Category Archives: Ti’ho Tales

Doña Juany – A Long Day

The plastic Coca Cola-red chair scraped along the colorful tile floor as Doña Juany dragged it through the sala and out the front door, setting it down on the sidewalk just outside the entrance to her old house. She glanced back inside for a moment, making sure she had turned off any lights she wasn’t using and then sat, wearily, in the cool, late afternoon air.

It had been a long day, washing day that it was, and she had spent an inordinate amount of time washing the clothes as she had always washed them – by hand – in the large batea behind her kitchen.  Of course now with her mother and father gone, there was not much to wash except for her underclothes and some house dresses she wore around the house and to the market when she went to buy the day’s provisions and yet, it had still taken what seemed to be longer than usual. Then she had painstakingly pinned the washed clothing to the lines strung criss-cross just beyond the batea only to have to rush out an hour later when it started to rain. It rained long enough to get all the clothing wet and of course everything had to be rinsed again to prevent it from smelling bad when it finally dried. The clothes were now hanging in one of the empty bedrooms, drying slowly on nylon lines tied to hammock hooks.

All this washing and hanging, combined with a three-block walk to the corner grocery store and back to buy some detergente and a jar of instant Nescafe for her morning coffee, had left her tired. She recalled Maria Ines, the owner of the shop, mentioning something about the weather and how the rainy season had finally come and what a relief it was, especially for the campesinos who were waiting to plant their corn as this year the dry season had lasted so long and what if the rains didn’t come and the seeds would dry and so they were waiting expectantly and… Maria Ines talked a lot, and this morning Doña Juany had not felt like engaging in much conversation, so she just nodded or shook her head depending on what Maria Ines was saying. Finally she managed to pay and left, leaving Maria Ines talking to another, more interested customer who had just walked into the store. He was one of those older gringos that had recently moved in, spent what must have been a fortune on renovating an old house and now spent his days strolling the streets smiling at everyone and drawling out “buenos dias” in a thick American accent without a care in the world.

“How do they do it?” she thought “they just start speaking Spanish without knowing even basic grammar or tense and they could care less how it sounds”

Doña Juany, when she was much younger, had met some American exchange students who were studying at the Rogers Hall school under the supervision of those crazy American nuns – they wore shorts for their sports classes; what kind of nuns did that – and when an opportunity had presented itself to talk to them, Juany had remained silent, afraid to utter anything in English because she was positive her pronunciation was so bad that she would not be understood or worse, laughed at. The girls were nice and had spoken to her in Spanish – such as it was – and she would answer them in Spanish, yearning for the courage to try out her English but that courage never presented itself and the opportunity was lost. Since then she had forgotten most of it and had only recently started to think about English when the neighborhood began to repopulate with the recently arrived Americans.

Across the street, Doña Juany could see Arsenio, the neighbor with the bad leg, moving about inside his living room. His windows onto the street were open to take advantage of the cool air and she could make out a television in the corner of the room. It looked like some sort of telenovela was on and Arsenio was settling down in a rocking chair in front of the TV to watch it.

Besides her neighbor Doña Betty who seemed to live alone with her adopted malix, there was another house a few doors down that had been fixed up and was now owned by two men who spent a lot of time away from Merida. They would be gone for weeks and then, suddenly, be back and then there would be dinner parties with lots of other gringos. Unlike the typical Mexican party, however, Doña Juany noticed that these parties usually started – and ended – early and by midnight the whole affair would be over. One of them was called George, or Jorge as he like to call himself, who seemed friendly enough on the few occasions she had crossed paths with him but the other one she didn’t know because he didn’t seem to get out much. She suspected they were gay. Why else would two grown men live together without any women around? Around the corner was another couple, probably in their 50’s and she had heard they were from Washington but these people did not throw parties or go out late. They mostly stayed home venturing out only to visit el mercado on Thursday mornings when it seemed they did all their grocery shopping for the week. Normally they left on foot, but most times returned by taxi on account of their many sabucanes full of fruits and vegetables.

A few other houses in the area had “Se Vende” or “Se Renta” signs on them with local phone numbers and foreign sounding names and occasionally a gringo in one of those fancy cars would pull up in front of them, step out onto the sidewalk along with a foreign couple – the wife emerging from the back seat, husband from the passenger front – and they would go inside. After a while they would come back out, get into the fancy car and drive away. So far, no one had bought anything for some time. This was another reason D0ña Juany was convinced that her house would never be sold. If those places, many of  which were still in decent shape were not selling, there was really no hope for the crumbling family home that she had taken care of all these years.

With a sigh of resignation, Doña Juany got up and took the red plastic chair back into the house, closing the door to the street behind her. An hour or more had passed and it was time for her novela. She didn’t much care for the earlier soap opera, the one that Arsenio was watching across the street, it was just too melodramatic and the protagonist was far too old for the part of the galan. The actress playing the part of the novia could have been his daughter for crying out loud.

She turned on a table lamp and the television and found the right channel. Then she went to the kitchen to prepare a cup of te de manzanilla and found a package of Canelitas cinnamon cookies and returned to the sala with her cookies and tea to watch her novela.

As the violins and crashingly symphonic music started, accompanied by flowery script and images of flowing haired actresses atop shining horses and men with creased foreheads turning dramatically towards the camera, Doña Juany sipped her tea and swallowed a bite of cookie.

She swallowed again, but somehow the cookie was not moving. Another swallow, nothing. She suddenly felt the urge to take a deep breath and knew she couldn’t because her windpipe was blocked. Thunderous orchestral music came from the television as Doña Juany dropped her cup of tea on the tile floor – it smashed into a thousand porcelain pieces – and the package of Canelitas slipped from her lap as she made an effort to get up, clutching at her throat. She made a croaking sound as she tried to cry for help staggering towards the front door. Flinging it open she felt herself becoming dizzy, sparkling lights in her peripheral vision and she sank to her knees and onto the sidewalk.

Behind her on the small television in the dimly lit sala of the tired old house, a sensual female voice was announcing an exciting new body spray.

Everything went suddenly very black.

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Pat and Betty Visit the Pharmacist

Pat stared up at the ceiling fan, spinning lazily above the bed just enough to move the air around a little. It was not hot; rather, it was pleasant in the mornings in Merida, always cooler than when she went to bed the night before. She thought about her latest sculpture, the one with the forks she had mentioned to Betty at the cafe the other day when they talked about Seidy. She still had to do something about her muchacha. That’s how Pats mind worked – as does everyone’s she presumed – moving from one subject to the next, linking along like a series of clicks on the internet that take you from one idea to the next in a few seconds in a never-ending barrage of images and information.

Thinking of the internet reminded her that she had wanted to update her Facebook profile picture which still showed her standing, smiling then, next to a man she thought she had once loved. She got up, slipped on an old extra large t-shirt with a faded University of Maryland logo and made her way through the silent house to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. Seidy had not yet arrived. Good.

The click click click of the gas stove top annoyed her and she made a mental note to have someone come and check the burners or whatever it was that made the thing take so long to light. When it finally did, she put some water on to boil and looked through her collection of teas to see what exotic infusion was going to inspire her this morning. She settled on a black tea called Lemon Lift – what was it with those names – which was from a selection in a welcome basket that Betty had shown up with when she moved into her new home in Merida.

Betty had been a real godsend, a friend when Pat most needed one. The separation from Matthew had been the most difficult thing Pat had ever faced and the realization that she was not getting any younger as she moved into single-ness again – as well as a whole new country – made her feel uncertain and insecure in addition to being severely depressed.

She had met Betty one afternoon at Merida’s main square; two extranjeras sitting at adjacent tables having a sorbete and watching people go about their lives. Pat was still staying at a nearby hotel while her house was being readied; Betty was having a pre-comida sherbet as was her custom after a morning of dog walking and a swim in her backyard pool.

“Isn’t this sherbet the best?” asked Betty; she was having mamey. “Betty” she continued extending a hand between the two tables.

“Yes, it’s fantastic” said Pat, who had been overwhelmed by the strange flavors and had finally settled on safe and familiar strawberry. “I’m Pat” she replied and took the offered hand.

From there they had talked like old friends for what seemed like hours and when Pat finally peeked at her watch discretely, so as not to offend her new companion, she realized with some embarrassment that she had probably kept Betty from her mid-day meal, although there was no complaint from her new friend.

