Narrowing Gyre

Just because Yanche floated adrift in the ebbing surf of time didn’t mean that all moments were equal. For one thing, her consciousness was definitely attracted and bound to the Yucatan, and seemed mostly to involve the experiences of young women. Like a person awakening in a dark space, she could sense greater dimensions around her, but didn’t feel any urge to explore the darkness in search of walls and limits. It wasn’t that she couldn’t exist in earlier time, or in the old age of the lives she browsed through as idly as a jellyfish pulsing along on the tide; it was that her attention was elsewhere. Or elsewhen.

One limit that she was well aware of was the end of time itself. She knew where it was and what was happening there, but felt no attraction to the final taper, no impulse to savor the ultimatum.

There were even certain ephemeral moments that drew in her attention the way a lantern draws a moth across wide, dark fields: little nexi of consciousness that held her gaze and riveted her perception even amid the raucous sweep of jungly centuries.

One moment she constantly returned to (as if she ever really left) was simple, even humble, but evidently exercised some powerful esthetic for her. So much of her attention hovered just above a mosquito coil burning on a battered wooden table. It filled her “eyes”; she couldn’t look away as the glowing end of the black spiral moved steadily inward, a ruddy ember circling patiently inward, consuming it’s fuel in a measured march towards the center.

There was something about the hot red point eating its way along its pre-destined helix, turning the toxic incense into smoke and dropping a fine line of ash on the table below it, forming an after-image, a chalk shadow commemorating it’s cyclical passage to the center, where it would expire from lack of fuel and further destination.

Why that particular burning coil held her gaze, rather than the thousands of them all over the peninsula, had a lot to do with one of the few males that focused and enabled her attention: Puch Pop. She was grown very fond of Puch, as anybody would understand if they shared her timeless point of view.

One thing to admire: he used his real Mayan name. Unlike his brother, Juanito, who relished his Spanish name and would just as soon have forget that he had an Indian name at all–like so many Mayans with a shot at assimilation. Not that much of a shot in Mexico, where the world indio is a racial slur meaning “stupid” and “inferior”, where the spectrum of skin color blended up from dark to white by the blur of mestizaje amounted to a de facto caste system. But not all indios lived like ghosts in the jungle or wore huipiles to work cleaning hotel rooms or labored as construction peons for minimum wage. And the ones who did were called by Jorge or Maria, not Itzel or Kisin or Yum.

Even the once-great Mayan surnames were disappearing, thrust away into dark attics, buried under tiers of stone. Cham, Pook, Chal, Itza, Mams, Miss, Ek, Pop: these had been great names, royal names. Many were the names of glyphs carved into stone steles and calendars and temple walls. Now they were an embarrassment to those who tried to morph into a new mutt tribe of Gomez and Martinez and Sanchez. Or translated Ek into Estrella and moved on into bureaus or auto ownership. Was the next step moving to Florida and glossing Estrella into Star? Was that how stars were born?

And it got weirder than that. The Pop kids (the boys anyway) had gone to school at upper-middle class liceos and colegios: the result of parental scrimping and part-time jobs in Cancun, a tradition among Mexicans who pay for private rather than government medical care if they can possibly afford it, and sacrifice to give their kids a shot at being citizens of a real world rather than the illiterate burros the public school system coughed up. Where they ran into monied white kids who thought it was a hoot to troop off the Mayan settlements along strand north of town, slumming and eating salbutes and panuches they found tastier and more risqué than the normal fair in town. The more money and social pretense, the more likely for the offspring to be lolling under a palapa munching green tamales and tasty Kash Keken or Poc Chuc at “Mayami Beach”, the Harlem of their class.

Juanito would go along, unaware of or perhaps nervous about the irony of it, but Puch had only gone once. He’d ordered a beer from the Mayan girl, in her own language, and fallen into a short conversation with her about what school these people went to. He turned back to his friends and caught their stares. His race was not a secret, written all over his wide face and stocky build. But he had pulled it out and brandished it. They reacted as if twenties socialites in emeralds and pearls might have if one of their party at the Cotton Club had suddenly wiped off his grease paint to reveal himself as a Negro. It was at that point when he ended his social contacts with his schoolmates with the sole exception of faking their butts off on the soccer field.

There had been another episode he remembered and shelved next to the day he stopped “passing”, also sitting next to a pretty school girl–who wasn’t exactly blonde, but definitely not an indita–and ordering beer. Their middle-aged busboy’s heavy nose, squat hunched shoulders and blocky legs announced him as almost grotesquely Mayan. He came to their table looking down at an order pad and when he turned his eyes up to them expectantly, they were a deep, shocking violet. The girl showed nothing, but grabbed Puch’s thigh under the table and squeezed it in delight. Communicating a little delight to him, as well. When the lavender-eyed mozo left she turned to shaking with laughter. “Did you see that? Oh my god, que bárbaro!

Her friend, lighter-skinned with aspirations to being a preppy fresa twit and in total disapproval of her amiga running around with bush trash like Puch, snickered knowingly. “He saved up all his tip centavos then blew them on those contacts. Pathetic.”

“But why?” Puch’s date asked, genuinely bewildered. She didn’t look at Puch though. Neither one of them did. The last thing they wanted was any insight into the “Mayan don’t-wanna-be” syndrome. “Who’s he trying to kid?”

“Probably himself. Or just doesn’t get it.”

“Or maybe he knows what the deal is,” Puch said as he stood up, laid a hundred peso bill on the table, and picked up his book bag. “And just likes looking that way.”

It was the last time he dated a Mexican girl. He’d couldn’t articulate why, but he’d had it with the race-conscious Mexicanas and didn’t find the uneducated Mayan girls all that interesting. Fortunately, Cancun was a magnet for foreigners and he lived in a tourist attraction.

When Yanche’s viewpoint widened up and away from the eternal smoking spiral of the mosquito coil to include Puch’s hundred pesos on the table beside it, she saw the incident as though through a gold filter, the soft light of gas flame lanterns in the little “Mayami Bich” taco bar that did business without electrical or water hookups. It was one of many moments in the Pop boy’s life that she particularly cherished. Floating loose and rudderless in the whorling eddies of time, Yanche had come to see him always in a sort of golden light, the ecstatic coloration of what he would eventually realize he had become. And her overly-distributed consciousness would pulse with ineffable love for the stout, handsome kid. If you were looking for a savior of your race, you couldn’t do much better than Puch Pop.

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