Tag Archives: Betty

Don Ambrosio and the Hacienda Lifestyle

Don Ambrosio’s joints ached. As he climbed the stairs to the platform containing the rusting remains of the haciendas henequen scraping machine, 3 large white ladies in straw hats and plaid shorts bearing what must surely be expensive camera equipment close on his heels, he suddenly felt older than his 73 years. He was getting tired of this, showing a seemingly never-ending stream of tourists the ruined plantation that had been a part of his life for the last 60 years.

He turned to face them, directing his gaze at each of the three flushed red faces that stared back at him expectantly. Two had already raised their cameras and were pointing them directly at him; he wondered if he should start a little song and dance number. Wearily, he took a battered henequen leaf – one of his props – from the floor behind a giant metal wheel and, bending it in half, showed them the fiber that would have been extracted and motioned to them how the leaves came up from the fields and onto a conveyor belt that fed them into the scraper, leaving liquid and pulp behind. The tourists snapped away with their cameras and he paused for a moment and smiled a tired smile. His English was unfortunately non-existent and their Spanish was limited to “si” and “no“.

It seemed – no it was – so long ago now that he had worked as a henequen leaf cutter in the vast extensions of land that had once belonged to the plantation, working from 5 AM to 5 PM under the merciless sun for very little pay. In those days, he remembered, there was no question about what one was going to do, or to be, other than a worker at the hacienda. If you were lucky you worked in the hacienda buildings, tending to gardens or perhaps performing cleaning duties for the wealthy owners who spent an inordinate amount of time lounging around on the expansive terraces, sipping cool jamaica tea or perhaps something a little stronger. If you were less fortunate, you worked in the fields and were woken each morning by a 4 AM whistle that signaled the beginning of another backbreaking day in the fields or on the machines.

The gringas had stopped taking photos and were waiting to move on.

He had already taken them through the haciendas main buildings, including the kitchen, living and dining areas and had tried to explain, as best as he could with his mime techniques, the fact that every room in the hacienda could be converted into a bedroom or sleeping area thanks to multiple hammock hooks on the walls. He had also shown them the office, where he recalled Don Ignacio, the owner, spending many hours poring over papers with the assistance of an accountant making sure that every aspect of the henequen production was recorded, measured and accounted for. The gringas had shown special interest in – and taken many photos of – the wooden desk, now infested by out of sight termites and ants, who were silently reducing the ancient piece of furniture to dust before his very eyes.

He now showed them the silent motors that once ran the scraper machines; hulking steam engines that belched smoke unfettered by environmental concerns into the Yucatan sky for years through tall stone chimneys that rose, San Giminiano-like, above the flat land like lightless-lighthouses and now served as beacons for visitors intrigued by the prospect of exploring the Yucatans rich past. He recalled the noise of these machines that could be heard for miles around and while it may have been annoying, it was the sound of money as well, for this was the time of the so-called “green gold” which made the chosen families – those of European descent – rich beyond their wildest dreams and allowed them to furnish their mansions and plantations with the finest offerings from Europe, from floor tiles and furniture to crystal chandeliers and marble statues.  Meanwhile, Ambrosio, and the other 300 dark-skinned Mayan workers and their families, lived in the most basic conditions and shared none of this wealth. Instead, they were paid a meager salary in currency produced expressly for their hacienda – it was useless anywhere else – and were limited to buying their provisions at the tienda de raya, or company store, at often inflated prices.

He led the gringas on to the hacienda’s small chapel. While they – somewhat disrespectfully he thought – snapped close-up photos of the altar and the haciendas patron saint dressed in a purple frock, he recalled that many of his friends from the village had initially been glad when, in the mid 1930’s, the leftist federal government introduced land reform and forced the hacienda owners to relinquish control of the thousands of acres they had and turn them over to the mostly Mayan workers. These same workers had quickly changed their tune when they realized that without the machinery, still under the control of the hacendados, they were unable to do anything with the henequen plantations. The owners, meanwhile, also came to a similar realization as the upstart Indians began demanding a better price for the plant, thereby cutting into their enormous profit margins and making the business less attractive. Many of Ambrosios friends had then complained that perhaps they had been better off under the old system as they had been more or less taken care of by the hacienda owners, who, while not permitting anyone to improve their lot in life had provided such basics as elementary education, a living wage, basic medical care and a strict dose of Catholicism. Of course it was too late; the federal law was now the law of the land and things were about to get even worse. The invention of synthetic fibers dealt the final death blow to the henequen industry which, through the demand for rope produced from this plant for the worlds shipping industry and many agricultural applications, had made a select few Yucatecans inordinately wealthy.

