Butterfly

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Butterfly

A butterfly
brushes against
my mother’s rose bush.

Pale and delicate,
much too frail to survive,
in this April wind,
he tears his wing
on a thorn.

The white of its shredding:
a sudden shriek,
blanched blood
drifting like snow.

“Why did you write those words?”
My mother’s voice
sounds in my head.
“Am I the butterfly?
Are you the echo of my cry?”

From this distance in time,
my mind bounces back and forth,
from image to image:
a stone skipped across
tranquil water.

Pictures pound through my head:
waves on the shoreline
where I scattered her ashes,
and every grain of sand
a grinding of small bones.

People of the Mist 17

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9:30 AM                    

… where Alonso waited for them.

“Good morning,” Alonso limped towards them.

“Still hurting, I see,” El Brujo placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder and Alonso grimaced. “But don’t worry, it won’t be long now.”

“That’s easy to say. You’re not the one who’s suffering.”

“Not visibly, no; but underneath the surface I am a volcano, about to boil over,” El Brujo sighed and turned towards Tim. “Are you ready?”

“I suppose so. But I’ve brought nothing with me.”

“Don’t worry. Everything will be provided.”

They walked into the bath house and the attendant behind the desk greeted them.

“A new friend,” said El Brujo, pointing to Tim. “He’s on my account. And he’ll want a massage.”

The attendant gathered soap and towels, then signaled for them to enter the baths.

“Follow me,” said Alonso. He limped forward and Tim walked after him.

“Tonight,” El Brujo whispered to the attendant as soon as they had gone.

“You’re not thinking of …” the attendant raised his eyebrows.

“I’m not thinking of anything yet,” El Brujo silenced him with a gesture. “Here, take these herbs and add them to the herbal mixture in the baths, will you?” El Brujo passed a small packet to the attendant. “And don’t let us be disturbed. As for tonight … I think we’re running out of time … who knows?”

“I’ll close the doors when you’ve gone in,” the attendant smiled. “Nobody will disturb you.”

“Thank you, my friend,” El Brujo shook the attendant’s outstretched hand and followed the others into the Baths.

Tim undressed and folded his clothes with care. Then he forced his watch, his wallet, and the medallion into the toe of his left shoe. Clad only in the paper-thin, skimpy towel and grasping his bar of soap, he opened the door of the cubicle and stepped out into the unknown.

He looked down and saw a line of painted footprints and a hand that pointed … just like the codices he thought … and followed the footprints to a door from which steam leaked. He opened it and stepped into a room as warm as a greenhouse that smelled of herbs and flowers. A thick steam circulated and Tim thought of cool summer tides rising over sun-warmed sands. Indistinct figures floated through the mist and one of these lurched towards him.

I knew it was you,” the figure drew closer. “Come and join us.” Alonso took Tim by the arm and presented him. “Here he is.”

El Brujo, stripped naked, with his long black hair hanging dank below his shoulders, loomed out of the steam and embraced Tim.

“How do you feel?”

“I’m okay, I guess.”

“In here we are all the same,” El Brujo proclaimed. “There are no secrets. We are as naked in body and soul as we were when we abandoned our mother’s body.”

… soft warm air … moving delicate fingers of scented mist over the belly … floating on air … drifting across the room …the return to a surrogate womb cradled in an ocean of amniotic fluid … steam and herbs filling the lungs … reaching relaxing tendrils deep into heart and chest …

In what seemed another life, a door opened in the herbal mist and a man stepped through.

“Who wanted a massage?” he called.

“This one,” said El Brujo, pointing at Tim. “Here, grab your towel and your soap, and off you go,” El Brujo pushed Tim towards the masseur who led him out of the darkness into a brightly lit wide-awake room. The masseur, squat, dark-skinned, and scarred, looked like a judoka from the old school built for close in body-work. He pointed to the hooks on the wall and Tim hung his towel on one of them.

