Y GRANDFATHER LITIO MALDONADO, the last living speaker of a forgotten Indian tongue, died recently at the hands of a grieving peacock.
The peacock had no hands, being a lowly bird not native to our village or the nearby lake. The hands belonged to a German tourist, a man named Meyer who having consumed the hallucinogenic mushroom Teonanácatl was in the lake thrashing around, trying to rescue a woman he believed drowning in a whirlpool of gelatinous colors. It was not a drowning woman the German heard that morning but rather the call of a lovesick peacock. Litio, who in the morning half-light heard the commotion, hurried to the lake and tripped over the body of a dead peahen, the object of the male bird‘s public grief. A stone to the head broke Litio’s fall and he suffered an unnatural death.
Sniffing as if he had caught scent of these mad spirits mixing with the evening light, Grandpa lifts his fingers to his lips and combs through his mustache, grooming out particles of malevolence that he says frequently settle near his mouth.
Just before my grandfather’s death, another accident, a nonfatal one, occurred. Litio and I were returning from Cholula after delivering fireworks to the village. Nearing the final turn into Tequestitlan, Litio learned through the truck’s radio that Chivas, his beloved football team had lost a championship match (1-0) against arch rival Club America. My grandfather, an emotional man when sober, dropped bitter tears thereafter, blinding him to the goat herd crossing the road. The truck stopped to avoid the goats, throwing me from its bed where I slept. I flew headfirst into the animals.
Losing consciousness, I awoke to monstrous visions: multi-headed creatures dressed in thick metal armor and blackened by calamitous fires. The creatures raged with fang-tipped growls--- threatening me at all angles and stretching in dimension: in height, in width, in everything measurable by fear and terror.
After my accident there were surgeries, expensive ones, with many trips to the hospital in the capital. To earn money for the visits my mother began selling dried fish in the local market, bought wholesale from a cousin in Amantitlan. Although bandaged and bruised, I helped unload the fish and haul the produce to market.
It was there I saw my grandfather.
He first appeared sitting in the shade of the plaza’s trees, hunched over, gazing at his hands and occasionally shooing away the flies circling the fruit rinds littering his feet. I instantly recognized him and thought that death had restored some youth. His neatly trimmed mustache was still pure white and his eyes had the damaged look of excessive sunlight but his chest and arms were thick like a aged Mexican Popeye.
I sat next to him. Neither of us spoke. The market crowds moved before us, buzzing and chattering, exchanging gossip for gossip. Before I could speak, I was distracted by an ache coming from the root portion of my skull. I turned to look where my grandfather had been and saw him walking toward the market stalls, his elbows flexed in odd angles as his arms pushed him forward. Soon he was lost in sea of women haggling over the price of chilies and children looking hungrily at the candies and toys their Indio parents had no money to buy.
Over the next few months I saw my grandfather occasionally. Seeing him once in the trees outside our house, climbing from branch to branch like a small restless monkey. I saw him a few times on television as a news reporter talking of the latest war or drug bust or political scandal. He even appeared as a child’s tornado---a dust devil, a small twisting wind that many said contained the souls of lost children spinning their way through eternity.
But mostly he appeared in my fitful, dissolving dreams. In those dreams I was a child, continually moving in a shadowy world made from the unfulfilled desires of others. I hovered as ether does, eventually floating into a crowd of men, starving and desperate they attacked me. I fought their battering. My grandfather, Litio, who took the form of a raven, watched the mayhem. “Help me,” I called out. “Help me fly away.” The raven, perched on column of broken cemetery stones, lifts his wings to reveal the brittle skeleton of a starving bird. I wake sweat-stained, feeling as though a demon-heated darkness breeched my soul.
One morning, after a round of disturbing dreams, I awoke to see four gypsy women sitting in a row, staring at me. Each had in their laps dark purple grapes, eating and then spitting out the grape seeds through my open window. One woman was not a woman at all, but my grandfather dressed as a hungara.
The Other Side continues...