People of the Mist 13

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8:30 AM

Tim felt the day’s heat starting to build as he walked to the newspaper kiosk. Cloud castles rose in the air and the sun’s kiln fired the clouds with warmth and color. On the sidewalk, the shadows grew stronger and a knife-edge, like a military crease, sliced a razor-sharp junction between light and dark, sun and shade. An occasional face smiled at Tim with its white streak of lightning flashing across the nut brown skin.

Musicians and jugglers lurched towards the central square to earn their daily bread and a circle of admirers surrounded a man who ate fire for breakfast, breathing it out in great gouts of flame. The music grew louder as Tim approached a musician who stood in the shade playing a danse macabre on sun-polished marimbas. Beside him, a heart of fire burned in an iron barrel and a young woman, her baby wrapped in a hand-woven rebozo slipped around one shoulder, prepared quesadillas and offered them for sale. The mother sniffed with suspicion when her baby wailed. She moved away from the fire, unwrapped the baby’s soiled nappy, wiped her child with a cloth, put on a new nappy, and threw the old one into a garbage can where the flies pounced upon it. Then, hands unwashed, she returned to her cooking.

An old half-ton, returning from the market to its home village, chugged by emitting a cloud of black smoke. People clung to the outside of this vehicle waving their hands and grinning at their friends. In the back of the battered pick-up chickens roosted on an old bed stead while a young man, astride a shining porcelain toiled bowl, strummed his guitar and sang to entertain the passengers. The intrepid travelers hung on for grim life as the truck rattled its way down the street. It almost ran Tim down as it clattered, half on, half off, the sidewalk, avoiding this and that, the donkey in the road, the old woman crossing, the policeman with his whistle who directed traffic. Tim jumped out of the way. El Brujo, with one arm around the old man he had rescued, sat in the front seat, next to the driver. The witch doctor punched the driver on the arm, ordered him to stop, put his head out of the truck window, and called to Tim.

“You have forgotten how to walk in the woods. You have forgotten how the dead leaf separates from the tree and tumbles earthward in its longing to be free.”

“I don’t understand you,” Tim said. “You speak in riddles.”

“Then here’s a riddle you must solve,” El Brujo scowled at Tim. “You must look for a young girl who will wrap your heart in laughter. She will feed you milk and honey. Your heart will grow roots and begin to flower. When the Bird of Paradise calls your name, your heart will grow wings and fly. A sunbeam on its plumage will fill you with glory. Your tears will disperse and turn into feathers; sun people will chase you through the clouds and crown your heart with a rainbow crown.”

Amid a cacophony of horns and hoots, bystanders bowed and raised their hats as they recognized El Brujo. The witch doctor included them all in a generous wave and a shouted ¡Adiós!, then punched the driver of the guajalotero in the arm. The engine revved and the old truck rumbled away, shooting a cloud of filthy black smoke out of its exhaust, and backfiring with a vicious last fart as it turned the corner and vanished out of sight.

Tim stood at the roadside for a moment, shrugged his shoulders, and went to the newspaper stand where a young girl offered him a paper. He thanked her, counted out the change, and exchanged the handful of coins for the piece of newsprint. As Tim gave her the money, their fingers touched and sparks flew at the point where his skin met hers. She jumped back and Tim stared at her. He was sure he’d never seen her before.

“I’m so sorry,” Tim said. “That was quite a shock.”

The paper-seller had dark brown eyes, almost black, with the enormous depths so typical of the native born.

El Brujo spoke to you?”

“He’s mad, raving mad,” Tim told her.

“Don’t say that,” she said. “He’s a good man and a poet. They say he has visions and can predict the future as well as read the past.”

“You mean he’s a fortune-teller?”

“No, not a fortune-teller, not in the sense I think you mean. He told me this morning you might be passing this way about now. I came to see if he was right,” she gave Tim the shyest of smiles and cast her eyes down.

“Nonsense,” Tim waved the paper and brushed away any trace of magic that might be lingering in the air. “You don’t expect me to believe that, do you?”

“No,” she kept her eyes down. “He said you were an unbeliever and would need much convincing.”

“Well, thank you for the paper anyway. It was a pleasure talking to you.” Tim crossed the road and hurried away from the paper stand.

