Sometimes you see something that never leaves your mind. Such an event happened in my twenties while in Mexico City visiting family. Here is a short story I wrote about what I saw.
As your taxi idles at a traffic light on a busy street in Mexico City, a man with sharp cheekbones and a hawk’s-beak nose appears out of nowhere. He stands next to the driver’s front tire and leans across the hood. He is holding a smoldering rag wrapped around a broken broomstick. In it, you can see a small flame flicking in the faint wind. You lean forward to get a better look. Drops of sweat drip from the man onto the car hood. There is a heaviness as they fall away from his body. You watch him take in a long, deep breath, then inhale the fumes from the kerosene soaked rag. You half expect what happens next, but when it does, it takes your breath away. In one instant, the man belches out a blue-orange flame that flashes across the hood of the taxi. Then, he draws it back in like a medieval dragon and, with eyes that remind you of a reptile, peers under the maze of stickers that cover the top of the windshield. His bloodshot eyes make your white eyes sting. You look away. You know that you are looking at a dying man. Your hands shake as you fumble for your purse. You push a wad of pesos into his extended hand. For the first time, you notice that he has no eyebrows.
The light turns green and the taxi driver throws the car into drive. You turn and watch the fire-eater. You can almost hear the death rattle in his chest as he steps back to the curb.
That afternoon, I told a cousin who is a doctor about what I had seen. She told me that they come into the emergency room often. “They usually don’t make past their mid-twenties.”
I will never forget that man’s face or how sorrowful I felt as we drove away. -Elizabeth
It seemed like a good idea, taking the Copper Canyon Train to Chihuahua The brochure said it had a glass-topped roof. I imagined myself watching the spectacular gorges while sipping rice water in clay mugs.
The train was overbooked and I felt lucky to find a seat. An elderly woman, with hips that spilled over onto my seat, ate raw radishes and grilled onions. She offered me crispy Chicharrónes with fried hair that glistened in the sunlight. I declined. She looked offended, heaved a sigh and her hips multiplied by a factor of ten. She had been holding back.
I tried to imagine being somewhere else, but it wouldn’t work. I got up and looked for the glass roof. My body moved between the swaying cars like a drunken crab. I asked about the glass roof. No one had seen it.
I started regretting giving up my seat. Where was this stupid glass roof.
Then I saw a man greedily sprawled out on four seats, one arm tucked under his head like a pillow. I approached the man and demanded he sit up like everyone else. Looking around at no one in particular, I yelled, “He’s taking up four seats”.
A woman leaned forward and placed her hand on my shoulder with the grip of a rock climber. Her eyes were so far apart that it was hard to stay put on just one. Maybe nature had made room for three, but somewhere in the womb, the Cyclops eye had been forgotten. I heard her say, “Leave him be. He fell over dead half way across the canyon.”
At that moment, not being able to look this woman directly in the eye was a blessing. All I could think was I had just yelled at a dead man. Someone needed to give me a hat with “jerk” written across the front.
I never found the glass roof that day and I don’t recall much about the train ride after my encounter with the dead guy. I do remember that I never found a seat again but, at that point, I didn’t think I deserved one.