In a way, he had been glad to see the end of the henequen; glad to see the owners abandon the buildings to find refuge and undertake other business ventures in Merida. With the demise of the hacienda, the beatings, the 12 hour work days and the harsh penalties for the most trivial transgressions also disappeared.

He took the ladies to the hacienda gift shop, where they examined postcards and trinkets and bought refrescos from Ambrosios daughter who had forgone a life in the city of Merida, preferring to remain in the pueblo surrounding the former plantation and work alongside her father. She had never known the hard life he had led in the long-overgrown henequen fields and for that, he was grateful.

The gringas were done with their shopping and handed Ambrosio a $50 peso bill and through their gestures and smiles, he could make out that they were very pleased with the tour, such as it was. He smiled back and said softly, “Gracias.”

Unexpectedly, melancholy tears came to his eyes – the eyes that had seen so much – and he turned away before anyone could see.

He was very tired indeed.

 

Sergio Gets a Phone Call; Regarding Juanita

The phone rang about four times before Sergio decided to pick it up. It was 9:30 and his wife was out, picking up their exchange student at the airport, otherwise he probably would have let it ring. Maybe the plane was late. He was in the middle of watching a movie he had rented at Blockbuster that afternoon and Bruce Willis was just dispatching another mono-browed bad guy by ripping off his arm with a telephone cord; unlikely, but what did you expect from a gringada called Die Hard III, he thought.

He picked up the phone. “Bueno?

A calm but somewhat urgent voice of a man on the other end informed him that he was calling on behalf of Juanita Morantes, who had apparently had a nearly fatal encounter with a package of cookies and that he had found her on the sidewalk outside her house. She was alright, said the caller, who gave his name as Marco, but was still a little shaken and since he had asked if there was someone to call, she had given him Sergios number.

Sergio listened while the stranger explained that the police paramedics had come and gone and had pronounced her fine, before muttering a “gracias” and then adding “y ella quiere que la vaya a ver?” Marco  replied that it was probably a good idea, just to make sure she would be alright and that he really had to be going. “Esta bien” said Sergio before again thanking the stranger and hanging up, a resigned and slightly annoyed expression crossing his face. Whoever heard of someone choking on cookies?

Sergio had not seen his sister Juany in some time, since the last family Christmas dinner when they had had a rather forced encounter over a large, dry turkey and sandwichon dinner. Rebeca, his wife, had been slightly depressed as her parents were not coming from the DF that holiday season due to a last minute Mexicana Airlines strike and Juanita had been as pedantic as ever, complaining about her various ailments and the fact that the house – their parents house, she had reminded everyone – was falling to pieces around her. While pushing aside the romeritos that Rebeca had painstakingly made as part of her Christmas season dinner tradition, Juanita picked at her piece of turkey meat and went on and on about the plumbing, the electricity and the fact that her phone service had been cut due to the fact that she could no longer afford it. When tears came to her eyes during this litany of complaints, Sergio had finally had enough and had stood and gone to the kitchen to fix himself a stiff drink. When he returned to the table sipping his Buchanans he had found Juanita’s chair empty. “Y mi hermana?” he had asked. Rebeca shrugged her shoulders in a resigned way and replied “dijo que se iba a su casa“.

He found her on the street, just down the block from the house, walking to the avenida to catch a bus and asked her if she wouldn’t rather have him drive her home. He did not ask why she had left or insist on her returning to his house to finish dinner. She simply looked at him for a moment with those sad, bovine eyes and replied “No, gracias, anda con tu familia” before turning and continuing her solitary walk on the deserted street. Sergio wasn’t even sure that the buses were running that night, but before long a noisy green Minis 2000 squealed to a halt, cumbia music oozing through open windows and the door. Juanita made her way up the vehicles stairs, the bus lurching forward even as she was still depositing some coins into the drivers fare-box.

Sergio had walked back to the house, both angry and relieved, passing the inflatable Frosty the Snowman his wife had bought at Costco weeks before, and had gone inside. He shook his head. Why had she even bothered to come if all she was going to do was be miserable?

Since then, there had been no news from his sister. Until now.

His sister had always been resentful of the fact that he and his brother had gotten away from the old house after their mother got sick, had gone to study and make something of themselves and had married and were doing well. He did not understand why she did not do the same, preferring to remain in that old dump of a house when she could easily have sold it years ago and taken the money to get a small house in one of the new developments around the city. He had even offered to help her with the Infonavit and get a low interest social housing loan but Juany had refused. “En manos de quien voy a dejar esta casa? La casa de Papa y Mama?” she had asked him.

He slipped out of his house slippers and into his street shoes, buttoning up his shirt as he looked for his car keys and cell phone. Bruce Willis will have to wait, he thought as he dialed Rebeca’s number and closed the door behind him. “Bueno?” he heard Rebeca’s chilanga accent in his ear. In spite of them having been married and living in the Yucatan for years now, she had not lost her sing-song way of speaking, probably due to the fact that she mostly socialized with other wachas who, as a group, felt somewhat ostracized by their Yucatecan counterparts; a certain polite distance was always kept between the ladies who claimed true Yucatecan heritage and the new arrivals from the rest of the country, especially those from Mexico City, el D.F.

Tengo que ir a ver a Juanita” he explained to Rebeca “se cayó afuera de su casa y me habló un tipo para decirme que la vaya a ver“. He could imagine Rebeca frowning as she heard this but she simply said “está bien” She added that she, Rebequita and Annie had just passed a police checkpoint near the airport, that the plane had arrived on time and they would be home soon.

He arrived at Juanita’s house 15 minutes later, traffic having been mercifully light at this time of the night. After driving around the block he found a place to park, cursing the fact that he had to leave the BMW on the street in the middle of the night for God only knew how long. Who knew what kinds of delinquents and prostitutes were around in the ‘centro historico‘ – he smirked at the thought – once the shops closed and the sun went down. What a pain.

Juanita came to the door a few minutes after he had knocked loudly on the once-grand wooden door that reminded him of his childhood, its blue paint cracked and peeling like a dry lake-bed.

Pasa” she said and he followed her inside, being careful not to touch anything in case it broke.

The house was a mess, it really was falling apart. Sergio wondered for a moment if this whole incident had not been an excuse to get him to actually come and see for himself what the house looked like; that he would feel some sort of pity or something and offer to help pay for some repairs or whatnot. He had no intention of sinking one single peso into this lost cause of a building, he thought to himself.

Como estas? Que te pasó?” he asked his sister.

Juanita gave a tired little sigh, and he braced himself for the usual bout of complaining and self pity.

But none came. Juanita simply told him what had happened, that she had gotten a piece of cookie stuck in her throat and had gone outside for help and a man had helped her and she was really quite fine now, thank you very much.

They looked at each other for a moment, then Sergio looked away.

Pues, si estas bien, te dejo – tengo que regresar porque hoy llega la niña de intercambio de Estados Unidos” he said “quieres venir a pasar la noche con nosotros?” he added, knowing that she would not come yet feeling that he should ask, to be polite.

No, no no, estoy bien, gracias por venir”  replied Juanita and walked him to the door. He gave her a half-hearted peck on the cheek which she returned with an equal lack of enthusiasm. “Cualquier cosa… me hablas, oiste?” he said before turning away. Juanita nodded and went back inside, closing the old door, both aware that Juanita did not have a phone available to her at that time of the night.

The BMW was still there, having survived it’s short stay in el centro apparently unscathed and Sergio got in, buckled up and drove home as quickly as he could, away from this part of the city that was now foreign and completely unappealing to him.

Santiago Learns a Lesson

** warning – this article contains ‘bad’ words **

Santiago Puc Arjona felt chastised and furious. An important lesson about drinking and driving, as well as the dangers of littering, had been brought home to him just minutes before, when, while driving back to his home in Merida, he drained the bottle of Corona he had brought with him from his cousins wedding in Tixcacal and tossed it out the window of his silver 1992 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck. The bottle had shattered against the glass in his drivers side door, which was when Santiago realized with some surprise that he had forgotten to roll down the window before throwing the bottle out.

Chinga su madre!” he said aloud, angrily.

Continuing to curse his bad luck under his breath, he pulled off the narrow highway and, checking for traffic, opened the door and stepped out to survey the mess. The remains of the Corona bottle littered the inside of the truck and the drivers side window now featured a rather prominent crack that ran diagonally across it.

Me lleva la puta madre” he cursed again under his breath angrily and proceeded to look behind the seat for something with which to sweep out the glass. Yesterday’s copy of the Por Esto newspaper would do, he decided, and rolling up a section or two began to sweep the glass shards out of the truck and onto the side of the road.

When he was done, and shiny bits of broken glass lay motionless on the grey asphalt, he felt a sudden and very real urge to urinate. Leaving the side of the pickup, he stepped to the front of his vehicle where traffic coming from behind could not see him and unzipped his fly. The relief was blissful as he watered the weeds on the side of the road and he turned his face towards the sun, closing his eyes, to take in the last of the afternoon rays. The buzz from the beer at the wedding had not dissipated even with the adrenaline-pumping moment when glass hit glass inside the truck.  He zipped up and walked back to the drivers side of the pickup taking no notice of a car-full of tourists who turned their heads to see what he was up to as they drove past in a rental with orange Quintana Roo plates.

