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The Christmas Bus

ISSUE:  Winter 2000

The shooting of the victim taken off the Transportes del Norte bus there in the desert didn’t get much attention. It might have attracted more coverage in the Mexican papers if there hadn’t been the trouble in Chiapas the previous day. But Chiapas and the latest flareup of the endless fighting in the south had been the big story—the government itself was blamed for the paramilitary thugs going into the village for the massacre. That filled the papers, all of the television, and, of course, there was the tragedy of it coming at Christmastime too.

Actually, because it was the day before Christmas this bus had been added on the route. It was supposed to be a six-hour trip: starting from the terminal in Monterrey; then over the wall of chocolate mountains to Saltillo and going south and into the cactus flats proper, all orange sand and spiked aqua skeletons of Joshua trees; then on to stop at Zacatecas and, finally, to Aguascalientes below that. The regularly scheduled bus was a sleek, stainless-steel monster with video monitors, which inevitably and blaringly showed old Whoopi Goldberg or Steven Seagal movies that nobody really cared about, anyway, dubbed in Spanish, but that bus was completely booked by noontime the day before. Which was fine with Theresa Lopez. She was on her way to visit her son who was in the Mexican federal prison in Zacatecas, and she considered it almost a stroke of good luck that even if this particular added bus was older and not in the best condition for primero clase, it didn’t have those truly terrible TV screens suspended from the ceiling every six rows or so.

Theresa Lopez was tired from her journey, all the way from Chicago. She hated all that video noise and she was glad to be able to get some sleep.

The fact that he had been called in at the last minute to drive this bus pleased Hugo Sencillo. He told himself just that as he wrestled the wheel of the ark, a 1972 GMC with riveted brown-and-buff sides and not all that much power assist from the compressor for the steering and the brakes. But Hugo Sencillo had driven enough of these old GMC’s to know their quirks. Hugo Sencillo also knew that there was a good chance that the two girls would be there at the roadside restaurant outside of the village of Conception. Granting he was an even 50, Hugo Sencillo prided himself on how full and black his head of pomaded hair remained, the mustache too. He fancied he looked as manly as a ranking military officer in the gray twill uniform (short-jacketed; green epaulettes) of the Transportes del Norte, a big-chested man, and what did it matter if he wasn’t back in his native Mexico City for Christmas? He would eventually be there for Little Christmas, a week or so later, and Little Christmas was when presents were given and all that mattered, really, to his complaining wife and four grown sons with their own children now. And for the moment there was something better to think about, yes, the two teenage girls and a couple of days with them in the Hotel de la Condesa in Zacatecas. The bus fumed its diesel exhaust into the brightening morning as he worked through the traffic and past the colonias of cinderblock shacks that spread on either side of the road leading out of Monterrey, to the main highway to Saltillo.

The bus terminal at Saltillo was jammed, with a festive mood, nevertheless, because the next day was indeed Christmas. The sun was strong now, and the bus growled in and out of the asphalt lot with its bays. There was a row of stuccoed cheap-hotel buildings and cantinas, such bright pastels, across from the station. At the corner of the sidestreet leading back to the highway, the vendors had set up their rickety stalls for coffee and gorditas, the grills smoking, and the ragged peanut sellers waited at the corners for just the right bus driver, one who for a few pesos would let you board and try to hawk your dusty wares for a few dusty blocks, before hopping out again when a stop at another intersection allowed it. There was maybe something very beautiful about a particular scene in the honey sunshine—something about the way that on a dirt sidewalk a campesino in his best Stetson was drawing a small crowd with the bleating goats he had brought into the town to sell for the next day’s feast. The creatures with their glossy brown coats or glossy black-and-white coats were roped together, legs tied, so they lined up flat on the dirt with their bellies and snouts down, like so many little rugs; the campesino was feeding a loosened one from his hand, maybe some peanuts, and it could have been a happy puppy as it jumped against his leg in the morning’s freshness, frost still on the old pickup trucks parked in the shade. (Though in a few hours this baby goat too would be butchered, prepared for the Christmas table. In other words, maybe death was already very much in the day.) The traffic was bad on the road just before the highway at the edge of town. The bus driver had already taken on extra people back at the Saltillo terminal, whole families who were now standing up and groping for balance in the aisle, and when he stopped a second time on this road to pick up another few people hauling suitcases and plastic tote bags bulging, a little rebellion of sorts began.

