Chapter 44: I Become a Non-Christian
For some reason I decided to go to church on Easter Sunday. It must have been a last-minute decision because by the time I arrived at the main cathedral, Mass had already begun. The crowd was immense, overflowing into the ornate foyer. Since I could barely hear the dulcet intonation, I focused my attention on those standing around me. The majority were the poorest of the poor, clad in tattered, faded, but clean garments, shoeless, suffering. Women held children in their arms; a couple of kids were perched on their father’s shoulders so that they could see the gilded interior and watch the proceedings; an old woman next to me propped herself up on a Dali-type crutch; an old man with one leg and a stick for a cane, leaned against the carved door frame, precariously balancing on his one good limb.
From time to time the entire crowd, including the amputee and the invalided old woman—though it took them longer—would fall to their knees (or knee) to join the praying multitude inside.
I was moved by the people’s devotion to the abstract mystery of the Mass, wanted somehow to believe with the same fervor, but I was distracted by the believers who commanded more of my attention than I wished. I tried to understand what was happening for them, to them. Their faces, wizened and weathered, were raptly attuned to the Latin incantations. Their dull eyes motionlessly followed the priest’s movements; their ears and eyes strained to catch the cues signaling the need for their mouths to open in response. They betrayed no signs of discontent at their lots in life nor envy of those who were so obviously better off than they were. They did not seem to feel mocked by the contrast between their frayed garments and half-empty bellies, and the raiments of the corpulent, red-faced priest, nor did they seem bothered by the lavish spending that had obviously been expended on the interior: intricate stained glass, omnipresent gold, sumptuous linens on the altar, the carved ceiling, the chiseled statuary.
When it came time for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, ushers or deacons began to move through the faithful. I could see the coffers being thrust among the pews, see the purses opening, the hands dropping coins and bills into the receptacles, hear the clink of silver on silver. I thought, before he turned his back to us, that I detected more than a hint of a smile on the fat priest’s face as the offering mounted. I imagined him stretched out in a gilded bathtub bathing in the silver coins, running his swollen ring-studded fingers through the heavy pesos, tossing the bills into the air with divine and joyous abandon.
The money collectors finally moved to the rear and then swept into the foyer, sliding their long-handled ornate offering baskets into our midst. The old woman leaning on the crutch extracted a twenty-centavo piece from her pocket and dropped it in; the amputee did likewise, as did the fathers and mothers and even the little ones. But there was one old man with gray skin and white hair who could not give. The basket lingered in front of him. His eyes filled with tears. The basket was pushed insistently forward so that it touched his chest. The collector, growing impatient, began to bounce the coffer. The obscene mass of coins jingled. But the old man could not give. The collector mumbled something, then thrust the collecting receptacle harder into the man’s chest so that he had to stumble back outside the door, almost falling down the stone steps. The crowd around him stared into space or at the giant crucifix, looking neither at the white-shirted, bloated collector nor at the old man. But I looked at him. He was descending the steps now, emitting tiny sobs, his frame slightly shuddering. I slipped the five-peso coin I was holding back into my pocket. When the basket slid before me, I pushed it away and followed the old man down the steps and into the brilliant sunlight.
Chapter 45: I Become Seduced by the Librarian
The school library probably had no more than a thousand books, most of them in Spanish. Of the offerings in English, the majority were novels, mostly British, mostly 18th or 19th Century. This actually suited my taste at the time quite well. I devoured, particularly on the long bus rides to and from Sain Alto, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Tom Jones, Joseph Andrews, Great Expectations, Vanity Fair, Roxanna, Moll Flanders, Emma, The Mill on the Floss, Almayer’s Folly, Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness and a great many others whose plots, characters, even titles and authors I have forgotten. In Spanish, I read Lazarillo de Tormes, El Buscon, Quixote, Don Segundo Sombra, a few Perez Galdos novels, and various others.
Lazarillo was by far my favorite. In some curious way I identified with Lazaro; perhaps it was the theme of survival amidst misfortune that intrigued me; perhaps it was his adolescent independence; perhaps it was simply that I delighted in his cunning, trickery, ruses and artful shenanigans. (I, after all, had adopted his wily tactics in freeing Ray from the Hospital Civil.)
