Did you see the witches by the cemetery already? “They arrived last night”, said Mateo sarcastically. That did it for me. I hurried down the hill and to the opposite side of the bay through the circling, dirt trail to Playa del Panteón. A bunch of people congregated in a circle where a VW microbus was parked next to a heavy tent similar to the ones used in the Sahara Desert, commonplace in the sixties this part of the country.
There was a group of local onlookers fascinated by the spectacle: a beautiful lady with eyes that resembled precious stones, a second lady about six feet tall with an incredible smile, a young and pretty 14-year-old autist with a huge piercing dangling from her nose, a one-year-old baby with the presence of a much older boy and a 5-year-old girl impervious to mosquito bites.
Both groups, the visitors and the locals were engaged in a rather strange interchange. The “witches” were just there sitting pretty smiling under the sun silently thanking the awestruck families by uttering coy “gracias” every time someone from the crowd, in open admiration, produced another gift, apparently the best stuff at hand, like food, cash, clothes and the like to be handed down to them, no questions asked, like submissive believers making sacred offerings in a temple.
No one could tell that these magnificent women were, in fact, starving, without a penny in their pockets after a tiresome trek by road from San Francisco to the coast of Oaxaca. Nonetheless, even though they had arrived just the previous night they looked as fresh and relaxed as if they had never left home. The fact they were being “adored” by that group of domestic beachgoers unknown to them, spurred my desire to know them better.
I was able to start a conversation with Patrice, the 43-year-old beauty with eyes of emerald. Her extremely long, straight hair and exotic clothing, along with the absence of makeup and her exquisitely elegant and refined demeanor put me on the alert that she was no ordinary woman. Furthermore, under that smooth and gypsy-like appearance I could see in her eyes something dark and ominous lurking with incredibly alluring magnetism. Quite a novelty for a naïve seventeen-year-old lad like me.
She said they were healers in a hippie commune in San Francisco where Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin used to hang out. Solemnly, she showed me some pictures of them and some “healers”, men clad in extravagant clothes where makeup, feathers and horns made for scary oracles staring at you menacingly from sloppy backdrop settings. Before leaving, was invited to attend a hippie party later that evening to continue our conversation. Of course, I said yes!
As I approached their camp that same night, Patrice came right out and led me to a secluded area inside the tent. We engaged in conversation and neither could refrain from being over-excited and enthusiastic about having met each other. I was exultant by her mature and fragrant beauty while she looked overjoyed by my having accepted her invitation. She showed-off her tambura playing as I listened intently laying on my back while the rest of the party chatted lively outside by the bonfire.
The incense burning, the ambiance, and the whole setting was so new to me that I started feeling a bit restless. I just laid there for a while and didn´t feel at ease until she stopped playing the instrument and commenced a conversation. Then things got worse. We were face to face in close proximity and the more she talked, the more I felt enthralled; I was in total awe of her. So much that I didn´t notice when it all started.
Before I knew, the night and everything else had disappeared this instant and it was daytime the next. I was floating in mid-air, cruising by a gorgeous waterfall ecstatic in soothing calm. So enticed that I was tempted to surrender to such delicious sensation when suddenly her eyes came into view, translucent and superimposed over the picture, and that terrified me because I knew that that couldn´t be happening, and even though it had lasted two mere seconds, sheer terror made me divert my gaze instinctively, lest some spell would fall upon me! With great effort I could finally free my gaze before she screamed NO!
I jumped on my feet and got out of there running for dear life alongside the waterfront, away from their tent. In contrast, the night was especially beautiful. I could see the reflection of lights of Puerto Ángel across the bay under the dimly lit starry night, but I was possessed with terror. When I was at considerable distance and alone in the middle of that night, I fell on my knees on the cool sand utterly surprised at the sudden emotional state in which I had fallen.
With great fear of the unknown, but oddly empowered by a strange force and still trembling, I “knew” then that my real age was not 17 years. No, my name, and all that makes me the person I am, my identity, was just an accident in an existence that dated ages back. I knew I was peeking into the “real” reality of everything there is; one in which there is no time, no death, so bright and blissful and welcoming that I just gave up reasoning and contemplated the night in tears.
Don’t remember how I made it back to Puerto Ángel. I stayed as a recluse at my friends´ place for the three following days for fear of running into the women again. Patrice had left such a harrowing imprint upon my adolescent mind that I kept on the defense, also fearing for what I had witnessed on that beach alone after our encounter.