Because Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon didn’t like this in the least.

First, he didn’t like how the Transportes del Norte had added this junk of a bus and passed it off as primera clase. Secondly, he didn’t like how this noisy oaf of a bus driver (he had been ordering people around during the loading of luggage back in Monterrey) was now taking on any passengers who managed to flag down the bus, entire families with screaming children and seemingly half of what they owned lugged up the worn-shiny steps and heaped high now in the aisle. He knew how this game worked, and if the ticket vendor back in Saltillo terminal had pocketed what he could by selling the extra tickets to those who boarded the already-full bus there, he could plainly see how the bus driver was now taking in the paw of his hand held out under the giant white-plastic wheel whatever he could, certainly the bulk of it going into his own pocket and never finding its way back to the Transportes del Norte till. Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon was married into a very old Zacatecas family whose money had originally been amassed in the city’s famous silver mines. He had been in Monterrey for three days doing business with the banks on behalf of his father-in-law, who still controlled the family’s wealth, now invested mostly in ranches. Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon some-times found the primero clase bus more comfortable than driving his own Jaguar to Monterrey and back, but he had expected a good bus, with a good American movie to relax with, and not this rattling contraption plus a situation that was fast rendering it nothing short of a cattle car. He looked at his watch again to see that after being an hour late in leaving Monterrey, they had by this point lost almost another hour with the traffic heavy in and out of Saltillo. And now this ridiculous business of picking up every ragged ranchhand, or even more ragged Indian, with a family along the way.

The bus squealed to a shivering stop still another time, and still another time it opened the doors for a new load. In his seat on the aisle, Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon was jostled and jammed, and when the big, barrel-chested bus driver stood up growlingly to tell those standing to move back, for everybody else to make room, too, Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon could take no more.

“Señor. Señor, un momento, por favor,” he called.

“Señor?” The bus driver responded with bushy eyebrows raised.

Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon told the bus driver that he was concerned. He didn’t say that he was entirely uncomfortable with the extra passengers. And he didn’t say that he would be entirely late in getting to Zacatecas this afternoon and doing what he had to do at his office, then rushing around to take care of some errands in time for medianoche mass and the big celebratory dinner later that night with his wife and two fine boys and all of the relatives and in-laws at the house in town; they would go out to his father-in-law’s ranch tomorrow, Christmas day. What he did tell the bus driver was that it was “muy peligroso” to have this many people on any bus, and this was how too many “accidentes trágicos” happened on the highways in buses, he knew. When he had finished delivering his little impromptu speech, there was silence on the bus, and Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon, smelling of Yardley’s aftershave (he liked so many things British), watched as the beetle-browed bus driver first simply scowled at him, that gruffness shown earlier during the luggage loading. Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon wasn’t sure if the brute was going to challenge him on this, another example of the rampant uppitiness from inferiors lately. But when the bus driver did finally respond, he offered what might be taken as an apology, if only to say, quite firmly, nevertheless, that he had no choice and he had been told by the company, Transportes del Norte, to pick up everybody on this particular run. He said this was a bus added to the regular schedule, and this was the day before Christmas when so many were traveling.