“Soap,” the masseur had the voice of a parade ground sergeant major and Tim snapped to attention and handed him the bar of soap. Then the masseur pointed to the marble slab in the middle of the room and Tim climbed on to the slab and lay there face down. The masseur began by soaping Tim’s body; then using the tips of his fingers, he moved across his back, digging in deep at any sign of resistance. Next came a series of karate chops and the remaining hardness in Tim’s body started to break down. The masseur hummed as he moved and drove each note home with a pounding that made his patient feel that he was the piano and the masseur was the maestro, rippling the keyboard with manipulative fingers.

This is what Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony must feel like, in the Liszt transcription, Tim mused, as the pounding accelerated and he was swept away, a rudderless ship on a stormy sea of carnal music.

“There, you’re done,” the masseur made one last sweeping movement across Tim’s body and moved away from the massage table. “Stay as long as you want and get up in your own time. There’s no hurry. I’ll tell El Brujo you’re on your way.”

Suspended in space, somewhere between earth and heaven, Tim lay motionless on the slab as images flashed through his mind.

… a face from the crowd … lighting up in sudden recognition … a man in a blue suit lying in a coffin … hands folded on his chest … eyes closed … a woman … somewhere … running … with a baby in her arms … snow falls like interference on an old black and white television set … a bridge now … and a river … snow falling into the river … a young girl … three old women … two standing between her and the river … one holding out her hands … the child transferred from young hands to old … the young girl … tears streaking her face … her face as cold as stone … as hard as obsidian … the young girl … an arm waves above the waters … the dark closes in … close up of a snake skin … slither marks in the dust where the snake has slipped away …

Tim tumbled down from a high blue sky and returned to the normal world. After a little while, still dizzy and dreaming, he got to his feet, stumbling and disorientated. Then his sense of balance returned and he walked out through the door and back into the steam room.

“Now it’s time to meditate and dream,” El Brujo greeted him. “Here, this slab is reserved for you. Don’t worry. We won’t be disturbed. There’s only you, me, and Alonso.”

Tim climbed onto the slab and lay on his back. Herbs, magic, mists and healing powers: they wafted their way through his lungs, filling him with a strange and languid lassitude. The lower half of his body unwound and the knots in the muscles untied themselves one by one. He felt as if his body no longer belonged to him.

“Now,” El Brujo lowered his voice until it was scarcely more than a whisper. “Just lie there, without moving. Try to empty your mind of all thoughts and feelings. Just imagine the herbal mist filling your whole body with the lightness of clouds.”

Tim did as he was told and felt himself filling with a peace that he hadn’t felt in years. Weight fell away from his body, and light, he wanted to float away on the air to be dissolved into streamers of mist.

… wrapped in a cloud of unknowing … drifting in cotton wool… damp and grey … clammy … hot spots … cold pools … a ray of sunlight almost piercing the cloud … light fading … shadows … at the eye’s corner … half-glimpsed shapes … sounds … half heard … a grey sea on a cloudy day … movement … a dull glow … distant lava flowing warm from a subdued volcano … a wild beast slinking … chained within the mist … a kaleidoscope of colors … fists over the eyes … pressing …  two eyes … fierce … smoking … the stuff of nightmares … a cold hand seeking … eyes like gimlets … piercing the body … examining the soul … dragging the heart upwards into the mouth … figures walking a tightrope of tapestry thread … a life spun out … too distant to make out … knots and tangles … a skein of memory … shanks of thought … fire and blood … the mist stained …  a deep male voice … not now … not now … but soon … cold ice … hot fire … the slash of Huitzilopochtli’s obsidian knife …

            … the mists buck and twitch … an ancient movie with no soundtrack … a dusty road winds across a flat plain below a high mountain … a black figure … a man striding along the road …  four Golden Eagles circle … they spiral upwards in ever increasing circles … feathered stones cast in an aerial pond …

… a dust path … a man walking towards an old village … houses slumbering beneath the sun … cast shadows … open doors … villagers calling out to him as he passes through …

.. . an upright man young with no limp … the heart of the village … he sits below the central cross … flowers, pink roses play where Christ’s body should hang … time passes … three old women walk towards the man … they greet with an affectionate embrace …

… thunder clouds build … a bolt of lightning descends and strikes the cross … the cross splits in two halves … one half falls to the ground … lightning stabs like a spear … wounds the young man in the right thigh … plunges its electric sword deep into his flesh yet leaving no visible scar … the light fades swiftly … when it returns … mounds of rubble and dust … the young man limps away … one half of the broken cross lies heavy on his shoulder …

…two hands grip the mist and tear it apart … a painted face emerges … striations … alternate black and yellow bands … the wasp god … Tezcatlipoca bares his teeth …. a fierce all-devouring smile … teeth … sharp and filed … stars surround the god of the night sky … words celebrate the god of ancestral memory … he is the embodiment of change through conflict … discord … enmity … sorcery … strife … words flow effortless from his mouth … “I am he for whom you must die.”

            … this is the god of the smoking mirror and of the broken foot … his feet are shrouded in mist … an obsidian mirror hangs from his chest … snakes of smoke writhe within it … within the mirror is movement but no face and no future …

            … words and images lick at Tim’s chest like tongues of fire … smoke straggles up from where his chest hairs sizzle and burn and he knows that he is doomed … yet he still has something to do and some time to live … he stares into the smoking mirror and sees his own reflection… in his hand he holds his broken medallion and then he sees, suddenly, at the edge of his vision, the other half held in someone else’s hand … the other medallion swings like a pendulum poised to hypnotize …

            the image fades and Tim is left stranded in the darkness of the mis … an unspeakable hollowness fills him and he knows that something terrible and fierce has entered his life …        the mists thin to reveal a barren inner city landscape … snow streaks white lines against black clouds … three old women emerge from the darkness …one carries a bundle, wrapped in a blanket … she peels back the edge to reveal the tiny face of a new born child … the lady with the scissors snips the frail, thin thread of red wool that binds the infant’s wrist … the lady with the spindle spins a longer thread … the lady with the measuring rod measures it then twists the thread round and round the baby’s wrist … scissors snip it … fingers tie the loose ends into a bow …

            the lady with the spindle kisses the child then leaves it wrapped as well as she can in a cardboard box on a set of steps leading to a massive wooden door … she steps up to the door and tugs at the doorbell … lights appear … a nun opens the door and sees the cardboard box … her eyes open wide and her arms fling upwards as she discovers the child abandoned there on the doorstep … she puts her hand against her forehead and squints into the night … three sets of footsteps lead away from the door …  but nobody is there ….

            the scene changes … a river and a bridge … a young girl poised on the parapet … she flings herself into the water and disappears into the night … snow continues to swirl … a set of footsteps leads to the bridge … but none return …

“Come back to us when you are ready,” El Brujo’s voice penetrated the illusion. “Take your time. Sit up slowly, then get up when you are done.”

Tim got to his feet. The mist seemed thicker now, and heavier. Memories of all he had seen tumbled through his mind as he tried to maintain his hold on reality.

“Whatever you saw belongs to you and is yours and yours alone,” El Brujo snapped his fingers and Tim shuddered. “Treasure it. Interpret it as you will. The more you perform this exercise, the clearer the visions will become and the more they will speak to you. We cannot live in those lands but we can visit them at will. When we are skilled enough, we can interpret their meaning. Until then, the visions are just signposts.”

“How long was I dreaming?”

“What makes you think you were dreaming? Time has no meaning in the other land. Objective time, the time that runs by in the real world, rarely changes. But the subjective time of the mist is different for each one of us,” El Brujo had a dreamy expression on his face. “Sometimes, it feels as though it can last for years.”

“I’ll see you tonight then?” Alonso turned towards El Brujo.

“Tonight it is.”

“And I’ll see you this afternoon,” Tim said to Alonso. “We’re going to Mitla this afternoon, aren’t we?”

