by Ares Demertzis (June 2006)
Dark, weeping clouds engulfed the insignificant community perched precariously on the slopes of the mountain. Thin wisps of iridescent vapor stealthily ascended the steep cliffs from the valley below. A desolate brume consumed in its moist embrace a dozen crudely built huts constructed of discarded wood slats, their sodden thatched roofs spilling rivulets of rain water. Skeletal fingers of lightning arched through an opaque sky as discharges of thunder pierced the air, their prolonged staccato shattering what had been the bucolic tranquility of the village.
On this particular morning everyone was aroused from their tranquil slumber even before the first cock had announced the arrival of dawn. A mild breeze dispersed through thin air, from shack to shack, the fragrant scent of burning wood from the squat fires set on earthen floors, heating grey water in blackened, rudimentary clay pots. They each breakfasted two hard tortillas spread thinly with fried beans and some watery coffee poured steaming into porcelain cups. Pulling aside the burlap sacks that had been sewn together to function as a door, they silently left the one room which seved as a home for the entire extended family. The barefoot women were dressed in long satin skirts of brilliant primary colors, and intricately embroidered blouses. They carried vegetables from their gardens and the hand woven baskets they looked forward to selling in the main square of the valley town on this market day. The men, wearing white cotton tunics, wore leather sandals and straw sombreros flaunting a tassel decoration; they shouldered the farming implements they would use until darkness interfered with their labor in the corn fields.
A long, threnodic peal of thunder followed them as they descended single file along the narrow path that snaked up the valley to find their community.
Only the youngest daughter stayed behind. She was an adolescent who was charged with doing the housework. Notwithstanding the inclement weather, she took advantage of this privacy to bathe, standing upright in the shallow water of a small, red oval plastic basin. From a green pitcher she poured the cool water over her dark hair, delighting in the soft caress of the liquid as it filtered through her thick mane to cascade lightly over her shoulders, flow delicately across her nascent breasts, circling around immature, puffy nipples, to trickle down and course through the almost imperceptible blossoming of fine hair that had finally made their anticipated appearance between her legs.
She was startled by the abrupt discovery of someone staring at her naked body.
At first she thought it was her mischievous younger brother, crouched and peering through the gaps of the wooden slats. She scrutinized the tenuous image discreetly, to be certain; it was a barely perceptible shadow in the cloudy reflection of the small, cracked mirror nailed to the wall, in which she had been admiring her evolving body. The splintered shard resembled the polished black obsidian that her remote ancestors called the smoking mirror of their god, Tezcatlipoca, in his manifestation as Itlachiayaque, “the place from which he watches”; the power that witnessed everything, that reflected a translucent divination of the future.
She determined it wasn’t her younger brother after all, but rather her eldest brother, her favorite brother, Pecado the one who brought her wild flowers cut from the fields and occasionally treated her to sweets from town, where she was prohibited from going alone. She could hear Pecado´s agitated breath, that familiar hoarse panting sound of a nocturnal predator, the hollow cough of the jaguar that she first became acquainted with when she was working as a maid for the engineer, and he insisted she watch him masturbate. She never mentioned this to anyone; after all, she had been raised to never question the motives and actions of those considered to be her betters.
Unexpectedly aware of her brother’s covetous passion, she suddenly experienced a shortness of breath; a startling, gushing exhilaration, followed by a delicate, subtle ache across her lower abdomen. Trembling apprehensively, she pretended not to see him; then she turned her body slowly in order to reveal herself to him completely. She was excited by the thrill of her rapidly beating heart thundering deafeningly in her ears, by her labored breath, transformed into short, shallow gasps from the fear that her mother might arrive at any moment and discover them.
After that first time, her bathing evolved into a ritual; their delightful little secret. She would undress, with great deliberation, draping her garments over the thick perpendicular rear support of the raw wood chair. Awkwardly stepping over the border of the red oval basin, she would expose herself there, her dark cinnamon skin glistening from the wet; turning her body sensually around and around and around as the water splashed her in thick, transparent gulps. She always waited until he had finished before stepping out of the basin to dry her body and dress, except on those rare occasions when she was angry at him; when for some now forgotten reason they would both do things to hurt one another. To punish him, she would undress slowly and diligently, as always, and then bathe rapidly, purposely denying his climax.
