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And Litio cries. A sick column of his tears hit’s the floor. My grandfather begins to look foolish and weak. The old man in him is pitiful to see: groaning and shuffling and full of a lifetime of stunting grief.
“Why are we here,” I whisper again. “Why are we anywhere?” comes his small- voiced reply.
After the mess is done, Reuben greets us by talking of Vera Cruz. The beauty of his home and garden, the richness of his life before drink, are set out in detail. Reuben concludes by telling us that his father is waiting to send a Gran Marquis, gleaming white and sleek, with the smell of gorgeous women lingering on its brown leather seats, to get him. First, Reuben must dry out. To emphasize this, the strange little man does a stranger little dance he calls the jarocho. He spins and gyrates, twisting and mortifying the air with his movements. He offers us a place to stay and we agree, for some reason we say yes.
Rueben lives in a abandoned building. It’s have-built and half-destroyed but free and we must save money to pay the coyotes who will take us across. The space, even as it is near ruin, is clean and well-looked after. Small plaster and shiny metal figures of demons and saints of all sizes are scattered throughout the room. Since arriving at Reuben’s, Litio’s been quiet. Seeing a cop shake down a street vendor sets him off however, and gripping the butt of his gun he aims to test his manhood. I hold him back. Reuben watches, drinking large doses of cane liquor from a plastic Snoopy bottle. He flops on a baby’s mattress and soon he’s snoring. In his sleep, his legs twitch, he swears something about ‘mama’. But most of all, he sweats, turning a bad body odor into something worse.
Litio has stopped his foolishness and stares out between the cracks of the boarded window. “Listen, Benny, listen. Let me tell you a story‘:
Sometime in the 1800’s a villager was caught stealing a pig from Raymundo Ortiz. Raymundo demanded justice. But the village authorities felt pity for the man who pleaded he was desperate to feed his family. His tattered clothes and the near starved bellies of his children were evidence of the man’s desperation. Raymundo still in need of justice, decided to take the matter into his own hands and one night went to the poor man’s jacal and cut the tongue from the man’s mouth, whispering violently in his ear, “You will never tell lies again.” The next morning Raymundo found he could no longer speak Nauhuatl. His Indian tongue had been removed by indigo-winged phantoms and replaced with a Spanish one, the idiom of overseers, landlords and judicial figures. Since then Indian sounds continue to stir the local air as commonly as colorful birds move through the grey skies.
“Have you listened? Have you heard me?” Litio says in all seriousness. But it’s just noise toiling in a thinning blue/black atmosphere. I’m too tired to make sense of anything. As my eyes seek rest and turn to sleep, I lose sight of Litio. But in my dreams he returns; lying just north of the other side, he waits for me to enter and let him go.
“Make sure you run out of life before you run out of money.” Litio says this to me the next morning after we left Reuben asleep on the floor. To show our appreciation we leave him a gift: a bottle of Presidente, nearly half-full. He cradles it like a baby holding a favored doll.
Today, the streets have been taken over by children, running in and out of traffic like a pack of wild dogs, a game that marks the best and worst of their childhood. A few women, red clay-colored with babies permanently sucking at their breast gather in front of a small church. Under the shadow of a cross they avoid the looks of local men who seem to be alive only because they had nothing better to do that day.
One man, his clothes a collection of rags linked together by many knots, walks toward us, his hand outstretched. I give him pocket change. Litio offers an over-ripe yellow mango. It’s still edible but Litio says yellow mangos make his balls ache and call forth images of tropical women wearing strategically placed animals pelts and macaw feathers.
The Other Side continues...