Wednesday, April 3, 2013

El Mangal

In La Colonia nothing seems to change.  The generations slowly shift, but today’s 18-year-olds cook over wood fires and have too many babies, just like their great-grandmothers did.  There’s no cell phone signal—there’s one phone in town, in the centro; if you get a call, they announce it over the loudspeaker and you run.  Everything revolves around corn.  Tortilla is a verb: tortillar.
The mango grove has been there as long as my mother-in-law, the indomitable Doña Charo, can remember, on a remote piece of land that belongs to nobody.  She came here with her brothers and sisters when there was nothing to eat at home.  The huge mango trees rustle and whisper in the breeze just as they must have forty years ago, when Doña Charo was Chayito, a girl with long golden ringlets and an empty belly.  

One thing has changed, on this trip: the road between the town of Cintalapa and La Colonia, which had always been dirt, is paved: a long straight avenue planted up the dividing strip with magueys.  The avenue is named for a rich local man.  It’s a name Doña Charo recognizes: when she was fourteen, and this man was in his thirties, he wanted to marry her.  

She was beautiful, and she had nothing: no money, no father, a step-father who drank and hit, a steady stream of younger brothers and sisters to take care of. 
This wealthy man told fourteen-year-old Chayito that he would set her up like a queen, that she would never want for anything.  She said no.  He spoke to her mother, offered her money.  I imagine Doña Catalina—pregnant, probably, patting out tortillas in the smoky adobe kitchen—saying, “M’ija, marry him, go on.”  Thinking that it sounded like a damn good offer.   Chayito said no, and no again.  “Nunca me voy a casar con un hombre de por acá,” she said.  I’ll never marry a man from here.     

When she had a chance, she left.  She’s not a queen, not even close.  She’s wanted for things, since she left La Colonia.  But her life is her own.

The mango trees reach and moan and whisper.  “I never imagined I would come to this place with my son and my grandson,” Doña Charo says, peeling a green mango.  She’s not blonde anymore, but she’s still beautiful.  The most beautiful. 

“I have such nice memories of these trees,” she says, “but I don’t have a taste for mangoes anymore.”      

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