by Matthew Dexter
I used to drive down the road so fast that it would kick up the dust and blow it in every direction, often laughing at the poor people who had to walk past. That was until I took that walk myself. Now I notice the hopeless old Mexican lady with the napkin covering her nostrils and mouth. I can see the whites of her eyes and the panic on her face before her vision disappears for minutes until all the dust clears and she emerges a different person.
Though immersed in a virtuous profession, mechanics in Mexico are certainly not the most efficient on the planet. They ask for half the money up front and then make you wait months to fix a problem which a proficient mechanic with proper equipment can diagnose and repair in a couple days. It’s no big deal, just one of the concessions an expatriate has to make in order to embrace the good life south of the border.
The Red Dragon is the name of my car. It’s actually my girlfriend’s car, but since mine has been collecting dust with the mechanic for three months we share the monster. We happily named her for the obvious reason of color, both for the exterior and the mysterious puddle of blood that leaks from underneath her engine when she sleeps.
We drive down most other roads with the windows open because the air condition is broken. It’s been broken for years, and I’ve never seen it working. It probably only costs about twenty dollars to fix it, but we will never know because we are idiots who didn’t bother checking to see if it’s anything serious. Maybe it costs two hundred dollars. That’s a big difference for poor people like us.
We weren’t always this poor, my girlfriend and I. We were never wealthy, but it used to be better before we moved into the house too big for us to afford. The views are beautiful and we’re healthy, but it’s tough to pay for food, let alone anything else. All our money goes to mechanics. So we walk down the road now, ever since the Red Dragon was taken out of commission.
This decision to walk was not one which I accepted with a smile. It was a vile idea, but it quickly became our reality. In my dreams I often envisioned the old lady. I wanted to hold her hand and tell her everything was going to be ok. I saw her face almost every day for many months strolling down that road. We never spoke, and she never once glanced in my direction. She was never contentious but just seemed lost in her own world, struggling step by step to escape from the bubbling cauldron of her mind.
As summer fell back into autumn, the weather grew warmer and very oppressive. I began to reason that my plight was a curse from the heavens, a demented punishment for all the seasons I had lived with such burning contention.
On Halloween not even trick-or-treaters had the courage to journey up the road, even though it’s a festive holiday celebrated with purpose and passion in Cabo San Lucas. The tropical weather had become an optical illusion, as my delusions of an easy walk were diminished by a procession of ignorant drivers speeding with derision, without a care in the world for the poor man on the shoulder of the road.
As soon as my flip-flops touched the road a truck drove past, instantly covering the entire vicinity with dust, smothering my skin with sand. I shut my eyes and trod onward, breathing the filth into my lungs, coughing and walking beneath the sweltering sun. I caught up to the old lady about halfway down the road; she was spinning in circles, crying, and trying to clear the dust away from the front of her face. I gradually came closer and noticed that she was much older than I suspected. She looked like a ghost, neglected and I began imagining that she was lost in a cloud, somewhere ages and ages hence.
I grabbed her by the shoulder and told her that we would make it together.
“Quitalo,” she said, slapping me in the neck. “Me asustas guey… que pendejo eres.”
“Esta bien Senora,” I told her, hoping she would let me hold her hand and guide her safely from the cloud, “quiero ayudarte–”
“Estoy bien joven,” she responded, scolding me with another slap to my hand; albeit a much more gentle and playful gesture than the first.
“Por favor Senora,” I said, “pero podemos hacerlo juntos.”
“Gracias gringo,” she said, “pero callate–estoy bien.”
There’s no convincing an obstinate elderly lady about anything, so I let the matter slide and walked to the other side of the road, leaving a trail of footsteps I hoped she might follow. The dust subsided as we approached the main road and we went our separate ways; me across the highway toward the store to buy some cold cerveza and her to wait for the bus.
I got sidetracked and spent the rest of the afternoon doing reckless things I won’t bother to mention, other than to assure you that they were definitely an unproductive waste of a wonderful day. I eventually returned in time to discover the old lady stepping off the bus. It took her what seemed to me an eternity to descend the three stairs, for she was carrying a few bags of groceries and her arms were outstretched like a scarecrow holding her balance. I decided to offer a hand, but before I could speak she rejected my suggestion.
“Estoy bien joven,” she said with a flinch of her elbow, as if she could sense my presence and didn’t need to hear my words. She didn’t turn around, but only gripped the yellow plastic bags tighter as the vehicles began to race past and kick up dust. This time it was a couple crazy motorcycles and other off-road racing vehicles. The construction workers were just finishing work at this hour, and they tore down the road like lizards out of hell, so fast you would have thought they would turn into pumpkins if they weren’t on the highway by five o’clock.
I walked a few steps behind the elderly lady. I couldn’t see her face but her pace was slower than usual. I noticed her dress was torn and dirty, and her slippers were dusty but beautiful. She reminded me of Cinderella and I wondered where she lived. I had always seen her walking this road but never going anywhere other than in and out of the clouds.
“Por favor Senora–let me take your bags and help you,” I said. “Puedo traerlas…”
Just then two trucks interrupted my thoughts, screaming down the road full of workers smiling and laughing, either at us or to celebrate the satisfaction that comes suddenly at the end of the afternoon to those who labor all day, I will never know.
“…quiero ayudarte con las bolsas,” I told her when they passed. “Es nada Senora.”
The residual filth made us both invisible, but I could hear her coughing. I started walking faster to find her but I did not see the disaster I was placing myself in. I had wandered too far from the shoulder and we had become nothing but ghosts in the clouds. The road was almost entirely consumed by a thick cloud of smoke and I could hear vehicles approaching from both directions.
“Ven aqui gringo,” the old lady told me, grabbing my wrist and swinging her grocery bags around my neck. She pulled me toward her with such force that I catapulted forward off my feet and into an enormous pile of sand where the plow deposits the dirt on the shoulder of the road.
“Eres tanto guey,” she said, caressing me by the neck as the vehicles whizzed by in an invisible surge of neglect for those less fortunate individuals without cars, “quieres morir en la calle gringo?”
She kept asking if I wanted to die in the street and I couldn’t decide what to answer. Her bony hands were on my shoulders, still holding the bags, and still invisible; like a ghostly rendezvous nobody will ever remember except for us. She helped me up as the dust finally began to subside. I could see her eyes as she flashed a toothless smile, wider and better than the most beautiful jack-o’-lantern I had ever seen. I felt so alive and grateful.
“Hasta luego–necissito caminar,” she said. “Ahorita ya me voy, adios gringo…”
I watched her walk away as I gazed into the dust which I had become a part of.
“…cuidate,” she told me over her shoulder, “cuidate gringo.”
I was speechless and words were meaningless. I had nothing to offer her except my life.
“Ahorita, ahorita, ahorita,” I muttered to the dust, which was all who was listening. “Estoy bien….la calle esta hermosa, obscura y profundo–pero tengo promesas guardar…y kilómetros caminar antes dormiendo…y kilómetros caminar antes dormiendo.”
I waited a few minutes and watched her disappear into another cloud as I sat there. There was something magical about that old lady. I had seen her hundreds of times, but after our exchange I never saw her again.
I think she must have gotten lost in the dust and floated away in the clouds.
MATTHEW DEXTER is an American freelance writer living in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. He writes novels, memoirs, poetry, journalism articles, short stories of literary fiction, short stories of narrative nonfiction, and everything else in between. When Matthew is not writing he enjoys life by the ocean; beautiful beaches, breathtaking views, reading, and being inspired. But never candlelit dinners on the beach. He’s afraid of pirates.