There soon was chatter and even some laughing from the other passengers. But Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon didn’t know if the laughter was for the bus driver, almost the parody of a no-nonsense ship captain wielding his utter authority for the duration of the “voyage,” or if it was for him, Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon. So, to maybe win support, Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon leaned over to speak to the young man across the aisle—he wanted to make sure that somebody understood the point he was trying to make. He had heard this young man speaking very good English with a couple of gringos at the convenience shop at the Monterrey bus terminal. The gringos had serious hiking gear and were buying purified water, and Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon was looking at the newspapers there; the athletic young man was smiling, nodding to everybody, even joking in English to the cute, big-eyed girl behind the counter how when it came to the gringos, “You better check these boys’ green cards.” It was a line she apparently understood, seeing everybody in a large northern city like Monterrey seemed to have some degree of English. She laughed, the gringos laughed too. Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon now told the young man that it was true, he had read of just such a terrible accident due to overcrowding on a bus occurring a month before somewhere near Guadalajara. The young man nodded, smiled his handsome dimpled grin.

Though the young man really wanted to tell this businessman what surely everybody else wanted to tell him—as the driver had said, it is Christmas, man, and you certainly can put up with the crowding for a little while, a few hours, and think about the torture for the rest of us having to inhale that ridiculous flower water you seem to have taken a bath in. Madre de Dios!

This was Eduardo “The Cat” Martinez. Or, more exactly, that was the name his self-appointed manager, Deke from the gym in Lake Charles, Louisiana, came up with for him. Because a name was needed when it became certain that the boxer was going to be flown to the casino on the Indian reservation in Connecticut for a UBA preliminary light-middleweight event, which would be televised on HBO, no less. Eduardo Martinez was 25. He had lived in Louisiana for seven years now, married to an American girl and working carpentry for Mr. Duval, and Mr. Duval was actually proud that his employee had a big fight at last and had to miss a few days with the crew, to go off to the Indian reservation that weekend. Up there in a state called Connecticut, it was a whole other world, all right— there was the sheer friendliness of the people at the airport in Providence in the state called Rhode Island, which he flew into, and there was the sheer more exuberant friendliness of everybody at the casino; it rose almost like a glittering Lost World there amid the fog-enshrouded forest of bright October trees. Eduardo “The Cat” Martinez lasted six rounds with the true contender, who, actually, didn’t seem all that much faster or stronger than the lads he had boxed with on the Lousiana/Texas circuit. And what did he care if he had heard at least two of the organizers up there speak of him as a “palooka” (“Where’s the palooka?” from one, and “I guess he’s the palooka,” from another), because Eduardo Martinez had the tape now to show his grandparents in Aguascalientes. They had raised him. He hadn’t seen them for years now, and as the bus continued on in the glaring noontime sunshine, he told himself that his grandfather would like that tape and surely somebody in their neighborhood was bound to have a VCR on which to watch it.

Eduardo Martinez with that dimpled smile that would make you think he was anything but a boxer, with a new baseball cap and good jeans and good Nike sneakers (all of which made him look more like a neat American fraternity boy than anything else), Eduardo Martinez had to admit that he got a kick out of that confrontation between the bigshot businessman and the trying-to-be-a-bigshot bus driver with his swaggering manliness—the whole thing was so much, and so typically, Mexico.

Where he was glad to be again, if only for a few days.

The worn tires of the Transportes del Norte bus sang along the satiny black asphalt of the empty two-lane. The day had warmed enough for some of the passengers in the packed compartment to have shoved open the windows a bit, the tinge of exhaust sweet and welcoming in the air.

And this was indeed the desert in earnest. If clawed mesquite bushes dripped with litter and plastic bags, shredded, along the highway just outside a big city like Monterrey or a smaller town like Aguascalientes, even decorated the mesquite the same way surrounding Mexico City itself, here in the desert there was only the orange sand, and there were only the flats of shaggy-trunked Joshua trees bursting their spiky aqua stars on top; there were only the purple mountains far, far in the distance, the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental on one side and the Sierra Madre Oriental on the other, two walls of the universe—or at least two walls high enough to sandwich the essential lostness of the sheer expanse of this kind of nothing. The posts for the haphazard wire fencing beside the two-lane put up by the government were not real posts whatsoever, just crooked, dreamlike black limbs of dead Joshua, as squiggled as driftwood, and the sky was so big and so blue that it looked concrete in its intensity. This high up, about a mile into the thinning oxygen, the mandatory vultures with their obscene red turkey heads (another easy suggestion of death waiting, more obvious than the little goats back at the Saltillo terminal about to be slaughtered?), vultures at this altitude appeared to glide more slowly, cruise and endlessly cruise in wider circles than they did anywhere else.

