At the same hacienda where I had beheld the “man of fire” when I was six, spent one season seven years later. Now 13, along with my native peers from childhood plotted mischief: to get drunk for the first time during the dance coming up August 2nd. Digestible alcohol and soft drinks were our booze choice which we started imbibing since the beginning of the heavily attended party to which, donning their best attires, arrived the field workers from areas as far away as the Sierra Gorda.
Norteñas and Tambora music ensembles performed their respective hits to which all the attendees danced enthusiastically. No wonder since there was food galore and plenty of mezcals to drink, especially by groups of more traditional folks clad in vintage garments who chatted excitedly and with abandon. In contrast, and if through a veil, I could barely grasp the blurred images of that boisterous crowd while awkwardly stumbled sideways over the dance floor to the amusement of onlookers. We were at the back of the hacienda on the external side, close to the river which, according to locals is The Llorona´s abode. But no one worried about that now, at least not that anyone could tell.
Many hours went by and for obvious reasons, I retain no recollection of what took place for the rest of the evening until I finally passed out unaware of when, how, and where had I ended up lying on the ground. Woke up at dawn realizing I was alone prostrated over a vomit spill amid a cactus field where no one could tell a gathering had taken place earlier. No party leftovers, no trash, not even the slightest clue could be found of what had happened a few hours prior. The site was emptied in its entirety, and I pondered why had they abandoned me, why no one had tried to rouse me.
It was wild terrain, silent as a tomb, and even though there were some shacks close by, no signs of bodily life could be seen anywhere. Aghast and in disbelief, became self-conscious of being alone in that field next to the river, and still dizzy started on the dirt path toward the dark, narrow street that ushered me uphill stumbling alongside the hacienda´s long walls with the sole idea of crashing into bed.
More confused than scared, tried to decipher the meaning of such an abrupt and mysterious party ending. It seemed like no celebration had taken place at all. Instead, it looked as if strange forces had deliberately assembled a complex scheme just to make sure I could be there that day and hour who knows for what purposes.
Continued my wobbly treading, ever more convinced that behind all that something ominous struggled to manifest itself.
Half-relieved made it to the deser ted main square on the way to the hacienda; there was not a living thing in sight and such abnormal silence put me on the alert. There were neither crickets chirping, nor dogs barking, nor any sort of sound that would convey a sense of normality to that moment could be heard. Everything looked expectant as if a mute gathering inhabiting the shadows waited for my arrival to finally obtain the right witness to an extraordinary act. I felt the time had stopped and, mustering courage for lack of any other options, kept on going intuiting an imminent revelation.
Watchful for any surprise that could pop-up at any moment in the face of that unreal silence, moved cautiously through the shadows by the front of the stone church, also in darkness, until something out of the ordinary forced me to look. Contrasting with the surrounding blackness, a shining that slipped out the temple´s threshold made me climb without volition the stairway made of rock till the nave´s front entrance. Still dizzy but expectant and dry-mouthed, was able to peek through the cracks of the old portico´s woodwork, though it took me more than a moment to believe what I was seeing.
Lighted by candles, kneeling at the base of the altar, a grey-haired elderly woman, quite thin and pale, donning fine, expensive black garments in rather aristocratic poise, prayed fervently with her sight fixed on the sacristy while the village was asleep. A vision entirely incongruous, first because this hamlet was inhabited solely by peasants modestly dressed in plain working clothes, secondly, by the fact nobody prays at that hour in a closed-down temple.
I stayed put for some moments in total awe trying to explain the scene. Looked for more people in the belief that it might have been an imported rite taking place with foreign visitors, but saw no one else apart from that pious lady and her anguished prayer, locked-in in that deserted church where the candles lighting the act only made it look unreal all the more. I retreated more confused than scared while trying to make sense out of what I had seen so far until chills running down my spine brought me to recollect: the lady on olden family portraits always dressed in Victorian clothes, and the one I had in front of me now, as incredible as it sounds, was my grandmother, deceased 25 years back! The surly mother of my father who had become widowed after her husband was assassinated in nearby pastureland.
I was convinced that perhaps she had hoped for the long-awaited moment in which to show herself up to one of her grandsons she didn't get to know in life, and whom she knew was paying a visit to the village, maybe with the remote probability of stopping by the temple at an ungodly hour to put an end to her tiring spell. At any rate, knowing that no one would ever see her at that hour to validate her act, it´s possible that she might have waited perhaps 25 years for an improbable witness coming back from her luring, prearranged ghostly ball, to behold her furtive rapture and finally dispel her curse so she could rest, liberated, in her niche by the altar not to get up ever again.