Snakes are not uncommon in the Yucatan and among them, the boa constrictor is often seen on highways and byways, sometimes making the Local section of the Diario de Yucatan newspaper when a group of police or firemen are called upon to shirk their patrolling duties and is assigned the delicate task of catching one in someones home and then have their photo taken with their prey.

It is less common for a snake such as the aforementioned boa to to slither out of the underbrush on the side of the road and somehow find its way into a vehicle, but today, as Santiago’s luck would have it and while he was happily relieving himself, a boa constrictor did just that, nestling itself comfortably in a space behind (and under, given its size) the bench seat that stretched across the interior of the pickups cabin.

Santiago got in the pickup, turned the key and the 6 cylinder engine roared to life reassuringly. Putting the vehicle in ‘drive’, he pulled out onto the highway and reached the periferico a few minutes later, coming to a stop at the traffic light and completely oblivious to the fact that an enormous reptile was curled up just inches away.

Pat Reflects on her Merida Reno

(Authors note – so as not to confuse you, dear reader, this particular moment happened before Betty came to Pat’s house to discuss the Seidy ‘situation’) Enjoy!

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“15 new messages” was Pat’s cue to begin clicking around her Facebook page, reading this and that until she remembered that she had wanted to replace the happy couple photo currently adorning her profile with something a little more up to date.

She clicked on “change picture” and began burrowing down into several directories on her laptop where she had stored her photos from the last few months, looking for something appropriate to show the world that she was adjusting to life in Merida, newly single without appearing too available or needy, and reasonably happy.

She opened a directory in which were photos of her in and around her new Merida house, before, during and after the renovation. The architect, a short, fifty-ish Yucatecan with greying hair and an excellent command of English, really had done an amazing job, and she congratulated herself on the decision to hire him based on the stellar recommendations she had found on several websites dedicated to the subject of life in Merida.

At first he had not seemed that particularly enthusiastic about the project, but she soon came to realize that this was his personality; cool, calm and serious, not prone to enthusiastic outbursts of feigned optimism or dramatic displays of frustration or dismay in the face of the many adversities that their project had run into. When the gutting of the house had begun, he negotiated on her behalf with the badged inspectors from the local INAH office who eagerly descended like rapacious vultures on the property, apparently smelling their prey from their air conditioned offices far away and anxious to justify their blood-sucking existence by attempting to apply their extensive rules and regulations on yet another unwitting foreigner who would sure pay any and all citations and fines involved with such a project. Pat suspected, and the architect later confirmed, that they could care less about the ‘historic preservation’ aspect of their mandate and were much more interested in supplementing their incomes with a little extra cash in exchange for certain permits and permissions.

He had also managed the hiring and supervision of the firm that provided sandal-clad albañiles who did the construction, the ingeniero who re-did all the electrical work and the company charged with renovating the plumbing. These contractors were all alike in that they appeared on the construction site as a group of rag-tag brown men who did all the work; an ingeniero who wore an impeccably clean long sleeved shirt and blue jeans with an ironed crease and who spent an inordinate amount of time on his cell phone while sitting in his air conditioned pickup on the street outside; and his assistant who was the immediate contact with the workers and who, if necessary, could be counted on to move things along and actually get dirt under his fingernails.

Pat had watched the work progress with fascination and more than a little concern, marveling at the way the workers would move giant rocks, heavy wooden beams and truckloads of concrete blocks and sacks of cement, without the benefit of a hard hat or steel-toed boots. Perched on precarious metal and wood andamios, they would shout to each other in what Pat would later find out was Mayan, avoiding all eye contact with the gringa watching below. On the rare occasions that she had tried to initiate some sort of dialogue with her admittedly limited Spanish, they would look at her blankly and then continue on with their work. Mostly, they ignored her.

The much anticipated visit (Pat had read about this on the internet) from the IMSS official who had come to verify that the workers on the list he had received as being on the payroll were in fact the same as the ones actually on the job, had resulted in work stopping for a day as initially the architect had not been on site and the man from the IMSS had tried to communicate his mission to Pat, who really did not understand the finer workings of this typical Mexican bureaucratic institution. When she finally managed to locate the architect on his cell phone, he told her he was in Progreso and would be back in the afternoon. He reminded her not to sign anything and ask the IMSS to return later in the day. Mr. IMSS was a little miffed and warned everyone present that the work could not continue until he had spoken to the architect and so, the workers sat around to wait for further instructions from the ingeniero who was due to arrive in a few hours. Pats voiced concern that the time could be spent sweeping and/or generally doing some cleanup was met with more blank stares and a few shrugs.

