Chapter 3 – THE MOZO
Rosalino really goes with the house, though he has been in service here only two months. When we went to look at the place, we saw him lurking in the patio, and glancing furtively under his brows. He is not one of the erect, bantam little Indians that stare with a black, incomprehensible, but somewhat defiant stare. It may be Rosalino has a distant strain of other Indian blood, not Zapotec. Or it may be he is only a bit different. The difference lies in a certain sensitiveness and aloneness, as if he were a mother’s boy. The way he drops his head and looks sideways under his black lashes, apprehensive, apprehending, feeling his way, as it were. Not the bold male glare of most of the Indians, who seem as if they had never, never had mothers at all.
The Aztec gods and goddesses are, as far as we have known anything about them, an unlovely and unlovable lot. In their myths there is no grace or charm, no poetry. Only this perpetual grudge, grudge, grudging, one god grudging another, the gods grudging men their existence, and men grudging the animals. The goddess of love is a goddess of dirt and prostitution, a dirt-eater, a horror, without a touch of tenderness. If the god wants to make love to her, she has to sprawl down in front of him, blatant and accessible.
And then, after all, when she conceives and brings forth, what is it she produces? What is the infant-god she tenderly bears? Guess, all ye people, joyful and triumphant!
You never could.
It is a stone knife.
It is a razor-edged knife of blackish-green flint, the knife of all knives, the veritable Paraclete of knives. It is the sacrificial knife with which the priest makes a gash in his victim’s breast, before he tears out the heart, to hold it smoking to the sun.
And the Sun, the Sun behind the sun, is supposed to suck the smoking heart greedily with insatiable appetite.
This, then, is a pretty Christmas Eve. Lo, the goddess is gone to bed, to bring forth her child. Lo! ye people, await the birth of the saviour, the wife of a god is about to become a mother.
Tarumm-tarah! Tarumm-tarah! blow the trumpets. The child is born. Unto us a son is given. Bring him forth, lay him on a tender cushion. Show him, then, to all the people. See! See! See him upon the cushion, tenderly new-born and reposing! Ah, qué bonito! Oh, what a nice, blackish, smooth, keen stone knife!
And to this day, most of the Mexican Indian women seem to bring forth stone knives. Look at them, these sons of incomprehensible mothers, with their black eyes like flints, and their stiff little bodies as taut and as keen as knives of obsidian. Take care they don’t rip you up.
Our Rosalino is an exception. He drops his shoulders just a little. He is a bit bigger, also, than the average Indian down here. He must be about five feet four inches. And he hasn’t got the big, obsidian, glaring eyes. His eyes are smaller, blacker, like the quick black eyes of the lizard. They don’t look at one with the obsidian stare. They are just a bit aware that there is another being, unknown, at the other end of the glance. Hence he drops his head with a little apprehension, screening himself as if he were vulnerable.
Usually, these people have no correspondence with one at all. To them a white man or white woman is a sort of phenomenon; just as a monkey is a sort of phenomenon; something to watch, and wonder at, and laugh at, but not to be taken on one’s own plane.
Now the white man is a sort of extraordinary white monkey that, by cunning, has learnt lots of semi-magical secrets of the universe, and made himself boss of the show. Imagine a race of big white monkeys got up in fantastic clothes, and able to kill a man by hissing at him; able to leap through the air in great hops, covering a mile in each leap; able to transmit his thoughts by a moment’s effort of concentration to some great white monkey or monkeyess, a thousand miles away: and you have, from our point of view, something of the picture that the Indian has of us.
The white monkey has curious tricks. He knows, for example, the time. Now to a Mexican, and an Indian, time is a vague, foggy reality. There are only three times: en la mañana, en la tarde, en la troche, in the morning, in the afternoon, in the night. There is even no midday, and no evening.
But to the white monkey, horrible to relate, there are exact spots of time, such as five o’clock, half past nine. The day is a horrible puzzle of exact spots of time.
The same with distance: horrible invisible distances called two miles, ten miles. To the Indians, there is near and far, and very near and very far. There is two days or one day. But two miles are as good as twenty to him, for he goes entirely by his feeling. If a certain two miles feels far to him, then it is far, it is muy lejos! But if a certain twenty miles feels near and familiar, then it is not far. Oh, no, it is just a little distance. And he will let you set off in the evening, for night to overtake you in the wilderness, without a qualm. It is not far.