Feeling embarrassed by my lack of valor after being teased by Mateo and brothers I decided to go back to Playa del Panteón once more and confront my fears. Yet secretly I knew that my going back to Patrice meant some kind of a commitment, a giant leap in my apprenticeship of life; to meet that something that was being offered to me and that I was meant to accept like a man.
This time took a shortcut. Painstakingly, traversed the bay´s rocky cliff sorting out the waves crashing against its pristine wall. From one slab to the next kept on jumping until I landed on Playa del Panteón. Startled, the first thing I saw was Patrice´s figure seated at a distance on the solitary beach looking right at me. She was smiling and welcoming me like no one before had done in my life.
I sat next to her while she predicted my future through the I Ching coins and pictured just how great for us would be to function as healers back in Frisco. Spoke about her life and after some small talk the real topic of the conversation began to unravel. Said I was the person she had been waiting for all her life, her star, her ideal love all the while kissing me in an embrace so intense and intimate that I failed to notice we were already deep in the ocean!
We spent the rest of the day in such fashion until the arrival of nighttime. Invited to stay, we kept on kissing for the duration of the most astonishing night I had known to that point. She was madly in love while I was just trying to keep up and take in all that was happening so fast and for which I was clearly unprepared. Nevertheless, we didn´t let go until Easter vacations ended and I went back to my little school in Huatulco.
Two weeks later went back to Puerto Ángel. Coincidentally, the mailman had a letter for me. It was from Patrice saying she missed me and wanted to see me soon. After I was done at the District hurried up to see her. We resumed our torrid idyll and stayed together for one more indescribable weekend after which they had already planned to go back to California.
Patrice had invited me countless times to elope and, even though I had repeatedly discarded the idea she mistakenly kept daydreaming of a place where we would live blissfully together for the rest of our lives. But when I told her I wasn´t going all her world came tumbling down in the most heart-wrenching fashion. In fact, all of them were dumbfounded by this revelation. Patrice couldn´t believe her dream lover was slipping off her hands like sand in the waves.
From that moment on she was in tears and profoundly tormented. She couldn´t cope with the idea of our separation and couldn´t believe I had decided to remain in Mexico. Patrice became inward and desolated for the last moments we waited for my bus. Everyone was crying and even Sherlane made eye contact with me while Rose tried hard to understand why I had opted for staying. My heart was broken and so was Patrice´s. She never stopped sobbing until the very last moment we kept on waving goodbye.
I went back to work to finish my gestion for the last four months then back to headquarters in Puerto Ángel to finalize my tenure. Then, deliberately headed for Mateo´s house to say good bye. I was surprised by the silence. This time there was no teasing. Mateo, La Rana, Aurelio and Pavo where crestfallen and silent avoiding eye contact. At first, I thought they were just joking, but then Mateo barely audible said: “Your witch didn´t leave”. What? He then glanced at the others as if waiting for approval or encouragement to continue talking and blurted out the worst news I have ever heard. “She´s become the fishermen´s prostitute, an alcoholic, a destitute, a beggar barely surviving. You can find her at the palapa on the beach.”
I felt like the sky was falling, like the gates of hell had opened, like my legs were unable to sustain me. Unable to cry nevertheless with a knot down my throat and in tunnel vision ran downhill to the restaurant where it wasn´t hard to locate her. She was at a table with 4 or 5 rough local men all drunk, especially she, who appeared to be asleep or passed out.
I approached the table where the men kept ranting wildly without paying any attention to me; Patrice was slumped on a metal chair with her head hanging down not noticing I was standing right next to her. When I pronounced her name, she slowly raised her gaze with trembling motion and didn´t recognize me at first. Her glassy eyes struggling to focus, her sunken face, her dirty hair and rags, all gave the impression of a homeless, downtrodden individual.
It took her a while to come about and realize who was there talking to her. Crying with infinite sadness, I almost yelled why, Patrice, why? Her face went from total indifference and dejection to visit all the human emotions before realizing it was me. Something that wanted to be a smile died before blurting out with a raspy voice “…because I´ve been waiting for you!” and started sobbing while the men laughed loudly and mocked her. Terrorized and having reached my absolute peak, ran the hell out of there straight for the bus to Mexico City without ever looking back crying all the way with an unequivocal sense of doom, guilt, and devastating sadness.
I might have forgotten the whole tormenting affair with Patrice sooner if it wasn´t for the weird phenomenon that took place every night for the next 6 months: The same vision I had when we met was reenacted every time the lights were off. There, in an endless visual loop, my aerial cruising by a waterfall repeated while Patrice´s emerald eyes haunted me time and again.