“That’s partly why I’m here,” Alonso looked troubled and, eyebrows drawn together in a frown, he weighed his words with care. “I’m sorry, I can’t make it this afternoon. I’ll send one of my assistants around in the car. Don’t worry, whoever I send will know as much as I do, if not more. And I’ll be there this evening. Don’t forget, then,” Alonso patted Tim on the arm. “1:00 pm sharp, at your apartment. Just wait outside the front gate and someone will drive by and pick you up.”

“How will I know which car it is?”

“Don’t worry. It’ll be an official car and I’ll tell them to honk the horn. Come along now.”

The three men left the steam room together. Behind them, the mists gathered into little groups that vibrated with energy and life.

People of the Mist 15

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9:00 AM

Back in the apartment, Tim opened the bottle of mescal and poured a large shot into a glass. He gulped it down and the mescal burned as it rushed down his throat and into his gut. It relaxed him and he felt less haunted. Its swift invasion of his brain left him stunned for a moment and he sat down at the table, picked up his medallion and held it in his hands.

…  papier-mâché figures sway in the square … a cacophony of traditional music … massed village bands … the rhythm of rising rockets thumping into the air … dancing trees flap miniature limbs in time to the music … eyes flash from the trees’ waistbands … dryads and satyrs cavort carved and painted …  liquid motes of fiery tunes float in the air … music visible and almost tactile for a moment or two … stamping feet … stilt dancers … the music stops … young children … boys and girls … emerging from the trees … live dryads bark-skinned brown-eyed … a nymph walks over eyes open in invitation …

Tim’s mind clicked back into gear. Of course, that’s where he had seen the girl from the paper kiosk: she had been dancing in a papier-mâché tree, in the zócalo, and when the music stopped,  she invited him to join her in her tree.

            Colibrí, the tiny bird with the warrior’s soul, whirrs its wings … twin windmills, sun-dog ear-rings, draw circles round a suddenly-clouded sun … a flock of tiny feathered angels as bright as postage stamps sit in the trees in the courtyard to raise their voices in their afterlife of praise …

Tim checked his watch: if he wanted to visit the baths, it was time to get going. He got up from the table, slipped his medallion around his neck, walked out of his apartment and closed the door behind him.

Ketch Up …

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Ketch-Up …

I guess it’s going to be one of those Ketch-Up / cat’s up / catch up days. They’ve closed the schools and the little man with the weather map has pointed to everything on the gloomy grey and dark blue thunder side: rain, snow, icy rain, ice pellets, slush, sleet … it’s all headed straight for me. It’s not what I voted for when I went to bed last night. Guess it’s one of those alternate facts of life.

Never mind. “I’ll make it a true, daily double, Ketch-Up Category, Alex.”

Log fire, easy chair, great book … I’m going to finish reading Margaret Sorick’s Tainted Money, the fourth novel in her Buck’s County series … I read the other three: took me less than a day each and this one is going down just as fast. Ketch-Up? The pages are smoking as I turn them over. I’m on my computer break now, giving my eyes a rest. Then it’s “snap the cartoons” time, possibly “post a cartoon”, followed by lunch.

The wind is just starting to move the trees. Oh-oh, or do I mean eau-eau … I live in Canada’s eau-nly officially bilingual province / province bilingue … and now it’s starting to rain. I can hear the pitter patter of pellets of pluie against the fly-screens I forgot to take down last fall … oh-eau … last automne …   I guess if we had a shipping line as well as an air line we’d call it Eau Canada.

I think I’d better get off this new medication.

 

People of the Mist 14

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8:40 AM

Tim headed for the mescal sellers who inhabited little shops in a long line over by the market and went straight to his favorite stall. The shop seemed empty, so he rang the little goat bell that dangled there for customers. The owner, an old lady with greying hair, emerged from the darkness at the rear. She looked at Tim, blinked, gave a half-smile, turned it into a scowl and announced: “It’s not here.”

“What’s not here?”

“What you’re looking for, of course. I know you’re looking but ….” she stared at Tim examining him with great care. “You don’t know what I’m talking about do you?”

