A cool, gentle breeze ruffled the blue plastic tarps that hung over the sloping streets of San Baltazar. Mariachi music resonated and echoed throughout the village; it bounced as they struck the foothills of Popocatépetl that casted a looming shadow on the valley floor. I accidentally bumped into an elderly woman who carried a basket of freshly baked churros, pan dulce, jars of lollipops, and sweetened caramelised milk goodies. I wiped my tears and apologized timidly.
“Lo siento,” I said, slightly mortified. She had deep wrinkles and grayish white hair braided into two long single braids that ran down her back, and tied with lavender ribbons. She wore a huipil – a loose tunic stitched with colorful laces and embroidered flowers that stretched down to her knees.
“Fue mi culpa,” she said, taking responsibility. She looked at me with concern as a voice called out, “Abuela!” I glanced behind her and saw a younger woman with an infant in a rebozo. A blue and purple fabric wrapped around her neck and torso. She waved her hand, begging for the elderly woman to hurry.
“Ya voy!” She responded as she grabbed a freshly baked churro out of the basket and handed it to me. The warmth penetrated through the red napkin wrapped around it and into my hands. It was golden brown and crispy.
I took the churro with gratitude. “Gracias,” I said to her as she gave me a warm grin and walked away. I nibbled on the churro, savoring its cinnamon and sugar as I walked up the steep street towards the church on the hilltop. The streets were lined with food stands, vendors, small gaming attractions, and decorations. Headlights tied to the corners of homes illuminated the streets. People conversed and cheered. Children ran freely, played with their plastic guns or viciously chowed on their flan or pizza. Food usually cured my bad moods, but I wasn’t too hungry this evening. Still, I was tempted for some pollo con mole or even a tortilla with vegetables and cesina.
“Why? Porque Dios?” I whispered to myself. I felt tears making their comeback. It wasn’t fair. I wasn’t ready, but it didn’t matter because that evening he knew about me and Esteban.
Horses snorted and clopped their hooves on cracked stone road. Cattle mooed as their owners on horseback guided them down towards the shallow stream. I heard water gushing over submerged rocks. I saw a chicken that stumbled and clucked while it ate dropped popcorn on the slightly ashy ground. An old man, probably a vendor, grabbed a rock and threw it at the scavenger. The terrified chicken disappeared into the passing crowd. I would’ve laughed at that.
I couldn’t handle looking my father in the eyes. He remained silent as I barged through the door. I imagined Father’s expression. Would he be furious? Was he disappointed? Or shameful? My brother, Tomas, didn’t mean to blab it out. I wasn’t angry at him, but I was angry at myself.
Papi hates me, I thought. There was no doubt about it. I reached the large, black, metallic gates of the church at the hilltop. They were always opened to the public. There was a stoned path that led to the church – its walls were painted in bright orange. I walked up to the open wooden doors, and I saw masses of people inside offering their prayers to God. Aged graves and colorful tombs lined each side of the path. Untamed shrubs and grass scattered, erupting from the consecrated grounds.
Marigolds, roses, and geraniums graced the resting places of generations long gone, but still loved. I stopped at the church’s steps. “Pinche wey!” I wanted to scream. Idiot. I’m a fucking idiot. I could but not in his home. I wiped my tears from my eyes and cheeks. I clasped my hands together and began to pray. I could pray to God for forgiveness, but I wasn’t sorry. I had done nothing wrong but loved. I was torn at the thought of my own father disowning me or worse. Instead, I prayed that everyone would live prosperous lives, would be happy – even Papi. I still loved him. That’s the sad thing, I guess.
I felt goosebumps as a cold gust of wind rushed in. I walked around back. Behind the church was a cliff that overlooked the valley below. I witnessed groves of cedars and pine trees swaying in the wind. I saw the lights of Atlixco, the larger town below, glistening in the darkened valley as the sky transitioned to nightfall.
“Mom, I wish you were here,” I whimpered. I looked up at the stars. I knew she was watching. Would she hate me? Would she cry? Would she feel betrayed? Hurt? I don’t know. I’ll never know.
“Ojala que no,” I muttered.
I walked back toward the gates. I noticed people gathering at a bull ring just outside the church’s grounds. The bulls bellowed in their pens as bullriders conversed at the center of the ring. I didn’t notice anyone tapping me on the shoulder.
“Mateo,” I tensed up and turned to see my father. I didn’t look directly at him. I quickly looked down at his sneakers. He spoke again.
“Look at me, please,” he pleaded. I hesitated, but I eventually looked up. The ring’s headlights shined down on us. I saw red eyes and dried tear stains on his cheeks. A rare smile etched his face.
I broke into tears. “I’m sorry,” I cried out. It was the only thing I could say.
“Sorry, I walked out and…” I didn’t get the chance to finish. He pulled me into a fierce hug. My chin rested on his shoulder. I smelled his poignant cologne. I hugged him as he patted me on the back.