Shared Highways

Two brown bodies bathed in sweat under a mosquito net. For the army of mosquitoes, this is no barrier. We are in their bungalow and we are presenting ourselves in the way they want us: naked.

I’m breathing the sweat that runs through his dreads and falls from his forehead. I can hear the fervent sound of the waves through the dried palm-tree leaves, as if the sea wanted to reach me and devour my feet. Too late. He’s stealing every inch of me with every movement of his hips, while the mosquitoes invade my skin pores.

I have become a serial killer. My gaze is like a radar following the trace of the bloodsucking long-legged fly, and my hands are my natural weapon, designed to inflict pain with each clap. A clap that once in a while squeezes the insignificant insect and returns to my skin the blood that makes me alive, but now lays dry on my palm. Extinction will never come to them.

He makes me forget my occasional opponent. He interrupts my heavy breathing with his kisses to silence me. There are people outside. His artisan hand covers my non-apologetic mouth; people are talking under us, inside the two-floors bungalow.

It feels like a movie scene, or a paragraph of a story. It’s a story in the making with an end I didn’t plan.

                                 ***

It was the stereotypical Friday night. The craft market was at its peak since it was the last weekend of the Guelaguetza, an annual cultural event that takes place in Oaxaca, Mexico. After helping my friend the whole day to sell traditional jewelry and clothing from the isthmus of Tehuantepec, I left the stand for a few minutes and went for a walk. I was particularly looking for a colorful handwoven bracelet.

-“Amiga, you can try it on if you want,” said the guy behind the table covered with a black velvet  mat and dozens of bracelets.

-“Thanks, I’m just looking,” I said like any other tourist.

He continued talking, but I couldn’t pay attention. Someone was looking at me, and I wanted to look back at him.

-“Where are you from? Mexico City or Guadalajara?”

-“I’m from Monterrey.”

He introduced himself, asked me out, and then I said cordially I had to go. I’ve never known how to reject invitations without looking arrogant.

I turned 45 degrees to the left, and he was there. Standing, listening to our conversation.

-“Nice meeting you,” I said while shaking his hand as I prepared to leave the stand. I didn’t even ask for his name.

-“What’s your name?” he asked while his honey-like eyes intimidated me like a fifteen-year-old girl. “What do you do?”

It’s still blurry what happened after that. I remember answering a couple of questions. And then, I walked away, regretting cutting the conversation short so fast.

***

When his lips touched my lips the next day I knew I was starting a game I didn’t want to play anymore. I’ve never controlled my passions, and this was supposedly the opportunity to test myself. Next time. I let him carry on with what we started when I shook his hand the night before.

I would go down the market hall a few times a day. My excuses were two related basic needs: drinking water and going to the restroom. This was no easy task since I needed to do it quickly because the stand was left alone.

While I jogged down, I passed groups of potential buyers. I couldn’t risk to lose them. The sell was low. Vendors and artisans complained daily; there were many lookers but not buyers. I needed to reach my self-established quota.

Yet, I continued doing my down-the-hall trips so I could have a three-minute conversation with him each time. He was usually sitting behind his table doing a pair of earrings with wire or crimping some precious stone. I would sit down next to him trying to read all the story of his life in a second. “How much for this?” someone would ask and interrupt our hunger. We wanted to devour time to vindicate that we were meant to be together.  It wasn’t love at first sight, though. It was something else, unintelligible, designed to feel it in our genes, as if we had shared moments in a past we didn’t experience in this life.  It didn’t make sense. Our story was ending when it had just started.

***

It is a natural pain you never get used to. Every time you feel it, you promise to not let yourself feel it again. Then, he’s there, standing in front of you with a gaze that announces the dawn of the pain. You and him, two strangers made up of fears and illusions ready to live whatever life brings. It’s so erratic, temporary, draining, that after he’s gone you’re still thinking of knocking on his door. You are not ready to see the empty room, sign of his absence. You walk through the streets that you both strolled between kisses and caresses thinking if after passing the temple and climbing the hill his presence will still exist in that room. He didn’t announce his departure, but neither his arrival. And just how your paths crossed, you continue your way, testing if destiny will reunite you again.

