What Bothered Me
Santiago, Mexico’s dusty streets are hot and sweaty. On the edge, shrubs and trees scorched dead by a midday sun. Yellow stone walls are everywhere. They’re guarding haciendas, and little playgrounds and cars pulled into ports. Elsewhere, small white schools; children laughing within a tall fence.
There’s not much room to navigate around potholes or pass around four-wheelers and dune buggies careening down from nearby mountains. Scratchy music blasts from cheap boom box speakers. It’s wise to blast the horn before particularly narrow turns.
Night is the heat’s only respite. And even then the it is almost unbearable. In the dark, electronic music blasts from outdoor night clubs. There’s one down the road from my room at El Rancho Del Rey, a home for street boys where I sometimes volunteer. Often, I lie in the dark with a pillow over my ears.
One sweltering day lime ice cream sprinkled with red chili pepper powder drips down little Atsiria’s hands, her black hair is pulled back into two ponytails; she looks up at her mother, Jenny, a dorm parent at the home.
Shade cools the interior of a corner sweets shop where Jenny stands with Atsiria, next to her husband, Javier. Near the fridge it’s even a little cold. Perhaps because of that, the front door is thrown open to the outside heat, where cars can be heard passing down a narrow street.
Javier looks at me quizzically. Do I like it?
Mexican ice cream is a little odd. The lime is sweetly sharp, the chili pepper is just plain sharp.
I don’t speak Spanish, just that one word. Javier smiles, then looks at his wife and daughter. Atsiria smiles a sticky smile back. More ice cream drips down her hands. Jenny laughs and grabs a napkin. Some falls to the floor splattering in little green puddles.
I tentatively take another small bite.
All around the sweets shop mountains tower up into racing clouds. Sunlight cascades down onto farmland. The light is always moving, like a spotlight. Sometimes, when clouds become particularly dense, it feels like the entire world has been trapped permanently in diffused, golden sunlight. There’s so much about Santiago that I love. The landscape, its native people, El Rancho Del Rey’s small boys.
But I’m not so sure about the ice cream. In fact, I don’t know if I like it at all.
Tires screech suddenly from outside. The sound explodes through the walled-in space, down the narrow street, over a whirring box fan in the window.
And then, “thunk, thunk,” followed by acceleration.
A dog lets out a terrible, pitiful, wounded, howl.
The vehicle, a black SUV, rushes past the ice cream store.
We rush outside. A little stray mutt, with short grey hair, is yapping, crying, limping quickly across the road toward shade beneath our white van. Another car passes without stopping, or noticing.
The mutt collapses to the pavement, barely whimpering now, and licking its left paw, which is raw. I see tears drop to the ground.
Javier looks at me, shrugs, and takes his family back inside.
I crouch, speaking to the poor creature softly, trying to speak away its pain. I feel like crying myself.
But my efforts are to no avail. The soothing words don’t work, and the mutt keeps on crying. It doesn’t even look at me.
Eventually, I go back inside, into the shade. Jenny and Javier are back at the counter. Atsiria smiles at me like nothing has happened. We finish our ice cream listening to the box fan and the little dog whimpering from outside under the van.