..First Glyph

February 21
12:30 p.m.

So I was striding through the Hidalgo station correspondencia from the blue line to the green line this morning. As I neared the green line I heard a train approaching. I could not discern from which direction the train was approaching. I hurried my pace. From the top of the escalator I saw that it was the train I sought. I hopped down the last steps. I ran lightly toward the opening doors. I would board even before the warning tones sounded, it appeared. Some passengers were shuffling on. I slowed up to their rear. Should I board this car, or that car, I weighed. I stepped quickly toward this car. But the crowd seemed to thicken. I backed off. I stepped quickly toward that car. Again the crowd seemed to thicken. But I committed myself this time. I pressed toward the door. A large young man was in front of me. Someone pushed me from behind. We moved into the doorway. I was pushed again, pushed through the door, pushed off balance and I fell against the large young man in front of me. He turned and pushed me back. Then he pushed at the armstrap of my backpack. I wore my backpack backwards, across my chest. I clenched instinctively at the bag's front pocket. He pushed at the armstrap with the heels of his hands. The tone of the door sounded. The warning tone. The crowd around me thinned suddenly. One, two, three young men eased quickly off the metro car. The large young man pushed a last time at my backpack. The doors began to close. A fourth young man slipped between the closing doors. That fourth young man held open one of the closing doors. The large young man gave up on my bag then. He forced himself through the narrow gap of the held door. The door shut. The metro moved away.

I found myself standing then, alone, in the doorway of the metro car.

Beautifully orchestrated, they were, these young men. It had seemed to me strangely congested and nothing more. The jostlings and pushings and reactions were very crowd-like. The assault had felt very natural. So natural, it had felt, in fact, that I did not really understand what was happening until it was almost over. Instinct and preparation saved me. And lucky, I am. I had just exchanged one hundred dollars for pesos. And I would have lost my guidebook, too, and my copy of As You Like It.

"Qué pasó!" a Mexican man blurted. He darted breathily to a window, peering after the assailants.

"Ay!" an older woman sitting near answered, laying her hand on her chest.

A sudden chorus of mutterings roused among the nearby passengers. People fingered their pocketbooks and wallets and belongings. A tense brief calm. The Mexicans all looked at me then. All of them. Sharply, they looked at me, but blankly. I was an anonymous target to them. Still I was anonymous. For I am not one of them. I smiled.

"Four or five of them, no?" a man said.

"Very fast, very fast," the woman said.

Their commenting continued as the metro carried us along.

I was en route to Tlaltelolco to collect some descriptions when this assault took place. At Tlaltelolco, in La Plaza de las Tres Culturas, I met and chatted with a pretty young Mexican woman. When I described for her that scene, it did not surprise her. Since the economic crisis began some years ago, she jadedly explained, the frequency and severity of assaults in the D.F. has worsened dramatically. Everyone in the city, she says, knows someone who has been assaulted.

I sit in a Sanborns now scribbling these words. I will pay for my light meal of molletes soon. Then I will buy a bottle of bottled water at a convenience store. Then I will buy one or two empanadas de mole at a corner bakery, I think. Then I will recline in my hotel room rather melancholically to view a soccer game on television. After that I will probably scribble some pining things about that pretty young Dulcinea I met in La Plaza de Las Tres Culturas. She wore a t-shirt. It was tie-died blue and purple.

4 p.m.

She was maybe five foot one, this girl, her face gazing up at me, her face shining in the sun. She had long black hair that fell over her shoulders. She wore a tie-died blue on purple t-shirt, blue jeans, sneakers.

"Yes, I like the music of Mexico much," I answered. "There is this song on the radio right now. A ranchero that I like very much. But I don't know it's name. And I don't know who sings it. So I cannot really descov...descov..."

"Describe it?"

"Yes, that. No, I cannot really describe it for you. It is very romantic."

But this was much later. After we had spoken for quite some time.

I saw her first as I was finishing my descriptions of the plaza. I rested on a small circular platform near its center, one studded with a dozen naked flag poles. She leaned near enough that I could have spoken to her. But that was the problem. She leaned near enough that I could have spoken to her. And she was alone. Such overt opportunity makes me paranoid. Self-preservation overruled loneliness, attraction. I did not speak to her.

After a while, she moved on. She was bohemian and she was pretty and she moved easily away across the plaza away from me. I saw her ask a woman for the time then. I saw her look about then. I saw her wander about. I got the feeling she was waiting for someone. I wished then I would have spoken to her. She was bohemian and she was pretty and I found her in the distance with my eyes as I finished my descriptions. Then I found her in the distance with my eyes as I read the first scene of As You Like It. Again and again I found her in the distance with my eyes until at last she disappeared. I wished then I would have spoken to her. But I had not. She was gone. I waited. But she was bohemian and she was pretty and she was gone. I waited awhile more. But she was gone. I took up my bag and my notes. I rose to depart.