In the time since, Betty had adopted Pat and shown her around Centro, telling her which restaurants were good and which ones to stay away from; where she could get a cheap (and clean) manicure and pedicure – “they keep their scissors and things clean, so you don’t have to worry about an infection” she had said – and the little laundry place just around the corner where they do such a good job. Once Betty had been apprised of Pat’s emotional situation and they had come to the conclusion that most men were cursed with a defective chip that caused them to spin out of control after reaching a certain mileage, Betty also told Pat about ‘her’ pharmacist, a quiet and very serious middle-aged man in spectacles and the obligatory lab coat who worked in an hole in the wall pharmacy next to a small clinic on 57, who could discretely and without a doctors prescription, procure all sorts of medicines to combat all manner of ills.

She smiled and popped a tea bag into a cup of hot water, remembering the first time she had visited Dr. Gustavo, which was the name on the glass door of the pharmacy, in a two-tone Gothic hand painted script. Responsable: Dr. Gustavo Fuentes Alcocer, UNAM. Betty had done most of the talking, introducing her new friend and explaining that she was a little down.

Mi amiga tiene una depresion” said Betty to Dr. Gustavo seriously after exchanging the usual buenos dias and como esta usted formalities. Dr. Gustavo nodded gravely and Betty continued “necesito una medicina para ella“. Pat looked on, suitably nervous and looking the part without much effort. Betty patted her shoulder.

Dr. Gustavo turned back and looked briefly at the metal racks behind him, where little boxes and containers were neatly arranged in what appeared to be alphabetical order, then disappeared for a moment between the racks. With only the A section visible, Pat could make out a few familiar names and some not-so familiar ones. While Abilify and Afterbite sounded somewhat recognizable, there were some strange ones there like Acarbosa Tarbis and Aclasta. There were so many!

When Dr. Gustavo returned to the counter he presented Betty and Pat with a small box with the name Ludiomil. “Es como Prozac” said the doctor seriously and, after the briefest of interrogations regarding Pat’s health, handed Pat the box in a small plastic bag. Pat fished out her pesos and Betty helped sort out the colorful bills until they had the right amount. They paid and headed for the door, Betty shouting “Gracias doctor!” and Pat smiling sheepishly as they stepped out into the sunshine of Calle 57.

It seemed so long ago already. Pat shook her head and took her cup of Lemon Lift tea to the kitchen table, where her laptop was waiting obediently and clicked open her Facebook page. “15 new messages!” was the excited announcement at the top of the screen. She sat down and began to read.

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Will Pat get around to updating her Profile Pic? Will she set a date for her sit-down with Seidy? Will she spill lemon tea on her laptop? Stay tuned for another installment of Ti’ho Tales coming as soon as inspiration strikes again!

Frijol the Malix Gets a New Home

He was born in the street, raised in the street and it was being in the street on a particularly fortuitous Thursday afternoon (not that he could have differentiated between a Thursday and any other day) that brought him to the attention of the bare-legged lady with the yellow hair who took one look at him and scooped his bony body up and threw him into the back of her car, making cooing sounds and speaking in a gentle tone that was new to him.

For most of his life, as long as he could remember at any rate, his life had consisted mainly of running, hiding, knocking over garbage cans and nearly getting killed by cars while running across streets. Food was scarce in a land where even the humans had to scramble to eat. Old tortillas, bits of chicken bone, plastic bags with rotting meat, these were his staples most days.

It was not rare to get a kick in the side from a passing human if he wasn’t paying attention or, feel the sting of rocks pelted from groups of curiously smaller humans who also chased him and made loud, aggressive noises.

Often there was no previous warning. The humans would be still one minute, and then smack, he would get clobbered. Brooms were often used against him as well, whenever he got too close to those places where the humans congregated and the smell of cooking was in the air, driving him to distraction while he scratched himself.

Ah yes, the scratching. At some point when you live in the street, you pick up some ticks and fleas and these just seem to multiply exponentially all over your body making it unbearably itchy and causing welts and bleeding which makes you feel even worse and seems to anger the humans even more because the beatings and rocks and brooms seem to be everywhere and more often.

In any case, the yellow haired lady had found him on the street and had literally and figuratively lifted him out of his misery.

He felt fantastic. Now obviously well-nourished, his coat was shiny and insect-free and his yellow-haired lady talked to him constantly in a soothing voice, patting his head gently and stroking his fur and if there was a thunderstorm or one of those extra-large, monstrous contraptions out on the street backfired, he would run, tail between his legs to his benefactor who would stop whatever she was doing and calm him down.

