Senor, allow me to show you La Hacienda Fortuna before the night falls and the sky becomes the land. I understand you will be weary after your long journey from the city, yet it is important that you become familiar with your new property as soon as possible. There is a problem that must be attended to, a small matter that has arisen.
My name is Lazaro, senor. I have been with La Hacienda for many years... from a time when it was not the ruin you see before you now. It is old, yes, but it is not broken. It was built by the Franciscans in the early days of the Conquest and was considered the finest latifundios of the many that lie on the Camino Real between the coast and the city. Alas, the jungle has overtaken the vineyard, just as it now threatens the corral beyond the stables... but the possibility of its return is always there, so do not be discouraged by what you see.
This place was built by the hands of God, senor... yes, blessed by the Archbishop of Granada himself, the very beams that were shipped from the old country. Yes, they are blessed, so they can withstand any insult from Nature, or the corrosion of the Devil.
You ask, where is everyone... where are the workers, the campesinos? Alas, they have run away like children, afraid of their own shadows. They are so superstitious, senor, they see the faces of their ancestors in the stones that lie scattered in yonder barranca. They will return in a few days, I assure you. It is a small matter.
Pay no heed to what you hear. As darkness comes, there are many strange sounds, nothing to be concerned about. You see that shape beyond the trees? No? It's difficult to see, I admit. What is left of a temple of the old religion. The people won't go near it. They hear the bells of the goats as they descend the steps, say it is La Llerona. They hear the buzzards caw over the remains of a dead dog, say it is La Llerona. Absurd, senor... ghosts are the oppression of history. Unfortunately this place has plenty of history.
Well it is good to meet you, senor. I hope your good luck is not my bad luck. I have been here a long time... so long it is an embarrassment. No charro ever grows old, eh, senor? Yes. There have been many owners since the Hacienda became a prize in the Loteria. I imagine you bought your ticket from that booth outside the Cathedral. Yes, most of the winning tickets are sold there. It is a fact. It is a fact too that the same number wins periodically... always.
You will stay the night, yes, senor? It is warm... and the breeze is warm. See, it moves the hammock on the patio where the geraniums grow. See? It sways like a lover has just left. It is a sweet place, and you will sleep well. Give no heed to what you hear. Yes, you will sleep well.
You look at my hands... smooth, unbroken by labour. I confess -- I am a mariachi. Well, I was a mariachi when I first came to the Hacienda. Believe me, I am no strummer and singer of sentimental songs and simple boleros. I am a real flamenco, senor. I play as they play in Andalusia, although, of course, I have never been there. Is something I learned as a child, listening to the songs of the muleteers as they rode the mountain passes and the trails between the villages and the latifundios. Yes, I know flamenco, even though I also play the stately sandunga and the noisy huapango. These are the fiesta favorites of our people, so it is necessary for the complete player to know these dances. But really, I play for only one dancer, senor. I am a true flamenco.
How did I, Lazaro, come to be at the Hacienda Fortuna? For a festival, what else... in honour of Saint Remedios, who is the patron of the Lottery... the Ecclesiatic Loteria. Yes, the King give this Order the right to have a lottery. Why not? A miracle is a throw of the dice like any other.
In those days the fields were full of corn, the vineyards full of grapes, and the people were happy. The Indian sings a song so that the gods become flowers and enter a woman's womb, come out as clouds that will rain on the cornfield. That's how it was, senor. Luck was with them, was with us all.
I was young then... perhaps you think I am still young, for I have no gray in my head and my eyes are clear. Perhaps I am still in love, yes? Allow me the joke, senor... even in these circumstances. This is no time for cowards. Mexico was won by those who had the courage to challenge Fortune, yes? Otherwise no valle nada.
The woman, La Flamenca, was a beauty with the Mediterranean shadow in her face and the long devil body of a dancer. Her mother was a bruja, although she did not follow the profession of fortune-telling. It was her mother who gave me this cross, for she said I would need it one day because beauty attracts evil. I laughed, for I thought of this as a simple commercial transaction at the time. The woman would be my apprentice. But soon, it was different. We were good together, La Flamenca and I. We were never married by a priest, yet we were married, senor. A document binds slaves... love binds the free.
And who ran the Lottery? Who controlled the board that evening? Machete the gachupin... the travelling Franciscan bureaucrat... a carcamanero who rides a big horse with a saddle made by the devil. He was a hustler, senor, even though he was dressed as a monk. What can I say? The dog swindled me? The dog stole what was mine and what was my soul? This sexton with the silver spurs and the silver tongue, this man who ran the loteria in the name of the Church.
Behold the jacarinda tree where the doves coo and fools gather at sunset. This is where Machete has his board. I can see him now, with his gold tooth and his cheating dice. I have the sacred number. I have it, because it comes to La Flamenca in a dream. Yes, a dream, senor. A talent she inherit from her mother, the bruja. She insists that I gamble with this number, no other.
There are fireworks and much drinking of aguadiente and pulque, people drunk as four hundred rabbits. Anyway, I decide to play the board before we do our show, which is always the big event of the festival, such is our reputation.
