January 12, 2010

No Era Mi Intención (I Meant No Harm)

By Sean T. Kelly © 2009

The persistent humidity settled in as heavily as liquid hand soap into the lungs. Although rain poured each afternoon in full, pregnant drops from a broad sieve that filled the thick Mayan scrub with long shadows, it gave way to the piercing eye of the stubborn sun. Moisture lifted in steamy circles off the tarring roads and from the engine hoods of other passing cars.

We were hot, to understate it, and after only a few days, we were the color of cocoa, and still as unused to the thick air as we were to the pace of life here. Unlike the locals, who never really seemed to awake from their nightly sleep and daily siestas, we had been moving through this stretch with a speed acutely unfamiliar to these lands.

Farmers scowled at us as they scattered to move their carts off the road and into the brush. We threw empty Victoria beer and tequila bottles at their feet and laughed uproariously as we buzzed by them up highway 180 toward Oxkintoc, then back down the two-lanes of 261, toward the Puuc ruins of Uxmal, Kabah, Labnah, Xlapak, and Sayil.

This had the promise of a quiet, rejuvenating vacation, and we had considered that approach--for five hours, at most. And that was well before we hit the border. I remember Billy having said around then, “I can’t stand this fucking silence.” Neither could I, so that was the end of it right there. Of course, then we raced south like a pair of coked up gazelles on roller skates. Nonstop. Music blaring out into the wild along with our voices, which, by then were mixing Barry Manilow lyrics with Santana’s Oye Como Va: “Co-co-CA-BA-NA/oh-WEE-oh/co-co-CA-BA-NA/ba-NA.”

If respect comes with age, we weren’t acting ours. The last time we stopped at a Pemex to refuel, Billy was drunk enough to piss right on the trunk (and his shoes) while I sniffed lines off the dashboard. Then Billy, in his only display of any focus, spent 15 minutes collecting worthless Pesetas from his pockets and the floor mats to pay the entire fuel charge.

We weren’t the only local wildlife in that town, population 237. Hawks circled overhead hunting for prey. Iguanas scurried aimlessly across the sidewalks heading for the security of the underbrush. Chickens and pigs lazily paced their stone-fenced confines, while famined dogs and cats roamed freely around the ramshackle houses. The dogs in particular had become a fascination for us. No matter how much high-speed swerving about we did along the narrow streets that connected one unnamed town to the next, dogs often slept unbothered on their side right in the middle of the road.

Billy appealed to me several times to run one over. “They’re pretty much dead anyway,” he’d say. But I could never bring myself to do it. Sometimes he’d even try to grab the wheel and we’d come close, but I’d sharply give him an elbow. Everyone has their limits.

As was true with pretty much every other town we passed, in this one we saw dark-skinned children who wore the sad look of impoverished experience sitting in the shade, holding out carved masks and Mayan calendars to any passers-by, even though there were so few. The older children sat in the sun, nearer their bicycles, carving the masks themselves. Resources are few here. Everything is for sale and usually it’s a kid who’s selling it. It was one of these children, an older one I’d guess was 15, who inadvertently forced us off the road and into a shack selling overripe plantains.

For William Francis, Jr., a native mother, and two young local girls—friends I think—that day became el Dia de los Muertos. As for me, I simply felt cold. I mean a kind of cold that never leaves. That kind of to-the-bone ultra-freeze is what told me I’d never return home. I figure if they aren’t able to go back, why should I?

Sean T. Kelly is a writer of many styles living in the San Francisco Bay Area. No animals or people were actually harmed in this production.

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