He learned to recognize her name when other humans stopped to say hello to her and pat his head; they called her Betty.

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Will Frijol the Malix live happily ever after or will he get run over by a bus? Will Betty’s hair remain yellow or will the black roots start showing? Will the gringos and their neutering campaign get to Frijol the Malix thereby affecting his virility?

Stay tuned for another exciting installment of Ti’ho Tales, coming soon (I hope)

Doña Juany gets a Headache

Stepping out, broom in hand, into the relatively cool morning air in front of her colonial home that had once belonged to her parents and who had gone off and died, leaving her in charge of taking care of the old, crumbling family home, Doña Juany paused for a moment to take a breath.

Fate. Yes, as fate would have it and thanks to her ungrateful and unhelpful brothers deciding to marry and move to el norte because God forbid that her sisters in law should have to live in Merida’s congested downtown – las wachas – she had been the only one left to live in what used to be a grand colonial home but which was now reduced to a dusty relic, complete with cracks in the walls and ceilings, vines creeping into the kitchen and rotting wooden door frames. She glanced – half angry, half sad – back at the sagging front door and grunted sharply, beginning to sweep the sidewalk with quick, violent movements.

Of course she had not gotten married; the love of her life had been Carlos Irigoyen but what had been a promising love affair was fatally interrupted by the constant neediness of her mother who was on her deathbed and had no one else to care for her. Juany’s father had died a few months prior and that prolonged illness and the news that Mama was also now sick, was the motivation her brothers needed and they had fled the family home to take refuge with aunts and uncles and in universities in Mexico City and Monterrey.

“Anywhere but here” she muttered to herself, sweeping a little more vigorously.

Of course while they were off enjoying life and improving themselves under the guise of ‘studying a career’, she was left behind with Mama Rita, as the servants – long since gone after her fathers illness dried up what was left of the family fortune – used to call her; bathing, feeding, changing her now baby-like mother and arranging for a priest to come visit once a week to keep up her spiritual health. Not that she minded of course – she had to remind herself sternly – but wouldn’t it have been nice if her brothers had shown at least some interest in helping out, in some small way. But no, not even a hint of interest let alone outright help. And then they started in with their girlfriends, some of whom eventually became their wives – las wachas – and they all moved back to Merida, but as far away from el centro as possible, to fashionable neighborhoods with pretentious names, like Monte Alban and Monte Cristo and Monte Fulano and Monte Mengano.

Her sweeping picked up speed to the point where she was now slashing the broom back and forth, not even seeing what it was she was sweeping.

And so here she was, unmarried, overweight and bitter, saddled with a responsibility in the form of a house that she couldn’t get rid of even if she wanted to, given the condition of the building and the drooping real estate market in Merida.

She stopped sweeping and her eyes suddenly filled with tears. Embarrassed, she quickly wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and muttered something about el polvo just loud enough to be heard, in case anyone was looking out a nearby window or door.

She could feel a headache coming on.

It was at this moment that Frijol, the neighbors dog, sauntered into her line of sight and stood before her, looking up with those big dark malix eyes and wagging his tail expectantly. He was a healthy, well fed, all-black former street dog who had had the fortune to be adopted by Doña Juany’s neighbor, a gringa who had moved in a few years back and with whom Doña Juany had come to be on speaking terms when they occasionally crossed paths on their street.

With a jerk of his head, Frijol turned to bark happily at his owner, who now also appeared in front of Doña Juany.

Buenos dias, Juanita!” said Betty cheerfully.

Buenos dias, Doña Beti” answered Doña Juany, forcing a smile and hoping her eyes were not too red. “Mucho polvo” she added with a quick rub of her left eye.

Si” replied Betty “es muy seco todo” and with that she turned, waving, and sang out “adios Juanita!” while opening her front door and with the malix Frijol bounding happily ahead of her, disappeared inside.

Doña Juany looked after them for a moment, then took her broom and slowly stepped through the sagging wooden front doors back inside, closing them carefully behind her, making her way past the scratched petatillo rocker next to a small metal end table that featured a scene from a Disney cartoon, through the off-white, almost green square-tiled kitchen, making a beeline for the baño with the one naked overhead light bulb and finally reaching the stained wooden wall cabinet with the broken mirror, where she kept her headache medicine.

