Susan Woods Bell

Hot in Mexico

It was good to be out in the sunlight after the hike, through the humid limestone cave. The guide, weary from his legends of the caverns, wiped his face with a dirty handkerchief. Our group wandered over to a small snack bar under an awning in the mountain burning Mexican sun.

An old dog, lay on his side in the dust by the men's room. His ribs imprisoned a stark pattern of fur. Two small boys in ripped, hand-made sandals ran over to the dog with sticks. Yelling, they tried to rouse it. The dog opened its eyes and looked at them but did not move. He twitched a fly from the bare spot on his ear. The little boys carried hand- carved sticks, which they bought over to us. "You like to buy a stick, Senora? You'll never forget the caverns. Just 40 pesos." We tried to ignore them. If you showed any interest they would tag along with you until you had to shout at them to go away. Or say you have no pesos. They would frown incredulously. "Americans with no pesos?" Or else you hop on the bus to leave with the tour and they would stand and look up at you on the bus with brown Mexican eyes and sun brown skin and shiny black hair with their sticks and dolls, and blankets and marionettes or necklaces in their hands while your bus belches dry dust upon their open-toed shoes and leaves their faces and workbenches and burros and thatched houses receding in your rear view window.

"20 pesos"

"10 pesos, 5 pesos, Senora."

I continued to look away. Finally the little boy walked over to another tourist, who shooed him away.

A young woman in a long apron sponged some crumbs off the snack counter and placed a cooler with a Coca-Cola sign on the top of the counter and stood behind the counter. One of the women in our party walked over to her and smiled. "Are they sealed bottles?" she asked.

"Si."

"Good, I'll take two."

"24 pesos, Senora ."

Two young girls who also wore long dresses and long black braided hair laughed together in quick shy Spanish phrases.

Two little boys ran by, and one of them hit one of the girls on, their behind with his stick and ran away.

"I'm, sure glad I didn't leave my camera on the bus," said a shirt-sleeved tourist, shaking his gray sideburned head. His wife, a small woman, revolved several rings on her finger while she nodded her curls with a squint.

"These people are something else," she intoned with a wrinkled nose. "I was just sitting next to those two women over there and they took out some limes and started eating them. Ugh. Can you imagine? Two women sucking the juice of a lime. I just felt like puckering just watching." She laughed.

The two women seated nearby looked up when she pointed to them, smiled, and went on sucking with shining eyes.

A brown girl swollen in pregnancy sat down in the shade. Her long skirts lifted to reveal two delicate brown legs and dirty bare feet. She drew a papaya from the folds of her apron and began to eat with great juicy bites. Her teeth were crooked, but her face was chiseled with Aztec strength and Spanish sensuality. She glanced at an old woman who looked on approvingly and cast her eyes back to the papaya with hungry interest.

The old woman walked slowly in dried leather sandals as she carried a large wicker basket full of limes. Two shining black eyes peered from under a straight forehead on which a frieze of wrinkles cast light shadows. Wisps of long gray hair fell along angular cheeks but her mouth was moist and red.

As she caught my gaze she walked towards me.

"5 pesos," she intoned.

She stood before me in her overlarge apron with uneven hem, her eyes shining. I looked at her stick-straight legs and the way her tiny red ankles seemed to slide out of the thick leather sandals.

"I would like to just give her 20 pesos," I said.

"She would be terribly insulted. Can't you see the pride in her eyes. Selling those limes is her life's work," my mother answered.

"I'd buy one, but what would we do with a lime?"

"You might as well forget it. We have no room to carry it. We couldn't eat it here, and besides if we buy one from her we'd be surrounded by peddlers."

"But look at her.

The old woman tilted her head to one side. "5 pesos, Senora," she repeated.

"Forget it," Mom said.

The woman with the curls and several rings on her fingers said, "Get a load of her." She laughed, "Hey, I'll take one."

The old woman turned to her. "5 pesos, Senora."

"I've only got 4 pesos. Would you take 4 pesos?"

"5 pesos, Senora,"

"Frank, gimme a peso. Here y'are."

The old woman took the money and put it in the pocket of her long apron.

She took out a big green lime from her basket and gave it to the woman. She picked out another lime and handed it to the woman who shook her curls.

"'But I only wanted one."

The old woman looked at her and, gave her four more large green limes.

"No, no," said the woman in the curls.

"Si," said the old woman.

"Oh my God, Frank. I only wanted one. What the hell am I going to do with six?"

The bus pulled up and it was time for the American tourists to leave the snack bar to embark. We looked at the old woman who stood with her hair in tight gray braids.

"What the hell am I going to do with six limes, Frank?"

The old lady, her arms full, only smiled.

This work first appeared in Gargoyle, issue #4. Please respect the fact that this material is copyrighted. It is made available here without charge for personal use only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose without the express consent of the author or artist.