Jan 30, 2018
He pulled back the curtain of his doorway and saw his mom standing in front of the small stove. Her face was ancient with lines and her eyes tried to focus through cataracts. Her mouth was puckered in because her teeth had been stolen by Chica, the black cat that ran atop rooftops and fence lines pilfering food and things from the neighborhood.
He sat down at the small table as his mom spooned beans onto his plate next to two soft boiled eggs, several flour tortillas, and several pickled jalapeños. Lupé shoveled the eggs, beans, and peppers into the tortillas and ate in silence. His mom stood by the stove picking beans out with her fingers and eating every so often. She had laundry to do today, so she ate what she felt she needed and spooned her son’s plate full again.
Lupé had a day ahead of him. He was going to see the bruja about his mother. Just as he was finishing the beans and eggs, he heard the unmistakable popping and grumble of his friends El Camino. He pushed back his plastic chair, grabbed the satchel at his feet, checked for the thousand pesos and ran down the small path to the stone road where the El Camino was waiting, belching smoke and popping engine, as per usual.
Moy was waiting in the dark brown, heavily banged-up car. They exchanged greetings. Lupé reached inside the open window for the interior door handle and opened the dented door with a loud creak. Moy pumped the gas creating a huge dark cloud as the car lurched forward down the road. Several kilometers of stone road finally gave way to a paved road. They sped past the banana and mango trees that butted up against the village boundary. They stopped several times for friends walking down to the highway to hop in the back. A custom in the town was if you had room, you stopped for walkers.
They dropped their passengers off at the bottom of the road and turned left onto the highway. The highway was dotted with small businesses selling bananas, coconuts, mangos, and small trees. The pair laughed at the gringos in their shiny cars stopping into these shops where they would pay five dollars for a coconut when it was really only worth about a hundred pesos. But that was the way of things: there was the gringo price and there was the normal price. It’s how most of these folks made a living.
Moy slowed his car after twenty minutes on the highway. He turned, seemingly into the jungle itself, onto a nearly invisible road. Gigantic banana leaves and morning glory clobbered the sides of the El Camino. Small, globe-shaped passionfruit hit the windshield. The noise of the jungle around them shrieked with birds taking flight. After a few minutes of the melee, it subsided as the roadway opened up a bit to another stone roadway.
“Lista?” Moy said to Lupé.
“Sí,” Lupé answered, thinking to himself ‘I’m ready.’
The El Camino slowed and turned between two jaka fruit trees with their enormous, warty fruit hanging low near their trunk. The road was lined with coffee and papaya trees. As they drove on down the roadway toward the brujería, both men fell silent. They weren’t afraid of the woman so much as they were cautious. No one ever got hurt or found harm while visiting the bruja, it’s just that very few people understood what she did. A lack of understanding though did not thwart them from returning again and again because her results were indisputable.
Moy pulled off the road and stopped before a tangerine colored adobe home with roof panels extending out enough to cover a small porch. From the eaves of the porch hung a menagerie of dried fruits, herbs, branches, bark peels, and bundles of unknown plants. There were numerous shelves pressed against the front of the house with jars of more nefarious looking items, some animal, others unrecognizable. There was a wooden table on the porch with a bloodstained cutting table, several enormous candles and a number of pestles with ground powders sitting in them.
“Esmeralda!” Moy shouted toward the home. “Lupé y yo estamos aquí!”
The harsh voice came from behind them startling them both. “Bueno.” she barked.
She stood just shy of five feet tall. She wore a plain, somewhat soiled tan house dress. Her skin was Michoacan dark. Her dark hair was infiltrated with large portions of grey. She fashioned many dreadlocks wrapped in a headscarf pulling it away from her face and down her back. In her left hand, she held a jumble of roots and her right hand held a machete.
“Siéntate,” she said and they both walked to the table and sat down.
Lupé spoke first. “Thank you for seeing me Señora. My mother’s eyesight is failing.” The bruja simply looked at Lupé as she tapped a short Marlboro cigarette out of a red soft-sided package. She lit the cigarette with a match she struck on one of the stone pestles on the table. “Well, can you?” he persisted.
“Sí,” she answered slowly, her voice husky from years of smoking unfiltered cigarettes. “Can you pay?”