But the white man has a horrible, truly horrible, monkey-like passion for invisible exactitudes. Mañana, to the native, may mean tomorrow, three days hence, six months hence, and never. There are no fixed points in life, save birth, and death, and the fiestas. The fixed points of birth and death evaporate spontaneously into vagueness. And the priests fix the fiestas. From time immemorial priests have fixed the fiestas, the festivals of the gods, and men have had no more to do with time. What should men have to do with time?
The same with money. These centavos and these pesos, what do they mean, after all? Little discs that have no charm. The natives insist on reckoning in invisible coins, coins that don’t exist here, like reales or pesetas. If you buy two eggs for a real, you have to pay twelve and a half centavos. Since also half a centavo doesn’t exist, you or the vendor forfeit the non-existent.
The same with honesty, the meum and the tuum. The white man has a horrible way of remembering, even to a centavo, even to a thimbleful of mescal. Horrible! The Indian, it seems to me, is not naturally dishonest. He is not naturally avaricious, has not even any innate cupidity. In this he is unlike the old people of the Mediterranean, to whom possessions have a mystic meaning, and a silver coin a mystic white halo, a lueur of magic.
To the real Mexican, no! He doesn’t care. He doesn’t even like keeping money. His deep instinct is to spend it at once, so that he needn’t have it. He doesn’t really want to keep anything, not even his wife and children. Nothing that he has to be responsible for. Strip, strip, strip away the past and the future, leave the naked moment of the present disentangled. Strip away memory, strip away forethought and care; leave the moment, stark and sharp and without consciousness, like the obsidian knife. The before and the after are the stuff of consciousness. The instant moment is for ever keen with a razor-edge of oblivion, like the knife of sacrifice.
But the great white monkey has got hold of the keys of the world, and the black-eyed Mexican has to serve the great white monkey, in order to live. He has to learn the tricks of the white monkey-show: time of the day, coin of money, machines that start at a second, work that is meaningless and yet is paid for with exactitude, in exact coin. A whole existence of monkey-tricks and monkey-virtues. The strange monkey-virtue of charity, the white monkeys nosing round to help, to save! Could any trick be more unnatural? Yet it is one of the tricks of the great white monkey.
If an Indian is poor, he says to another: I have no food; give me to eat. Then the other hands the hungry one a couple of tortillas. That is natural. But when the white monkey comes round, they peer at the house, at the woman, at the children. They say: Your child is sick. Si, Señor. What have you done for it–Nothing. What is to be done?–You must make a poultice. I will show you how.
Well, it was very amusing, this making hot dough to dab on the baby. Like plastering a house with mud. But why do it twice? Twice is not amusing. The child will die. Well, then, it will be in Paradise. How nice for it! That’s just what God wants of it, that it shall be a cheerful little angel among the roses of Paradise. What could be better?
How tedious of the white monkey coming with the trick of salvation, to rub oil on the baby, and put poultices on it, and make you give it medicine in a spoon at morning, noon, and night. Why morning and noon and night? Why not just anytime, anywhen? It will die tomorrow if you don’t do these things today! But tomorrow is another day, and it is not dead now, so if it dies at another time, it must be because the other times are out of hand.
Oh, the tedious, exacting white monkeys, with their yesterdays and todays and tomorrows! Tomorrow is always another day, and yesterday is part of the encircling never. Why think outside the moment? And inside the moment one does not think. So why pretend to think? It is one of the white-monkey-tricks. He is a clever monkey. But he is ugly, and he has nasty, white flesh. We are not ugly, with screwed-up faces, and we have good warm-brown flesh. If we have to work for the white monkey, we don’t care. His tricks are half-amusing. And one may as well amuse oneself that way as any other. So long as one is amused.
So long as the devil does not rouse in us, seeing the white monkeys for ever mechanically bossing, with their incessant tick-tack of work. Seeing them get the work out of us, the sweat, the money, and then taking the very land from us, the very oil and metal out of our soil.
They do it! They do it all the time. Because they can’t help it. Because grasshoppers can but hop, and ants can carry little sticks, and white monkeys can go tick-tack, tick-tack, do this, do that, time to work, time to eat, time to drink, time to sleep, time to walk, time to ride, time to wash, time to look dirty, tick-tack, tick-tack, time, time, time! time! Oh, cut off his nose and make him swallow it.
For the moment is as changeless as an obsidian knife, and the heart of the Indian is keen as the moment that divides past from future, and sacrifices them both.
To Rosalino, too, the white monkey-tricks are amusing. He is ready to work for the white monkeys, to learn some of their tricks, their monkey-speech of Spanish, their tick-tack ways. He works for four pesos a month, and his food: a few tortillas. Four pesos are two American dollars: about nine shillings. He owns two cotton shirts, two pairs of calico pantaloons, two blouses, one of pink cotton, one of darkish flannelette, and a pair of sandals. Also, his straw hat that he has curled up to look very jaunty, and a rather old, factory-made, rather cheap shawl, or plaid rug with fringe. Et praeterea nihil.
His duty is to rise in the morning and sweep the street in front of the house, and water it. Then he sweeps and waters the broad, brick-tiled verandas, and flicks the chairs with a sort of duster made of fluffy reeds. After which he walks behind the cook–she is very superior, had a Spanish grandfather, and Rosalino must address her as Señora–carrying the basket to market. Returned from the market, he sweeps the whole of the patio, gathers up the leaves and refuse, fills the pannier-basket, hitches it up on to his shoulders, and holds it by a band across his forehead, and thus, a beast of burden, goes out to deposit the garbage at the side of one of the little roads leading out of the city. Every little road leaves the town between heaps of garbage, an avenue of garbage blistering in the sun.
Returning, Rosalino waters the whole of the garden and sprinkles the whole of the patio. This takes most of the morning. In the afternoon, he sits without much to do. If the wind has blown or the day is hot, he starts again at about three o’clock, sweeping up leaves, and sprinkling everywhere with an old watering-can.
Then he retreats to the entrance-way, the zaguán, which, with its big doors and its cobbled track, is big enough to admit an ox-wagon. The zaguán is his home: just the doorway. In one corner is a low wooden bench about four feet long and eighteen inches wide. On this he screws up and sleeps, in his clothes as he is, wrapped in the old sarape.
But this is anticipating. In the obscurity of the zaguán he sits and pores, pores, pores over a school-book, learning to read and write. He can read a bit, and write a bit. He filled a large sheet of foolscap with writing: quite nice. But I found out that what he had written was a Spanish poem, a love-poem, with no puedo olvidar and voy a cortar–the rose, of course. He had written the thing straight ahead, without verse-lines or capitals or punctuation at all, just a vast string of words, a whole foolscap sheet full. When I read a few lines aloud, he writhed and laughed in an agony of confused feelings. And of what he had written he understood a small, small amount, parrot-wise, from the top of his head. Actually, it meant just words, sound, noise, to him: noise called Castellano, Castilian. Exactly like a parrot.
From seven to eight he goes to the night-school, to cover a bit more of the foolscap. He has been going for two years. If he goes two years more he will perhaps really be able to read and write six intelligible sentences: but only Spanish, which is as foreign to him as Hindustani would be to an English farm-boy. Then if he can speak his quantum of Spanish, and read it and write it to a very uncertain extent, he will return to his village two days’ journey on foot into the hills, and then, in time, he may even rise to be an alcalde, or headman of the village, responsible to the Government. If he were alcalde he would get a little salary. But far more important to him is the glory: being able to boss.
He has a paisano, a fellow-countryman, to sleep with him in the zaguán, to guard the doors. Whoever gets into the house or patio must get through these big doors. There is no other entrance, not even a needle’s eye. The windows to the street are heavily barred. Each house is its own small fortress. Ours is a double square, the trees and flowers in the first square, with the two wings of the house. And in the second patio, the chickens, pigeons, guinea-pigs, and the big heavy earthenware dish or tub, called an apaxtle, in which all the servants can bathe themselves, like chickens in a saucer.
By half past nine at night Rosalino is lying on his little bench, screwed up, wrapped in his shawl, his sandals, called huaraches, on the floor. Usually he takes off his huaraches when he goes to bed. That is all his preparation. In another corner, wrapped up, head and all, like a mummy in his thin old blanket, the paisano, another lad of about twenty, lies asleep on the cold stones. And at an altitude of five thousand feet, the nights can be cold.
Usually everybody is in by half past nine in our very quiet house. If not, you may thunder at the big doors. It is hard to wake Rosalino. You have to go close to him, and call. That will wake him. But don’t touch him. That would startle him terribly. No one is touched unawares, except to be robbed or murdered.
‘Rosalino! están tocando!’–‘Rosalino! they are knocking!’
At last there starts up a strange, glaring, utterly lost Rosa-lino. Perhaps he just has enough wit to pull the door-catch. One wonders where he was, and what he was, in his sleep, he starts up so strange and wild and lost.
The first time he had anything to do for me was when the van was come to carry the bit of furniture to the house. There was Aurelio, the dwarf mozo of our friends and Rosalino, and the man who drove the wagon. But there should have been also a cargador–a porter. ‘Help them,’ said I to Rosalino. ‘You give a hand to help.’ But he winced away, muttering, ‘No quiero!–I don’t want to.’
The fellow, I thought to myself, is a fool. He thinks it’s not his job, and perhaps he is afraid of smashing the furniture. Nothing to be done but to leave him alone.
We settled in, and Rosalino seemed to like doing things for us. He liked learning his monkey-tricks from the white monkeys. And since we started feeding him from our own meals, and for the first time in his life he had real soups, meat-stews, or a fried egg, he loved to do things in the kitchen. He would come with sparkling black eyes: ‘Hé comido el caldo. Grazias!’ (I have eaten the soup. Thank you.’)–And he would give a strange, excited little yelp of a laugh.
Came the day when we walked to Huayapa, on the Sunday, and he was very thrilled. But at night, in the evening when we got home, he lay mute on his bench–not that he was really tired. The Indian gloom, which settles on them like a black marsh-fog, had settled on him. He did not bring in the water–let me carry it by myself.
Monday morning, the same black, reptilian gloom, and a sense of hatred. He hated us. This was a bit flabbergasting, because he had been so thrilled and happy the day before. But the revulsion had come. He didn’t forgive himself for having felt free and happy with us. He had eaten what we had eaten, hard-boiled eggs and sardine sandwiches and cheese; he had drunk out of the orange-peel taza, which delighted him so much. He had had a bottle of gaseosa, fizz, with us, on the way home, in San Felipe.
And now, the reaction. The flint knife. He had been happy, therefore we were scheming to take another advantage of him. We had some devilish white monkey-trick up our sleeve; we wanted to get at his soul, no doubt, and do it the white monkey’s damage. We wanted to get at his heart, did we? But his heart was an obsidian knife.
He hated us, and gave off a black steam of hate, that filled the patio and made one feel sick. He did not come to the kitchen, he did not carry the water. Leave him alone.
At lunch-time on Monday he said he wanted to leave. Why? He said he wanted to go back to his village.
Very well. He was to wait just a few days, till another mozo was found.
At this a glance of pure, reptilian hate from his black eyes.
He sat motionless on his bench all the afternoon, in the Indian stupor of gloom and profound hate. In the evening, he cheered up a little and said he would stay on, at least till Easter.
Tuesday morning. More stupor and gloom and hate. He wanted to go back to his village at once. All right! No one wanted to keep him against his will. Another mozo would be found at once.
He went off in the numb stupor of gloom and hate, a very potent hate that could affect one in the pit of one’s stomach with nausea.
Tuesday afternoon, and he thought he would stay.
Wednesday morning, and he wanted to go.
Very good. Inquiries made; another mozo was coming on Friday morning. It was settled.
Thursday was fiesta. Wednesday, therefore, we would go to market, the Nina–that is the mistress–myself, and Rosalino with the basket. He loved to go to market with the patrones. We would give him money and send him off to bargain for oranges, pitahayas, potatoes, eggs, a chicken, and so forth. This he simply loved to do. It put him into a temper to see us buying without bargaining, and paying ghastly prices.
He bargained away, silent almost, muttering darkly. It took him a long time, but he had far greater success than even Natividad, the cook. And he came back in triumph, with much stuff and little money spent.
So again that afternoon, he was staying on. The spell was wearing off.
The Indians of the hills have a heavy, intense sort of attachment to their villages; Rosalino had not been out of the little city for two years. Suddenly finding himself in Huayapa, a real Indian hill-village, the black Indian gloom of nostalgia must have made a crack in his spirits. But he had been perfectly cheerful–perhaps too cheerful–till we got home.
