October 16, 2014
“I’ve come across a few bizarre incidents while travelling here in Mexico.”
In the mid-1980s, I was a member of Women and Words Winnipeg. This support group for women writers was inspired by the national Women and Words which was birthed by Vancouver authors Betsy Warland and
Our Women and Words Winnipeg did a number of public readings of our writing in different venues throughout the city. The small side-stapled book that we created as a group was launched at a International Women’s Day celebration held at the Manitoba legislative building with then-Premier Howard Pauley in attendance.
Here is one of the two pieces of my fiction that appears in this anthology:
Women and Words Winnipeg
by Tanya Lester
He gets on the bus. Disrupts everyone. All laughing, shouting, screaming stops. All crying, singing, chattering ends. Silence. Nobody lets out so much as a fart. I peg him right away. This guy is bad news.
Even he himself seems to realize he’s getting a cold reception. He stops for a second, looks around nervously, then shoves his way through the crowded aisle to the back of the bus only to find all the seats there taken. Disgust fleets across his unshaven face. Finally he digs into his jeans pocket, pulls out some pesos and slaps them into the palm of the Mexican squished into the seat next to me, pushing him aside.
The seat squeaks in protest as he sits down heavily, pushes his leather hat back off his greasy hair and shoves his leg up hard against my bare thigh. Gingerly, I pull my cotton skirt down, clamping my legs tightly together. We are sitting so close I must be dripping sweat all over him but I try to pretend he is not really there and turn my face to the window.
I’ve come across a few bizaree incidents while travelling here in Mexico. I remember 2 days ago I saw a naked woman aimlessly wandering down the sandy main drag of Puerto Angel. Men, rubbing the sleep from their eyes after their siesta, stared at her as though she was a mirage. Little boys were chucking pebbles at her. I ran and draped my beach towel over her shoulders. While I was wondering what to do next, another woman hurried up to us and covered the naked woman with a blanket, handing me a towel with a grateful nod and skillfully steering her Mexican “sister” to shelter. Needless to say, I am still puzzled as to why the woman was out on the street nude in the first place but I can’t gather
together the Spanish phrases to ask anyone about it.
Today I see the same woman who came to the rescue 2 days ago hurrying out of a nearby cafe, skillfully juggling a large basket on her head. She bustles onto the bus. Everyone seems to recognize her. Eager to accommodate her and her heavy load, people jostle aside and guide her to the seat in front of me. Immediately it is vacated for her. She sits down and removes the basket from her head in a graceful motion. I see it is full of overripe tomatoes.
She starts laughing and chattering, obviously delighted by the response of avid listeners. She slows her speech long enough for me to pick up a few Spanish words. It’s something about a gift for a Gringo.
I really want to know what this is all about and break my silence with the guy sitting next to me. “Do you understand Spanish?”
“What? Spic? No fuckin’ way,” he acts like I’ve insulted him.
The bus jumps to a start and everyone sags a little, settling in for a long, hot journey. All except him. He’s decided I asked him a question because I’m trying to come on to him. He shifts in his seat, edging closer.
“I’m sure as hell glad to get out of this fuckin’ town?” he breathes down my neck. My muscles tighten. “Yeah,” he gives me a sidelong glance, sizing me up. “I told them, I spread it ’round town man. I said, ‘Anyone who brings me the front tooth of that Spic will get 200 pesos reward money’. Just his front tooth. That’s all I need so I can goldplate it. Wear it around my neck on a chain.”
He’s making my skin crawl but I can’t stop myself from asking, “Why would you want someone’s tooth?”
“Because I’m a predator by nature,” he leers at me and then looks really pleased with himself for getting my attention. “That’s what this fine lady told me once. She said, ‘Dick, you know, you’re a predator by nature’. Well, I thought, that’s cool. I like that. You sort of remind me of her. Are you travelling alone or what?”
“No, I’m meeting my friend back in Oaxaca,” I reply quickly, not wanting him to think I am fair game.
“Is this a girlfriend?” the Predator persists.
“No, his name is Dan.”
“So why’s he not here with you?”
The woman with the basket has twisted around in her seat. She glares at the Predator and raises her eyebrows in surprise when she sees me sitting next to him. I have my pride. I shake my heat and wave my hand, dismissing any association with him except for being unfortunate enough to be stuck sitting next to him. She understands and rolls her eyes in sympathy and solidarity.
“Hey, what’s going on?” the Predator senses some kind of conspiracy between the Mexican woman and I. “What are you doing here without your old man anyway?”
“He lost his passport and had to go back to the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City to straighten things out.”
“Canadian, eh?” he mocks. “I can always tell Canadians by their ‘ehs’. I’m from the U.S. of A. myself. Idaho. I guess you know where that is.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of it.”
“So you think old Dan would mind if you trucked on down to Mexico City with me?” he nudges me and winks suggestively.
“I said, I’m meeting Dan in Oaxaca.” I’m hoping desperately this will end the conversation. I pick up my book and start reading. He sults for a while, then scrunches himself in the seat and starts snoring. I let out a deep sigh of relief. He sleeps for several hours and doesn’t bother me until the bus starts bumping its way up the mountain.
He stirs and picks up where he’s left off. “Well, your old man should take better care of you,” he says. “Never know when some predator will come along. That’s where I’m going now — back to my lady in Idaho soon as I hit Mexico City. I can hardly wait man, to get back there and snort some coke with her. Yeah, that white powder, it sure has me by the balls.”
