He sat on the bench beside me, and feared, he told me earlier, that I’d pitch forward and crack my skull on the cement floor.
I was in Tuxtla-Gutiérrez, Chiapas, Mexico, late at night, waiting for the bus to San Cristóbal de las Casas. It was October 1983. I had quite my job three weeks earlier, broke the lease on my apartment, and bought a one-way ticket to Mérida, Yucatan.
When the bus came, I slung my backpack over my shoulder, grabbed my suitcase and typewriter, and staggered toward the platform.
(Later, in Ocosingo, I left my suitcase in an alley and before I could even walk away people began riffling through it.)
I took a seat. Soon we were in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, the bus lurching up hairpin turns. Oak and pine gave way to naked escarpment, the rocks shining blood-red.
The window wouldn’t close; I shivered, my breath icy.
In San Cristóbal de las Casas I booked a room in a pension for three dollars a night. It had a wrought iron balcony with views of the zocalo and Cathedral.
The next day was November 1st, Día de Los Muertos.
I returned inside, sat at the desk, and got out my typewriter. I inserted a blank page. My hands were trembling.
What the hell was I thinking?
I went to lie on the bed. I hadn’t stopped shivering since I arrived in town. I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep. An hour later I heard firecrackers and smelled their sharp report. I stepped onto the balcony again. Floodlights illuminated the Cathedral. A large crowd, many costumed and wielding torches, swarmed the steps.
The smoke cleared and bougainvillea scented the air. A young woman stood on the adjoining balcony. She had long red hair, fair lucent skin, and wore an embroidered gauze dress.
We smiled at each other. She said she was from New Orleans, and I said I was from Maryland. We were both traveling alone. I said I wanted to see the ruins at Palenque, and she said she had just come from there.
“And how long will you stay in San Cristóbal?” I asked.
“Two or three days. Long enough for the festival.”
“Tuxtla-Gutiérrez,” she shrugged.
More firecrackers lit the sky. We turned to the Cathedral. People cranked noisemakers and blew party horns. A mariachi band began to play. Plastic skulls and effigies of El Diablo danced in the air above the crowd.
First published in "Across the Margin," Sept. 11, 2017.