Having woken from her sleep, Theresa Lopez from Chicago, on her way to Zacatecas to visit her son in the federal prison there, looked at the desert outside.

She told herself that she had been wise to bring the electric blanket, because it would be cold at night in Zacatecas. She told herself too that there actually had been a time when she thought that her son, Kiko, would turn into anything but a gopher for the narcotrafficantes. And there in Chicago as a kid didn’t Kiko win the prize at the seventh-grade science fair? She could still see the crazy plaster-of-paris volcano he rigged up, a three-foot-high pyramid fed by a bicycle pump attached to a plastic bottle that he loaded with oozing red tomato juice for the eruption, a contraption he built by himself. Which was why Mr. Kells, a teacher and the final judge, said that he gave him the second prize, and what that Mr. Kells, of the owl eyes behind his hornrimmed glasses, admired was that Kiko had built the thing entirely by himself, so it wasn’t just a project done by a father, some complicated computer experiment or the like, as most of the projects were. Though hearing such from Mr. Kells did break Theresa Lopez’s heart—because of course Kiko did it himself, because of course she had raised him without a father, her sister helping out so she, Theresa Lopez, could keep her good job as an LPN for all those years at the hospital of the University of Chicago. But she shouldn’t blame herself, she knew, and it was the gang that had caused all the problems for Kiko the first time when he was sent to the Youth Detention Center in downstate Illinois for two years, well before this current sentence of four years after the arrest in Acapulco, the result of more work for the gang, as well. But, on the other hand, Kiko was only 33 years old now, and in a sense he was lucky to be in a relatively comfortable prison in a rich city like Zacatecas, where the inmates themselves all thanked their ultimate good fortune for that. He had promised her, Theresa Lopez, that he had certainly learned his lesson this time; he said that when he returned to Chicago there wouldn’t be any more trouble, and . . .Theresa Lopez half-dozed again, and in the dream she carried that shred of memory of a few moments before into a scene of her somehow coming upon her son with some of the other inmates in what passed as the prison lounge she knew so well in Zacatecas, and her son, Kiko, a grown man of 33 years old, was demonstrating for the other inmates there exactly how that science fair project of the volcano spouting tomato juice worked, and the tough men watched with interest and amazement, because . . .and then she came out of that half-sleep, out of the dream. The bus swerved to the shoulder at another crossroads of a rutted caliche way intersecting at perfect right angles with the two-lane highway, a few adobe houses golden in the day; one family that had been standing in the aisle got off, and then two more families got on. Theresa Lopez offered to take the baby of the heavyset Indian woman who had now been pushed back this far in the jammed bus, and the woman, smiling, was appreciative of the help, seeing she had three other children to tend to and also a husband who seemed interested only in gazing out the window at the Joshua trees, as if it were work he had to do. “Muy linda,” Theresa Lopez said. “Si,” the Indian woman told her.

Holding the baby, Theresa Lopez didn’t know what to make of that dream. She rocked the baby some, cooed to it.