Tim placed his hand on his chest but the medallion wasn’t there. He felt its absence like an open wound and remembered that he had left it on the table in his apartment.

“Of course I do: I am looking for some mescal, that’s what you mean, isn’t it?”

“Of course that’s what I mean,” the old lady smiled. “ And that is why I am here, to sell you some mescal. How much do you want?”

“Just a bottle.”

“I have no bottles prepared this early in the morning. There’s some in the barrel. I can always siphon some off and give that to you. You know that ours is the purest and the best. Even El Brujo says that. We come highly recommended. It won’t take a moment,” she shuffled away and returned with an empty four litre wine bottle that had once held Donini. She held it up. “Will this be enough?”

“That’s much too much,” Tim shook his head. “I’ll never drink all that.”

“And a good thing too,” she added. “We don’t want you ending up like Alfredo.’”

“Alfredo?”

“The man you saw in the street this morning. Now: this is what you need,” she held up a two litre plastic bottle that once held Coca-Cola. “How about this?”

Well, I, uh …”

“That’s all right,” the old lady nodded her head. “I’ll just siphon the mescal out while you’re making up your mind.”

She took a thin plastic tube, inserted it in the top of a large tin container, and sucked up some pure white liquid. Then she pinched the tube, lowered its end below the level of the barrel, and carefully placed the tube in the bottle’s neck.

“There,” she said.

Tim watched as the pale colourless liquid filled the bottle. When it was full, she handed it to Tim.

“That will be ten pesos, please.”

“Aren’t you going to seal the bottle?”

She looked at Tim as if, like the guajalotero of recent memory, he had just made some nasty and indecent smell. Then she searched behind the counter and held up a bright red rubber band. She twisted it on her fingers to make it smaller. Then she tore a piece of plastic from a long roll and placed it around the bottle top. She stretched the rubber band over the plastic and handed Tim the sealed bottle.

“There aren’t any worms,” he complained.

“Worms are expensive this year,” the old lady frowned. “You want worms, I sell you worms. But I sell them separately. How many worms do you want?”

“How much are they?”

“Three for five pesos,” she replied.

“Give me five,” Tim said.

She smiled at him, showing gold teeth, and produced a packet from beneath the counter. There were five worms in it, not three, not six.

“Just what I thought you’d say,” she smiled. “You foreigners are all the same. I had them waiting in this packet, all ready for you,” she took the plastic wrapper off the bottle, opened the packet with the five worms in it, counted them out, and dropped them one by one into the mescal. Wrinkled and yellow, they had a life of their own, and they came alive as they sank and through the liquid, leaving faint yellow trails behind them.

“Your mescal will now turn yellow,” the old lady said. “But don’t worry about that. Also it will taste slightly different as the gusanos age and work their magic.”

“How much do I owe you?”

“10 pesos plus 8 pesos and 34 cents,” she does the reckoning in her head. “That will be 18.34, please.”

Tim gave her a twenty peso note and told her to keep the change. She smiled at him and bowed. He said farewell and left the shop wondering how many more times that day he would come across the witch doctor by deed or name.

 

People of the Mist 12

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8:15 AM

Tim fingered the slight stubble on his chin then stepped into the bathroom to shave.  He looked at himself in the mirror: brown eyes stared back at him. What am I doing here? What will become of me? He shrugged and raised his eyebrows. The face in the mirror did not give an answer. He covered that face with a white mask of soap and carved intricate patterns with the razor.

