I went to pick Jim up at Caxa, the Xalapa bus terminal, last Saturday night. He was arriving from St. Louis where he'd visited daughter and family. The bus is the normal way to make the last leg of the journey after a flight lands in Mexico City.
Caxa has a large waiting area rimmed with restaurants and stores and bus ticket counters. It is always, always busy, with buses arriving day and night bearing passengers from all over the country and their boxes and suitcases and packages of all sorts. Bus travel in Mexico is, as I've said before, the default travel method for many journeys. It is cheap and efficient. The buses are clean and comfortable. Now that we have our old folks cards, we get to ride half price which means a one way trip from Mexico City on a standard bus is eleven or twelve dollars: cheaper than the taxi from Caxa to our house.
It's difficult for Jim and me to give each other the the exact information on the bus and its time of arrival at Caxa from Mexico City since we don't have cell phones. The Mexico City bus terminal is about twenty minutes from the airport, but given the uncertainties of plane arrivals and getting through customs and the great frequency of buses to Xalapa and the easy disruption of bus schedules especially during the week when traffic in Mexico City is heavy, we just bring a book or something and wait at Caxa during an approximate window of arrival time.
So I sat down in the row of chairs at Caxa nearest to the exit Jim would be coming through and took out my trusty Kindle to finish the latest Sara Paretsky novel (it's quite good. I haven't read a Sara Paretsky book in a long time). To my left, there was an empty seat, then on the next seat someone's suitcase and guitar case and coat and then another seat at the end. After a few minutes, I became aware of a man hovering over the empty seat next to me, a good-looking youngish man, even features, nice eyes, neatly trimmed beard, and well-dressed in a casual way. He was clearly trying to decide whether to sit next to me or not. I looked back to my Kindle. I wasn't at all sure I wanted him to. I found his presence a bit disconcerting. He sat down next to me.
He squirmed uneasily for a little bit, put his arm on the shared arm rests and then moved it quickly, and then asked quite suddenly if I was from Xalapa. I told him I lived outside of Xalapa.
My accent always gives me away.
"But you live here now?"
His discomfort and unhappiness radiated.
"Four years. A little more."
"I lived in the US for eight years. I have just come back." He switched to very good English. "My girlfriend wanted me to go back to the US, but I can't. I don't want to, either. So she left me."
"That's too bad," I said. "What did you do there?"
"I was an auto mechanic. I am one. Transmissions. I went to school for this. I am good at it."
"Where did you work?"
"Minneapolis. For eight years." I told him I'd lived in Minneapolis for seven years. "Ah, do you know Kennedy Motors," he asks. "A big place. A good one. That's where I worked. The whole time."
"I haven't lived there for many years," I said. "I'm not sure it was there when we were." He wanted to know how many years ago it was. I told him we probably left Minneapolis before he was born; in 1975.
He smiled. "I didn't think it would be before I was born, but it was. I was born in 1978."
Sudddenly, a frown. "Will your husband be, you know, celoso? Jealous?"
"Why would he be?"
"You are alone and talking to a man."
"I am an anciana," I say smiling. "What's to be jealous about?"
"It doesn't matter." A man can get jealous if his wife is talking to another man."
"I don't think he will be," I said, "He knows I love him. He would see I was just chatting with you." I didn't say that if I were thirty years younger, probably my husband might have been a bit uneasy.
"He's an American. Some American men are a bit different. I was jealous when my girlfriend talked to other men, but it didn't stop her." He looked away, close to tears. "She just left me. Just today. So all of a sudden I am going home to Guatemala." Silence for a bit. "She was legal in the US. Is. When she goes. She has more money than I do. She wants me to go back."
"But you can't."
"No. It's different these days. The police, you know, they come after us. I can't get a driver's license. So many police now." Another pause. "When you get sent home, you can't go back. If you get caught, you go to jail." He shrugged his shoulders, smiled a bit. "She's really beautiful."
"How long were you, you know, together?"
"A year." Another shrug. "But she doesn't really love me. It was for fun, for her, going with me. Now it's not fun anymore. She tried to be nice. She got me a permit to work here. in Mexico. In Xalapa. But I don't want to stay here. It all looks ugly here now. I want to go back to Guatemala. She's going back to Minneapolis. She wasn't even going to stay here with me."
We talked some more. He asked me how you could know someone really loved you, how I knew, if I did. I talked a bit in platitudes, I guess. I believe them. I told him if you were looking for something to last, it was good to be able to be friends, to do things together. Remember that you loved each other and didn't really want to hurt each other even though sometimes you would anyway.
"This is so hard," he said. "It really hurts. I never felt this bad before. What if it never goes away?"
What could I tell him? I said it happened to almost everyone, and if it didn't go away, there wouldn't be anyone in the world over thirty five who could function.
He was skeptical. "Like a really painful sickness, a really terrible headache that feels like it's more than you can bear but that the doctor knows is going to get better," I said.
"It's hard to believe," he said. "But I know she didn't really love me. I don't want to be with someone who doesn't love me. But she really was beautiful, yes she was."
Into my brain flew the lyrics, "Gonna wash that man right out of my hair...." I didn't mention them to him.
He shook his head, rubbed his eyes.
"So where are you from in Guatemala?"
"Guatemala." I looked puzzled. "The City."
"You have family?"
"Oh yes. My mother and father, brothers and sisters, friends. They are really happy I'm coming." A sigh. "I should just go outside the city and look for a country girl who wants to get married."
"Naah." I said. "There are plenty of women who are city women who would make good partners. Friends."
"She said, my girlfriend, I was too old-fashioned. I want a wife who wants to stay home and take care of the babies and the house and me and I would work and take care of them. Like a man does. You know. I would have given that idea up for her. It seems not just American women don't want to stay home and take care of babies."
I said I guessed that was so.
"I did. Now just a little bit. I'm not good enough at housework and mothering to just do that." I regretted saying that immediately, so I said, "My husband is better at some of that than I am."
That surprised him. "Yes," I told him. "My husband does laundry and hangs the wash out on the line, even." I could see him trying to imagine what kind of man would do that. "He's handsome," I said. "Tall. Strong." I don't think he believed me. I kept wishing Jim would turn up so I could show him. But he had to go for his bus. He showed me his ticket: twenty hours to somewhere in Chiapas and then another six to Guatemala City. "I don't think I will be able to sleep," he said.
"Maybe you'll meet a girl to talk to," I answered.
He laughed. "Too soon." He got up, picked up his guitar and patted it. "I love music. I was in a group in Minneapolis. Maybe I will be able to get a group again, tour the world with it. I write songs, you know. I wrote two for her." We shook hands. He gathered his stuff together and walked away.