Tim turned the corner away from the church and on the next street a bitter sweet smell assaulted his nostrils. An old man stood vomiting into the gutter. Behind him, holding handkerchiefs to their faces with one hand and their white night-sticks with the other, two policemen prodded the wretch, pushing him onwards, out towards the city’s edge. A small crowd buzzed around him like a cloud of flies. He lurched forward and the policemen prodded him on again. He lurched forward, a stubborn donkey provoked by a stick. The people in the street parted like a bow wave from the ship-shock of his passing.
Stunned and vomiting, sick to the core, half-blind, stinking of the worst kind of cheap mescal, he lugged himself along his personal Via Crucis, step by painful step. When he fell, the policewomen closed in, kicking and tugging him back to his feet.
… quivering nostrils … the throat blazing with its desire for lemon and lime … the jag of the salt … the chili’s burning flame … the healing kiss of the mescal …the harsh dried husk of the twisting worm … like grit between the teeth …
The old man stood there, nailed to the cross of the sidewalk, his arms hung out on the wind to dry. A scarecrow’s clothing would be cleaner than his clothes. A Guy Fawkes figure, rags and tatters leaked out from his flimsy frame.
… the sun hangs its tail-less kite in the sky … the moon dreams her way through the heavens … an old man washes his own brain … cleanses it of myth and memory … tries to drown himself in a dark river of tears … a sad hand rises from the waves to wave farewell … in the depths of the mescal a yellow worm glides like a shark to the bottom of the bottle …
The old man seemed to walk through shallow water with the millstone of the morning after tied round his neck, a personal millstone, made to measure and grinding exceeding small. If the wearer were to wander into deep water, then it would weigh him down and he would drown.
The street people taunted him, threatened to stand him in the stocks, to strip him down to his basic elements, the heart that beats, the lungs that breathe, the white flat rib-bones that can be scarred, like paper, with the wonder of words. They threatened to stretch him on an ancient altar. They shouted that his torso’s closed flesh was ripe for the sacrificial blade, his body bent backwards, his mind dreaming of the knife’s vertical descent and horizontal slash. People cheered as the policeman’s stick with a thunderous thump flashed white lightning and pierced the mist that lay thick on the vagrant’s mind.
… one quick swallow … then another … twin promises of summer’s sun and of hope’s renewal … each thimbleful of this mouth-burning treasure, drawing warmth into the gut forcing a tear drop from the eye … bringing oblivion …
The old man soiled the newborn day by vomiting again and drenching the street in a paper bag reality of soiled clothes and running liquid. The street people closed in, creating a moving jail and the old man shivered with laughter and spread out his arms. His round wide eyes were those of an owl about to fly into the cockcrow sun face. Then the crowd drew too close and something snapped: he roared at the stabbing fingers and pissed at the people through the bars of his cage. A beam of sunlight picked him out and, for a moment, his eyes met Tim’s. They gazed into each other’s souls and a voice rang like a bell within Tim’s head: there too, but for the gift of the gods, go you.
The policemen again stepped towards the old man but a strong, dark figure appeared between the police and their victim.
“Basta, enough,” El Brujo raised his hand and the officers backed away. “I will look after him.”
El Brujo turned to the old man, wrapped his arms around him, and hugged him tight.
“You must forgive them, brother,” he spoke in a loud voice so the crowd might hear him. “They know not what they do.”
“Come, come home with me,” El Brujo waved the crowd to one side and put his arm around the old man’s shoulder. “I will help you find what you seek.”
The crowd sighed and started to break up. El Brujo and the old man walked arm in arm down the street. The police officers followed them for a step or two but the crowd gathered in behind the pair and ahead of the police, blocking their way. With a shrug of their shoulders, the uniformed officers turned back. A voice in the crowd cried out:
“¡Viva El Brujo! Make way for our saint.”
… the medallion awoke … it ticked back into life … warm around the neck of the wearer … it moved … a pendulum swaying … side to side … white lightning … a hammer blow falling … somewhere … falling … and the ground swelling up to shake itself out … an old man … an old dog with fleas … shaking …
Well aware of the warmth he carried against his chest Tim turned away from the street scene and walked towards the apartment he now called home.