During the re-construction phase, Pat had learned to keep away from certain parts of the evolving house, as these were used as changing facilities and what her nose told her was a latrine, until she made it clear to the ingeniero and architect that she would pay for a portable toilet.

When the albañiles were done and the walls resurfaced and smooth, the electrical and plumbing workers moved in, smashing holes and canals in these same, apparently finished walls into which were inserted copper pipes for the upgraded plumbing and plastic tubes into which the electrical wiring would be pulled. This made little or no sense to Pat, who did not understand the natural order of the construction process in Merida but was reassured by her serene architect who simply nodded and explained to her that this was the way it was done.

Finally, the rough work was complete and the adventure continued with carpenters, painters and aluminum workers, who, under the architects guidance finished the house more or less on schedule and with minimum collateral damage.

Her thoughts wandered back to her present. Ah yes, the profile picture. Pat sipped her lemon tea and decided on a photo where she was standing in front of her bright yellow wooden front door, which contrasted sharply with the deep burgundy color of the facade of her new Merida home, clicked on the upload button and waited for her profile picture to update itself.

The doorbell rang.

Pat padded through the silent house, cup of tea in hand and opened the door to find Seidy waiting.

Buenos dias, Seidy” said Pat, opening the door wider to let her muchacha in. “Buenos dias, señora” said Seidy with a smile and headed towards her room beyond la cocina, to the obligatory cuarto de servicio, to change into her work clothes for the day. Initially, Pat had balked at the concept of making a special room for the hired help, but after being assured by her architect as well as several other people who knew about these things, she agreed to include the additional room in the renovation.

“I really must call Betty” thought Pat, watching Seidy disappear into the kitchen, as she closed the door quietly and returned to her laptop. Her Facebook profile picture now featured a beaming, obviously happy middle aged woman standing in front of a brightly colored colonial style home. “Much better” thought Pat, closing the laptop for the moment and heading back to her bedroom with its en-suite bathroom to prepare herself for the day ahead.

Enter Marco San Pedro de las Asturias de Barlovento Ruiseñor Pesado

Marco San Pedro de las Asturias de Barlovento Ruiseñor Pesado or “El Duque” as he was jokingly referred to by his Yucatecan friends walked carefully along the sidewalk; at this time of the afternoon it was late enough that he didn’t need to be concerned about which side of the sidewalk it was, as the sun had already disappeared behind the buildings in el centro and the temperature, while still very warm, was no longer suffocatingly hot.

He didn’t mind the nickname. It was to be expected, what with that insanely pretentious last name his parents had insisted on bestowing upon him.

Originally from Alicante, Spain, his mother Doña Alicia Ruiz-Señor Pesado and his father Don Marco San Pedro de las Asturias de Barvolento were of royal blood, or so they claimed. They had fled Spain and it’s violent civil war in the late 1930’s, able to do so through their wealth and connections, had come to the Yucatan and settled in Merida in a fine mansion in the city’s center and had pursued their lifelong ambitions of alternately impressing and intimidating those around them, in their minds all undoubtedly of inferior social class and economic means. Doña Alicia was particularly fastidious when choosing worthy companions for her weekly canasta game. Meanwhile Don Marco had opened an exclusive boutique that provided the up and coming society around them with the finest clothing and fashion accessories and had been able to maintain the pleasant fiction that was their royal status in a new land teeming with aspiring socialites and new money.

Marco, the son, was one of 8 children, neither the youngest nor the oldest but somewhere in between and had been raised – as were all the children – to carry on the family tradition of pompous superiority but had committed the grave and imperdonable sin of falling in love with the dark skinned daughter of one of his fathers Mayan tailors. The outrage and dismay caused by this breach of etiquette resulted in his virtual banishment from the family and its fortune, such as it was, and when Marco announced his decision to marry the girl, his mother and father upgraded his banishment status from virtual to real and he was, as they say, ‘cut off’.

He had moved to a relatively new – at that time – area of Merida, the colonia Garcia Gineres, with his new wife whose apellidos were considerably shorter and monosyllabic and found work with a company that commercialized products related to the booming henequen industry. They had raised 3 fine children, two sons and a daughter, who were themselves now married and successful in their own right. Now in his sixties, Marco divided his time between his garden at their Garcia Gineres home and socializing with lifelong friends and acquaintances, many of whom were getting on in years, but who still found time for a game of domino or a weak, tepid coffee at a small cafe in the bowels of the Lucas de Galvez market, in the very heart of Merida. During these encounters, the old friends would discuss the latest local and national political gossip, argue over whether Bush was right in invading Iraq or not and describe their various ailments to one another.

