People I saw passing by

articles Living, Working, Retiring

Luis Dumois

The streetlamp on any street,
in any city, sees so many people passing by…
Alberto Cortez

I live now in this junkyard. It is not such a bad life. The open sky, the sun, the rain, and the beautiful starry nights of October are my faithful companions. Almost every morning, except when it is very cold, a swarm of small birds, which live in the nearby trees, jump and play, singing all the time, all around me. Besides, I serve as a burrow for a family of small lizards, and I am aware of the presence of more than one Queen in the ant’s nest that thrives not far from here.

Oh, but it was not always like this! In other times, I lived installed on a central, busy, and very beautiful corner of the city of Guadalajara, the Mexican Pearl of the West. Mounted on top of a bright yellow pole, my three eyes offered me a good panoramic view of my surroundings, and they served motorists and passers-by well, telling them when to cross the street and when to stop at the corner. In that way I prevented many accidents, although in the almost three years that I did that job, several drunkards, lunatics, or just plain idiots did not pay attention to my indications. Some of them ended in not a very happy manner, in the hospital or even in the graveyard.

Many people, on foot, by car, bicycle, motorcycle or calandria (horse-drawn carriage), I saw passing by my corner. More people and more vehicles everyday. And everybody always in such a hurry! God, when will this city stop growing? Why all this haste to arrive to… where? And they say Mexico City is a much bigger and agitated city than this one! That place must be an insane asylum.

Yes, I saw a lot of people passing by.

Indian women, all of them with that aloof dignity, so peculiar in them, with which they carry their poverty. I always liked to listen to their soft language, so full of musical and rhythmical sounds. Very young wives and mothers, with their little ones on their backs, the big, black eyes looming up from the pleats of the rebozo. Daughters from displaced families, driven out from their villages due to poverty and hunger.

Don’t think that I’m too well informed about the situation of the Mexican Indian, but some news I managed to read, every morning, from the papers that a boy, with his boring and monotonous chant, used to sell around my corner. (I don’t know why people are so eager to read the newspapers. In three years I was not able to spy almost any good news. Perhaps it is that decent people and normal things are not news anymore. Or ever were, for that matter.)

Vendors for a thousand trinkets. Automobile windshield cleaners, risking their lives among the passing cars, surprising the unaware drivers with their soaping sponges and dirty rags, in search of a couple of pesos to fill their belly. “Fireaters”, eyes lost in the horizon of the cheap drugs, tonsol, thinner inhaling, or high graduation alcohol, mixed in soft drink bottles. It is the only way for them to stand the mouthfuls of diesel oil they spit above them, surrounded by the fire cloud they produce to attract the attention of passers-by and motorists. Modern dragons, hunting not for knights-errant, nor for medieval ladies, but for some small change. Money to eat and to pay for their addictions.

Foreign tourists, speaking in foreign tongues, specially English. Some of my electronic entrails were manufactured in the United States – Made in USA-, so I understand the language. Well, more or less. Many times I surprised them saying bad things about Mexico and the Mexican people. That we are lazy, that we are dirty, that we are poor, that we are violent, that we are corrupt, that we are I don’t know what else. Why do they come here to visit us, if they dislike us so much? But I have to admit that many of them, truly citizens of the world, enjoyed everything Guadalajara has to give and offer. These last were always welcome among us.

Close to my corner a language school opened its doors. One day, a very well dressed lady was arguing with a nine to ten year old boy, who did not want, by any means, to attend his lessons. “Why do I have to learn English, mama, when gringos don’t even like us?” His mother, older and wiser, remarked to him, “Don’t say that, son. The majority of our neighbors are very good persons. You cannot condemn them along with the bad guys.”

Calandria
Calandria

Colorful calandrias, always full of tourists who still consider romantic that old transportation system. Poor horses, having to pull the entire day from those heavy carts, receiving in return nothing more than harsh words and whips on their backs! If sometimes I felt tempted to complain about the hot weather, or the traffic jams, or some dumb driver who crashed his or her vehicle against my pole, I remembered those patient fellows, only to forget about my own cross. If there is something worse in this city than to be a traffic light, this is to be a calandria’s horse.

With the nightfall almost everybody left, and the whores arrived. Many of them very young, they dressed with almost no clothes on, and showed much of what God had given them, in order to attract potential customers. The prejudices of a puritan society have always despised these good friends of mine. I bore witness, in those three years, to far worse sins than selling meat to make a living. They always treated me right, I have to say.

Along with the “sex workers”, only street boys and girls remained on the premises at that hour. Those same girls and boys who, during daylight, paint their faces, dance, jump in the air and do a thousand tricks to get some coins to survive. Survive, not only from hunger, but from the adults who control, feed on, and exploit them like slaves.

Thank God, the week has Sundays. And in my corner, located close to one of those beautiful little plazas in downtown Guadalajara, every Sunday was fiesta time: young ladies and girls neatly dressed and smelling like Heaven; gentleboys and gentlemen in elegant garments, cleaned up and courteous, surrounded by the voice of the church bells calling to Holy Mass. Ice cream vendors, candy sellers and occasional merchandisers calling out their goods. Silent mimes, white and eternally contorted faces; children running all over the place, their mothers yelling after them. Almost like in times gone by.

Until the day I went out of order. On a late afternoon, an old beggar was “working” the cars that, as usual, passed under my lights. The brand-new Mercedes, driven by a youngster accompanied by a very attractive señorita who seemed to be his girlfriend, stopped a few meters from my corner. Then the driver rolled an electric window down, and sticking a hand out from the car, offered a hundred pesos bill to the old woman. Seeing this, she rushed to the car. The automobile moved a few meters ahead. The woman trotted laboriously, chasing the bill, just to miss the vehicle, which was moving forward again. Bursts of laughter from inside the luxurious sports car framed the desperate efforts of the old beggar. And the game went on and on, until young couple, hand and bill, got lost in the distance.

A blind fury took over my control systems. Something broke inside me, and from that moment, in spite of the expert technicians who worked on me, I lost the capacity to turn my green and yellow lights on. Only my red eye kept shining in hot anger, mute witness to the macabre joke played by those two juniors.

Later, a gang of workers from the city came over. They unscrewed me from the floor of my corner, loaded me on a truck, and then threw me in this junkyard.

It is not such a bad life after all.

Luis A. Dumois N.
April, 1998

Published or Updated on: April 1, 1998 by Luis Dumois © 1998
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