"Esperas alguien?" I suddenly spat.

For suddenly she moved before me. Somehow she had come near without my seeing. I had risen to leave. She had been passing before. So, "Are you waiting for someone," I suddenly spat, barely conscious of my word choice.

"Yes," she said. "And you, do you wait for someone?" Her voice was fluidly and glidingly womanish.

"No," I answered simply, cooling. Then, "I am here to look at the plaza."

"Ah," she responded. And she said something to me about the beauty of the plaza. And I said nothing. I stood there nearly wordless. Dumbstruck. She was bohemian and she was pretty and she was standing before me. Was she the one? The one? I've always described the perfect woman for me as an orphaned bilingual Mexican ballet dancer. Was she this? She was not. A history student. At the national university. But we did have some things in common. I, too, have an interest in history. She, too, has an interest in art. We discussed the Mexican muralists. Both of us prefer Orozco and Siqueiros to Rivera. It's the force of their work, we agreed, their emotion. But then I clumsily told her I was watching Al otro lado del sol. And I provided no explanation why. Her brow wrinkled. She frowned. Overacted, she told me. Too melodramatic, she told me. Try the art channel, she suggested, Trece. I was not agile enough to rebound.

Then to music.

"Yes, I like the music of Mexico much," I answered her. "There is this song on the radio right now. A ranchero that I like very much. But I don't know it's name. And I don't know who sings it. So I cannot really descov...descov..."

"Describe it?"

"Yes, that. No, I cannot really describe it for you. It is very romantic."

And her face gazed up at me curiously. Her face was shining in the sun. Her long black hair lie over her shoulders.

"I like the tropical music, too," I stupidly added.

"Oh, so you like to dance," she chuckled. And then she performed these heartbreaking little dance gestures with her arms and her legs, lilting a little tune. Would that I could have taken those hands! Would that I could have joined those legs! Instead I admitted: "No. No, I don't like to dance."

She frowned.

"And mariachis?" I continued interrogatively.

She nodded agreeably, "And do you like Mexican rock?" she asked.

"Yes," I answered. "Soda Estereo. I like them very much."

She frowned.

"Soda Estereo is from Argentina," she told me.

And as she gazed up at me I beheld the girl who plays Mary Magdalene in the movie Jesus Christ Superstar. She looked just like her there, with her face shining, with her sloe eyes squinting in the light.

I was blowing it. I knew I was blowing it. We seemed to have something in common. We seemed to be interested in one another. But on some level we were not connecting. Then I set up my suicide.

"And so is this person for whom you wait going to arrive?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said. "I think that maybe I will go now."

Then I committed my suicide: "Well, okay, would you like to take a coffee with me in some restaurant nearby?"

If I had been coming to this plaza for two weeks, maybe, meeting with this young woman on a daily basis and conversing with her for two weeks, maybe; then maybe, with one of her friends, she would have accompanied me to a restaurant for a coffee. Or if I lived across the hall from her, and her parents had seen me and spoken to me often, and my history was well-known, and I quite humbly asked her father if she might accompany me to a Sanborns, then maybe she would have done so. Or if it were our fifth or sixth meeting and I had brought a flower and I begged her brother to come along; or if a group of her friends were going out with a group of my friends; or even if we were just on a double date with some other well- established couple then maybe she would have accompanied me to take a coffee. But none of this was true. This was the first time she had ever seen me, ever met me. I was a stranger, a foreigner. She was not going to go with me anywhere. I trudged to Lety's house and sat with her on her Guadalajara porch every night for three weeks before her parents let her accompany me to a Sunday afternoon movie matinee--and chaperoned! I was blowing it. I knew I was blowing it. And so when the critical moment came, when separation was imminent, when my last chance rose before me, I slipped onto a comfortable American side rail, the neutral proposal, the change of venue. It was the wrong tack. Before it was out of my mouth she was shaking her head.

"No, thank you," she said. "I have already breakfasted."

I stood then before a wall of silence that I could not scale. I glanced away from her. I glanced to the plaza I had just described. To its ancient temples. To its modern condominiums. To its colonial churches. To its fountains, crosses.

"Pues, ya me voy," she spoke easily, unoffendedly, offering to me her hand willingly. I took it. It was very small. I resisted the urge to go down on one knee. I shook it. I said, "Mucho gusto." This was a stupid thing to say. I was defeated.

I turned.

I walked away.

But what's the point? I leave on Friday anyway. I'll be gone on Friday anyway.

I watched two girls strolling Avenida Madero this morning. They were in their late teens. They held each other's hands, window-shopping.

Orphaned: So that she would be free of her family, free to travel with me anywhere.

Bilingual: So that she could read my jottings.

Mexican: Because my attraction for them is so great.

Ballet Dancer: Because my attraction for them is so great.

I didn't really pay attention to the soccer game.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers