Helping Hand

MeiMei’s ruminations on her knack for blowing off men just when they were getting interesting–and useful–were interrupted by the appearance of a tall, athletic Black woman, decked out in tropical whites whose simplicity only advertised their expense. Recognizable at once as the languid lounger from Zama. She blinked into the blaze of reflected sunlight, then gaped as Aphra said, “My guess? He was too small to keep, anyway.”

She swiveled elegantly and unbidden into the chair Tuan had just flounced out of and inclined her head to the chubby mama in charge. Who had been glaring at MeiMei for whatever sins had caused her to drive off a good customer, but immediately brought another wine cooler over to Aphra. Sisterhood, and all.

Which was the card Aphra laid out to MeiMei Chiang. “Listen, girlfriend, I heard that guy’s tantrum, and his bit over at Zama. Skin tone caste system crap. Tell me this…” She laid her long, strong arm on the table, shining ebony against the white table top. “Where do I fit in?”

She was putting on just a slight glass of southern girl accent that she’d found to be effective and disarming. Her mother had praised the full-on pickaninny dialect she called “Tom Tom Club”, but Aphra really never got the handshake right for Steppin it.

MeiMei said nothing, just goggled at the sudden invasion of this electric model who looked like a dropout from Aphrodite’s Child and moved like a hunting cat. It was obviously her day for eclectic chat-ups.

“So we establish, I’m thinking,” Aphra went on, “That ain’t neither of us exactly leisure class tourists. And that you got something on your mind, don’t got nothin to do with suntans or dating pools.”

MeiMei smiled. If nothing else, this should be entertaining. “Just a working girl, here,” she said. “And it’s not working out.”

“Kind of work you do? Offhand, I’d rule out the hospitality trades.”

“Apparently. I’m an archaeologist, actually. And I can’t seem to find the Meso-American paleontology hangout around here.”

“No shit? You out there finding lost arks and temples like Indiana Jones? Ah… you’re here for that Mayan stuff, huh? Chichen Itza and shit. Sacrificed virgin skeletons.”

“Mayanology’s my specialty, but I’m more theoretical. I can barely remember the last time I got chased through a tomb by mummies.”

“Well, I bought ‘Mummies For Dummies”, but I couldn’t get into it.” Aphra snapped her fingers and dug into the cloche purse that clung to her flanks. “But see what I picked up in town just today. Genuine Mayan stuff, probably made by coolie slaves in Szechuan.”

MeiMei looked at the silver ashtray with bright enamel design. Homage to the ancients, she thought. Grind out your fake Cuban cigar on the face of the Gods. “Actually, that’s the Aztec calendar,” she said. “Taken from the Sun Stone in Mexico city. The Mayan depiction you generally see is a guy squatting with a tumpline on his forehead, surrounded by twenty glyphs. We call them ‘day signs’.”

“Oh, and they just all the rage, these days. But you see this thing, keep hearing about all this Mayan Calendar, Mayan astrology, Mayan Prophesy stuff.”

“I know, believe me. That’s sort of my specialty-specialty. And the fad nonsense around it is getting pretty ripe.”

“Damn, this morning I buy a calendar, ain’t even got a naked man on it, today I’m talking to an expert. So, what’s the skinny, honey? We talking about the end of the world? Or just same shit, different millennium?”

“It’s a pop myth. A buzz like the 20K thing.”

“No. Scuse me, cause you’re the expert here, but I don’t think it’s the same thing. That 20K bizness was all inside computers, right? All those geniuses didn’t know they’d need three numbers in thirty years. But it ain’t really the End Of The World, what I’m saying.”

“Actually, they just ran out stone during their production runs.”

Aphra didn’t get stopped short in conversations very often, but MeiMei was an adept of the inscrutable Asiatic straight face so the Black woman just stared at her a moment. Then got the slim, Kuan Yin smile.

“Here’s the deal. You’ve got your main calendar, called the Tzolkin, twenty day glyphs by thirteen symbols called “tones”. Making 260 permutations, unique ‘dates’ that establish a sort of holy ’year’. Nobody used that calendar in their daily lives, you understand, and there wasn’t one hanging on a wall anywhere. All theoretical, of interests to priests.”

“Sound healthier than priests being mostly interested in little boys’ backsides.”

“You get a lot of hubbub just over that. People with their little ‘Mayan Hieroglyphic’ necklaces for their birthdates. The human genome has 260 cell families, so it’s mystical…”

“Shit, I’ve seen a whole book of stuff that the number 42 represents.” Aphra winning hearts and minds.

“Exactly. Anyway, much later when they had enough history around to need longer time lines, they developed another concept called the “long year”. So you’ve got three numbers interacting–they generally show them like cogs on gearwheels–and it produces this BakTun period of about five thousand years.”

“You giving me the two dollar dummies tour here, huh?”

“Calendar 101. If you want more detail I can give you links to my monographs and recommend some books.”

“Oh, Lord, no.” Aphra fanned her glistening ruby nails defensively. “Way too much info. But that five thousand year thing coming up pretty soon, right? Two thousand twelve?”

“Coming soon to a theater near you.”

“Then we getting these tidal waves and comet hits and ninja attacks and what not, right?”

“Worse, a wave of blonde actresses with issues.”

“Damn! Now that’s a right dire scenario. But seriously, since I got an expert here, what’s up with all that? What’s your prophesy, your prediction?”

MeiMei smiled and started to wisecrack, but stopped. She looked at the calendar ashtray, then at the sleek hull of the Nahual. And said, “Believe it or not, there might be a clue to all that. And that’s what I’m here looking for.”

There was nothing in the taut black planes of Aphra’s face to reveal the hot pulse of exultation that shot through her. This was her drug of preference, the sight of the fox tail on the moors. She leaned forward and said, “So you down here hunting up the playbook for the end of the world? Look, you need any help? I always wanted to be, like, Assistant Laura Croft.”

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