Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Life And Muerte

I was heading home with a six pack of Modelo 'Barrillitos' from the abarrotes. I carried my bolsa outside into the bright light and as I turned the corner to start the climb home I saw a dead man on the street.

Laying on his back, his worn clothes matched the color of the dusty cobbled sidewalk. His grey eyes staring blank through half opened lids at nothing just beyond the tree branches. Two plastic bolsas were at his feet, the contents of his morning grocery shopping spilling out. Some bananas, a pepper, tamarindo. A small clutch of pedestrians looked down at him from their improvised amphitheatre, some making the sign of the cross while a short policeman stood by impatient for the ambulance to come fetch the body. I'd crossed the street to get a better look. I don't often get to see a dead person, in fact I've only seen one other in my life, many years ago.

He was the father of a friend, and was dressed up and put on display at the funeral parlor near his Salinas home. I had no emotional connection to him, only met him once before so approached his prepared body with only curiosity. He was unmistakably lifeless, but that recognition wasn't obvious from the color of the skin, or its texture but from the lack of energy that it normally emits, an energy that you don't pay attention to except in its absence.

The man on the street lacked that same energy and it occurred to me that all the connective energy was gone too, like removing the ligature from muscle. Some invisible energy that could be described as strings or twine that binds the man to his family, friends, the familiar things of his life. The defining history, the events. All that energy evaporates too, leaving a stillness around the body, a magnetic void that is perceptible on a level apart from intellect.
I continued up the street towards home glancing over my shoulder every once in awhile to see if the body was still there. When I turned up Calle Mesones the buildings blocked my view and I quit turning back.

The next day and a block over I watched as the city buses shouldered up along a stretch of road under construction. Piles of cobbles and sand kept them from getting too close to the sidewalk where the locals lined up to board. They formed a line, leaning against the warm walls of the colorful concrete buildings eyeballing the placards in the bus windows that displayed their destination. Mega, Santa Julia, Soriano, Mexiquito.
As I got closer a newly arrived bus veered in close and shuddered to a stop by a pile of rubble. Passengers climbed down from the rear doors through a heavy cloud of diesel fumes and dust while others entered the front. After a moment it pulled away, cranking sharply into the road to avoid the debris but the rear tire nearest the sidewalk rode up over a cobble pile, compressing the stones with its extreme weight. A split second later several of the potato sized stones shot out from the pressure, a bird shot blast of granite projectiles, they blew into the line of pedestrians before anyone could react. Some ricocheted off the building walls, thudding and cracking with their force. Painted concrete splintered into the dry air. I froze in place, while the crowd, now alert, moved about in jerky motions brushing concrete fragment from their clothes. Then a young boy, maybe ten years old stood from a crouched position by his mother. A quarter sized divot of flesh missing from his forehead exposing the bone. Blood began to form and then drain with intensity from the opening and he stagger stepped toward me. I knelt and held him by his shoulders to prevent him from walking into the street and he looked at me absently from behind his pain and shock, blood running down his face. The bus driver stopped and climbed down from his perch as I and the crowd yelled for help. He approached with cautious alarm and then motioned for the mother to quickly help the boy on board. I stood watching as the bus pull away with the wounded, wondering if his going on the bus was a wise choice. But it's not my place to question the drivers logic, I'm just a witness here.

When I reached home I let out the sadness that I felt, a sadness born of my impotence to help or make a difference in either persons life and the recognition of my own mortality. I let the emotion run out of me feeling sympathy for the boy, the dead man and myself as I considered our innocence in this life and how little protection it gives.

- Mark
Previously posted in 2009 at Beer Diary...


  1. what an amazing journey you are on, and expressed paradoxically.
    on this day my friends arrived in big sur, exhausted after a four day drive from new york, only to find that her 99 year old father has died,
    and are on a plane back to bury him. And i am off tomorrow to memorialize a well known art therapist and sand play teacher who left too soon.
    life is short and precious and mysterious and you are being shown the depth of it now.
    do not look away.

  2. Very well written story Mark, but I still see the markisms such as "flesh peeled off his forehead to expose the bone" I suddenly felt like I was in a horror flick! Frere of souer

  3. Mark, I remember your distress at these Mexican days. and I'm glad to see them recounted so well. It is a different world here, despite the gringos and Starbucks. Mexico is raw feelings and experiences still.


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