At the wheel of the bus, overtaking another fume-breathing diesel truck loaded high with a pile of new cinderblocks, tromping the accelerator hard, Hugo Sencillo was almost as surprised as anybody else that the GMC packed the huffing punch to get him back on his side of the road again before another truck charged at him from the opposite direction. He told himself that he had handled that situation with the maricón of a perfume-smelling businessman well. Actually, Hugo Sencillo, in a way, wished that he had already stopped at the roadside place outside of Conception to pick up the waiting girls, so they too could have seen it. He wished he had already taken his time with a full hot lunch there, which he planned to do, already sat around with the girls for a long while as he relaxed and made everybody on the bus—or, specifically, that businessman—wait until he was finally ready to resume the journey. Another driver, Pedro, had assured him that the girls would be there, and Pedro had spent a lot of time with the pair. Hugo Sencillo had once run into Pedro with the two of them on Calle Armando Nervo in Monterrey, after Pedro himself had picked them up while working a route on the other side of the cordillera, coming up to Saltillo and into Monterrey that way. Hugo Sencillo pictured them from that day. There was the skinny one with crinkly and loose auburn hair, little rectangular sunglasses showing purple lenses and a bum in satiny yellow slacks that you could cup in the palm of your hand, and there was the plumper one who was probably more to Hugo Sencillo’s taste, if truth be known, with short black hair cut in a single wing almost to her giant dark doll’s eyes and a tiny gold stud on one side of her button nose, a pink sweater nicely packing in her topheaviness. They were prostitutes, but they were not common prostitutes. They liked bus drivers from Transportes del Norte, Pedro said to him, though Pedro added that Hugo Sencillo better be willing to spend money on them. Pedro had told him that just the day before, and Hugo Sencillo assured him he would spend money, all right. He said that he would have a whole two days to kill in Zacatecas, after looping the bus back there from Aguascalientes and turning it over to another driver who would bring back the junk, probably empty, to the terminal yards in Monterrey, where it might sit for another six months before being put into service again.

“They like a good time,” Pedro had said.

“I will take them to the Hotel de la Condesa,” Hugo Sencillo told him. “And I will buy them drinks at that best disco by the cathedral, La Mina.”

“Cabrón!” Pedro gave him acknowledgment with the usual clenched fist thrust into the air. “Cabrón!” He repeated it.

“Muy cabrón,” Hugo Sencillo answered him, the same signal of the first offered. “Muy cabrón!”

The bus sped on. And Hugo Sencillo wasn’t going to allow for any doubt, and while he might have explained the situation to that businessman, tried to keep things smooth, he knew he had maintained his maniliness throughout it all, had been firm. Why, hadn’t that good-looking kid back there, the smiling one in the neat clothes of a gringo, told the businessman afterwards, “Es verdad, hombre,” saying what else could a bus driver do but take on everybody who needed to arrive somewhere, somehow, this day before Christmas.

Then Hugo Sencillo saw the man on the horse.

Actually, anybody who saw it from a distance like that would have been taken by both the frightening madness as well as the almost mesmerizing essence of it—the substance of a dream not quite remembered but because of that more substantial, deeper, than anything in simple memory, in the simple everyday.

Because, as the bus started to slow to let off a family of campesinos amid the half-hearted buildup of a few more adobe houses at another intersection of a caliche road with the highway, also approaching the intersection itself on the road was a man atop a galloping horse. The man wore a filthy winter-padded nylon jacket and a frayed straw sombrero, and the horse was a shaggily unkempt chestnut stallion, its hooves wildly drumming over the road and kicking up, true, somehow lovely clouds of dust that might have been magician’s smoke, billowing. He rode with complete abandon, bouncing high, and he reminded one of those old brown-and-white lithographs that depicted Villa himself on the charge and recklessly conquering.

The enormous blue sky; the mountains that chocolate hue in the distance. It was very much like a dream.

The rider, his legs splayed in the stirrups in what was surely an odd, ancient gallop, sped on toward the intersection.

Everybody seemed to have a different story as to exactly what did happen to give to the police who showed later. And a national officer, a federale, came after that to attempt to sort out everything.

