Veintiuno. Alice Part 1

When the woman I was making love to turned into a pig I knew that I had become too cynical. I watched her face fill out, her cheeks lose their definition and her nose turn up at me to form a perfectly cylindrical snout. Her skin became rough. It became pockmarked and covered in fine grey hairs and then her mouth widened and opened up to reveal a coarse and unclean set of teeth.

Then her ears retreated, grew longer into sharp points that flopped over like a dog’s ears. And her eyes too lost their shine and their beauty. They contracted and sank into the skin and they became red and as fired as a madman’s. I watched her and I laughed and cried for atop of this perverse metamorphosis was her hair, untouched by the transformation and spread loosely across the pillow: a blonde wig on the head of a pig.

It was the one hope for my salvation.

I first met Alice on the grassy banks of the Río Machaquila, not far from Finca Flores. where I was staying. It was already dusk and I was lying on my back, legs dangling over the rocks to cool my sore toes in the stream after a long day of hiking.

Alice was with a friend and as she sat down beside me she said “Hello” to me as if we were old friends though I had never seen her before. She had short hair (she grew it longer later) that framed her face in a bob; stray strands stood up in defiance of her attempt to smooth them down.

She talked about how the river caving at the finca was a near death experience.

“But in three days time I am flying back to Mexico City, to see my father,” she added.

She was on a break from the University of Bergen. She was a perpetual student, she laughed, and it had been a long time since she had last seen him.

Then I explained how I was headed to Mexico City myself, would be using it as a base for my remaining months while learning Spanish. But first I was crossing the border to visit Palenque and San Cristóbal de las Casas before going onto the capital.

So we spent the evening, the three of us, by the fire pit, red embers flashing like fireflies as we shared tamales and horchata prepared by the owner of the finca.

The next time I saw Alice, it was six weeks later in Mexico City, after a ride on the overnight kidnap bus from Oaxaca. I looked up the address she gave me and immediately headed towards an old colonial street in Condesa.

The trees were lined, just as Alice had described, one meter apart each side of the road, their roots forcing the paving stones to yield to their strength, their branches fighting and subduing spaghetti-strung telephone wires until the tips of the branches touched their companions on the opposite side; a protective canopy that made the street warm and comforting.

The houses were large, but pressed together, a little run down, paint peeling albeit still showing in different primary colours. And I found the yellow house with the ornate curved lattice ironwork covering the windows, went up to a large oak door, took its heavy brass knocker and rapped it twice.

Alice opened the door as she said she would, and she said “Hello” again and, “My name is Alice… I’d like it if you would meet my father before we get married. He’s a bit of a recluse but he’s nice really.” I laughed at that and she pinched the stray strands of her hair between her fingers.

Then with a sudden determination she pulled my hand, dragging me into the house, and I stumbled into a dark windowless hallway with barely discernible bookshelves lining the walls.

I recognised pre-Colombian drinking vessels similar to those that I’d seen on my route across Mexico, bulbous faces and mouths leering at me from their reclining positions, they were being used to separate books whose titles I could not make out.

Alice led me to the rear of the house where the hall was brighter and a shaft of light came in from a skylight, though I could not see exactly from where.

That was when I met her father.

“Hello,” he said to me with a smile that revealed an impatience at being interrupted in the middle of something. He leant against the frame of a door, hands crossed, and his thumbs were in the wrong place as if his left hand had been put on his right arm and vice versa. In the handshake the grip of his thumb was firm on the heel of my hand.

Alice smiled. She told me that her father was a lecturer at the university.

“My name is Christopher,” I said and he said, “Oh… Excellent… Please come this way,” and with my clammy hand still in his he led me into his library. Alice too helped me in, pushed me with her palms around my hips.

“I’ve seen your photographs,” said Alice’s father once we arrived at his desk. “They’re very good,” he continued, “but you shouldn’t have used a fast film. The colours aren’t as vibrant.” I thanked him but could not understand how he could have seen the photographs I had taken.

“I liked the nude ones even if they were a little over-exposed.” He laughed. “She must have been in love with you to have been unconcerned about posing for those photographs.”

“No,” I replied, “They were taken in an exotic place.” The admission of my past sex life made me feel a little embarrassed.

“Yes I did wonder where you could have found such a tree… And growing in the middle of a bamboo house,” he added.

We sat down and talked about religion as always seemed to happen with academics until Alice’s father suddenly stood up from his chair and said, “Well I’ve got work to do now,” and he left the room.

“He likes you,” said Alice when he was gone.

Photo from a souvenir stand in Mexico City

Another Continent. La Ruta Maya Veintidós. Into the Interior
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