(page 5 of 13)
After many hours, some spent listening to a retired hippie argue that marijuana should be legalized so that we could tax the space flights of aliens who supply Mayan Indians with candied blow pipes, we arrive at the border. It’s just past noon and my head already feels knotted, uptight, stuck on a level somewhere between compliance and aggravation. Noise from past turmoil finds its way in there too, crowding out any useful thoughts. “Lack of sleep,” says my grandfather, who sits next to me awake the entire trip, never needing rest.
I spent the days on the bus thinking over and over about my mother and my encounter with the gypsy women. And somehow I’ve become unhappy. In fact, I’m overcome with unhappiness. I tell Litio that an animal tethered by rusty chain, fuming in a junk yard has more joy. He responds in the only way he can by telling a story of a peasant farmer who walked 30 miles barefoot on broken stones to see images of the Virgin Mother rise from a field littered with celestial flowers of absolution.
As we enter the bus station, something tells me there is unkind work taking shape just beyond. All that should go well, will not.
An orphan girl, ragged with a fearless energy, rises from the streets and offers to sell us marigolds. Instead of haggling, Litio gives her a newly minted coin. On one side is an impression of the sun with a monstrous being---sunken-eyed and a bony-framed. His howling mouth opens in the sun’s direction. Inscribed on the coin’s flip side is one word: LIMUS.
I say quietly what‘s on my mind, “Nothing good can come of this” unaware that Litio listening. His 80-something ears are canine sharp, and sharper still is his blackened tongue, “Shut your mouth. You call forth so much bad luck. It will find us and once we are found, we are lost.”
Litio walks out of the bus station into the streets. I follow, ignoring all the men heaving the forbidden our way, offering to lavish us with the cheap and the vulgar, all for the bargain price of an exhausted woman forced to sell what is left of her body to inexhaustible strangers. One flesh peddler is dressed like a wayward missionary in a clean white shirt, a bolo tie the size of a monkey’s paw and dark red pants. He repeats the phrases “true sexy,” and “good times with bad hot women” so often I picture the words as a malignancy streaming from the fleshy pads of over-excitable mouth.
Litio walks, I follow. With great determination we move past the poor and those blue with the fatigue of hunger, all born from the ruins of some wondrous disaster.
After a time I suspect we’re lost. We travel in circles, assaulted by the same undernourished, gum-selling children, tripping over the same broken gutters, meeting the same gentle-eyed, failing people. Before I reach my end, Litio stops in the glow of a bright pink building. The sign outside reads: Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, Tuesday‘s. We enter, walk up a dark stair case and come to a room where a group of grim faced men sit semi-circle, recalling, or as I later realize, trying to forget their hard luck stories.
It must be Tuesday.
I ask Litio why we’re here. He shrugs, mumbling something about rain.
One man, rabbit-faced, with thick stubble and pants too large for his short legs gestures for us to sit. A moment later this same man wobbles to the room’s center and begins to speak:
“My name is Reuben Martinez. I come from a good and proper family, from Vera Cruz. My father was a good and proper man who had lots of land, lots of cattle. I was driven to school everyday in a Gran Marquis. Every year we had a new Gran Marquis.”
Litio sits passively, cleaning the lenses of glasses he refuses to wear (“They make me look like an old unmarried school teacher.”). Rueben pauses to sip coffee. His hands shake and his eyes, already red and weary, liquefy.
“I began my life of…my evil ways…I could not stop. I was young. My father, a good man, a loving man, always wanted the best, he gave me the best. On my 15th birthday I was awakened early in the morning by my father’s bodyguards. He is very important man in Vera Cruz. We have a large house there. Beautiful gardens…many hired people to care for them. They woke me, carrying me on their shoulders to a small room on the other side of our big house. They were laughing and singing birthday songs until they pushed me into the room.”
The Other Side continues...