Memories in the Dust
Diego shoved the feelings of panic and fear into
the deep recesses of his mind. Now
was not the time to lose control. This
had to be resolved calmly and quickly. “Sergeant, do you realize just
how ridiculous that sounds? And
do you realize how much a statement like that would hurt Minta.” He
made his voice rise a bit in righteous indignation, but not so much that
it would attract the attention of those around them.
“You are talking about the woman that I love and that I intend
on marrying, a very kind, gentle and sweet woman.
How can you equate her with demons?” he asked, rising to leave.
“I am sorry, Don Diego, I did not mean to
“No, not another word!” Diego hissed, knowing
that in the sergeant’s sudden agitation, Garcia’s voice would rise
as well, even louder than his own.
As though gaining some small measure of control, he said a bit
more quietly, “I wish that you would not say another word concerning
this. I want my wedding to
be a beautiful one, not one with the atmosphere of an inquisition.
Adios, sergeant.” He
turned and stalked out, surreptitiously glancing about him.
He did not see anyone who appeared to be trying to follow the
recent conversation, but that didn’t mean that someone hadn’t heard
it. There were several individuals sitting near enough.
“Adios, Don Diego,” Garcia said, his
voice small and contrite. Corporal
Reyes just poured himself more wine, not wishing to get involved in this
mess that his commanding officer had gotten himself into.
Diego mentally cursed this ill wind that blew his way. Sergeant Garcia was a man of big heart, but sometimes he was possessed of an even bigger mouth, which occasionally didn’t seem attached to his brain. As he saw Minta crossing the plaza, Diego forced himself to calm down. It would do no good to let her know about this latest incident. The obvious feelings of some of the townspeople still disturbed her, although she did her best to hide it.
Minta watched Juanita making the tortillas
with the sureness of much practice.
“How do you get them so thin?
I would imagine they would get a hole in them when you pick them
up but yours never do,” she said, her eyes following the deft hands
intently. The stone roller
made the maize pastry thinner and thinner until the Rantiri thought it
would be possible to see through it.
Juanita picked it up with ease and laid it on a hot iron slab
where it sat cooking with only the tiniest bit of curl on the edges.
“Practice, señorita,” the cook told her, as she put another ball of the ground corn mixture on the rolling slab.
“May I try it, Juanita?” Minta asked.
Juanita looked up at her in surprise, and then
shrugged, moving away from the stone slab.
Minta knelt before the slab and took the stone roller in her
hands. The gloves on her
hands were loose, so she quickly took them off and began rolling, just
as she had seen Juanita do it. The
tortilla was not as smoothly rounded as the cook’s efforts and
one edge was thicker than the other, but Minta was pleased with her
Juanita’s voice intruded on her small triumph.
“Señorita, if Don Alejandro found out that I let
you kneel in the dust and do my work, he would not be happy.”
Minta looked over her shoulder and smiled.
“I would tell him that I forced you,” she replied.
Juanita returned her smile.
Quickly, Minta slipped her gloves back on; grateful in her
eagerness that the cook was standing behind her and her hands had been
hidden from Juanita’s view. Getting up and dusting herself off, she added, “They do not
have such things as tortillas where I come from. I thank you for letting me try to make one.”
“You are entirely welcome, señorita,”
Juanita said, feeling the other woman’s happiness with life, as well
as a genuine curiosity for everything around her.
Despite her physical differences, the cook felt that this woman
was good medicine for this hacienda.
As the señorita left the kitchen, Juanita
glanced up and saw Maria Louisa standing in the dark doorway to the
storage shed. “Come, my
daughter, finish rolling the tortillas for me, while I cook
these.” The girl stood in
the doorway not moving. “I
told you to do something!” Juanita snapped, now picking up on the
surly mood of her daughter.
“Her hand has too many fingers,” Maria Louisa said.
Juanita jerked up, startled by the statement.
“You are loca!” she snapped.
“I saw them.
Both hands. There
were five fingers with her thumb.
It proves she is a witch!”
“It proves nothing,” Juanita answered quickly,
but feeling the tendrils of doubt creep into her heart.
It was totally unreasonable…the idea that the sweet and gentle señorita
could be a bruha. “It
could be something that afflicted her in the womb.”
“It is a mark of the devil,” Maria Louisa
“That is not a matter for you to decide.
It is for the priest to determine.
You will not go around talking about such things.
She is Don Diego’s fiancé.”
“She has bewitched him and will put a curse on
all of us.” Maria Louisa
stood, her arms folded, her mouth set.
“And I will put bruises all over your body if you do not get down here and make more tortillas right now,” Juanita retorted. Maria Louisa did as she was told, but her eyes glittered in anticipation.
Diego watched the sparkles of sunlight flashing in
diamond-like splendor on the surface of the little lake.
It had now been twenty days since they had returned, and life
seemed to have slipped into splendid normalcy that was intensely
comforting to him. Even
those who still distrusted and feared Minta seemed remote and
unimportant right now.
In front of him lay a basket, its contents spread
on a blanket nearby, only half eaten.
The real meal, thought Diego in amusement, is lying
right here next to me. Reaching
over, he played with Minta’s soft, white gold hair, letting his
fingers luxuriate in its silkiness.
He loved every nuance of her uniqueness.
“Do you hear that bird calling?” she asked.
Diego listened, hearing a meadowlark in the
distance. He imitated it. “That one?”
“Yes,” she said, also imitating it.
“It is a very pretty call.
It sounds lonely, while at the same time, triumphant.”
“Why triumphant?” he asked.
Even birdcalls sounded musical to him, coming from her lips.