“Well?” said the girl’s uncle, emerging from the inside of the kiosk where he had been listening to the exchange. “Is he the one?”

“I don’t know,” the girl’s eyes clouded over. “He might be. I’m not sure. I didn’t sense anything special about him and I couldn’t sense any medallion. But we’ll soon find out,” she put her hand to her chest. Her eyes lost their focus as she gazed into a distance of time and space.

“Could you get close to him?” the man asked.

“I doubt it,” she replied. “He’s not meant for me.”

People of the Mist 10

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7:45 AM

Bare knuckles rapped against the frame of the open door and Mario stood there, blocking out the sunlight.

“Come in, Mario,” Tim said, hiding the medallion under a serviette that lay on the table. For some reason, he didn’t want the handyman see the medallion; but it didn’t matter, for Mario shook his head.

“It’s a pig day,” he announced from the doorway.

“Why is it a big day, Mario?”

“Not a big day, a pig day, you know, the day when you collect all your left-over food and I take it home to feed my pig. Sure, you remember.”

“Ah yes,” Tim sighed. “A pig day it is. When are you leaving?”

“I leave in about an hour. I just want to give you time to gather all your scraps. Then I will put them together with all the other people’s scraps and I will offer them to my pig.”

“How is the pig?”

“She is well, very well, and getting very fat,” Mario choked back what might have been a sob. “Soon I’ll have to sell her. I can’t stay, I must go now.”

Mario ducked his head and huddled away to the next apartment where he knocked on the door and Tim heard echoes of an almost identical conversation.

The sánate bird again scraped his knife-blade along the grindstone outside the window as

Tim divided the kitchen waste into two different bags, labelled edible and non-edible. When the bags were packed, he took the edible waste down to the courtyard.

Henry, the American missionary who had arrived here several months ago, stood by the container that Mario had left out for the pig food. Back in the States, Henry had made a fortune from the evangelical trade. Thousands of ardent listeners sent him the money he needed to build special projects in the good name of the Lord. In the Lord’s Name and to do His Good Work and spread His Holy Word, Henry owned a TV station and a Radio Station. With money to spend and the good word to spread, he had already involved himself in several financial transactions here in Oaxaca. The local people asked many questions about him, more often than not behind his back.

His latest plan was to develop The First Temple of the Rising Prophet. Nobody knew what this sect did and to find out, one had to become initiated into it and swear the vows of obedience and secrecy. Henry was founder, chief preacher, and high priest of the First Temple and he every day he tried to persuade all the foreign tourists who owned American money to join his new church.

“Are you feeding Maritormes, too?” Henry raised his hat as he greeted Tim.
Maritormes?”

“Yes, Maritormes, that’s what Mario calls his porker. Do you think it’s named after his mother-in-law?” Henry’s accent made the name sound like Merry Torment. “It’s a funny name for a porker.”

“How is the pig?”

“Doing fine,” said Henry, “and almost ready to be slaughtered and sold. Sssh! Here comes Mario. He gets weepy about his porker, you know.”

Mario walked across the courtyard and took the bag full of edible garbage from Henry’s hand.

“You don’t have to sell the porker, Mario,” Henry had held this opinion since he first heard about Mario’s pig. “You could raffle it. Then you could slaughter it and you could sell tickets for that too. I’d help you to sell the tickets. After the slaughter, you could do a barbecue, real American style, and my fellow First Templars could come round and eat. At ten bucks, US dollars, for each Templar, plus the lucky people we’re in the process of converting and persuading, we’d make a load more money barbecuing than selling, you know.”

“In my village we raise our pigs by hand and we don’t barbecue them,” said Mario with a great sadness in his voice. “That would be like sacrificing a friend.”

“There’s a first time for everything, you know,” Henry rubbed his thumb across his index finger and held the imaginary money up for inspection.

“I don’t think you’d all turn up. Once you saw the pig being slaughtered, you wouldn’t want to eat it. It isn’t everyone who can witness the slaughter of a pig.”

“He’s right,” Tim said. “I’m still tormented by my first memories of a pig slaughter and I can’t forget the anguished human squeal it gave as the knife pierced its neck. Lots of tourists feel sick as soon as they see the first drop of pig’s blood dripping off the knife-blade.”