It was, in fact, one of these sessions that Marco had just left, and was now on his way to a bus stop some blocks from the market. He chose to walk a few blocks each time he came downtown as it was his only form of exercise and the walking seemed to ease the pain in his knees that would flare up when he spent too much time kneeling in his garden.

He was walking a little faster now, still remembering with a smile his friend Alberto – “El Caballo Perez” they called him – wagging his index finger as old men do – and giving them all advice about the dangers of mixing Viagra with Red Bull, when he noticed a door suddenly opening across the street and a woman staggering out onto the sidewalk. She clutched at her throat and without saying a word, dropped onto the sidewalk where she lay, motionless.

He heard himself yelling “Señora!” and, without even checking to see if a car, or worse, a bus, was coming, he rushed into and across the street to see what he could do to help this obviously ailing elderly woman who had, from the looks of it, fainted right there in front of what was probably her house. Behind him, a man with a bad leg came to the window to see what was going on, a television flashing blue light on the wall inside.

He reached the woman, now lying in a crumpled heap at his feet and felt his heart was racing, perhaps from the adrenaline charged effort of the sprint across the street or perhaps from the realization that he was faced with a possible life or death situation. Kneeling down he, he noticed cookie crumbs on the front of the woman’s simple house dress and he recalled her clutching at her throat just before she collapsed. At that moment a door in his mind that had been shut for ages opened and he remembered – as if it was yesterday – a medical training session that had been obligatory for all employees of Telas Agricolas Yucatecas S.A. many years ago and what to do if someone was choking. Reaching under the woman he half-lifted her in order to wrap his arms around her from behind, placing his hands under her sternum and applied what he remembered was a technique called the Heimlich maneuver, pulling his closed fists towards himself through the womans chest.

There was a sudden sputter, a cough and a gasp for air from the woman in his arms; a piece of something had flown out of her mouth and onto the sidewalk. “She is going to be fine!” thought Marco as he relaxed his grip and then, when he saw she was indeed breathing, released the woman, who was now sitting up, coughing, eyes watering. She turned to look at him, blinking, in confusion.

Se cayó, señora” Marco explained looking at her, concerned. “Cómo se siente?” he added. The woman could only nod, obviously still in a state of shock from what had just happened. Her breath came hoarsely. “Bien” she replied in a weak, unconvincing voice, between fits of coughing. He was suddenly aware of a voice from the television inside the house; a woman’s voice seductively extolling the virtues of Ponds hand cream.

Across the street, Don Arsenio had opened the front door to his house and was standing, watching intently, completely oblivious to his television or the fact that he was not wearing more than an undershirt and ragged shorts. A few more passersby had gathered and they too, were watching from the safety of the opposite sidewalk, and from that group a heavy-set woman accompanied by a small child, a girl of about 7 or so, quickly checked traffic and crossed quickly over to Marco and the now calmer Juany, still sitting on the sidewalk. In her hand was a cellular phone.

Acaba de llamar a la policia” she said excitedly to Marco, her eyes not leaving the woman sitting in front of her “dicen que ahorita vienen” The little girl stared at the strange sight of a grown-up sitting on the sidewalk.

Marco nodded. “Le ayudo entrar?” he asked the woman on the sidewalk, motioning to the open door of her home. Doña Juany nodded and tried to get to her feet. Marco took her arm, helped her to her feet and gently escorted her inside, where he found a chair in the sala and sat her down. He turned off the television, silencing the strident, nasal voice of a woman making a pitch for a skin-bleaching cream.

An ambulance appeared moments later, lights flashing, its appearance heralded by sirens which had been thankfully turned off as it came to an abrupt halt in front of Doña Juany’s home. The heavy set woman enthusiastically filled in one of the paramedics with the details as she had seen them, while two others went inside the house to check on Doña Juany. While Marco explained what he had seen and done, the paramedics checked Doña Juany’s pulse and made sure she had not hit her head. When asked if she would like to be taken to the hospital ‘para que le revisen‘ Doña Juany shook her head vigorously and it was decided that she was fine, no injury to the head and so, no danger of a concussion and, after a brief interrogation of Marco’s relationship to the woman and jotting down the particulars, the three of them left, pulling away in the ambulance that now only sported a smaller, more discrete number of red and blue lights flashing on its roof.

Marco pulled up a chair, sat down in front of the woman and asked if there was someone he could call. He felt it would be unwise, as well as somehow discourteous, to leave the poor woman alone after her fright. Doña Juany, now regaining her composure, replied that yes, but that her phone line had been canceled and that the nearest phone was at Maria Inés corner store down the street; she scribbled a phone number in pencil on a slip of paper napkin and Marco stepped out to find the grocery store and make the call.

