Ningún Santuario Pt. 4
It was a delayed double-take that caused me to go back outside and inspect my front door. Arriving home after work, I climbed the stairs to my second floor apartment on Candelaria Road and half-noticed something pinned to the door frame as I let myself in. It was common for the complex’s management company to post announcements about litter collection or progress on the swimming pool repairs to the doors of all the units, but it wasn’t until I was inside and had tossed my keys on the counter that it finally dawned on me that what was affixed to my door wasn’t a note from the leasing office.
Back on the landing, I saw that someone had stuck a black figure to the door frame with a pin that had been twisted into the shape of a crucifix. It was a construction paper rendering of the Mexican folk art hero Diego Huerta, the sharp dressed skeleton groom often seen at Dia de los Muertos celebrations. There was no writing on the figure, but it was clear that it had been left as a message, obviously delivered to the wrong recipient. Finders keepers, I thought as I removed it from the door and brought it inside.
Changing out of my work clothes, I scanned the walls of my little studio apartment for the perfect spot to hang my new macabre piece of art. Just below the poster of Ozzy Osbourne hitchhiking his way to Hell seemed most fitting, so I jammed the same twisted pin with which it had been posted to my door into its heart underneath the portrait of the former Black Sabbath front man.
I was going to meet Grace and her new boyfriend for beers at the Blackbird Buvette on Central in about an hour, so I nuked a frozen burrito and ate it on the sofa while admiring the dapper corpse gracing my living room wall. “Welcome home, Senor,” I said aloud without feeling even slightly ridiculous at the fact that I was speaking to a paper skeleton.
To my surprise, Jose, Grace’s new beau, wasn’t nearly as amused at my anecdote about the unexpected visitor to my door as were Grace and I.
“I’d keep alert if I were you,” he deadpanned without a hint of irony. The incredulous looks on our faces made it clear that we thought he was joking, so he elaborated in an alarmingly somber tone.
“In Mexico, it is used as a warning that you are marked for dead. It’s become a sort of disrespectful calling card of the drug cartels, but there are still many people who use it in earnest to warn an enemy that he will soon meet a bloody end.”
“I’ve only lived out here for two months, Jose. Even for me, that’s not enough time to make a whole lot of enemies.”
Jose took a swig of his beer and in a slightly more relaxed tone said, “Just keep an eye out. Someone is in trouble and this person’s adversary thinks he lives at your address.”
The festive mood of the evening having been thus ruined, we finished our drinks and paid the tab.
The grave was a simple dirt mound with a plywood crucifix upon which a stained John Deere cap had been hung. Three men in black suits walked up the hill to the unofficial family cemetery in the dusty badlands just outside of Oaxaca. In unison, they made the sign of the cross, knelt on the ground in a semi-circle around the grave and began to pray.
Sabes bien Amada Muerte que el peligro y la aventura son parte del camino por el que transito en esta vida. Permite Amada Muerte que tu proteccion y salvagnarda esten a mi lado, para mantener distante peligro y amenaza. Permite Amada Muerte que los ojos de mes opositores no vean mi presencia ni las huellas de mis pasos que conducen a tu templo, donde majestuoso aguardas paciente al fin de los tiempos. Amén.
After observing a moment of silence with heads bowed, the men rose and wiped the dirt from their perfectly creased pant legs. One stepped forward and pulled an orange cempazuchitl flower from his pocket, placing it in the center of the mound with the petals facing north. At this, all three men stepped back from the grave and watched intently.
Two or three minutes passed when they noticed an almost imperceptible movement below the dirt causing it to ripple very slightly. A gnarled finger poked through the mound, followed by four more that began scooping away at the loose mud until a pair of hands emerged from the earth, frantically digging their way to the surface.
The men nodded at each other, turned and walked back towards the town.