We were eating a breakfast of rabbit stew and camp bread. Wilderness cooking is not always tasty, and the stew had to be carefully eaten because the rabbit had not been deboned, and the few wild vegetables we had in it were not all that sapid. But chili pequin and much boiling helped to disguise the rabbit meat.
“So, mi acólito, you have the gift of knowing.” Ben said, sipping the last of the stew.
“What do I do with that?” I asked.
“Anything you want to do.” he shrugged.
“I don’t think that is much use.”
“Some things we do, because it is there.” he shrugged again.
“What is there?”
“Do you remember the abuela, the grandmother, last week?”
“She was there, and you spoke.”
“I felt silly.”
“But you spoke. You knew.”
“OK. But I have done that most of my life. It is nothing different.”
“A Brujo knows.” Ben said simply.
Ben began sorting through the pile of herbs he had collected, signaling that the conversation was over. Just as I arose from my side of his fire-pit, the young man and woman that were with their grandparents last week emerged from the orderly creosote bushes.
I continued on to my shelter and sat down to finish preparing the mushrooms I had gathered at Ben’s direction. The stems were discarded into the fire, and the still fresh puffball was bound tightly with fibers stripped from the yucca leaves, and sealed with a wax-like substance from the creosote bushes.
A shadow cast itself over the shelter, and I saw the young campesinos in front of me. I remained seated as Ben had taught me, and the guests rolled out the man’s serape opposite the fire-pit, and knelt on it.
This time the woman was wearing a white dress with tiny red flowers printed on it, and the man was in Levi’s and a western shirt. Both were in huaraches. I knew that was dressy for the locals. Both had white cloths tied as slings over their shoulders and flaring at their waist. The sling were obviously loaded.
“¡Mi abuela le envía saludos!” The man said formally, holding his hat in his hands.
I looked at him uncomprehendingly.
The girl looked down and interrupted. “Mi hermano . . . My brother . . . no habla Inglés. I speak . . . a little. My grandmother sends her . . . saludos.”
“Ah. OK … how is your grandmother?”
“She is well, gracias, but very . . . débil . . . sick.”
Then awkwardly, they laid out their slings. Inside were vegetables and herbs, most of which I was not familiar with. There were dried meats and different kinds of nuts. Three bottles of green stuff with hand whittled stoppers. They were probably bottles of pulque, a vile beer made from the agave plant.
Then the man pulled three 10 Peso coins from his pouch and carefully lined them up in a row. I think the exchange rate then was around 20¢ to the Peso, so each coin was worth about $1.20. $3.60. To them, that would be a considerable amount of money.
We sat there for a bit, the man watching me, his sister with downcast eyes.
I caught Ben pantomiming to me and mouthing words. Si gaees? Seeg aess? Ah! Say “gracias”!
“¡Muy gracias!” I beamed back at them.
The man sat still for a moment, a bland look in his eyes, then stood before bowing. “Eres bienvenido.”
The woman gathered up the two slings, leaving the gifts in front of the fire-pit, and turned to follow the man, who had already began walking back through the creosote.
I felt that I had made a serious omission, but Ben was already looking over the offerings. Other than some of the nuts, I didn’t care about the other things, and I said to Ben, “Take what you want.”
Ben first gathered up the pulque, then returned for the botanicals. Obviously they were of some importance to him, then said, “They will return.”
“Because you did not release the grandmothers alma.” he replied. One of the little coarse baskets held small pieces of soft brown pieces. Ben said, “Eat these. They are good.”
I gingerly bit into one of the pieces. It was sticky sweet, obviously honey mixed with a chewy substance. I ate another. Then another. Ben was smirking now, and I knew I probably had eaten something very vile. Finally, I asked. “What are they?”
“¡Logarto!” he roared. “Lizards!”
I barely held them down by distracting myself with some matting I wanted to put over the buffalo grass that I slept on, and Ben went back to his hogan, barely able to contain himself.