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Will Doña Juany find comfort in Aspirin? Will Frijol the Malix live happily ever after? Will Betty remember to call Pat?

Stay tuned for another installment of TihoTales, when inspiration strikes!

The Problem with the Muchacha

“I mean it’s not like she’s actually stealing anything” said Pat, holding the cup of decidedly watery coffee with both hands, feeling the cups smoothness and marveling at the fact that you could even hold a fresh cup of coffee in a porcelain – albeit chipped – cup with both hands. Shouldn’t this be hotter?

Betty nodded, completely in tune with the frustrated sentiments of her recently arrived friend from Baltimore, for whom Betty had procured a maid in response to Pats request because, as she had put it, “I need more time for my art.”

Blonde, blue-eyed and originally from Guelph, Ontario, Betty had had similar concerns when she first arrived in the formerly-white city of Merida some years ago but now had become accustomed to the locals way of doing things. She recalled the shock of finding her mozo, a young lad of about 22 with a limited command of English and decidedly Mayan features whom she had hired off the street, poking around in her kitchen when he was supposed to be watering her garden. “Que haces, Juanito?” she had asked and the mozo had simply shrugged and left her there, wondering if she should make it more clear what his job description was and seriously debating whether or not she should count the spoons.

Pat interjected with a sigh. “I know she is a sweet girl and would never take something without asking” she said “but I can’t shake the feeling that she has been through my things”

The waiter, a man in his fifties with a large belly completely inconsistent with his income, approached the outdoor table. “Mas cafe?” he asked, all the while checking out Betty’s legs, which were bare, muscular and tanned, thanks to her plaid shorts and a strict regimen of daily swimming and walking her dogs. “No, gracias” said Betty, while Pat just shook her head. The waiter retreated into the dark confines of the cafe.

Pat continued. “I mean there I was, in my studio doing some work with forks. You know I am working on a piece that involves forks, right?” Betty nodded. “And I look over at the kitchen and there is Seidy talking on her cell phone and putting something in her purse. So I put two and two together…” Her voice trailed off.

“Look,” said Betty soothingly, “you really don’t know what she was up to and I’m sure you’re just jumping to conclusions. Remember that I talked to Seidy’s mother before we had her come to work for you and she assured us that Seidy was very responsible and completely dependable.” Pat nodded. “Why don’t you ask her what she was doing?” continued Betty.

Pat shook her head, setting down the chipped cup. “I couldn’t do that” she said, “I would be accusing her of something and what if it is all a misunderstanding?”

Betty smiled gently. Pat had been through a lot in the last few years and her self-esteem was still somewhat fragile. After her husband had left her in yet another classic middle age crisis love story, Pat had spent much of her time depressed and only when she discovered her passion for art – and anti-depressant drugs – did she climb out of her funk and rejoin the living. Now she had managed to purchase a small home in Merida and was getting by on her savings and the occasional sale of her rather controversial art. There was not a huge market in Merida, it seemed, for abstract sculptures made of kitchen utensils.

Betty signaled for the bill to a passing busboy using that ‘writing-in-the-air’ motion she had picked up as part of her cultural conversion, who nodded and continued on to the cafe’s interior. A moment later the waiter emerged from within and asked Betty if she wanted the bill. “Si, por favor” she said and a few minutes later was fishing through her fanny pack for some pesos. Placing the money on the bill and mentally calculating the 10 percent she was leaving as a tip, she looked at Pat. “If you like, next week when I have a moment, we can sit down – together if you like – and talk to Seidy and find out what she’s up to these days. You know, sometimes when you talk to them, you get to know a little about what it is that’s going on in their lives and everything is really OK.”

Pat’s slightly worried expression seemed to brighten a few shades. “That would be great Betty” she said, “can I call you?”

“Of course” Betty replied with a smile. They got up and made their way down calle 62 until they came to the corner of 61, where they parted, with a peck on the cheek just like the local ladies of a certain economic and social background do it, and continued on to their respective homes in Centro.

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Will Pat resolve her doubts? Will Seidy cough up her secret? Will Betty adopt another street dog?

Stay tuned for another installment of Ti’ho Tales, coming soon, should the inspiration strike!