It seemed that the rider, thoroughly borracho, had expected somebody to be arriving on the bus, had come there to meet a man or a woman, that part was never entirely clear. Right from the beginning he was yelling, off the horse and then climbing up the steps of the bus, after the family of campesinos—with all their bags and boxes—had gotten off. Everybody on the bus did agree that the hombre, unshaven, was so rank with maguey that to light up a cigarette near him might be an invitation for an orange detonation of flames, a booming explosion in itself. They agreed that he had pushed his way right onto the the bus before the driver, Hugo Sencillo, could intercept him. And before Hugo Sencillo even got out of the seat, before he wriggled from that cramped front compartment with the religious card of the Virgen de Guadalupe, stars all about her and left by who knows what other former driver on the bus as a little makeshift altar, the drunk, raving man had slapped the pistol’s nose flat on the pomaded hair atop Hugo Sencillo’s head, then proceeded to move down the aisle.

“Todas ustedes son mentirosos!” he shouted, “You are all liars!” and possibly in his own momentary dementia he did believe that somebody in what amounted to the crowd was actually hiding whoever it was he was looking for, “Todos, todos, mentirosos!”

He waved the pistol wildly. He started picking out people to take off the bus. He pointed at Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon maybe because Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon was visibly quivering and, after all, he did look much more prosperous than anybody else on that bus. He pointed to Theresa Lopez because she tried to talk with him, reason with him, in a motherly way, and possibly she did want to believe that if somebody had shown more love to her own son, Kiko, in prison, he would not have turned out the way he had, he could have been saved at any moment along the way. Bleeding, standing now and the red running in a squiggle down his forehead, the driver Hugo Sencillo had managed to regroup, had managed to at least try to impose some order on this mayhem and intercept the contingent coming down the aisle—and at gunpoint he too was told to get off the bus. The man herded them outside. Meanwhile, as soon as Eduardo “The Cat” Martinez realized how dangerous this was (at first he had seen it more as comedy, the happy craziness of his beloved Mexico he had been away from for so long), as soon as he saw the horror of it, he shoved his way through the aisle and jumped down the steps of the bus himself. Where the stubbled, leathery-necked, wild-eyed man in the filthy gold nylon jacket and straw sombrero walked right up to him, placed the blue metal pipe of the pistol to his head, and ordered him, through yellowed teeth, to stand with the rest of them there in front of the luggage compartment door. The man raved and raved about lying in general, and how he was tired of it. And he was so carried away with the shouting that he obviously didn’t see what everybody on the bus later agreed they had indeed seen.

An old man, who apparently lived in one of the bleached adobe houses under that enormous blue sky, came slowly, very cautiously, out of the lean-to garage attached to the house. (He had a little setup there for minor auto repairs, mostly fixing tire punctures, and he got maybe two or three cars a week during the summer when it turned scorchingly hot and tires so easily popped.) The skinny old man wore a salvaged, too-big Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt, and he, upon questioning later, had to admit that while he had lived there just about all of his life, he himself didn’t know who the pistolero was, from what ranch he came or from what lost mountain village, to gallop up on a horse that day and expect somebody he knew to be on that bus the afternoon before Christmas. The old man stopped, cautiously, when he saw the gun, and he said later he wished that he had never even noticed the commotion, never even abandoned work on a carburetor in that garage and come out to see what was happening at the bus. But such rewinding of time, looking back on the situation, really had nothing to do with a bus traveling and packed with people all going somewhere for Christmas, thinking only of that somewhere, the other place where they had to be. It was almost as if there was absolutely no time for death and they were in a way beyond it, because on the day before Christmas everything was more a matter of that future in which they would be soon enough. And how could Eduardo “The Cat” Martinez be the one who would be shot and instantly killed? He was so young and so fit from working hours and hours in the gym, and he had to show his grandfather the HBO tape of his fight in Connecticut. And possibly Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon was too rich to be killed, and what would his wife do, how would she explain it, if he wasn’t there with the army of relatives and in-laws for the big feast after medianoche mass that night? As for Theresa Lopez, it would seem that love alone should save her, with her concern and hard work as she had tried to give her son everything she could, to keep on trying to do it now, in this journeying so far from Chicago to visit him there in Zacatecas. And the poor boy even at 33 needed her at the prison to visit him tomorrow (a prison that, in truth, wasn’t entirely uncomfortable, and the boys had microwaves and tape decks and plenty of good food, all brought to them by loved ones), and tomorrow she would make him promise again, she had told herself earlier, that he would return directly to Chicago after his release next year, he would take a job, any real work, even unloading boxes on a shipping dock for minimum wage, and he would never, no, never, become involved with those worthless pachucos from the old gang— she couldn’t be the one to die, because she had to be there to help him, to assure him, to love him, or he would never have a chance. And the driver, Hugo Sencillo? Death for him, it could be argued, was simply out of the question. For him to be shot, left lying in that roadside gravel next to the bus in the middle of the desert, might be the most farfetched proposition of all. Hugo Sencillo for the last day or so hadn’t been in the present, the reported here and now, and for all intents and purposes he just couldn’t end life at this particular moment. What with the two teenage prostitutes waiting for him at the roadside stop only 50 kilometres down the highway, Hugo Sencillo was already, somehow, in an oversized sagging bed in the Hotel de la Condesa in Zacatecas with the pair, the glow of lamplight on their flesh golden, the entwining limbs and the sweet fragrance of girls’ hair coconutty, let’s say, from the morning’s shampoo. In other words, the whole situation wasn’t simple, and if time was to be played with, the trick might be not to go back in it as the old man had later talked of wishing to do, but to jump forward from the entire absurd situation of this genuinely bad dream of a bus ride in a brown-and-buff GMC clunker, just a matter of slipping past this particular snag in the scenario that somehow had produced a madman with a pistol, drunk, which made no sense to begin with. And, again, you really couldn’t pick one who the tragedy should befall.