… painted masks … death masks … the masks the priests wear in the codices … the prisoner struggling … not yet fully understanding his fate … around him … animal masks … priest masks … the jaguar cult of the regiments … they strip him down … paint his body … arm him with flowers … place him on a pedestal … from there he will dance his last dance … fight his last fight .. his destiny … to die showing no fear … he strikes first with the flower … his opponents strike back … one by one … with their obsidian knives … each wound a flesh wound on legs and thighs … the heart pounds … the blood flows .. faster and faster … more flowers … more knives … more blood … until almost bloodless the prisoner weakens and stumbles … rough arms seize him by the arms and legs … they carry him to the sacrificial stone … bend him over it … chest exposed … and tear the humping heart from the cavity they carve in his chest … the severed arms and legs bounce down the temple steps to the waiting crowds … tomorrow his spirit will return as a hummingbird … and dance around the sun … for now his torn heart sizzles in the sacrificial fire … a horse’s head … teeth bared … grins from the temple walls …

Tim’s razor, held like a flower, slipped and he gashed his lip. The slow blood seeped through the soap streaking his mask with faint shades of pink. He shivered and stared at his reflection in the mirror. A very plain face with a nose a little bit larger and more hooked than it ought to be stared back at him. He thought of his nose as the prow of a ship or a bird’s beak: an eagle perhaps. His nose was very much like that of the man who died in the flower dance. In spite of the warmth in the room, he shivered again.

It was time for his daily exercises so he left his apartment and ascended the corkscrew staircase with its iron steps that rose to the roof garden. Here, in the Recinto de San Francisco, a little corner dedicated to the saint, two Canadians who dwelt in the apartment had placed a statue of St. Francis next to a tiny bird bath which they filled every morning with water. They had also planted flowers and bit by bit, the azotea had become a regular roof garden with a wilderness of blossom caged and captive in pots and urns. Tim stood amidst the flowers balancing on one leg in a figure called the Stork or the Crane. He looked towards the eastern horizon. The sun was well up now, but it wasn’t hot yet. The fierce heat would come later. He maintained his balance and listened to the traffic sounds in the street below. The exhaust fumes of the buses rose up and made his nostrils twitch. The water seller had already started his rounds. His cries of “¡Peragua! ¡Super Agua!” rang out as he cycled along.

… ruined temples … green grass molded into humps and lumps… tumuli … tumors waiting to be cut open and their secrets laid bare … a tomb open-mouthed … yawning at the sun … light floods in … gold bracelets glint … painted pots cast shadows on the walls … ghosts flitter and flutter … two bright glowing eyes tecolote … the owl of death … staring eyes and crocodile jaws … Tlaloc … the death god … the guardian of the underworld … the gate keeper to the afterlife …

And what, Tim asked himself, comes to us in the afterlife? Henry, the evangelistic missionary, a male from the southern states of the USA, thinks he has a god-given right to tell us all what to do and how to do it. He hammers us with words of wisdom from what he calls the “good book” which he bangs and bashes as he quotes it in a deep rolling voice. I can’t be bothered to argue with this man who believes he holds authority over everyone’s spiritual welfare. So, while I may seem to obey him while he is present, I do not pay much attention to his words after he has gone. As for the unopened tombs that abound in the valley, well, I think they should leave them unopened. People who are dead and gone want to stay that way. They don’t want the treasure hunters breaking down the walls and stealing their treasures. And yet, the valley is full of ghosts who hang around restlessly while the authorities decide whether or not their earthly bodies will be exhumed. As I walk the streets at night, especially when it’s misty, shadows of the dearly departed loom before me. I can almost hear their footsteps on the cobbles and I mouth questions in their direction, only for them to vanish just as they are about to speak.

A hummingbird appeared right in front of Tim who turned his arms, slowly, clockwise, with clenched fists, trying to keep his arms level, trying not to hunch his shoulders, breathing in rhythm: “In two, three, four, and out, two, three, four.”

The hummingbird also churned his wings, whirring away, his flight centered on Tim’s nose, almost between his eyes, as if he thought Tim was a flower or

… a sun god … the sun god … and this is my beloved son … in whom I am well pleased … and these are my warriors … and this also is my son … this poor man … stripped to the waist … hands tied around a column … the lash marks showing bright purple across his back … this poor man walking down the street … beaten by the police … high on mescal …


            A dog barked and dragged him from his day dreams. He finished his exercises, went back down to the apartment, and got ready to go out shopping.

