the case. People will always presume something. It's natural. Tell 'em what they want to hear and they'll believe it. Even if you tell em the truth to their face, if you tell em the right way, they'll do the lie for you."
"I don't understand."
"I know. But give it some time."
Diego couldn't accept that.
"Because..." Johanas began, his expression growing dark and distant. "Sometimes it's easier to let people believe one thing than face the pain of having to correct them. Sometimes people are scared to admit something to themselves as much as they are to others."
Diego stared at the older man, stared at the normally vacant, smiling face, and how stern it had grown in a moment. The weary, sweat soaked lines and wrinkles and a horrible weight that seemed to lie across his entire being made him seem eternally older and more abused than he'd ever seen before.
And, all at once, he wasn't sure they were still talking about the same thing.
"So the tracks-?" he asked slowly.
Johanas' face lit up again once more.
"The tracks are fine. If we told em we were just following em, they'd get upset and worried. Easier to let em think we were just walking."
The older man's smile returned in full force but Diego was still picturing the darkened facade from a moment prior.
"Okay." he agreed softly.
"Now come on." Johanas said with a pat on the boy's shoulder. "Let's get back to the village and see about stealing another bowl of stew from your mom."
Johanas started off and Diego followed him down the beach. Occasionally, he found himself glancing back towards the woods where they'd come from, his mind chewing on the strangely cryptic and bizarre lesson that the older man had just imparted. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something about 'people too scared too admit something' continually rolled about in his head even after he'd gone to bed that night.