They could have been a little family. Sure, a family assembled for a snapshot, as the pistolero kept them lined up in front of him there. He stood, still talking his nonsense and still waving the gun that flashed its haunting blue through the air. Others looked out the windows from inside the bus, noticing how the old man had frozen, was stopped and standing entirely still, and the drunk man apparently hadn’t yet noticed that the old man had come out of the grimed blackness of his makeshift auto-repair garage. It could be said that what eventually happened did happen because of the old man, who remained as motionless as a statue.

There came a half-warming moment when Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon implored the bus driver, bloody as he was, to try to take over the situation, what maybe the timid Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon hoped the manly bus driver could do.

“Señor,” Rafael Hinojosa y Obregon said to him, pleading, surrendering any former hautiness and acknowledging that any Transportes del Norte driver was truly the captain of his tire-rolling ship, “Señor, por favor.”

“Amigo, por favor,” the bus driver replied gently, in possibly an attempt to put him at ease, tell him that for the moment nothing could be done and he himself needed time to think of a plan. “Amigo, esta OK,” Hugo Sencillo said.

Some more talk from Eduardo Martinez brought the cool metal of the pistol to his temple once more to warn him, and then the drunk man backed up a few paces, to face his group a little farther off. Weary, Theresa Lopez just wept, probably not for herself but for so much ongoing sadness in the world, or for whatever could even make a world like this where something of this sort, so meaningless, could transpire. Which was when the pistolero, who certainly didn’t have any set plan to proceed on himself, noticed the old man standing there behind him, apparently, and like a startled animal he just spun around to get a full view—then he just spun back, to make sure he had his group covered. Somehow the pistol went off in the movement.

A small pop with an orange burst and the smell of sulfur, and the bullet let loose for its clean drill into the skull.

At which point the drunk man, surprised as anybody else at this turn of events, dropped the gun and stared at the body.

As has been said, the event didn’t receive any publicity in the Republic whatsoever, either in the newspapers or on television, because the news was filled with that major tragedy, and its far-ranging political implications, that had taken place in Chiapas a day earlier. And also maybe because it was Christmas Eve at last, a tissuey, translucent moon already rising high over the jagged mountains on a night of incomparable holiness, no matter what anybody might tell you otherwise.


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