[return to Contents Page]
The middle-aged English novelist, travelling in Mexico to gather material for his next book of stories, looks up from the bed where he lies reading as a key rattles loosely in the door of his hotel room. His traveling companion, a young American, comes into the room and sweeps one arm widely in gesture of introduction. “Et voila!” he says, and steps aside to reveal a Mexican boy of thirteen or fourteen years standing behind him in the hallway.
“Does he speak English?”
“Bring him closer.”
The older man notices that the undernourished stripling at the foot of the bed is wearing makeup in a futile attempt to hide some bruising on one cheek, but the light in the room seems to emphasize it. Curious, he reaches out to touch the damaged face.
“Does it hurt?”
“No, señor. Is OK.” The boy understands the gesture, and though his thin shoulders shake, he stands his ground while the older man brushes his long, dark hair away from his forehead and looks into his eyes. They are large and dark, the expression veiled, or void.
“Jesus,” the novelist thinks to himself. “Just like all the rest. I’ll never understand Mexico.”
Taking his cue, the young American heads out of the room, just glancing back from the door toward the bed. He is surprised to see the boy kneeling by it in prayer, while his employer, having made room on that side, looks on in fascination. Done his Aves, the boy quickly undresses and lies down on the edge of the bed, crossing himself as the door of the hotel room softly closes.
a tumbleweed rolls
into a dusty chapel
Inspired by an incident recorded in a biography of W. Somerset Maugham.