The library was presided over by a young Chicana woman named Señora Mendoza. Originally from Las Cruces, New Mexico, she had married a Mexican from Durango. According to what she told me, he supplemented their meager income by taking bit parts in the numerous Hollywood Westerns that were filmed just outside the town. She didn’t mention that he had some other job.
I liked Sra. Mendoza from the beginning. Indeed, in my first weeks at the school she was the one authority figure who was the most solicitous. the friendliest, the kindest, Since I spent at least an hour each day during English period in her presence, we soon got to know one another rather well. With her I could talk about most everything: my difficulties adjusting to dependence after my brief bout of independence; Ray’s accident; my excursions to the mine; books; school work. By spring, when the weather was warm enough to be outside during siesta, we’d occasionally have lunch together, usually a picnic on the banks of the Tunal.
I don’t know exactly when it occurred to me that I had a crush on her. Perhaps it was when I began to have dreams about her—innocent dreams—or maybe when I would relive with relish before going to sleep our tri-weekly conversations. But by April I allowed to myself that I was smitten. Physically, she was not terribly attractive. Adolescent acne had left her face scarred. She was slightly overweight. Her teeth were crooked. She dressed in dull colors, mostly beige or olive or faded blue. But she had a great laugh, a sexy voice that cracked every so often like Dinah Washington’s, a terrific smile, large brown eyes and long black hair, a fine mind that was clearly stultifying in the little school, large breasts that jiggled enticingly when she moved, and, from the fleeting glimpses I had caught of them, beautiful legs. She was 23, had been married for two years, and was, as I began to learn, exceedingly unhappy with her marriage. Her husband, a stupid but handsome man, was a binger and carouser who took most of her paycheck each month to spend on drink and having a good time in the company of others. She frequently had to ask her parents for money to pay the rent, a secret she kept from Juan, lest he abscond with that too.
On a fine, clear May day, with the birds singing in the trees, and the sky a Fra Angelico blue, and the river trickling over the rocks, and the sun warm, almost hot, she asked me, as we sat on the grass under a broad-leafed tree, if I’d ever had sex.
“No,” I stammered, embarrassed, excited, anxious.
“Why not? You’re quite handsome, you know. I bet you could have any number of girls if you wanted.”
I shook my head, not knowing what to say.
“Have you ever made out?” she asked.
“I guess so,” I said, unsure whether this was true since the only approximation to “making out” that I could think of was the mutual disrobing several years before with Diane and Shirley. And that wasn’t really making out. But I let the answer stand without correction.
“Did you like it?” she inquired.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“Why don’t you kiss me?”
“Here?” I asked.
“No, on my lips.”
She gave a little laugh. I laughed too, clumsily trying to hide my nervousness.
I looked around. To my chagrin, we were quite alone. A few people meandered along the path in the distance, but they were walking away from us. We were blocks from the school.
I leaned over and put my mouth on her mouth. Her tongue darted out and forced its way between my lips. My tongue unbiddenly met it, then retracted. I found myself suddenly sucking on her tongue, my breath coming hard through my nostrils, my heart accelerating its rhythm, or so it seemed. She stroked my face with her hands. My glasses were by now ajar, and had I not had my eyes closed, my vision would have been distorted mightily. Her hand gently removed my specs, and I instinctively opened one eye to see what she had done with them but couldn’t locate them easily. My hands, which had been frozen at my sides, suddenly freed themselves, and I found myself throwing them around her neck, pulling her mouth even more tightly onto mine. My penis had begun to rise inside my trousers, and my mind was leaping over itself in an attempt to process this exquisite, illicit sensation. Suddenly, she pulled away from me and I dropped my hands onto her shoulders. She held my face between her hands and looked at me dreamily.
“You are beautiful,” she whispered.
“So are you,” I responded impulsively.
And then, in her teacher’s voice: “You should get contacts, stop hiding behind those ugly glasses.”
“I will someday.”
“On second thought, it might not be such a good idea. Everybody would want to rape you.”
“I’ve got to get back,” she said. “See you later.”
She quickly got up, brushed off her mauve dress, then nonchalantly sauntered back toward school. Though we always exited and entered the Colegio separately (“Old man Daimler has strict rules about fraternization,” she explained) today I wanted to walk with her, hold her hand, never return to that dark, gloomy school. I watched her until she rounded the bend and disappeared.
