Graham made all the arrangements. I was busy with a project. I didn’t even have time for a cursory review let alone the usual detailed preparation we generally put in. B was a famous writer. I knew he was eclectic and lived in Oaxaca. Eclectic isn’t quite right. He was a recluse, a sort of Mexican J.D. Salinger.
I was not completely surprised when I arrived at B’s small and seemingly dilapidated house on Reforma street. It fit my priors. I knew he had to be well off financially from his writing. I imagined he prided himself on a simple lifestyle.
B was known for esoteric erotica, strange sexual escapades that no one admitted reading yet sold by the millions.
I was met by the elderly maid whom according to legend—B was the stuff of legend—had been with B since childhood. Her wrinkled skin, sparse white hair, and creaking skeleton-like frame led me through an entryway of rusted metal beams and poles angling this way and that, an engineer’s nightmare yet sufficiently functional to hold back the inevitable entropy of nature. I wondered as I looked at the old woman in front of me how someone so slight could carry my backpack.
We entered a cool, dark room. I could no longer see the woman in front of me. When my eyes adjusted to the dim light from the candles, I saw fabulist murals on the walls and ceiling. Looking down I realized the maid had gone on ahead and that I was lost. In any case, I was in a strange, square room alone with surrealist art all around me. Honestly, I was a bit frightened.
A door opened. I was blinded by bright sunlight. Slowly, I made out the shape of a man in the middle of the doorframe.
“Welcome to our humble abode. I hope the journey was not too trying. I trust you brought the documents and the necessary materials?”
He was much slighter than I expected. For some reason I had pictured him as fat, even obese, why I cannot say. He was unshaven but without a full beard. His hair, long, straight, black, and unkempt in an Andy Warhol way made me wonder if he was self-affected. Before I could answer his question, he answered himself.
“I’m sure you did. My apologies. No need to get right to it. We have plenty of time. Come. Let’s sit in the courtyard and make our introductions.”
So it was that I met B, the famous writer that no one knew anything about. His life was clouded in mystery. His work was famous. My job was to fill in the blanks. Even if I could only get a rough picture of his life, it would be the coup of the year for our company.
The garden around the patio was large, tranquil, and filled with beautiful flowers: multi-colored bougainvillea, purple jacaranda, red plumeria (cacaloxuchitl), pink pochote, red pomegranate, yellow primavera, orange hibiscus. This was the polar opposite of what I saw when I first arrived.
We sat facing each other around a small table. The same maid who greeted me when I arrived brought us large cups of warm atole, a pleasant drink of corn and masa flavored with chocolate. As she handed me my cup our hands touched. I had a strange sensation, inexplicable. Under different circumstances I might have described it as sexual.
“So, you’ve come for the interview?” His eyes uncovered me as if he lifted a blanket from my soul, then they darted away.
“You must know you’re famous throughout the world B. You can’t deny it. Yet, no one knows anything about you, where you were born, the circumstances of your life, who influenced you, how you came to be who you are.”
“And, if I grant this interview, what is there for me?”
“Only that your work will be better understood in context by those who admire it.”
“In context? What context, who’s? My work can be understood on its own.”
“No, it isn’t. Your fans want to know about you. Who you are, how you think, where you get your ideas and so forth. I want to know.”
“You mean, you want to read my Wikipedia page? None of us, my young friend, neither I nor you nor anyone, is who we think we are. None of us can be put into a box or described on a Wikipedia page.”
I looked away to the corner of the courtyard. Through a small opening in the wall I thought I saw something moving, two men, two … something. Thinking back, I’m not sure. I may have had a vision or maybe my eyes simply deceived me. But, when I turned again to B, he was gone. That much I do know. His chair was empty. He had simply disappeared.
The maid returned and motioned for me to follow. She lead me down a long dark hall. There were closed doors on either side. At the end there was an open door. She explained this was to be my room. I saw my backpack on the bed inside. I entered. She shut the door behind me. I was alone.
There was a note on the table from B. “I will consider the interview. I will let you know in the morning. Sleep well.”
It was early but for some reason I couldn’t stay awake though I tried. I lay down on the bed and slept soundly. During the night I must have dreamed. I imagined I heard the door to my room open. Two strange women entered my room. Two women, yet not women. Like the men I saw in the courtyard, they were a mix of human and animal. They caressed me. I became aroused. What happened then I will never forget. Later I woke up alone in a cold sweat.
To this day no one knows any more about B than I learned on that visit. I found out in the morning that he refused the interview. I was told to leave. The maid let me out the same door through which I entered. I’m sure she had a smile on her face, a mischievous smile. The last thing I saw was the mask that hung from her neck, the mask of a cougar or a jaguar.
Dr Lakra (Jeronimo Lopez Ramirez, born 1972, Mexico) is an artist and tattooist based in Oaxaca, Mexico. Apart from tattooing, his art involves embellishing found images and objects—for instance, dolls, old medical illustrations, and pictures in 1950s Mexican magazines—with macabre or tattoo-style designs.
He has shown work internationally in many exhibitions including Stolen Bike at the Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York, Los Dos Amigos at MACO in Mexico, Pin Up at Tate Modern and Pierced Hearts and True Love at The Drawing Center in New York.
He is the son of the graphic artist Francisco Toledo and Elisa Ramirez Castañeda, a well known Mexican anthropologist and poet. He is also the brother of Natalia Toledo (poet) and Laureana Toledo (artist).
In 2007, he co-produced the book Los Dos Amigos’with artist Abraham Cruzvillegas. In 2008 he participated in the “Goth: Reality of the Departed World” exhibition at the Yokohama Museum of Art, curated by Eriko Kimura.
His works are held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Hammer Museum and the Walker Art Center.
Dr Lakra is represented by kurimanzutto, Mexico City and Kate MacGarry, London.
The murals used in this story were painted by Jeronimo Lopez Ramiriz in the entryway to Ni Hao Asian Bistro, Mariano Matamoros 101, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico