Había una vez, en una tierra lejana, una joven con ojos de camaleón.
Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there was a young woman with chameleon eyes.
Today, Samara said she missed me. And the thing is, I’ve been writing. But none of the stories feel right; the words don’t sing and the pace doesn’t flow. So tonight, I’m going to surrender to what’s on my heart and tell you some stories about Mexico.
When I graduated college, I moved to Xalapa, Veracruz to live with a boy. There’s always a boy. Or a girl, or a man – which is what I was really dealing with. I moved to live with a man I loved, and to teach English, and to adventure. I won’t say more about that man, because there is another man now and he is the one I choose to love forever. But you should know that, back then, the man from Mexico was my world.
We lived several places. First, there was the apartment that topped an artisan shop like icing on a cake. It was in el corazón del centro, the heart of downtown, and shared one wall with a nightclub. On weekends after 9pm, the bass thumped so loudly that sleep was impossible, and we held impromptu midnight picnics on the living room floor.
From my bedroom window, I could see into the yard of los ancianos, the ancient ones who lived across the alley. Somehow, a family composed of three decrepit but fiercely devoted siblings had held onto a tiny plot of land. Their ramshackle cottage and spit of grass were surrounded on three sides by an independent movie theater, a parking deck, and a fancy Italian restaurant. At street level, a high aluminum fence kept their lives a secret. From my perch three stories up, however, I memorized their movements like an intricate dance.
Of the two sisters, one was clearly the leader. She bossed the brother every which way and cut his hair on the first Sunday of each month. The younger sister had a more daunting task: she hunted pigeons. Yes, pigeons, in the middle of a bustling state capital city. Every day, the old man scattered crumbs around the yard. Then he disappeared inside and pigeons swarmed down in a grey mass to feed. They were so happy to receive this easy bounty that they didn’t seem to mind – or perhaps they merely forgot – that every few days, the younger sister would dart out of the house with a broom and club one bird into the ground. She never, ever missed. The other birds would scatter to the skies, the pulverized bird would be plucked and roasted on a spit, and every few days the wheel of food, trust, and death made another rotation.
I loved living in my orange castle in the Xalapan sky. From the rooftop of my building, I could see the very tip of a distant mountain called Pico de Orizaba. Every time I hung the laundry out to dry, the clouds that floated across Pico’s face made me imagine that the sighs of my fellow urban dwellers were drifting up to heaven.
During my first weeks living in Mexico, I bought a refrigerator, learned which varieties of salsa to avoid, and walked countless miles to explore as many twisting side streets as I could. I found a favorite baker, learned the name of the man who – for a monthly fee – guarded the cars on my street from nighttime robberies, and I befriended the daughter of the gift shop owner downstairs.
Then I began teaching English.
To read the next part of this story, click here.