On the first cast, I lose. So it goes. I try again, with the same numbers... again I lose. The laughter and curses ring like silver, as if the peasants and the monks are mocking me. Machete is, I know it, for I see it in his eyes. La Flamenca is at my side, urges me to try again. I take my last pesos, buy the same number. Machete smiles and I see his gold tooth flash as he lifts the horn, shakes it, then allows the dice to tumble onto the die... ah, no valle nada... what difference does it make? Only the fleeting endures, yes?
I try to be the dignified cigar-smoking loser. Yes, I try. Machete says, the Mission thanks you, Mariachi. Maybe your luck will be better the next time... as Fortune is grace... unfair at times but loving. My guitar, I say, will you accept it? No Lazaro, says La Flamenca, I will find some money... an advance on the dance. I take your guitar, says Machete. Same numbers, Mariachi? Yes, I say. Yes. I am running with Fortune. I grip La Flamenca's small waist so hard she moans.
Do you hear that sound, senor? Like the baby cry of the jaguar? The fools think it is La Llerona. They run away, the cowards. They believe the poets who say this place is cursed. They believe a simple sound in the jungle is a prelude to death. Look at the heavens, senor... what do you see? The stars. They glow like orchids in the jungle shadows and orchids are the flowers of fate. A man can run from the jungle, but no man can run from the sky.
Look at my hands, senor. They are clean and smooth. They have been silent for too long. My tunic might be shabby, my boot heels a little low, but I am capable, senor... yes, I am capable.
It is a humiliation to lose the instrument of your wealth. It is a bigger humiliation to keep it under duress. Play, Mariachi, play, Machete says. We are waiting for La Flamenca. His greedy eyes are on my woman, senor. I know it, I know it from the beginning, but what can I do? My confidence was destroyed when my luck ran out. Is like the slow sleep of age. One day you are alive, another you are only dreaming.
Ah, I can see you are tired, senor. Your eyes are heavy. You have had a long journey and the Hacienda Fortuna is not easy to find. See, your hammock is ready. You will have no problem sleeping. If you hear a cry, pay no heed. I will be over there, beyond the barranca. Have no fear, senor. A gentleman such as you must carry no superstition.
I see you looking at the mark on my neck. A curious thing, yes? Well I might as well admit it: I wore a collar. An iron collar with a heavy chain. The monks do this to me, say I am insane and dangerous, that I am a criminal. Do I look like a criminal to you? I am a Mariachi, senor, a player of folk songs and the holy flamenco. A collar. Now I am marked for the Devil as a priest is marked for God.
Machete says, I have no use for a guitar, so I'll give you a chance to win it back. I say, we have no money until we are paid for our performance. Machete says, how will you play without your guitar? I say, with your permission.... He laughs, says, I will need some security, Mariachi. I say, what? what have I left? He says, have some pulque, think about it. Think about it... yes, think about it.
Yes, I lift the gourd to my lips, drink some pulque, even as the people call out for La Flamenca, form the circle of love under the lights of the copper lamps and the fireflies. I take the guitar, play as if possessed... churning chords and clicking castanets... the people clap and shout like demons, ole they shout, ole... and La Flamenca stamps her heels, pivots, moving her hips just as I taught her to move them... her black eyes locked on mine... ah God, I am a criminal! I took her from her mother as a man steals a dog from the litter. The bruja even gave me money... gave me money and a cross for my neck... is it Fortune or is it Sin that determines my Fate? Or is it the Devil?
This Machete, he too is marked by the Devil, his face faintly pitted by the pox as if one side of his face was in sunlight, the other in darkness when the Angel made his evil pass. I believe he had it in for me, senor. Yes, he had it in for me from the beginning. I, Lazaro, the handsome majo, the mariachi of the Camino Real. His dice were loaded, senor, did not represent the true balance of Fortune. I had the sacred numbers, yet I lose, senor... I lose, I lose everything, even my wife.
They fell upon me like coyotes, put the collar on my neck, chained me to the jacarinda tree. I fought like a madman but they were too much for me, these drunken thieves and blasphemers who dress as monks and play in the fields of God. I watch as Machete grabs La Flamenca, throws her on his horse... I watch as they ride into the darkness of Hell, his saddle bags full of the spolia loteria. Later some drunkards take me to the heathen ruins with the intention of throwing me into the cenote, just as the ancient ones used to sacrifice their slaves to Chac Mool. Why does God allow me to escape? For my revenge, senor. For my revenge.
It is late. Darkness has arrived. You have your ticket, senor? Your winning number? Por favor, allow me to confirm your good fortune. Ah... yes, the numbers. They are correct. The wheel has turned, the die is cast. Yes. The ticket, the numbers. A document binds slaves... etc. Allow me to put this collar around your neck. It is just a formality. You will sleep better, senor.
Thank you. Your patience is exquisite. With your permission, I will leave now. As you can hear, my wife is calling.
© LR 3/29/04
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