Once we board a third bus in Jalisco
to get to Michoacán on
the third evening, I resolve not to antagonize my father for the remainder
of the trip, though all the bus interiors look exactly alike and it feels
as if we’re climbing into the same cabin containing all the negativity
I’ve been dispelling into its air. We have approximately seven
hours to go and most of that time the bus will be cutting through the
winding mountainous roads of the region in nighttime, which I know will
turn my stomach and keep me quiet. I smell the faint odor of roasted
pumpkin seeds. My mother used to make my brother and me eat them in salt
when we were little to fight intestinal parasites.
“ Did I ever tell you about that time I sat next to an old woman who died
on the bus?” my father says.
I have head this story before, about four times. But I decide to let my father
tell it by not answering his question.
“ I can’t remember her name anymore, but when you travel long distances
like that, well, you know how it is. You make friends a lot faster. She talked
to me about this and about that, and so did I. I wish I had had a tape recorder
or something because now I regret not paying more attention to what she had to
“Anyway, she liked to talk about everything. She talked about her pets,
her family, her plants. She reminded me so much of both of your grandmothers.
Not just because she was on old woman, but because she gave her words a certain
I know what he means: the taste of language that is only spoken and never written
because the speaker most likely doesn’t read or write. My father has
“She told me about how she sewed her money inside her quilt because she
didn’t trust banks. She told me about how her dead husband came to bug
her on Sundays because his spirit thought it was still alive and kept reminding
her it was time for church. She told me how her favorite afternoons were spent
alone in a plaza with a piece of goat cheese on a slice of bread. I can certainly
respect those simple pleasures.”
My mind flashed those imagined scenes of my father’s poverty in childhood,
of times my grandparents refused to talk about. The oldest sons were sent
to scavenge the mercado trash bins for edible fruit, and my grandmother used
grow cilantro and chives to sell to the butchers. In those days, butchers
provided all meat orders with garnish, and my grandmother was one of their
in exchange for scraps.
“ Well, if that bus trip had lasted two years, she wouldn’t have run
out of things to say. But luckily that trip was going to last only a few days.
Even less for her.”
My father pauses for dramatic effect.
“ So the bus pulls up at a strip of restaurants on the side of the road,
you know, like the ones we’ve been pulling into all this time. The people
have to stretch and get some air. And they have to eat, why not?”
My father pauses again.
“ And I ask la doña if she cares to step down to grab a bite. I mean,
I couldn’t guarantee her a piece of goat cheese but there were other
good things: shrimp, enchiladas, maybe a sope with beans and nopales. Whatever.
she refused. She said she was feeling tired and wanted to stay on the bus to
“ I can’t argue with her. She’s old and she knows what’s
best for her body. So I go down and buy a piece of fried chicken, I think.
No, I lie. It was a ham sandwich. Just like the ones that el Chavo del Ocho used
to eat on television.”
I want to roll my eyes at my father’s embellishments, but I allow him
to proceed uninterrupted.
“ I speak to a few other people from the bus. We joke around a bit and exchange
destinations until the bus driver called us all back on board. Well, I walk in,
take my seat and I notice the old woman is sleeping. I don’t want to disturb
her so I take a seat behind her, and I fall asleep as well. You know, nothing
out of the ordinary. But then when I wake up the next morning, I realize that
the old lady hasn’t even shifted an inch. Which is odd on a bus, where
you have to move every once in a while to keep your blood flowing. So I know
something is wrong. I take my old seat again and I try to stir her awake, but
she doesn’t move. I alert the driver and he pulls over to check for himself.
He confirms what I already know, that she has died peacefully in her sleep.”
“ What did the driver do?” I ask. I can’t remember this part
of the story.
“ What could he do? We sat there waiting for the police to take her back
to the terminal with her few belongings and hopefully find someone to claim
I squinted my eyes. This wasn’t how the story ended before. In an earlier
version there was dying breath, a last-minute plea from the old lady to my
father to tell her family that there was money hidden in the quilt. But my
father was never able to play the hero because he decided to stick to his
own journey instead of believing the ramblings of a moribund.
“ And what happened to the quilt?” I asked, hoping to jog my father’s
memory about how this story was supposed to end.
“ What quilt?” he asked.
I roll my eyes. “Never mind.”
“ Are you going to eat carnitas in Quiroga, you?” my father asks,
quickly changing the subject.
I nod indifferently. I tell him I don’t want to talk about food on this
winding road. He smiles. I do love my father’s smile. It’s the
smile of someone who could get away with plenty by simply flashing his perfectly
straight teeth. My brother and I inherited our mother’s crooked set.
I imagine my father softening my mother’s heart on a number of occasions
as he negotiated forgiveness. I can’t imagine my mother was as tough
to crack as I am.
“ Once we get to Zacapu we each go our separate ways,” I remind him,
“ Sure, sure,” he says. “That’s what we agreed.”
“ And you can’t come asking me for money, either,” I say.
My father lets out a laugh. I think about all those debts my mother had to
pay off behind his back. He borrowed five dollars here, five dollars there,
and eventually the lenders—my aunts and uncles—came to collect
directly from my mother.
“ Look at that town over there,” my father points out. “What
would it have been like to have a steady home?” It’s not a question;
it’s a longing.
I look through the window at the huge valley lit up with different colors.
The town is cradled by the dark mountains. From afar it looks as if nothing
can get in or out, but judging by the stillness of the view it’s as if
the citizens have made peace with it and settle without worry into their insular
but protected haven each evening. There are people in the world, I imagine,
who are born and die in the same town, maybe even in the same house, or bed.
Creatures without migration: have they not lived a life because they have not
moved? What of the migratory los González, moving from one place to
another and marking every stopping place with angst? What kind of alternative
is that? For once my father and I are thinking the same way, sharing a similar
yearning for our starting points to have been different, for our final destination
to be anything other than the tearful, resentful arrival it is likely to