That afternoon, at the crowded bus terminal that occupied an entire unroofed block on the outskirts of the valley town, Pecado was boarding the bus that would take him from her. He was going north to surreptitiously cross the river, searching for relief from poverty. Unexpectedly, he turned and kissed her full on the lips. She looked up into his face, her dark, swollen eyes now a deep scarlet from the effort to contain silent tears that overflowed her eyelashes. The salty wetness streamed down her face, washing the mouth that Pecado had kissed, the bitter aftertaste stinging her tongue.
He slipped into her hand a small, crumpled brown paper bag.
The bus slid away from its assigned slot in front of the platform with a thunderous roar, disappearing into the black exhaust that obliterated its outline. She shouted after it, indifferent to the curious stares of the multitude that surrounded her:
“You made me a woman! You made me a woman!”
Opening the brown paper bag, she pulled out the single, wilted marigold it contained.
She allowed herself to sink despondently unto the cement floor, directly in front of the empty slot where the bus had been parked just moments before. Pulling the long skirt down over her ankles, she tucked her barefoot legs under her body. She was comfortable sitting on the ground; it was the terminal’s hard wooden benches that made her body ache.
Suddenly, she found herself running after the bus, hoping to catch up to it at the shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe on the edge of town. The driver always made an obligatory stop at the shrine for the passengers to leave their offerings and pray, beseeching the Virgin’s protection for their journey. At first leaping forward awkwardly, she later forced herself to run swiftly. Faster and faster. She ran light footed after the bus, the long, shiny material of her skirt and full petticoats swirling and heaving about her legs, attempting to impede her progress. Quicker. Quicker. Her temples pulsating. Faster. Faster still. Breathless. Her chest heaving frenziedly. Stabbing pain. Gasping. The red ribbon coiled through her single braid fell away, her extravagantly long hair now free to leap unfettered around her moist body, from her head to her knees. She propelled herself up and down wildly. Up and down. Up and Down. Gyrated. Quicker. Quicker. Faster. Faster. Flying. Throbbing pain.
The crimson sky turned abruptly into an impenetrable black void. She ran through nightfall. Deeper into the night. Deeper. Burning pain. Panting hoarsely. Breathless. Deeper. Still deeper into the blackness. But the bus always eluded her. Deeper. Faster. Quicker. Run harder. Harder. Her salivating mouth opened wide, sucking the thin air into her bursting lungs. Faster. Faster. Even faster. Harder. Run harder. Quicker. Run. Run throughout the night and into the grey morning.
The blisters on her wounded, bare feet ruptured; dark crimson gushing.
When the ambulance arrived at the bus terminal, the paramedic found her discarded on the cement platform, her feet swollen and bleeding; her clothes, soaked with perspiration, clinging to a body burning with a high fever. He shone a flashlight into her open eyes, inspecting the dilated pupils.
The rising sun abruptly blinded her. Flashing colors. Blinding. Colors.
“¡AaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayDIOS!” she shouted.
A chiliadic cry. A rapturous wail. Finished. Finally. A delirious climax.
“Pecado! I adore you!” she sobbed unashamedly.
The paramedics picked up the perspiration soaked red ribbon and the brown paper bag with the single marigold from the platform, and placed them in her lap as they lifted her unto the stretcher and into the ambulance. They sped away, siren wailing. On the exterior wall of the terminal remained flagrantly prominent the spray painted two words she had scrawled earlier, with an uncertain hand:
The salesman at the store where she purchased the spray paint had carefully inscribed each of the symbols on a small sheet of paper; the letters she would copy with deliberate precision on the bus station’s wall to convey that afflicted message.
The bus had left the shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe scarcely moments before she arrived, exhausted. Watching the turbulent cloud of black exhaust dissolving as it rounded another sharp turn in the mountainside, she knew she had lost Pecado forever. She felt her soul abandon her body. Awed by its fragility, she held it gently in her small fingers, and then placed it solicitously as one more offering, the only thing of value she possessed, on the Virgin’s altar, imploring forgiveness.
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