Pat and Betty talk to Seidy (you decide where we are going next)

Hola Seidy!“, said Betty with a smile when Seidy opened the door for her. “Está doña Pati?” Seidy smiled a shy half smile which Betty took as a sign of affirmation, lowering her eyes and moving out of the way so Betty could come in. The blond woman followed her to the indoor patio where Pat was crouched among a group of plants, rooting around as if looking for something.

“Hi Pat! What are you doing?” Betty asked, curious.

“Betty!” Pat looked up from between some arecas “I’ve been having some problems with my garden; Manuel says it’s probably sayes and so I am trying to find their nest”.

Betty knew that Manuel was Pats’ part time gardener/mozo who went to the house a few times a week to tend to her gardening needs. Most of the time, she had noticed, Manuel spent his day staring dejectedly off into the distance with a hose in his hand, watering different parts of the ambitiously lush patio jungle Pat had created in the middle of her new home. From her own experience, she also knew that sayes – a Mayan word with a Spanish suffix; she had looked it up – were leaf-cutter ants who voraciously attacked anything green, establishing underground nests from which they emerged, usually at night, to cut leaves (hence their name) and carry them back to the colony. Pat wasn’t going to find anything at this time of the day.

Betty waited while Pat got up and they gave each other a little hug, Pat being careful not to get her dirty gloved hands on Betty’s clothes.

“Want something to drink?” she asked.

“Love it” Betty replied.

While Pat went to the kitchen to wash up and get Seidy to fix something to drink, Betty plopped down on the large metal-framed sofa-lounge with the thick cushions and looked around. The house, yet another small, once-forlorn Merida colonial that had been subject to an extensive reno by a recommended local architect who had redone everything in spite of officious protestations from the local INAH office whose mandate, it seemed, was to thwart any attempt at reconciling the city’s history with the present century’s need for such frivolous luxuries as plumbing and electricity, was all muted earth tones and natural surfaces. The old tapestry-style multicolored tile floor was the only splash of life in an otherwise somber ambiance, what with its exposed rock walls, wood accents and high ceilings. Far from depressing though, the effect was peaceful and relaxing and the profusion of green in its center, with sunlight streaming in from an overhead opening in the ceiling made one feel as if in an oasis, completely removed from the hustle and bustle just beyond the front door.

Pat came back and sat down, pulling her legs up under her. “Thanks for coming” she said, glancing at her friends face. She had called Betty that morning to have her come and help with her Seidy ‘situation’.

“No problem” Betty answered “have you talked to Seidy yet?”

They looked up and smiled politely, stopping the conversation that had just begun as Seidy appeared with a tray holding 2 glasses with ice and a glass pitcher of bright red jamaica. Pat had only recently discovered jamaica when Seidy had one day suggested the drink to accompany lunch, becoming quite enamored of it’s refreshing taste and, after reading something online about it’s apparent health benefits, made sure to always pick up a package of dried jamaica leaves when grocery shopping.

“Well?” continued Betty, after Seidy had set the tray down, served each of the women a glass and left, presumably back to the kitchen.

“You know, I haven’t really found a good moment to properly sit down and talk with her” replied Pat. “I just can’t seem to find the right time” She looked down at her hands, somewhat sheepishly.

“Oh Pat” said Betty knowingly “there’s just the two of you in this house most days; are you sure you’re not just putting this off?”

Pat nodded. “I guess so” she said. “I just can’t get started” She looked up at Betty “How do you do it? Talk to your muchacha I mean?”

“Watch and learn” said Betty, setting her glass down.  “Seidy!” she called out in an authoritative voice. Pat looked nervous.

Seidy came back from the kitchen and looked first at Pat, a questioning expression on her dark face, then at Betty. “Señora?” she asked.

Sientate, Seidy” said Betty and Pat motioned for her to sit next to her. Seidy sat down, the questioning look on her face turning into what might be described as defensive anticipation. She knew something was up.

Betty began. “Como te sientes, Seidy? Esta todo bien contigo?” Seidy nodded. “Como esta tu familia, todo bien?” Again, a nod. Pat, feeling she should ask something, broke in with “Y tu madre?

Bien” Seidy replied, looking from Betty to Pat and Betty again and finding this strange questioning rather disconcerting. Normally, her conversations with Doña Paty were of the Tarzan and Jane variety, with her patrona giving her instructions in what little Spanish she knew along with elaborate gestures in sign language, and Seidy answering with simple, short phrases that could be understood without difficulty by her new boss. She had worked only one other job before this one at the home of another woman, Doña Licha, a severe Yucatecan lady who had scolded and reprimanded her on everything; the washing, the cooking, the cleaning; none of it was being done correctly or quickly enough. It was hard if not impossible to please Doña Licha and after a month, she had told her mother that she was quitting. Her mother had scolded her as well, telling her not to be ungrateful and what else would a 15 year old with a grade 4 education expect to be doing, but Seidy had had enough and would not budge. A few weeks after that, her mother had found and recommended Seidy to, Doña Paty.