People of the Mist 11

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8:00 AM

… the sky is a sharp blue guillotine, poised between twin roofs … a winding metal staircase … a caracol … a snail-shell cork-screwing up to the roof garden … a butterfly in the grapefruit tree opens and closes its painted wings with their wide-open peacock eyes …

Tim went up the stairs to his apartment and sat back down at the table.

Betrayal: the word shocked him and he meditated for a moment on its multiple meanings. He opened his journal and thumbed through the pages looking for a recent conversation he had shared with Alonso, the historical anthropologist. He sighed as he found it and started to read.

… early morning … Sunday … I was on my way to church … I walked through empty city streets … I was lost … I gazed from side to side … closed doors … barred windows … an old lady dressed in black emerged from a doorway in front of me … a lace mantilla covered her face … she carried a basket full of bright wool … I wanted to go to the Church of San Vincente … “This is the way to San Vicente, isn’t it?” I asked, pointing in the direction I was walking …  “Yes,” she said, and started walking in the opposite direction to me … I continued on my journey but I was still lost … I met a second lady … she walked towards me leaning on a walking stick marked like a slide rule with numbers and measurements … “This is the way to San Vicente, isn’t it?” I asked her … she nodded and walked right past me following in the tracks of the first lady … still lost, I stood there doubting … a third lady who looked like the local hairdresser approached … she was carrying an open basket with knives and razors and scissors within it …“This is … can you … will you tell me how to get to San Vicente”  I asked. “Of course,” she said. “Follow me.” … I turned and walked with her in the same direction as the first two ladies … we turned one corner, then another, and there was the church of San Vicente … I slowed down and the third lady went ahead and joined the other two ladies of whom I had asked the way … they seemed to be waiting for me on the church steps … so I walked up to them … I opened the door for them … “All roads lead to San Vicente,” they said in chorus … and they went inside … I sat down on a pew at the back … I looked for them … but there was no sign of them in the church …

I asked Alonso, my anthropological friend, about this weird behaviour. Alonso has a vast store of archived knowledge and seems to be able to locate the strangest facts and discover whatever hidden truth lurks behind almost everything.

“It’s simple,” he told me. “You’re a North American. No native person corrects a man of European descent. You said ‘This is the way to San Francisco, isn’t it?’ and the first two ladies said ‘Yes, it is.’ They’re not fools. They’re not going to put their heads in a noose and correct you by saying ‘No. It isn’t.’ And remember, the older they are, the more steeped they are in the traditional customs. Now, you addressed the third lady in the correct fashion and she gave you the correct answer. That’s what life’s like around here. You must learn to accept the culture and to ask the right questions. Otherwise, in your innocence, you might get misled.”

Tim sat at the table and thought about the day that lay ahead of him. Then he picked up his pen and wrote.

… evening … Monte Albán for the ceremonies and the dances … a dance group who dance native legends by torchlight …. something they say I mustn’t miss … this morning I must go shopping … more mescal … more groceries … must go to the baths …. not the Baños de Oaxaca … those other baths, I forget their name, on Reforma … Alonso told me they were good … and clean … no tourists … all locals … up by the Post Office … Alonso wants to take me to Mitla … late this morning … or early this afternoon … before we go to Monte Albán … it’s going to be a very busy day … I’d better sort it out …

He looked up. Then he stood, walked into the kitchen and looked for the mescal.  None left. He went back to the table, sat down, picked up his pen, unscrewed the cap, and continued writing.

9-11, shopping and los Baños;

1-4 Mitla, with Alonso;

5-8, Monte Albán with Alonso;

8-11, procession with a castillo and dancing

… it’s going to be a tight squeeze to get it all in … I’d like to go back to the cathedral … just to see if that man who looked like my father turns up … if I go there I can walk to Santo Domingo and listen to the old lady who stands alone at the altar and sings … such a beautiful voice …

“Yes,” Tim announced to the room in a loud voice. “I should just be able to manage it, provided Alonso arrives on time.” He stood up, pushed the chair away, clicked his fingers, and started to dance.