Tim opened the gate and walked into the courtyard of his apartment building. A bird of paradise fluttered before him, its crested head suspended in mid-air. Earth-bound, it nested in a basket in the grapefruit tree. Mario, the handyman, and Marisa, the widow who did the laundry and cleaned the rooms, gestured as they argued.
Marisa had just caught an enormous chapulín. She grasped the grasshopper by its hind legs and held down its freckled, leaf-colored wings so it couldn’t fly.
“It poured with rain last night,” Marisa said. “I saw him here, in the courtyard. I caught him before he dry his wings and fly,” Marisa held out her captive for Tim to see. The chapulín had long grey-green antennae and the serious anthropomorphic face of a junior priest or a staid young scholar who would one day hold sway over a classroom filled with little children. Its wings vibrated as they changed colour adapting to light and shade.
“I’m going to call him Charlie Chapulín,” Marisa smiled at her own joke.
“Give him to me. I want to hold him,” Mario lifted the grasshopper from Marisa’s hand and trapped it in a cage made from his fingers. “I have kidnapped your Charlie Chapulín,” he said in a threatening tone. “But you can ransom him for a kiss,” Mario closed his eyes, puckered up his lips, and Marisa slapped him in playful fashion across the face.
“Thief,” she said. “It’s my chapulín.” She put her hand on the grasshopper that Mario now held and Tim wondered if he was going to witness the Judgement of Solomon.
“It will be our chapulín,” Tim declared, “un chapulín de equipo, a Team Tim grasshopper, first captured by Marisa, then recaptured by Mario, then accepted into the team by me: a veritable dream team chapulín.”
“El Brujo would tell you to set it free, Mario,”Marisa smiled.
“Don’t say things like that, Marisa,” Mario frowned, drawing his thick, black eyebrows in together to form a crow’s wing.
“El Brujo?” Tim snapped to attention. “What do you know of him? Tell me, please.”
“Say nothing, Marisa,” Mario urged her. “You know we don’t speak of that man, not in the presence of strangers.”
“But I’m not a stranger,” Tim protested.
“Maybe not a total stranger, no,” Mario conceded. “But you are a foreigner, and it is dangerous to speak to foreigners about our holy men.”
“Dangerous? Holy? In what way? Tell me.”
“We have already said too much,” Mario beckoned to Marisa. “Come, Marisa, we have work to do.”
“At least let the chapulín go,” Tim said. “It was born free. Give it back its freedom.”
“Born free, like those captive kings who now dance in stone prisons on Monte Albán,” said Mario, unwilling to relinquish his prize.
“Yes, Mario; born free, just like them,” Marisa smiled. “And one day their prison walls will be broken and they too will be free, as will we all.”
“Enough,” Mario opened the prison bars of his fingers and the chapulín flew.
“Ah well,” Tim said. “It’s time for my breakfast.”
“Your breakfast has just flown,” Mario flashed his white teeth and the gold filling sparkled.
“Mario, you are a brute,” said Marisa as Tim walked to the bottom of the stairs and climbed up to his apartment. “He wasn’t going to eat him.”
“I don’t trust foreigners,” Mario glared at Tim’s back and made a rude gesture with small and index finger. “He would have fried him in olive oil and eaten him with garlic.”
“Mario: stop that,” Marisa gave him a push. “Remember: it’s a pig day. You mustn’t be rude to foreigners on a pig day, especially those who live in the compound.”