I could care less. I give him a cold stare and go back to my reading.
“Hard to get coke down here. Even the smoke is shit. That pimp gave me and my buddies some the other night. It was shit like him.”
I could really use some fresh air. My head is pounding and I want to tell him to shut up but what then? There is no way out. Oaxaca is still several hours away. The woman in front of us shoots him a dark look.
Oblivious to all this, the Predator drones on. “You know man, he comes up to me and my buddies with whore and asks if we want a go with her for real cheap. I say, ‘Like hell, she probably has the dose’. He says only 10 pesos and he’ll throw in some Acapulco Gold. One of my buddies grabs the dope and we think, what the hell. Why not?”
I slap my book shut and start looking out the window again. I wonder if I can remember any landmark along the road from the trip coming down to Puerto Angel — anything that give me an idea of how long I will have to put up with this guy. I recognize some beehives by the side of the deserted road and realize we’ve left the last of several villages behind some time ago. This is about the halfway mark to Oaxaca, smack-dab in the middle of nowhere. It’s miles to the next village. The sun is sinking low in the sky.
“We take her into our hotel room and before we hardly even close the door, she’s stripping everything off for us,” the Predator continues his monologue. “We have some fun and then, I…uh, I mean one of my buddies starts pissing in her face. What the hell, she’s a whore.”
Rage knocks against the inside of my stomach. I want to scream at him but it is taking all my energy to keep from vomitting.
The Predator spews out his story. “She starts screaming, the stupid slut, so we throw her out the door. No clothes, no nothing. We’re dangling her panties out our hotel window when we see her tramping down the main drag in her birthday suit. All those Spics looking at her with bulging evyes like they never saw a naked woman before. Then, this broad runs up to her and covers the whore with a blanket.”
The Predator starts wheezing. It’s his way of laughing. I realize he doesn’t remember me from that day on the street, nor does he realize that the woman who covered the prostitute with the blanket it sitting right in front of him. I look at the tomatoes in the basket and wonder.
“Well, next morning,” the Predator goes on without even glancing at me. “I’m sleeping and I hear this noise, right by my head, man. I open my eyes and there’s this huge fucking machete stuck in the mattress not more than an inch from my arm. And there’s the pimp on the other end of it. He’s yelling for the whore’s clothes and a hundred pesos for her shame. For a whore’s shame? Well Christ! We throw him the clothes and the money but that’s not enough for him. The ungrateful bastard. He takes off, threatening that he’ll get even.”
By this time, my mouth is hanging open. I cannot believe this guy can be so self-righteous. I fantasize about how nice it would feel to pounce on him and rip him to shreds. I look at him. He’s sulking again.
“Later on, we go for a beer. After a few, I get this idea,” his eyes light up. “I starts spreading the word that I’ll give 200 pesos to anyone who brings me the pimp’s front tooth. But no one seems to care. Me and my buddies decide to split.
This one Spic tries to block our way and says, ‘We get you’. I tell him to save his breath because I’ve decided to leave in the morning anyway. He looks like I just gave him some important info or something and goes back to jabbering with his friends.
“I thought maybe they would be waiting to gang up on me when I was getting on the bus this morning,” he rattles on to the conclusion of his sordid tale. “Sould have known better. These Spics don’t have any guts.”
My hands are clenched. This is it. Trapped in this seat or not I’m going to tell him…
Suddenly a ruckus breaks out at the front of the bus. I turn away from the Predator and look up. A disgruntled hen cackles on an overhead rack. Her wings flap excitedly. A young woman rises from her seat, puts her hand under the chicken’s body, rummages around for a second and then pulls out an egg. The hen tries to peck the young woman’s amrm as she sinks back into her seat.
Everyone starts laughing. Crushed with embarassment, she covers her face with her arm. A man standing in the aisle starts to tease her and soon she is laughing with the rest of them.
It’s like the bus driver can’t take all the excitement. He jerks the bus to a stop and gets off to urinate on the side of the road. As if on cue, all the other men follow him out.
“Got to take a dump,” the Predator says and goes out past the others behind a bush.
The women on the bus start laughing and chattering at a high pitch. They point to where the Predator is squatting behind the bush. As if she has just been waiting for this chance, the woman in front of me starts handing out soggy tomatoes. She shoves one into my hand too.
Yuck. It’s soft skin breaks as I turn it over in my hand. Juice seeps out and drips onto my wrist, slithering down my arm. I want to know why we are all holding these rotten tomatoes. As usual, I can’t find the Spanish words to ask but the woman who has distributed them is smiling at me reassuringly.
The driver hops back onto the bus and starts it up. The other men pile on. Two stay at the door. The Predator moves to the back window and all the women shift over to that side of the bus.
A shout goes up and the women start pelting him with rotten tomatoes. As I join them, I realize this has all been planned long before the bus left Puerto Angel. I aim and fire. The Predator looks like a cornered animal, too stunned to turn and run. His face and boy are plastered with slimy tomato pulp. Then the men start chucking the red fruit. As soon as the ammunition is exhausted, the bus lurches forward and speeds off, leaving the Predator eating its black fumes in the dusk.
To read the first posts in this blog, please go to http://www.writingsmall.wordpress.com
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Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader by Tanya Lester can be bought from the author or by going to the title and author name, to read the first few pages and buy it, at amazon.com
Tanya Lester’s other books are Women’s Rights/Writes, Dreams & Tricksters, and Friends I Never Knew. The books are available in some library systems and at the Legislative Library of Manitoba.