Sofia grabbed Jackie by the shoulders before she hit the ground. She laid her down gently on the grass, her head on her thighs. “DO NOT PANIC!!!”, I thought. Ideas flashed through my mind. We were at the bottom of a canyon and the temperature was dropping fast. What is the smartest thing to do?
Sofia was suspiciously calm, in complete control of the situation. She was patting Jackie's head and pointed to the water bottle. I poured a few drops on her forehead. Sofia spread the drops around her face, massaging her temples. She kept doing that until Jackie opened her eyes. Second by second, she returned to consciousness, as if waking up from a deep relaxing dream.
We made sure she could walk, then started on the way up. Our cab was waiting for us at the top. To celebrate Jackie’s recovery, we went to a bar managed by an art collective in San Cristobal. The terrace was crowded by strange characters... artists! We toasted to Jackie's health, as the sky turned from blue to black.
Sofia was sitting next to an old hippie named Mateo. He seemed teleported from Woodstock. In his fifties, he had long white hair, grey eyes and a full beard. He wore a purple headband, a woolen hoodie and kaki canvas pants. Mateo was smoking a pipe and bragging to Sofia about his past as a former criminal. She asked him if he ever killed a man. A long uncomfortable silence ensued.
"I found Jesus" he said. Since his criminal days, he had been looking for redemption. He became an honest man, sold all his possessions and moved to Guatemala to help the poor. Mateo volunteered in orphanages and helped whoever crossed his path. "I've seen some crazy shit there, 5 years is a long time" he said. Sofia was asking him about his adventures when he mentioned a book he wrote. I told him I'd buy his book. "Yeah right" he said.
I felt a bit guilty for Sofia. She flew from Paris to experience the van life and to travel with me. There was no van and I couldn’t even spend time with her. I had to sort out la Chichona’s paperwork and to find a secure parking at the border. Thankfully, her and Jackie got along well. I recommended them the town of San Juan de Chamula for its unique church. Travelling in a group of three is indeed the best setup.
It was a mission to renew the plates. I had to declare my registration certificate lost. Then mail a 4$ check to the SAAQ (the licensing organization), seriously!? Pay the 258$ annual fee, receive the new certificate in Montreal and ask a friend to mail it somewhere I could receive it. The thought of making a fake certificate lingered on my mind.
The next day I jumped on the first bus to the border. Protesters were blocking the road for a water problem, again. The government’s showing complete indifference, again. Meanwhile, the girls visited the Church of San Juan de Chamula where Mayan and Christian rituals mixed in a disturbing display of child abuse. The locals believed in burping out evil spirits and scaring them off with burning copal. They gave posh, a 40° liquor to 6-year-olds. Then wrapped them in smoke until they, or the evil spirits they inhabited suffocated. In other countries they cut off children’s genitals… To each their own.
San Juan de Chamula was in Zapatista territories, where the Federal police did not go. Jackie and Sofia met the local Militia who took a liking into them. Everybody did, they were lovely. The militia showed them around town, drinking posh until they could not stand anymore. Then a walking band took over. They showered them with songs, posh and pretty nicknames. They also generously offered to make babies.
We all met in the evening at the artsy terrace. Mateo showed up too. In a shy voice, he said that he brought his book. Spanish Angels was the title. He accepted my green bill, paused and looked me in the eyes. His mouth was shaking, then he fell on me.
Surprised, I opened my arms to hold him. He mumbled something and started to sob. I was torn between pity and compassion. Never had I had an old stranger cry on my shoulder, let alone a former criminal. Mateo had completely broken down, he cried in my arms as I was trying to connect the dots. Then it hit me. I was the first person to buy his book, the first person to care.
He stepped back, put up his hood and thanked me. His grey eyes showed something profound, something I could not read. In my apparent meaningless gesture, Mateo had found what he was looking for.