Lupé reached into his satchel and pulled out the green, blue and pink bills counting them out onto the table. After arriving at one thousand pesos, she pulled off the top bill and struck another match burning it on the table. She pushed her chair back and walked to she shelves unscrewing the top on two different jars. The stench hit Moy and Lupé quickly but they tried not to wince. She pulled down one of the dried plant bunches and rolled the head of the plant as hundreds of small seeds fell onto the table. She turned and walked to the edge of her porch and ripped a portion of a banana leaf. She walked back to the seed pile and spat into it. She pressed the elements she’d taken from the jars into the seeds and spat once again into it. She picked up the combination of animal parts, plant seeds and spit and put them on the portion of the banana lea and rolled them up tightly. She tied the leaf with a measure of string so the contents would not fall out of the bundle. She set the bundle in front of Lupé.
“Put this in a pan on your stove. Put water in the pan. Put the bundle in the water. Cover the pan with a lid. Have your mother stand over the pan when the steam begins. Tell her to blink into the steam. Allow the contents of the bundle to completely boil away. Remove the lid. Remove the banana leaf and let the mixture cool. When it cools, it will be thick. Your mother needs to rub a fingertip full of the la poción into her eyes, blinking as she rubs to get the la poción right onto her eyeballs. She needs to do this until it is gone. It should take about a week to go through the poción.”
“And this will work?” Lupé asked before he thought about it.
The bruja merely looked at him as she pulled a long drag from her cigarette. “It will work,” she answered. “Do you doubt this?”
“No Señora. No not at all,” Lupé stammered. “Of course it will work.”
“Bueno,” she said, “Now, sobrino, take this to my sister.”
Jan 23, 2018
Up the Trail
I’ve walked this road time and time again. My worn sneakers find the larger stones to step on as I make my way up to the mountaintop. The stone road has been here as long as I can remember. My mother can’t recall a time when it wasn’t here either. It’s the road that I and everyone else in the village walk up every day. Some are up before the dawn with the collection bags, others see their kids off first to the small school at the top of the town, and then there are people like me. My name is Lupe, short for Guadalupe. My whole name is Guadalupe Francisco Jimenez Sandoval.
It’s 9:00 AM before I start the walk up the mountain. My head is ripe with a hangover from too many Pacifico beers. Yesterday was Thursday when the bull is brought up from the pasture below the village. Each week the damned thing just stands there chewing its cud until Pachuko comes from behind and slams his head with the maul bar. The bull slumps down and Pachuko does his work as the stench of the slaughter rises into our noses. Thursday is the night we drink in front of the beer store until Pachuko is all done. We play cards, each of us pretending we have more money than we do. Sometimes I win, other days I lose the money my elderly mom gave me to shop with because she’s too blind to make it to the store.
I lost the money last night.
Today I have to pick an extra bag of coffee beans in order to make up for what I lost yesterday. Hopefully, I’ll strip enough of the red cherries from their branches in order to stop at the store in the village before I go home. I don’t want my mother knowing I lost again gambling. I have too much of a fondness for gambling and for drinking and for smoking marijuana. Everyone knows it. My mother knows it too. That’s just how it goes in a small town on the rainy side of a mountain in the lowland jungle of Nayarit, Mexico. We all lived here, far away from the cities like Puerto Vallarta. It’s only an hour or so away, but it might as well be ten hours. I can never afford to go there. On a good day I will make eight dollars a day, twelve it I pick an extra bag of cherry beans.
I walk the stone street that leaves the village. I wind up the mountain. Within minutes I’m wet with humidity and sweat. It takes a good hour to reach the coffee orchards under the enormous Kapok trees. The road up the mountain becomes gradually smaller. The road becomes a path. The path becomes a coyote trail. As the trail narrows, the mountaintop jungle becomes thicker and the bird calls replace the barking dogs in the village. Bromeliads as large as me cling to the trees. Orchids wrap their roots around the limbs of the coffee trees. The passion fruit is everywhere.
I find the orchard owned by the man in the village who has become too old to pick his beans. I reach up into the air and pull the cherries from the branch. It’s December, the month the coffee is ripe enough to pick. If I pick enough to cover my gambling and love of Pacifico beer, I can get my mother something for Christmas. She cooks on a dilapidated camp stove on a wooden table on the porch. It would be nice to get her a new stove.
That’s what I said last year too.