Normally I spent 50 minutes three afternoons each week in the library for my independent English period, but I didn’t go there that day. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see her; rather I so wanted to be with her that I was afraid that I couldn’t control myself if she should suddenly come within an arm’s reach of me. I was mad with desire. Confused with lust. Surprised by sin (she was married, after all, and nine years older than I). Empowered by her kiss, embrace, words. Weakened by my virginity and inexperience. Excited about losing some of my sexual innocence. Aroused by the lingering sensation of her lips and tongue on my mouth. Frightened of the unknown. Even more frightened of her husband finding out and shooting me. Carried away by the fantasy of running away with her to the Bahamas. (I was fixated at the time on the Caribbean, figuring that I could set up housekeeping on a deserted island somewhere.) Stunned by her boldness. Shocked by my reciprocation. In love.
From the afternoon following our first kiss I began to hatch plans to spend more time with Sra. Mendoza. One scheme that I particularly liked was to come back from Sain Alto on Saturday instead of Sunday, thus enabling me to spend Saturday night with her. Another kiss over lunch the following week only strengthened my ardor, leading me, later that afternoon during my library English period, to propose the idea to her. To my dismay she replied that for the foreseeable future she didn’t think it likely it would work out because her husband’s activities on the weekend were too unpredictable to guarantee our safety.
“Likely as not he’ll be gone all weekend, but since he never tells me in advance, I have no way of knowing. Sometimes I think that he won’t be back until Monday morning. Then he comes dragging himself in on Saturday night or early Sunday. At other times I think he’ll return in a few hours but he doesn’t reappear for three days. It’s just too risky.”
“What if we just wander around town?”
“That’s kind of risky too. Too many people know me or Juan. And besides if Juan came home and I wasn’t there, he’d throw a fit when I finally got in.”
“That’s kind of unfair, isn’t it? I mean he gets to come and go as he pleases, but you don’t.”
She looked at me with her large brown eyes, then glanced away. “That’s what happens to women when they’re married.”
“I wouldn’t be like that,” I said sharply.
She turned from staring into space, and looked at me. Her eyes were teary. “Maybe not, but I’m not married to you.”
I didn’t know if this were an invitation for me to propose, or not, but since I was only 14 and didn’t want to be married, I didn’t take the bait, if that was, in fact, what she had in mind. I did say, “Why don’t you leave him? Then he wouldn’t have any control over you.” I then added, “Or us.”
“Please leave for a while, will you? I’m going to cry and I don’t want you to see me.”
I stood up, but rather than head for the door, I put my arms around her.
“No, no!” she nearly shouted. “Just give me a few minutes alone.”
I backed away, tripped over a chair, and fell on the floor.
Sra. Mendoza began to laugh. So did I.
“You silly boy,” she said.
The door suddenly opened. I struggled up off the floor. Sr. Daimler stood, one foot over the threshold, frozen in position. He gave me a severe look. Sra. Mendoza quickly explained, in her most professional voice, without a trace of humor, what had happened to cause my fall. He grunted, then walked away, leaving the door open, without ever uttering a word.
“Do you see what I mean?” Sra. Mendoza asked in a near whisper. “No monkey business on school grounds. You can’t afford to be expelled and I can’t afford to lose my job.”
I nodded. “Do you still want me to leave?”
“I’m OK now,” she said. “Do your English.”
One bright morning before school, a week or so after Sra. Mendoza had informed me of the difficulties of our spending any extended time together, she came nonchalantly strolling up to me while I was talking to Luis and Miguel.
“Chris,” she said. “Can you come see me in the library in a few minutes? I have an overdue notice for you.”
I blushed slightly. “I’ll be there right away,”
I extricated myself from the conversation and walked as quickly as I could, without calling attention to myself, to the library. She was seated behind the desk, talking to a couple of students. She saw me as I walked in and called out. “Here,” she said, and handed me a yellow overdue book slip. She immediately resumed her conversation. I stared at it, reading over and over again that Great Expectations was a week overdue. Then it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t even checked out any Dickens. I turned over the slip. It read: “Fri/Sat., my house. J away. Love, Concha.”
My hands trembled slightly. I looked over at her and nodded. My heart leaped up. She pretended not even to notice my gesture, but as she was staring straight at me, I knew she couldn’t have missed it.
