My story begins years ago, when the gringo woman first bought the palapa house that fronts the beach in our village. It is many years now since that day I first passed her walking on the beach—heading south as I headed north. I saw her falter when I drew close enough for her to see the machete in my hand. It was held down by my side, as this is how I always carry it, so I think perhaps she didn’t see it until I was quite close. I saw her alter the cadence of her walk, start to turn around, then instead, veer out into the water so as to cut as wide a swath as possible in our passing. I bid her good morning, trying to be as non-threatening as a six-foot-tall Mexican man carrying a machete could be on this deserted section of the beach. No other people walk in the dawn darkness before the sun comes over the palm trees and palapa rooflines.
She bid me good morning as well, saying “Buen dia,” in our fashion, instead of the usual “Buenos dias,” that would brand her as a gringa. Not that anyone would have mistaken her for anything else. She wore the sackish coverup that many norte americanos adopt as their bodies get older and wider. Her skin was white, her hair straw-colored. She carried a big bag and stooped often to retrieve shells, stones, driftwood and other objects from the beach that she made into art. I have seen these objects spread out on the palapa-covered front porch of her house on the beach, very close to the water. Sometimes when she was not outside, I had peeked at her new constructions and after our first month of passing daily on the beach, I held out to her a small treasure I had found: a seahorse, bright orange, no longer than half my thumb. It was dead but still pliable. When I held it out to her, she was at first taken aback. Then I saw the pleasure on her face, as though I’d handed her a rose. The next day, I handed her a small rock imprinted with the fossil of a shell. It was gratifying to give these small ordinary things to someone who found them to have value.
The third day, I gifted her with three seahorses I’d found lying side-by-side on the beach, as though ready for a communal funeral. After I gave them to her, spread out to dry on a small section of a palm seed sheath that I had hacked out with my machete, it was she who initiated a conversation by asking why I carried the machete; and this is what I said back to her:
“Hello Madam. Someone has already told me that you are looking for stories, and knowing that I have many that I remember well and also have been said to share interestingly enough, he has recommended that I seek you out. In spite of this, do not think that our meeting on this beach was anything but coincidental. I have walked here every morning at this time for many years. It is fate that engineered our introduction, not I.
I am Fernando, but everyone here calls me “The Machete.” There is a story to this, of course, as there is a story to everything in Mexico. Sometimes I think our country is composed more of stories than of flesh or blood or clay or concrete. Stories and dreams and reality. Almost always, it is hard to know the difference.
Many years ago. Well, not really so many years—maybe twelve or fifteen—it was not as it is now. Few gringos lived in our community. Instead, there were dogs. Many wild dogs who roamed the beach. Sometimes some of them were rabid and there were at times problems when people carried food onto the sand. A few times, they even invaded the restaurants that opened onto the beach, rushing past tables, grabbing arrechera from plates and sometimes catching a hand or leg in the process. This brought a good deal of fear because of the fear of rabies, and everyone was talking to those who ran our pueblo, asking them what they were going to do about it. Finally, some of the men of the pueblo took guns and machetes and went in search of these dogs, disposing of many of them. For a while, peace reigned on the beach, but every few years, another wild pack would form and people would again be afraid to go onto the wilder parts of the beach—those parts where you and I like to walk.
Since I live a few miles from the place of my labor, it has been my practice for all these years to walk to work on the beach and as you might have guessed, this machete was my weapon against the wild dogs. Through the efforts of the many gringos who now live in our town, and the free spay and neuter clinics they provide twice a year, the problem of the wild dogs has disappeared; but I still carry my machete. It is as though my body has altered itself to accept this extra weight on my right side, so that without the machete, I cannot walk right. I cannot stride. I am not as sure-footed. This daily encumbrance has become a part of me, so always I carry it by my side. The story is simple. This is all there is to it.”
We passed on then, each in our particular direction; but I believe we parted as, if not friends, at least as congenial acquaintances. This was my first conversation with this woman who would one day have such an impact upon my life. It seems an inconsequential thing—this exchange of four seahorses and an imprinted stone—but these simple objects of seemingly no value were to be the golden key to my future—a story I will perhaps tell you one day if kind fate should set us in each others’ path.
The Prompt: Golden Key—You’ve been given a key that can open one building, room, locker, or box to which you don’t normally have access. How do you use it, and why?
This is actually Chapter Four of my novel. I used today’s prompt as its starting point…Actually, its ending point. Yes, I’m doing the novel but still can’t figure out how to post it on NaNoWriMo. If anyone can give me some pointers about this, I would appreciate it! Duh.