Sunlight crept in through the open window and the room started to warm up. Tim fingered the leather cord that dangled from his neck and the medallion throbbed with the rhythm of a heartbeat. Tim took it off, held it between his fingers, and examined it with suspicion. Unlike anything he had ever seen before, it still contained the warmth it had taken from Tim’s body. The cross seemed to be a typical Oaxacan cross, except that it was rather stubbier than usual, more like a Maltese Cross. The red of its roses replaced the body and blood of the dying Christ. In the centre of the roses Tim could make out half of a tiny human heart. A jagged tear ran on a diagonal across the medallion. It carved through cross, heart and flowers, leaving the remains grieving for what was absent. The cross was wounded and Tim imagined it throbbing and sobbing as its life blood seeped away. A pedestal of broken stones stood at the cross’s severed foot. The roses that clung where Christ’s body should have been hanging stood out like spilled blood. Tim closed his eyes and tried to recreate the scene in his mind, as if it were whole. Warmth filled his body and he knew that he must find the missing portion.
As though a switch had been flicked and a light turned off, the positive energy stopped and the medallion felt cold and lifeless. Tim traced the edges of the flowers with the tip of his index finger and nothing happened. He wished now he had questioned El Brujo about his gift. However, here in Oaxaca questions were often dangerous and one couldn’t always trust the answers when they were so often double-edged and as sharp as glass. Tim thought of the codex drawings and of the multiple meanings that eccentric experts and squabbling specialists had bestowed upon them.
He placed the medallion on the table and opened the facsimile codex that lay there waiting for him. The priests who accompanied the conquistadores had hated these indigenous books. Works of the devil, they had called them, and they had tried to destroy, by burning their writings, the history and culture of the people they had conquered. Alonso had told Tim that although much was lost, some things had survived thanks to an oral tradition passed on from generation to generation. This preserved the lore and culture of the older peoples who had for five thousand years inhabited the Valley of Oaxaca. The facsimile copy that Tim possessed still bore the burn marks where a believer had snatched it from the Inquisition’s flames. When Tim touched the burn he could feel in his heart the surge of anguish of the man who had snatched it from the fire and spirited it away. He had so much to learn and grasped at each new world as bubbles of meaning rose from the brush-stroked pages. He knew a multitude of secrets lay in there somewhere, if only he could stumble upon them and shuffle them so they made sense.
… how do you translate a picture into words … he thought … how do you capture line and colour with a few brief strokes of black ink on white paper … what about movement … and perspective … and what cultural perspective steps out from these flat drawings that adorn the page … can you capture in words the smell of cool rain on warm dust … or the scent of the gourd flower when it floats on the surface of hot spicy broth … or the crunch of the mescal worm between the teeth … or the bitter bite of salt and lime …
The flowing lines of the ideographs wrapped Tim’s day-dreams in colorful hand-woven shawls. The risen sun, a golden treasure trove, gilded the roof of the nearby church and pigeons posed, framed in the window, flash-frozen in an instant of silence. Tim grasped at each new world as it raised bubbles of laughter from the brush-stroked pages, but the speech bubbles quickly faded, faltering on failing air, and he had difficulty in grasping their multiple meanings as they drifted away, golden leaves gliding downwards on an instant of breeze. So many secrets waited to be discovered, if only he could find the key. He looked at his medallion as it lay on the table and listened to the sounds that surrounded him.
… the tongues of the trees whisper as the slow wind stirs them into speech … the white egrets sigh as they rise from their overnight branches … the strengthening light channels their wings while they shuffle their intimate dance steps …
Last night, the lady who takes her balloons from the square at nine o’clock held a secret within her eyes. It floated in the curls of the children’s hair as they fled to their homes before the coyotes began to prowl. Tim saw them with their cell phones and the synthetic happiness that they peddled in the cellophane packages they carried in their pockets and sold with lies.
Incandescent eyes had blazed from dark doorways in cheap hotels.
“King for a night and a father for the rest of your days,” a young girl whispered to him as he passed by. Her lips beckoned and her dark eyes tried to draw him.
“I’ll always be your love, my love,” she sighed. Behind her, a table lamp cast the dark shadow of a man with a knife in hand.
How simple it would have been to have followed the snake path, to have slipped sideways and downwards into the welcoming darkness of her arms. But at the end of that trail would come betrayal, the threatening thunder of words, the lightning bolt of the knife with the night sky sliced apart.
… Tochtli leers from his home in the moon … the Owl of the Underworld flaps his wings … drawing near with his gift of subterranean grief …