Tu padre esta trabajando?” the interrogation continued courtesy of Betty. When Seidy nodded yet again, Betty announced that que bueno; it was important that her father keep his job because jobs were hard to find in these troubled economic times and people should be grateful and…

Her well-meaning yet thoroughly patronizing monologue was suddenly interrupted by a loud knock at the front door.

Betty looked at Pat and Pat looked at Seidy and then all three stared for a moment at the door, no one saying a word. There was another knock, more insistent, almost desperate.

Seidy looked at Pat, got up and hurried off into the kitchen, leaving Betty and Pat sitting there.

ENDING A

“Well, aren’t you going to see who it is?” asked Betty a little impatiently. “Oh yes, of course” answered Pat. She got up and headed to the front door, not before there was yet another knock. Now, as she approached the closed door she could hear voices outside it; a man and a woman – from the sound of it they were arguing. “Pues CLARO que lo voy a ver” she heard the woman say in an angry voice.

“What is this?” Pat wondered, and opened the door, revealing what was most definitely an elderly Mayan couple; the woman wearing an hipil and the man in dark polyester pants folded up at the bottom, a long sleeved wine colored polyester shirt not tucked in and a baseball cap that said Tommy Halfmaker. Both were quite short and were wearing plastic sandals, revealing their calloused, brown feet.

Trabaja aqui una muchacha que se llama Seidy?” asked the woman, fixing her gaze on Pat while the man said nothing, looking past her into the house. The woman looked upset.

Si, pero…” Pat’s answer trailed off as the hipil-clad mestiza turned to the man with a triumphant look and then pushed past Pat and headed towards the central garden area, where Betty sat, jamaica in hand, staring at this sudden intrusion. As Pat turned, the man removed his baseball cap, muttered “con permiso” without making eye contact and followed the mestiza into the house.

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Who are these mestizos? What the heck is Tommy Halfmaker? Will the sayes return? Why is Pat such a wuss?

Will we go with Ending A? Your vote will decide!

Stay tuned for another installment of Ti’Ho Tales, coming sometime soon!

ENDING B

“Well, aren’t you going to see who it is?” asked Betty a little impatiently. “Oh yes, of course” answered Pat. She got up and headed to the front door, not before there was yet another knock. Now, as she approached the closed door she could hear a male voice outside; was he talking to someone or to himself?

She opened the door and before her stood a city policeman. A dark skinned, Mayan-featured member of Merida’s finest in a pale blue uniform smiled at her and she noticed he had a length of sisal rope in his hand. The rope was attached to a very familiar looking black dog. Obviously, this was Betty’s dog, Frijol. What was the policeman doing with him?

Buenos dias” said the oficial with a smile, revealing impossibly white teeth. Then, checking his watch, he corrected himself “Tardes – buenas tardes” he emphasized the tardes and again flashed a toothy smile while shaking his head at his own mistake.

Buenas tardes” Pat answered. She turned and called to Betty. “Betty, this policeman has your dog!” Betty sat up quickly, set her glass of jamaica on the table and rushed to the door.

Buenas tardes?” asked Betty stating what was both a salutation and a question. While her face was not unfriendly, her voice said hello and what the hell are you doing with my dog?

The policeman hadn’t stopped smiling. He was a happy policeman, this one. “Es suyo el perro?” he asked Betty. Betty now noticed that a rather sheepish Frijol was looking up at her, apparently trying to decide if it would be appropriate to wag his tail.

Si” responded Betty emphatically “es mi perro” Pat wondered if she should invite the policeman in.

He decided for her. “Puedo pasar?” he asked motioning to enter the house with his free hand.

Claro que si” answered Pat, stepping aside to allow the policeman into her home. As he entered Betty bent down to scratch Frijol behind the ears; he immediately decided that yes, it was alright to wag his tail and began to do so in such a violent manner that he threatened to knock over the macetas with their potted plants beside the door. He also licked Betty’s face happily. The policeman’s smile faded and he looked at Betty with a mixture of pity and distaste. “Estas gringas con sus perros” he thought to himself before regaining his composure and rearranging his face to once again highlight his Colgate smile.

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A policeman in your house – Pat what are you thinking? What is Frijol doing on the end of a rope?
Does Seidy put artificial sweetener in the jamaica?

Will we go with Ending B? Your vote will decide!

Stay tuned for another installment of Ti’Ho Tales, coming sometime soon!

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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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!