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.