“Because in all this wide, wild world, it is
surviving and is letting the world know that it has triumphed, at least
for this one day.”
“I never thought of it that way. I always thought of it as a call for a mate,” Diego said,
“Even in that there is triumph,” she responded,
“Mmm,” was all Diego said.
They lay half reclined against a large tree trunk, enjoying each
other’s proximity, saying nothing for several minutes.
“How are you feeling, querida?” he
finally asked. He had been
somewhat concerned when she had complained of a bit of stomach upset
earlier in the day.
“Fine, mi amor.
It was only too many chilies in last night’s soup,” she
Mollified, he bent down and kissed her tenderly,
understanding, in his inimitable way, allowed the couple some leeway,
but Diego had no intention of taking too much advantage of his mozo’s
kindly disposition by going too far in his affection, at least most of
“I am looking forward to my baptism soon.
It will be soon, yes?” Minta murmured.
“I believe so.
It is up to Padre Felipe.”
Minta stared at the water.
“Do you know how to swim?” she asked suddenly.
“What a question!” he exclaimed, laughing.
“Well, do you?”
“I know how not to drown,” he answered.
“I am a very good swimmer.
Let me teach you.” Minta
stood up and tugged at his arm.
Diego was carried away to his childhood, when his
friends would all coax the others to swim in the ponds and creeks near
the haciendas, tugging and pulling and sometimes forcefully
throwing each other in. Unfortunately, they were not children.
They were adults who were supposed to observe certain conventions
and customs. He said as
“I did not say to swim naked, Diego. Just swim,” she responded.
Looking around, and seeing no one else anywhere
nearby, he turned to Bernardo, who was sitting under a nearby tree.
Diego smiled and said, “My dear chaperone.
Do you approve?”
With a look of consternation, Bernardo shook his
head and signed. ‘Together?’
“Of course together, Bernardo. How can Minta show me how to swim if we are not in the water
together? But if it will
make you feel any better, I will keep my shirt on,” Diego said with a
The mozo made more signs. Diego’s eyes widened at Bernardo’s joke and then he
laughed. “There is no
need to get sarcastic. I
will stay properly clothed.”
“Did he say what I thought he said?” Minta
“Yes, he did.
It was not the shirt that worried him, it was the pants,” Diego
repeated. Minta looked at
Diego and then they both laughed. Bernardo
stood with his arms crossed over his chest, enjoying his joke.
“I will stay properly attired, as well,
Bernardo,” Minta reassured the servant, still smiling.
Bernardo didn’t look reassured.
He just wrung his hands and looked all around him.
“If you are so concerned, find a look-out point
and you can warn us if someone comes along,” Diego commented, pulling
off his chaqueta, banda, and boots.
In deference to their chaperone, he left his shirt and calzoneros
on. Minta appeared from
behind some bushes, already in the little lake, her hair forming a
bright crown around her shoulders where it trailed in the water.
Her blouse clung to her body, her riding skirt swirled around her
legs, but her willowy form was still easily made out.
Diego entered the water, felt his undergarments
clinging to his body and gasped as the chill of the water hit him.
Then he paddled out to her.
He kissed her soundly, but backed off when he heard a stick
banging against a rock. Laughing,
he waved to Bernardo and then let Minta show him her skills in the
water. At first he had
trouble concentrating on her swimming strokes, instead preferring to pay
attention to her physical attributes, but as he watched the ease with
which she moved in the water, Diego became more and more interested in
how she was accomplishing it. She
was patient, showing him by example how to move his arms and legs in
various rhythms that would give him more speed in the water.
He was amazed at the ease he could swim from one side of the pond
to the other.
After a while, she called a halt. “It has been some time since I went swimming and this has tired me out.”
While she hid in the brush and wrung out her skirt
and blouse, he did the same with his clothing.
Soon they were lying near each other on the warm
grass, letting the sun dry them off before returning to the hacienda.
Diego felt the dampness of his shirt and undergarments, but he didn’t
care. Next to him, Minta
sighed. The recurring
litany repeated itself… Soon…soon.
We will be married soon. We
can be more open soon. We
can live normally soon. Soon…soon. He turned on his side and gazed at Minta.
Her violet eyes met his hazel eyes and spoke volumes to him,
adding rooms to the library of their love and devotion for each other.
Nothing was said; nothing needed to be.
Reaching over, Diego lightly touched her cheek,
running his finger down the contour of her face.
“Are you happy?” he finally asked.
“Does my world please you?
Do you miss commuters, lights that work like magic and beds that
“Yes, even though some people spit at my feet and make signs to ward off evil, I still love your land. It is my land now, with you at my side.” She paused, thinking about his other question.
Dismayed, Diego murmured, “I did not think you
had noticed that.”
“Yes, the woman with the pottery spit on the
ground as I passed,” she answered.
“I am sorry, querida that you have had to
see such things. It is the
reaction of the ignorant,” he said softly, running one finger down her
Not wanting to dwell on the unpleasant at such a
peaceful time, Minta returned to his previous question.
“Sometimes I miss all of those things that you mentioned.
Sometimes, when I burn my fingers trying to light a candle in the
pitch-dark night, I wish I could just flip a switch.
I most especially miss indoor bathrooms, but those are minor
compared to the joy and happiness that I have with you.”
“I wish I could give you those things to make it
easier for you…”
“No, Diego, I do not need those things, not when
I have what is important. And
you can always kiss my fingers when I burn them.”
“Let me do that now,” he said, rolling over and kissing the tips of each finger, glad that she had two extra for him to kiss. Rolling over on his back, he let the feeling of contentment wash over him.