The next morning, I arose with the sun, gathered up the bolsas and started down the path to the arroyo. The man and the woman emerged again from the creosote rows, and followed me down to the water. Today, they were dressed less formally, he in tattered Levi’s and she in a coarse blue dress that was loose at the neckline and revealed more than was respectful to notice when she leaned over.
The water had subsided, but you still could get water by digging down in the sand and hollowing out a basin to soak the bags in. The man pointed to the bags, indicating that he would like to fill them. I stepped back, and watched him carefully scoop out another basin where cleaner water was, and expertly filled two of the bags. The woman stooped down and filled the other two while I averted my eyes, and we returned to the camp with the morning’s water.
Afterwards, they followed me to a place of mesquite and piñon where I often gathered firewood, and began gathering firewood. They both had chords with them than they bound the wood into large piles and hefted them on their back. I felt ridiculous carrying my puny armload when we returned to camp.
The man set his bundle next to Ben’s fire-pit and the woman and I carried ours to mine. Again, I had to avert my eyes as she rolled the bundle over her shoulders and head, dumping in it a neat pile. In one trip we had brought home more wood than I gathered in three days. It would be an easy week for me.
The man and woman went over to a creosote bush and scraped out the underbrush. Apparently they left their satchels nearby, because they had food. Ben brought over a pot of bean chili, which was good. All I had was the lizard chewies and some nuts. I am not sure that I could have gotten hungry enough for the lizard dessert.
“Did you release the grandmothers alma?”
“I don’t think so. How do I do that?”
“I don’t know. You are their Brujo.”
“I’m not a Brujo.”
“But you know like a Brujo, and you speak like a Brujo.”
Ben went back to the hogan, and I wiped out my bowl and hung it on a forked limb that supported the roof, and laid down for a siesta, and dreamed of the woman’s breasts softly brushing against me as I slept.
The sun was well in the western sky when I awoke. The man and the woman were watching me, and when I arose, they came over to the fire-pit and squatted down. I drew a small bowl of water and washed my face and hands, then set out to gather some cactus seeds that Ben was collecting. The cactus would flower in the morning, and the seed pods would burst in the afternoon. You had to be there on the very day that the flower bloomed to get the seeds before the night creatures devoured them.
There were many flowers that wet spring in the Sonora, and I would pick them up, scrape the sticky seeds into a ditty bag, and go on to the next flower. The woman quickly caught on to what I was doing, and instead of scraping the seed pods, she dropped the whole pod into her sling. Sometimes the cactus was huge with many flowers and pods, and we worked together. The man followed us a few paces away, but he made no attempt at gathering pods.
The woman chatted away as we were gathering the pods, and sometimes I would look at her while she was talking, and try my best to not stare down that gaping neckline. I don’t remember what we talked about. Mostly inane things. The shy way she would look at me from time to time as she apologized for her poor English was so compelling. And I am not so sure that the occasional glimpse at that youthful cleavage was as accidental as it appeared to be. I asked her name.
“Nailea.” she said. “Mi hermano es Pablo.”
Nailea and her brother Pablo. I was glad they were brother and sister.
We returned to the clearing where Nailea dumped her pods and expertly split them over the warm coals, the pods rewarding her with handfuls of dry seeds. I laboriously washed mine in a bowl of water, and they still were a clumpy-gooy mess. Ben was delighted in Nailea’s seeds and put those away for a future, and put mine into a bowl for processing.
Just before sunset, Nailea and Pablo set out for home.
“¡Mañana!” she called back as they disappeared into the late afternoon.
“¡Mañana!” I called back.
That night I finished off the little basket of sweet lizard nuggets, and chased them down with clean water. And neither Ben nor I was quite as frugal with the fires as we normally were. Life was good, and I watched the bright stars over the Sonora Desert wheel overhead before falling asleep. Dusty but dainty feet in huaraches, swelling bosoms, blinking soft brown eyes and coal black hair filled my dreams until dawn.