Here is a small secular Christmas present, a story you might have missed.
For Rad, in Singapore.
Women are annoying, interfering, bossy, and petty. (How many guys do you know who can nurse a small slight for ten or fifteen years?) Men who don’t believe these simple truths are rubes and patsies. By the way, those universal objectionable female features are why Mother Nature invented the poison testosterone. Women who don’t believe these self-evident truths have never had a sister, or a mother, or a roommate. Or else, they live in a mental 1970s feminist time-warp when women were such superior beings that they did not even need bras to combat the natural force of gravity. But, but, that’s not the whole story, fortunately. There is much to love in the creatures, if, if only you pay attention. Here is an illustration, rolled up in a tiny true story.
It’s a long time ago on the Caribbean coast of Yucatán. Cancún, the sprawling rowdy resort, is not even yet a greedy light in a developer’s eye. Only a few foreign skin-divers and a handful of itinerant pot-heads make it as far as that wild shore. My then-future-ex-wife (henceforth “TFEW,” pronounced as it is spelled) and I are driving slowly on a gravel road miles into the interior in our cool but sturdy convertible VW. We are not looking for anything in particular, just yielding to my constant exo-tropism, the tendency idly to look for something unknown in unfamiliar places. My companion is used to rough travel with no special purpose. She does not mind it as long as I am leading the way to nowhere. We both know Spanish, at least we are pretty sure we do.
We notice a hamlet in the middle of the dry jungle on one side of the road. It’s not much. A half dozen light thatched structures with no walls, colorful cotton hammocks strung between their supporting posts, more hammocks outside between coconut trees, a smoking fire with a big cauldron on it. It’s summer, the weather is good, not much more is needed. There are chicken pecking around indicating that this is more than a temporary camp. We are in a Mexican federal territory, not a proper state, so it could be the beginnings of a homestead, I think. A woman waves at us in a friendly manner. We might just as well stop. Besides, it’s late afternoon and I am ready for a glass of Nescafé.
The woman appears to be in her mid-fifties because her hair is all steel-gray and her face wrinkled. With constant exposure to the tropical sun, she might be younger than she looks, perhaps in her late forties. Although she wears the white embroidered frock, the huipíl, of Maya women, the color of her hair and that of her skin, even tanned, as well as her large body size, mark her as a non-Maya, as someone from the interior of Mexico. Excitedly, she invites us to sit down in some of the hammocks. It turns out, she had the water on already and she has Nescafé. Alright, I think! Life is good!
The gray-haired lady is cordial with both of us but she is talking mostly to the TFEW, as you would expect. She asks her questions about her, and me, and us. She babbles like a talkative woman who has not had anyone to talk to in days, or weeks. Evidently, we are the most interesting humans to cross her path in quite a while. Several times, she mentions how she regrets the absence of her old man, her “viejo.” who is working in the forest. I am sorry too. I wish he were here to complete the tableau; my camera finger is itching.
This is a pleasant way to laze away the afternoon. The Nescafé tastes as fine as instant coffee with lots of sugar and no milk ever does. There seems to be enough food to share with us in the lady’s big cauldron. I first, I think it’s chicken, or maybe parrot with onions; actually, there is good chance it’s iguana, a big iguana. Well, we will be hungry pretty soon and I am sure the lady could use a modest infusion of cash. We are beginning to think about asking for permission to hang our own hammocks for the night.
At some point, I become aware that the conversation has changed in tenor. This woman wants something but I will be damned if I know what. It’s not money, evidently. She is not vulgar; Mexicans seldom are. In its own way, Mexico is, or used to be, a well-ordered society: Beggars beg; that’s their job. Others don’t beg, period. Then, the TFEW reaches into her big, carry-all purse next to her for something or other. She catches the woman looking inside the purse sideways with a searching eye.
“What are you looking for,” asks the TFEW with curiosity.
“Well, forgive me, I was wondering if you had, you know, something, you know, to soften the skin.” As she says this, the gray-haired lady makes a motion of rubbing something into the inner sides of her thighs. That’s what I think I see at any rate but I can be prudish sometimes.
We are on our way home to California, and, before that to the big Mexican cities of the interior where there are stores. The TFWEW gives the gray-haired lady the last of her tubes of Nivea. The woman beams and kisses her on both cheeks.
Seconds later, there is a shout from the forest. “ Mi viejo, my old man is back,” exclaims the woman with evident satisfaction. And there emerges, machete in hand, a handsome, short stalwart Mayan man. He has broad shoulders and his calves look hard beneath the knew-length pants. His skin is a smooth chocolate brown, his thick head of hair is jet-black. He puts me in mind of a strong horse whose exterior shine tell of its radiant health. As he approaches, I notice his large, powerful hands. He looks to be twenty-two or twenty-three, twenty-five on the outside. Her “viejo,” no kidding!
I told, you, there was something to love about women in spite of everything. It’s their tenaciousness, their will never to give up, ever, even against all odds finally to win victory where it matters most!
© Jacques Delacroix 2010