Banda music, the Latin-flavored polka music, played from the center of town.
Lupé was thinking about Maria. Maria lived down the path from Lupé. She walked by the lower part of his yard every morning about 7:00 AM. She worked at the small tortilla shop on the main block in town. Tortillas were one thing the little rancho made that could always be counted on to produce an income for those who worked there. It wasn’t a big income, but any income in this rancho was a good income. The money is why he thought of Maria. She hadn’t been going to work.
Lupé thought maybe her hours changed when he stopped seeing her walk to work. Lupé began to notice a few strangers walk from the main road down the path toward Maria’s house after a few weeks. By the time he identified the strangers as a doctor and a few family members the rumors about Maria had spread. Some said she had cancer. Others said she had fallen prey to demons. Others say a curse had been cast.
Whatever the story was about Maria’s illness, he was shocked to see the doctor and Maria’s husband help her out to the main road. She was so thin. Lupé didn’t recognize her. She’d always been a pudgy, matronly figure. Now her dress hung on her. There was a man on each of her arm directing her down the path to her husband’s truck. Finally, her husband had to pick her up and carry her the remaining distance to the truck. She placed her head against his chest and almost disappeared in his arms.
Even though he wasn’t religious, Lupé crossed himself. He heard his mother’s voice say a prayer as she too watched with concern as this shell of a woman walk down the path.
“She doesn’t look good,” Lupé said to his mother.
“She is dying,” his mother said.
“How do you know that mother?” Lupé asked.
“I just do,” she said. “Old women know these things. As you get close to death, you recognize your fellow travelers.”
“Mother,” he said. “Be quiet, you will live to be a hundred.”
“That is not far off my dear,” his mother said.
Lupé knew his mother was right about her age and time on this Earth. He shuddered at the thought of having to care for his brother alone.
“Are you scared of dying mother?” The question came as a shock to both of them. Lupé was not one to ask probing questions and his mother was not one to dwell on her own mortality, even though it consumed most of her thinking.
“I’m not scared of dying, mijo” she said with assurity. “Being dead will be good.”
“Good?” he asked with some alarm in his voice.
“Yes,” she said with simplicity. “I’m tired.”
Lupé ignored the response.
The truck with Maria and her husband sputtered to life. He heard it complain as it chugged uphill the two blocks until he could turn left and descend the long road down the mountain.
“We will not see Maria again,” his mother said.
“How do you know that?” Lupé snapped.
“She told me,” his mother said matter-of-factly.
“When did she tell you this?” he said slowly, watching his mother at the stove.
“Just now,” she said.
The hair on Lupé’s arms tingled. “What do you mean, ‘just now’?”
“Just now on the way down the road. In the truck,” she said softly.
Lupé didn’t know what to say.
“Being dead isn’t the end, mijo,” she said. “She’s free now. She’s home.”
“But how do you know?” Lupé asked a bit at a loss for words.
“My dear boy,” his mother said, still stirring the beans and lard. “I am near that occasion myself, and as you get closer you see things and hear things from beyond the veil.”
Lupé stood there consuming what his mother had said.
The banda music in town stopped, almost as if to give him time to digest what his mother had said. The silence rang through the streets in the absence of the music. The wind came down from the mountain, warm and humid. His mother turned her head into the breeze.
“Adios, Maria…mi amiga. Vaya con Dios,” his mother whispered to the wind.