At siesta break I went to the library to talk with her, but the door was locked and she was nowhere in sight. Finally, after a lunch break in which I couldn’t eat all of my favorite avocado torta, I raced back to school. Since I was an hour early, I didn’t really expect to find her but to my astonished delight she was sitting on the steps outside of school talking to my math teacher. I paused for a moment, trying to figure out how to tear her away. Then I decided that my excuse would be that I had left my book in the library.
“Disculpe, Sra. Mendoza. Creo que dejé mi libro en la biblioteca esta mañana.”
Está cerrada,” she said. “Pero se la abriré dentro de un rato. Disculpe, Ronaldo.”
“No, no,” said Prof. Bermudez. “Tengo que irme de todos modos. Adiós Concha. Adiós Cristóbal.”
“Adiós Profe,” I called as he trundled down the steps porting his massive frame on his too-tiny legs, then watched him as he ambled up the avenue.
Sra. Mendoza and I walked into the school, as if she were going to open the library for me, then kept going, through the courtyard, then out the rear exit, across the playing field, into the trees, finally emerging into the privacy of Calle Zaragoza.
I switched back into English. “I got your note this morning.”
“Can you?” she inquired, a slight smile forming at the corners of her mouth.
“Of course,” I said. At this point I actually didn’t know how I was going to get out of going to Sain Alto or wangle a night away, but I figured it wouldn’t be too terribly difficult. Besides, I could not pass up this opportunity.
“Good,” she said. “Juan got a stunt job on a movie they are filming near Aguascalientes. He’s leaving today and won’t be back until Sunday night at the earliest.”
“Are you scared?”
“I can’t wait,” I said. Impulsively, I reached out and embraced her. When I pulled her close, I could feel her breasts rubbing against my chest, feel their softness, their expansiveness, sense their tenderness. But when I tried to kiss her, she pulled away.
“Later,” she said. “On Friday you can have all you want.”
I was already hard, but seemed to enlarge even more after her pronouncement. “I can wait, but barely,” I said.
“I’ve got to get back. See you this afternoon. By the way, I think anyone to whom I’ve given the liberty to fuck me should call me Concha. Outside of public places, of course.”
“Kiss me,'” she said.
Except for when I was a child, and caught a glimpse or two of my mother naked, I had never seen a flesh and blood woman in the nude. I was, as a result, awestruck at how thrillingly gorgeous Concha was without clothes. While in her dowdy dresses she had appeared somewhat plump, naked she was voluptuous, a veritable Venus. Bathed in the crimson rays of the setting sun that filtered in through the white curtains, her dark skin was radiant. For the first time I noticed that her shoulders were rather narrow, helping to accentuate her large pendulous breasts crowned with thick, almost black nipples encircled by wide dark brown areolas. Her belly, while not flat, did not protrude either, but seemed in perfect proportion to her upper body and to her hips that provocatively swelled outward, giving her smooth thighs a firmness and strength that would otherwise have been lacking. Her legs were long and shapely, and her sex, covered in a thin curly black down was mysterious, intriguing, enticing.
I was fairly skinny. My skin was a shade or two lighter than hers, my chest just starting to be covered by tufts of hair, my thighs hard, my calves large and muscular, my genitals very exposed, and pink, with only a light covering of hair around the top of my penis, now slightly tumescent, my ass tight and gently rounded. I must have still had my black horn-rimmed glasses on, since I couldn’t have clearly seen her otherwise. I suspect my blue eyes must have been brighter and larger than usual since I was nearly overcome by her nakedness and beauty; my nose, large and angled (ever since breaking it at the age of seven); my hair, black and thick and shiny, parted, because of a persistent cowlick, on the right side rather than the left.
I’m sure that during the course of the eighteen hours in which Concha ensured I was well initiated into the art of making love, we must have talked, but I can’t remember any conversation save for a brief one about my condom. The only other words that come into my mind are indecipherable cooings and moans and slightly more intelligible whispers and exclamations and occasional phrases in which we extolled the other’s beauty.
Aside from the lovemaking itself, what is most vivid to me is how blinding the light was when I stepped into the street around noon on Saturday, and that as I walked down 20 de Noviembre carrying my overnight bag which I had never even opened, the world seemed somehow more brilliant, the leaves greener, the Cerro de Mercado redder, the cathedral grander and gaudier, the foothills of the Sierra a deeper purple, the cars and motos noisier, the crow caws shriller.