Again, the Señorita had taken a photograph of him. They are all crazy to have their photographs taken. I had given him an envelope and a stamp, to send a photograph to his mother. Because in his village he had a widow mother, a brother, and a married sister. The family owned a bit of land, with orange-trees. The best oranges come from the hills, where it is cooler. Seeing the photographs, the mother, who had completely forgotten her son, as far as any keen remembering goes, suddenly, like a cracker going off inside her, wanted him: at that very moment. So she sent an urgent message.
But already it was Wednesday afternoon. Arrived a little fellow in white clothes, smiling hard. It was the brother from the hills. Now, we thought, Rosalino will have someone to walk back with. On Friday, after the fiesta, he would go.
Thursday, he escorted us with the basket to the fiesta. He bargained for flowers, and for a sarape which he didn’t get, for a carved jicara which he did get, and for a number of toys. He and the Nina and the Señorita ate a great wafer of a pancake with sweet stuff on it. The basket grew heavy. The brother appeared, to carry the hen and the extra things. Bliss.
He was perfectly happy again. He didn’t want to go on Friday; he didn’t want to go at all. He wanted to stay with us and come with us to England when we went home.
So, another trip to the friend, the Mexican, who had found us the other mozo. Now to put off the other boy again: but then, they are like that.
And the Mexican, who had known Rosalino when he first carne down from the hills and could speak no Spanish, told us another thing about him.
In the last revolution–a year ago–the revolutionaries of the winning side wanted more soldiers from the hills. The alcalde of the hill-village was told to pick out young men and send them down to the barracks in the city. Rosalino was among the chosen.
But Rosalino refused, said again No quiero! He is one of those, like myself, who have a horror of serving in a mass of men, or even f being mixed up with a mass of men. He obstinately refused, Whereupon the recruiting soldiers heat him with the butts of their rifles till he lay unconscious, apparently dead.
Then, because they wanted him at once, and he would now be no good for some time, with his injured back, they left him, to get the revolution over without him.
This explains his fear of furniture-carrying, and his fear of being ‘caught’.
Yet that little Aurelio, the friend’s mozo, who is not above four feet six in height, a tiny fellow, fared even worse, He, too, is from the hills. In this village, a cousin of his gave some information to the losing side in the revolution. The cousin wisely disappeared.
But in the city, the winning side seized Aurelio, since he was the cousin of the delinquent. In spite of the fact that he was the faithful mozo of a foreign resident, he was flung into prison. Prisoners in prison are not fed. Either friends or relatives bring them food, or they go very, very thin. Aurelio had a married sister in town, but she was afraid to go to the prison lest she and her husband should be seized. The master, then, sent his new mozotwice a day to the prison with a basket; the huge, huge prison, for this little town of a few thousands.
Meanwhile the master struggled and struggled with the ‘authorities’–friends of the people–for Aurelio’s release. Nothing to be done.
One day the new mozo arrived at the prison with the basket, to find no Aurelio. A friendly soldier gave the message Aurelio had left. ‘Adios a mi patrón. Me llevan.‘ Oh, fatal words: ‘Me llevan.‘–They are taking me off. The master rushed to the train: it had gone, with the dwarf, plucky little mozo, into the void.
Months later, Aurelio reappeared. He was in rags, haggard, and his dark throat was swollen up to the ears. He had been taken off, two hundred miles into Vera Cruz State. He had been hung up by the neck, with a fixed knot, and left hanging for hours. Why? To make the cousin come and save his relative: put his own neck into a running noose. To make the absolutely innocent fellow confess: what? Everybody knew he was innocent. At any rate, to teach everybody better next time. Oh, brotherly teaching!
Aurelio escaped, and took to the mountains. Sturdy little dwarf of a fellow, he made his way back, begging tortillas at the villages, and arrived, haggard, with a great swollen neck, to find his master waiting, and another ‘party’ in power. More friends of the people.
Tomorrow is another day. The master nursed Aurelio well, and Aurelio is a strong, if tiny, fellow, with big, brilliant black eyes that for the moment will trust a foreigner, but none of his own people. A dwarf in stature, but perfectly made, and very strong. And very intelligent, far more quick and intelligent than Rosalino.
Is it any wonder that Aurelio and Rosalino, when they see the soldiers with guns on their shoulders marching towards the prison with some blanched prisoner between them–and one sees it every few days–stand and gaze in a blank kind of horror, and look at the patrón, to see if there is any refuge?
Not to be caught! Not to be caught! It must have been the prevailing motive of Indian-Mexico life since long before Montezuma marched his prisoners to sacrifice.