Whan that Aprille

In Life, Religion, Travel on May 9, 2010 at 7:50 pm

There is a moment around the windy hill, just after the cotton candy and the papas fritas, after lying in the grass and peeing on the side of the road: and in that moment when your feet burn and your head bobs and you just about know you’ve lost a toenail to the moon – after wondering how far away is the moon – you get ok. A Frenchman is on your left and so is a boombox, a woman in dollar store shoes, trucks of the tired, trash. And you’re ok.

I went on pilgramage on the eve of Good Friday with 15,000 Central Highlanders. We came from Ambato and Salasaca and Pellileo, and we walked for seven hours in the night. We walked to Baños, town of the tourist traps and toffee tongues, gringas on the dance floor, men who wind candy in storefronts. Someone saw the Virgin Mary there once, and for 80 years, they’ve played memorial. I like to think the reason everyone shuffles 35 kilometers in the dark is this: in that split second before we know what we do, we do it. We breathe in the carts on the road – sugar cane juice, fried corn, shirts and chicken and candy galore. We watch women tilt forward. Their fingers loop around backpack strings, and we, too, urge each degree into a closer nose to finish.

Maybe when we’ve still got bad water in our stomachs and it still threatens to wring us like a dishrag, that split second of not knowing what we do has got to be God. God in the shadows, God in the cracks of the sidewalk, God in the cells of a person who’s pretty sure if there is a God, God’s best summed up in the joke on the back of a popsicle stick. Whatever it was, though, it did the trick; I had barely stood up in three days, and suddenly, arriving upon that teeming, closed-off Salasacan road, intending just to gawk and marvel, I was turning to my friends and saying, “me too.”
In the morning. In the morning, the clock strikes 4. It’s been six hours. We’ve made our way past the cemetery and waved at the girls lying on their stomachs on a canopy over a cauldron. The makeshift cart funneled the scent of chicken soup into the street. We’ve sat on a urine-licked curb, we’ve run down a hill. We’ve sung old Gershwin tunes; we’ve jumped out of the way of kids speeding past on boards on wheels. For six hours we’ve walked, and now we are sleeping heads on moving feet. When we pull off the road once more, we cradle fireworks into our eyes. Our legs leak. Our feet burn. But even tired machines run until they don’t. So when the French girl says, “one more mountain,” we run. Slowly.

~ I have to tell you the truth. I’ve had a ghost on my chest. I don’t know if I want to get rid of it. You play those sad songs enough, you get used to having them around. ~

But slowly up the mountain, over the bridge, between the trees, under the moon, in the river of tired flesh, I understand.

We’re a story. We’re lines in a book we will never see finished, in a tale that never began. We spend our whole lives adding to it, dotting one “i”, crossing one “t”, barring one “h” and we do it so badly so much of the time.

My mom tells a story. About a woman who got fat and old and lost her eyes and died alone. Who raised five children in a hard man’s home and set her fingers every day to sew. And you know what that woman said? “We were happy, we didn’t know any better.”

I am happy. I am happy around the windy curve; maybe I should know better; I definitely have. But right now, I am walking with my great-grandmother and she’s telling me how it is. How cracked feet and singed hair are my birthright. How her story is something she worked damn hard to make sure I would never know.

Walk with us. We’re going the same way. We’ve got different demons on our feet, and we’ve got our feet in different shoes, but our footsteps are all pressing into earth and leaving words behind. They lie there, breadcrumbs asleep in the ground. Let’s wake them all. Eat them all. Save them all.

Here is what I save – the sight of gas stations littered with sleeping bags and rows of feet-rubbing hands; bodies climbing up mountains to climb down – Here is what I eat – cotton candy on a stick, sugar funneling to numb toes, fuel to add another night to the history of the world – Here, here is what I wake, simply because I don’t know any better – Aprille with his shoure soote. Man, he’s fast. It’s all I can do to chase after him on his thick white rabbit legs, but I do, I run, kneel, crawl. And he leads me through regret and sickness and fear in those mountains and in those mountains, he fills my hands with a lucidity that leaks through the cracks and speaks in our voice, ‘We are happy; we don’t know any better.’”

God, Aprille, split seconds, and the women I never met. Thank you. Your story has been told. And lived again.


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