In northern Mexico they work. In central Mexico they think. In southern Mexico they rest.
She was travelling to Oaxaca for her two-year old goddaughter’s birthday. Chocolate cupcakes and a wrapped present were in the carry on. Her eyes laughed as the words rolled off her tongue. She was from Tamaulipas but lived now in Mexico City after spending several years working in Monterey.
Rising up through the smog and white clouds covering Mexico City, the twin volcanoes, Ixtacihuatl and Popocatepetl, were visible to the East. I fell into a sort of somnambulism. My red MAGA hat with the white letters fell over my eyes. I slept.
I don’t know how many minutes passed before I realized she had been speaking the whole time.
“I suppose you are going for the mezcal? You might want to remove that hat before we arrive.”
Did she notice the flask inside my coat pocket? I removed my hat. Without my scarlet letters attached, I felt naked. It was my penance for living in America. The rich want stability and pro-business laws whatever that takes. They grab at the resources wherever they are. They support the strong men that help them, fascist or not. Democracy and capitalism at home are propped up by brutal tactics abroad. You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, right?
“Do you really support him?”
“Trump is no Porfirio Diaz. I’m leaving, escaping, for my own reasons. There’s no need to wear the scarlet letter down here.”
“Mexico got rid of Diaz in the revolution long before I was born.”
“Ah, but to what purpose my Dear, a toy democracy?”
“Politics is tedious. Why are you travelling to Mexico?
“To finish out my days alone and in peace.”
“You don’t want to be around your friends and family?”
“Oh, they are the ones I wish to escape.”
An odd look crossed her face, something between pity and disgust. She turned away. I suppose it’s what I deserved.
The white clouds swished by like unformed human beings waiting to be imagined into life. Down below the little towns like inscriptions on the shields of Aztec warriors flashed the sun. Tucked between the cerros still green from the last rains, countless lives progressed slowly, unnoticed. The monotonous purring of the plane’s twin engines lulled me back to sleep.
I dreamed. A vision of some white t-shirt I’d seen at the Mexico City airport appeared with the grotesque and distorted face of a bully with red hair. The inscription: ELECT A CLOWN AND EXPECT A CIRCUS. The letters were in rotating primary colors like those I remembered from elementary school.
It was only moments before the jolt of our descent awakened me. My book on the tray in front of my seat had slipped off. It rested by my feet. At first, I was startled by all the brown skinned people around me. Then I remembered, Oaxaca.
“Did you nap well?”
She was trying again to pull me out as if I were some nut in its shell.
“You were snoring.”
She laughed. Was it out of kindness or spite? She was so young, still full of the optimism that accompanies those early years before the big disappointments begin.
“You should come to the party for my ahijada. I have some friends you would enjoy.”
“Ha ! No se puede vivir sin amar, right?”
“That’s Lowry. Did you like the book?”
“I thought so too. I’m glad we agree on that. Come join us. You will see things you won’t see in the tourist areas.”
The stewardess passed between us. I put my book back into my leather bag. I slipped the bag under the seat in front of me. Outside my window the great Valley of Oaxaca opened between the arms of the Sierra Juarez. Thousands of years of history leapt upward, an eruption of echoes from lives lost and forgotten. Like those lost souls, I had opted out of love, reality, life. The familiar view of Monte Alban appeared while the plane circled toward the airstrip.
I saw her looking down at the ruins.
“What do you see?”
“It always affects me, even though I’ve seen it many times. I think of how the people must have been in such awe when it was constructed.”
“Which do you mean, those who carried the stones up to the top of the mountain and died building a palace for the kings, or those whom god allowed to remain?”
The corners of her lips turned down.
“What makes you so bitter? What are you running away from that anguishes you so?”
“The vision of Christ that thou doth see is my vision’s greatest enemy.”
“Blake, of course,” she answered immediately. That impressed me. “I was not comparing those ruins to Christ. Blake loved the human form. He loved people. But you, you are running away.”
“Yes, he loved some but there were others he hated. Blake refused to hide his feelings. Those ruins represent the inevitability of human exploitation. Nothing changes. The Spaniard exploits the Indian, then, the halfbreed, then the pure-blooded Mexican Spaniard, the criollo, then the mestizo exploits everybody, foreigners, Indians and all. The exploitation of everybody by everybody else is the end result.”
“You really need therapy. Come to the party.”
“I don’t like children.”
“Your heart is broken, why?”
It was my time to turn away. We fell out of the sky together in silence. Soon we were walking along to the baggage claim and then she was gone. Once again I’d lost the lottery. My ticket for the Colectivo was sixty pesos. I followed all the others to the van. As I was climbing in to take my seat, I felt a tap on my shoulder. She was there behind me.
“Have a cupcake, it will sweeten the ride.” She smiled beautifully and then she handed me a piece of paper. “This is the address. Be there about six tonight. We will have dinner and a party. Her name is Cristina. Bring a present, something small. She’s easy to please.”
She turned and left before I could respond.
I had no intention of going to the party but some mysterious force lead me promptly to the door at six. I knocked. A woman answered. Without missing a beat, she spoke.
“Well, I see you’ve come home.”