A young Huichol girl, gripping a costal with a machete sticking out, sat at the far end of the cattle truck. Forward, against the cab sat four mestizo workers. All the Mestizos – driver and workers – called her “La India” and tried to talk to her. Alma Rosa Molinas said nothing. She pulled her poncho tight against the cold. Only her eyes showed.
Because of the machete, she didn’t believe anyone would bother her. That’s what Alma Rosa said when telling of her Los Reyes adventure. Yet following her mother’s advice, she never closed her eyes during the all-night trip. Reyes was a Mejica pueblo set above a purple volcanic lake. When they stopped, she climbed down frowning and ignoring the men’s expected invitations.
She was in that place because her mother and her two-year-old daughter needed money for food, bruja remedies. Alma Rosa Molina knocked on many doors. Her cousin, Paciano, had found work here chopping weeds, hauling water. But no one recalled him. Alma Rosa was still asking for her cousin when she saw a man draw a deer on a blackboard. Alma Rosa knew it was all right then. She walked into the school yard, stood by the students until class ended. Then she asked for a job.
“I wish you could lay tile.” The teacher watched two men clumsily re-roof a school room.
“Pos, I can do that.” She nodded at the workers.
The teacher glanced at her rough hands, scuffed bare feet. “How old are you?”
“Sixteen, Señor. My cousin said there was work here I could do.”
The man grimaced. She watched him. He had drawn the sacred deer. He was tall, light-skinned, what Sierra Nayarit people called a téiwaristi – outsider.
“Can you clean a house? Like that?” He pointed across the school yard.
Alma Rosa grimaced at the building. She had been in three brick houses, but only one made that strong.
“I work hard,” she told him. “I can learn because I have no money.”
The man walked toward a roofless classroom. “You can learn. You have no money.”
“I was in school three years,” Alma Rosa said. “I can count. I can read many words.” She hurried after him. “I have a book. Spanish is very hard.”
“No it’s not. I am Eliazar Dueñas, the director of this school.” He picked up the small drawing of a deer. “My cousin, Señora Zanida Contreras, says people here do not know how to work. Ten pesos a week if you please her.”
Alma Rasa bared her teeth. “I need fifteen. My mother and sister are sick.”
“If you please my cousin, after a few months, maybe twelve pesos. Stay away from the men and boys. My cousin doesn’t want a pregnant Indian whore for a servant.” For the first time, he smiled at her. “Not much respect for the indigenous.”
At first, Señora Zanaida Conteras – tall, thin, a wide mouth – said Alma Rosa was stupid: she didn’t know how to make beds with sheets. When other servants saw how hard Alma Rosa worked, yet had to sleep on the floor, they called her La Esclavita – Little Slave.
Alma studied how these españoles did things, then did them faster.
Zanaida mocked Huicholes and their ways. “This girl has never seen a toilet before,” she laughed. “She calls it a machine, and leaves caca stuck to the bowl.” The dueña made a face. Everyone laughed.
Alma Rosa said nothing, startled by the house’s blazing white interior, by the way this woman talked about her. Soon even the bolts holding toilets to the floor gleamed.
But she couldn’t find a way to get Don Eliazar to draw another picture of the master shaman, Tamats Kauyumari, Elder Brother Deer Tail.
When the son of the patron, Jorge, tried to flirt with Alma, she grinned. She told the 17-year-old he had to get a picture of a deer from his father before she would talk to him. He sneered and insulted her. But after a week of her silence, Jorge hobbled up – his left foot had been broken, then carelessly set – to toss a picture of “that fool deer” on the ground, then tried to pull her to him.
Yanking away, Alma Rosa pressed the drawing to her chest. When Jorge grabbed her again, Alma pushed him away. “I said talk, you childish boy.”
“I’ll tell my tia to fire you, Indian bitch.”
“Does your tia know what you do with yourself in the toilet? No? Sit down. We’ll be friends.”
Amazed at being talked to like that by an Indian servant, he limped away, swearing at her.
Two mornings later, the Señora shouted for Alma. Other workers giggled at the tone.
“Where did you hide the clock from my bedroom?”
“I wouldn’t want that clock, Señora. I don’t read such machines.”
“Where is it then?” the Señora demanded. “Nothing ever disappeared before. You will go to jail.”
Abruptly, Alma Rosa went out and sat on the ground. She had to keep her job. But she couldn’t think boxed in a house. Squinting, she looked at the bird lines made in the brilliant sky, then talked to Wixarika (Huichol) gods.
Eliazar hurried past Alma Rosa.
He told his cousin, “She can’t read a clock?”
“She’s an Indian.”
Then Alma said, “I know how to find that clock.”
“Of course you do,” the woman hissed.
Alma Rosa went directly into Jorge’s bedroom. He swore at her, then went silent as his father and tia entered.
“Where is your tia’s prettiest clock?” Alma Rosa demanded.
The boy stuttered.
“That ropero, boy?” Alma Rosa glared at Jorge’s mirrored closet.
The father pushed past. The closet’s bottom drawers were locked. Eliazar glared. The boy sullenly handed over the key. Don Eliazar pulled out dirty underwear and socks. At the bottom was the clock.
“How did you know it was here?” Zanida glared at Alma.
Realizing Wixarika truths wouldn’t work with such people, Alma lied. “I thought of where I would put this clock if I were a mischievous boy teasing his tia.”
Don Eliazar yanked his son to his feet. “Stop being a fool.”
Two months later, Alma saw Jorge saddling a horse for his father. He wasn’t ugly when he didn’t sneer. He nimbly cinched the saddle. Was there a grown up in there? Alma, corn shucks balanced on her head, went past the corral. She stared hard at Jorge.
He nodded. “My father says you work harder than all the others.”
Alma tipped off the corn shucks. “Then he should pay me more.” Jorge laughed.
Alma grabbed his arm as if she wanted to fight, “Give me a kiss, Mejicano!”
His breathing fluttered. “You really are a crazy Indian witch.”
“Pooph!” She nudged her leg behind his knees. “Sit.” She jumped, straddling his lap. “Now.” She licked his handsome eyes closed before he could speak. “You and I are going to be friends.”