He feels as if he’s being watched. He looks up from the book to scan his surroundings. He sees nothing but green leaves, muted flowers, darkness. He listens. He hears only the singing of the grasshoppers, chapulines as they are called in the markets in Oaxaca. Roasted and salted and served with lime, he finds the taste quite pleasant, rather like peanuts. He can’t believe he actually eats them though or that he eats salsa de chicatanas, mole made from flying ants or that he uses sal de gusano, salt flavored with smoked maguey worms with his mezcal. The very thought makes him squirm. He turns back to the book but his concentration is shot.
Earlier in the day he witnessed an event that shook him to the core. He wandered into one of those little churches in the valley, the churches of “los indios” as the Mexicans call them. Indios—in-dios—in-god. Oh well, what does it matter? Los indios have their own religion he was told, a mix of Catholicism and the ancient traditions of their ancestors. The word pagan crossed his mind.
Candles provided the only light inside the church but there were hundreds of them on the walls and benches and some on the floor. He smelled copal incense. He realized he was walking on pine needles. He saw a girl, perhaps ten, with her mother. They were accompanied by what he imagined to be a curandera, a healer, who wore an embroidered blouse and dress. Very pretty. Pseudo medicine. Worthless. The curandera held a chicken above the girl. The healer suddenly twisted the chicken’s neck killing it instantly. Reflexes caused the dead bird to flutter strangely in the air. A look of horror crossed the poor girl’s face as she struggled unsuccessfully to still the chicken. He thought he might retch at the sight.
Such primitive customs appalled him. He thought of an Indian man who wrapped a snake around his wife. The man said the wife’s love strangled him. He wanted her strangled too. The woman didn’t die or at least that’s what he was told. Tit for tat. Or was that just a dream? He could no longer remember.
Dreams, art; art, life; life, dreams. Who cares?
He puts the book aside. He pours himself a glass of mezcal. He sips the fiery liquid and savors the warmth it provides. Again he feels a presence. He stands and walks to the edge of the garden. Loneliness torments him. He has become a stranger even to himself.
A ticking noise comes out of the shadows. Tick tick tick tick tick in rapid succession. Is it a bird whose presence he feels? Is the bird is telling him something? “My God! I’m losing his mind,” he says out loud. But no one is there to listen.
He returns to the mezcal. In the distance he hears faint drumbeats. They are, he has read, an ancient form of communication. Everything around him speaks. He understands nothing.
It’s late. His glass is empty. His mind is blank. He hears nothing, sees nothing, feels nothing. He retires for the night but first he turns once more to look into the garden. Nothing has changed. He sees only green leaves, muted flowers, darkness.