While many were still celebrating Dia de la Virgin de Guadalupe, and cranking up new Christmas posadas, Nemisio Rosales and I were looking for a bull calf that had knocked down fencing to seek new adventures. It was lucky to be calf hunting when Christmas was distracting possible rustlers.
Concha Rosales, about to turn 15, was trailing us. She’d taken a liking to the bull calf. This made Rosales family adults twitchy because that calf was meant to be a surprise present for Concha.
Nesio rode over to apply some deft persuasion, and she started back home. I’d replanted a tilted fence post, and, as Nesio rode through, hammered in four U-shaped nails, re-tightening the wire fencing.
“She knows, doesn’t she?” I said.
“She too damned bright.”
We were just coming up to a clot of trees when a city Mexican appeared. At that time only a city Mexican would dress in such a clownish way. Besides, his accent labeled him as a stranger.
“Buenos dias,” called this person decked out in a baseball cap, T-shirt advertising the Chicago Bulls, wide-legged shorts flapping above knobby knees, and large Nike running shoes. Though he was in athletic wear, it seemed unlikely he engaged in any sport proficiently. He was panting halfway up a slight incline.
Nesio squinted at the man from beneath an ancient slope-crowned Sahuayo sombrero and spat. His faded shirt sported a barbed-wire tear across one shoulder, his pants cuffs were stained with cow manure and his huaraches had turned black long ago from hard use.
The stranger immediately began asking questions — about caves in the mountain rising above us, about the trails to get to them, about the possibility of finding pre-Columbian artifacts. Nesio pulled his mount to a halt under the shade of a large Gaumuchil tree as the man continued to talk.
“No,” said Nesio, when the stranger finally paused. “I’m looking for my damn bull-calf that ran off.”
The stranger did not respond to this abrupt answer to his hail of prying questions. He turned to me. “And you, Señor?” the stranger said, “You are from los Estados Unidos?”
“He doesn’t speak a word of Spanish, Señor,” Nesio told him, inventing a new handicap for me. Then added a much larger one. “He speaks no tongue at all. He is deaf and dumb.”
“Really,” the man said, doubtfully.
“Si. He goes to the deaf school they have in the pueblo down there, but he hasn’t learned a thing.” Nesio looked at me, shaking his head.
“But I heard you talking as I came up the trail just now.”
“Oh, I was, Señor, You know how boring it is to be around a gringo who can’t speak Spanish? Well, being around one who doesn’t talk at all molests one even more.”
Soon, the stranger began asking about artifacts and caves again.
“Pos, Señor, I know of no such things. Only people who read many books about those rare cosas do. It is the way with this gringo sordo-mudo. Such people read too many books and become excitable. So much reading gives them weak eyes. They have very few children, eat only sliced bread and prefer shrunken cabbages from Europe to healthy Mexican frijoles and chiles.” I had once hastily explained what Brussels sprouts were to Nesio — shrunken cabbages.
The man in skirt-like shorts blinked. Then quickly mentioned that he’d heard of a professor of archaeology who had once visited our area.
“Si.” Nesio gave nod of false recognition. “A professor with one pale eye and one dark one, no? He had a hard time finding any one to talk to. Such a rare affliction can be good fortune or bad, they say. Bad for him. He fell into a hole Nacho Castro was digging for an aljibe and broke his back. He soon died in one of those new city hospitals, people said.
“According to people here, his evil eye saw something mysterious at the wrong moment.” Nesio kicked his horse. “Con su permiso, Señor. We have to look for that damn calf.”
“A sordo mudo?” I said as we rode off.
“Well, everybody knows you read too many books.” Nesio laughed and called “Feliz Navidad” back at the city Mexican still staring after us.
“He’s lost,” I said. “He doesn’t know how lucky he is we weren’t rustlers looking for trouble.”
“He doesn’t know that yet,” Nesio said.
“Is that his Christmas present?”
No,” said Nesio. “That could be his Christmas problem.”