“Anyway: how could you eat my pig?” Mario’s voice held a rebellious note. “You’re not cannibals. And you all might as well be related to it because you’ve been eating the same food.”

Henry considered this remark in silence then the First Temple Preacher shrugged his shoulders and tried again.

“For you, Mario, we’d all buy tickets. Then you could roast the porker and we’d all come to the party. No mescal, mind. I don’t want any of my people tempted into the evils of alcohol, you know.”

“But you drink alcohol. I saw you with an open bottle of wine the other night.”

“Well, what do you know? You saw me drinking wine, did you?”

Mario nodded his assent.

“You know what, Mario, that must have been Saturday night,” he hummed and hawed for a second. “You know, that’s right; I remember now. I was testing the altar wine. The Prophet’s blood flows thicker than water, my friend, as you well know. And remember, the first miracle that The Prophet performed turned water into wine. But the members of my Temple don’t drink wine anymore, not outside church, not now that we know it’s the Good Prophet’s blood, you know.”

“You eat blood pudding. You eat pig’s blood,” Mario flexed the muscles on his forearm. “Anyway, I can slaughter my pig but I couldn’t eat her. I feed her every day. For me, she’s like one of my children,” Mario took a tissue from his pocket and dabbed at the corner of his eye

“Wait a second, Mario,” Tim forced himself to sound positive. “Cheer up, Mario. You’re selling the pig in a good cause.”

“I don’t know about that,” Henry resembled a dog with a bone and he wouldn’t let go. “After feeding it every day, he sells it to be slaughtered. Then it’s turned into bacon and sausages and blood pudding, to be consumed by strangers. I heard tell once of a man who was sold to strangers for 30 pieces of silver. When you get your 300 pieces of silver, Mario, or whatever you get, I hope you won’t hang yourself from a tree.”

Mario’s face turned very red. He wiped his eyes in his tissue, took Tim’s bag of edible garbage and shuffled away with the two bags in his hand.

“Henry,” Tim stretched his hands out, palms up, towards the American as he spoke. “That wasn’t a nice thing to say. I think you’ve upset him.”

“I wonder if he kisses the pig on the cheek before he turns it in?” Henry stood there scratching his head with one hand

“Isn’t there something about charity in your church along the lines of ‘faith, hope, and charity, and the greatest of these is charity?’”

“You know, now I think about it, there is. And now I’m going to be very charitable to you. I know how much you’ve been suffering, don’t ask me how; and I know how lonely you are; again, don’t ask. Why don’t you become a Templar and join the Temple? You’ll be in on the bottom floor and there’s plenty of money to make. And this should get you interested: we’ve been signing up some great looking women. I know for a fact Marisa would like to see you there,” Henry gave Tim a wink and a nudge, but Tim didn’t wink back.

“She’s a fine woman, Henry, and one day she’ll make somebody very happy; but today’s not the day and I’m not sure that I’m the man she deserves.”

“Look: we can double everything up. Think about it: we buy Mario’s porker and then we barbecue it; and then we celebrate your joining the Temple with Marisa, all on the same day. All your friends, all Marisa’s friends, the people from the compound, Mario’s friends, the Templars: we’ll make a fortune. Tell you what: marry her and become Templars together and you can have half the profits from the barbecue as a wedding gift. What do you think of that?”

“And what, pray, does Marisa say about all this?”

“I haven’t asked her yet; but I reckon she’s up for it. She’s as ripe as a plum and boy, you do need a woman; believe me, I can tell.”

“Henry, if I need a woman, which I don’t, I am quite capable of finding one for myself, thank you. I don’t need a marriage broker.”

“That’s not what Mario thinks; and for once I agree with him.”

“Henry, please tell Mario to leave well alone. And as for you … and your charitable offer … well … I must admit … you have left me speechless with your, ahem, charity and, uh, generosity.”

“Don’t thank me now,” Henry rested his hand on Tim’s shoulder. “I’m just getting started, you know. You haven’t seen anything yet,” he winked at Tim again. “Trust me. But don’t trust them, any of them. Mark my words, they’ll betray you. And then you’ll be in trouble.”

He started to whistle and walked towards his apartment. Tim shuddered as he put words to the tune: “Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.”