***

The breeze of the morning was already far away, hiding in the mountains behind the postcard-perfect colonial church. The sun was right above us, trying to wake us up with its incandescent rays that felt more like lenient touches. He once told me that he had asked the Sun for something, and that was me. I remember laughing nervously, intimated by the intensity, and cheesiness, of the confession.

I opened my eyes and saw our exhausted bodies lying on our backpacks outside of the church, perpendicular to the bell tower. I listened to the man selling tacos, repeating the same phrase every minute with all his heart. You could sense his need to sell the meat that was already spending too much time on the heat. I could also hear the clash of the fans of the women in the market trying to scare the flies away from the fresh fruit or meat. And the mototaxis, the trucks, people passing by, and him. I memorized the form of his face with my fingers, saved his smell in my senses, and recorded his breathing with my ears. It was time to go, and with each step, our end was closer.

We arrived to the town up in the mountains where people only go to eat hallucinogenic mushrooms, sacred mediums created to connect with something beyond us, but destroyed by curiosity and tourism. I think we were the only visitors looking for something else.

As we continued walking up hill, leaving the rest of the cordillera behind, the ice-cream man was standing right under the sun, challenging the heat with the coconut and strawberry ice cream. His face was marked by life and routine. Every day he wakes up and goes out to sell ice cream, hill after hill. Only two flavors: coconut and strawberry. We bought a six pesos cone and ate it in silence, enjoying the sudden glee that only ice cream can bring, and forgetting the fear of future pain.

Memories of banalities we shared draw a smirk on my face when I think of his absence.

***

I knew it was our last night. The fears suddenly appeared to remind us that we weren’t meant to be together. We couldn’t understand why we desired each other so much but then we repelled each other…so much.

-“I’ve been having presentiments. I feel like someone talks to me,” I said hesitantly, afraid of him thinking I was crazy. “I don’t know how to put it into words, though.”

-“That’s your problem, you don’t have to put it into words but feelings,” he said a little bit mad. “I hate when people are not loyal to their gifts.”

He was 16 when the doctors prescribed him pills so he would stop feeling “weird” at night and stop seeing things, such as his body lying on his bed. He knew they were wrong. There was nothing wrong in feeling what others didn’t feel and seeing what others didn’t want to see.

***

I was 22 when I was about to lose it. I ripped the pages of books; Chomsky’s theories looked more like isolated thoughts and Márquez’s sentences of love were mere words lacking ownership. I hit my head with my hands to stop thinking and scratched my chest to stop feeling that pounding pain. I didn’t want to feel anymore. Feeling was torture.

I would walk through the streets, and feel the pain and solitude of every body that passed me by. I admired the man on the subway talking “alone,” or the crazy on the street proclaiming his existence, talking nonsense. I wanted to be like them, but I was not allowed. I had no courage. That day, I felt close to it.

The snowstorm was reaching its climax, and my balcony was more like an enormous mountain covered by grey snow. I opened the door longing for feeling. I couldn’t sense anything anymore; the crispy air nor the snowflakes landing on my death skin. I’d have to quit their world and sanity to feel again. I couldn’t afford it.

***

Now, I was here where mountains replaced skyscrapers. Back to my roots, in need of feeling again, yet unable to awake that part of myself. Too scared, too dead.

The town in the mountains and the beach were left behind. Confessions of insanities and fears turned everything black. We had just met, and he was not willing to share more with me. We drained ourselves with our conversation, and passed out, or so we pretended. His feet in front of my face, and my feet in front of his head. Opposite bodies turned around, distancing themselves with each breath.

It was our last night and our bodies were not hugging. We were not ready to succumb, to let time play with us and our hearts. Two walkers with divergent paths who were looking to exist, but only their way, without suffering and alone. Existence has never been so futile.

I woke up in the middle of the night to hug him. I knew we were cutting our time short. It was time to go. I kissed his wide lips and photographed the brief moment.

“See you later,” he said as I walked away.

I can still hear in my mind the bang of the metal door while the open sky stands right in front of me.