The Last Fariseo
I’m sitting here in Hermosillo at my little table on the patio with the spiders and the ants. It’s the Catholic holy time, Lent, March 24. The Fariseos have been coming around in small groups, dancing and collecting alms, suffering silently their 40-day penance. The Fariseos are the Yaqui Indians’ contribution to this mixed-up religious season. I watch the latest group move down the street in their colorful, macabre costumes. It’s about 11 a.m., and heating up. Natalia has gone to physical therapy by herself. I don’t know where everyone else is.
I hear a rattling coming up the street. Another Fariseo. But this guy’s alone, walking slowly, kicking a plastic bottle. He doesn’t look too excited. He’s got a huge-eagle’s head mask, painted red and white and black, that covers his whole head. The beak is agape and through the beak the man’s head is covered in a black hood with eye holes. He wears a red wool Indian pullover and a reed skirt hangs from his waist to his knees over his blue jeans and he’s got those rattling butterfly cocoons around his shins like leg warmers. He carries a round shallow drum in his left hand but he isn’t thumping it.
He stops outside the patio, which is completely enclosed by a chain-link fence all the way to the plywood roof. He doesn’t see me. He looks up and down the street, sets his drum down on the sidewalk and digs a cellphone out of his pocket, starts thumbing through something.
“Que tal, Fariseo?” I say.
He jumps like he’s seen a ghost, drops his cellphone and almost trips over the curb into the street, his cocoons making noise like beer-can tabs.
He straightens his colossal eagle head and comes closer, looks through the fence at me.
“Andas perdido?” I say.
I know he’s not supposed to talk. It’s part of their vow. I point up the street where the other Fariseos have rounded the corner.
He groans as he bends down to pick up his cellphone and his drum, his eagle head going crooked on him again.
“You’re a gringo?” he says in perfect English from inside that big totem head.
It startles me.
“How’d you guess,” I say. “I didn’t think you guys were supposed to talk.”
“Hey, man,” he says, “can I use your bathroom?”
“Well, uh, OK, I guess, sure.”
It’s not a good idea to let anyone in the house, but, hell, he’s a Fariseo. They’re like messengers from God; it wouldn’t be right to refuse him.
I open the gate.
“Come on in.”
“You’re a lifesaver,” he says.
He follows me across the little patio and into the house through the side door. His eagle head bumps against the doorway.
“Fuck,” he says. “This goddamned thing.”
“Bathroom’s right there.”
He trips over a toy car that little Leo has left on the floor, and knocks his head into the doorway again. The toilet seat clatters down. You can hear everything in this house. It’s only about 400 square feet, the size of a couple of college dorm rooms. He groans. I don’t want to stand there, but I can’t leave him alone either. I hear him messing with the paper and muttering, the reed skirt rustling as he buckles his pants. The flush. Then he’s heaving, barfing into the toilet.
He opens the door. He’s taken his eagle head off and his black hood is pushed up to his forehead. Sweat covers his brown Indian face, maybe 30 years old, bloodshot eyes.
“Can I wash my hands?” he says, trying to turn on the sink.
“Doesn’t work,” I say. “You can use the shower.”
“Ah, screw it.”
He picks up his eagle head and tucks it under his arm like a football helmet.
He follows me back out to the patio.
“Have a seat,” I say.
“Twist my arm.”
He sets his eagle head on the table and plops down on a plastic chair.
“Why do you speak English?” I say.
“I lived in San Diego for 15 years.”
I reach down into my ice cooler and grab a can of beer.
“Mind if I get one of those?” he says.
He cracks one and drinks it in two long gulps, crushes the can and tosses it to the ground. He reaches down for another.
“They deported me last year from California,” he says. “I had some trouble with my old lady and she called immigration on me. Can’t even see my kids now.”
“My wife was deported, too,” I say.
“No shit? Fucking gringos. No offense.”
“It’s all right.”
“Spare a smoke?”
I slide him the pack and the lighter. He lights up and sucks in a drag and holds it like it’s a marijuana joint, exhales long and slow, his big Yaqui lips puckered up. He’s got a wispy black mustache that he’s probably been growing for a couple of years.
“How do you become a Fariseo? You gotta put in an application or something?”
“Shit, I had to go back and live with my uncle in Quetchehueca. He’s making me do this. They’re all into it. My uncle says I got to do it because of my sins. I don’t know why we had to come to Hermosillo, though. It’s hotter’n fuck here.”
“Tell me about it.”
“And they gave me the heaviest goddamned eagle head to wear. They did it on purpose. They think it’s funny. The thing weighs like 50 pounds. Can’t see a fucking thing, sweating all day …”
“Where do you guys sleep?”
“We got a camp out in the desert.” He gestures to the east. “It sucks. Sleeping on the fucking ground with the snakes and shit. Eating beans every night. Those Indians love it! The crazy bastards! Like this is gonna help them get into heaven or something! What I wouldn’t give for a pizza.”
“How many days you got left?”
“I lost count, who the fuck knows? I’ll probably be dead before Easter.”
“Is it true you guys hold a rosary in your mouth all day?”
“S’posed to, but hardly anyone does. I mean, who’s gonna know?”
“I guess God might know.”
“Well, I don’t think God gives a shit. Look around! Does it seem like God gives a shit?”
“No, it does not.”
“They say this is supposed to purify us, dancing around like a bunch of goons, what is this, the fucking circus? Am I a mascot at a baseball game? Am I the fucking San Diego chicken? Look at this skirt! Can you believe this shit? Purified, sure! Dehydrated, that’s about it. I got punched in the nuts by a kid the other day.”
“I notice you don’t have a cup for people to put money in.”
“They don’t trust me with the cup.”
“What happens to the money people give, anyway?”
“We spend it at the strip club.”
“I’m just messing with you. No, it goes into a fund. But believe me, it don’t add up to much. Cheap sons-a-bitches. Pinches Mexicans think 5 pesos is gonna save their souls! Shit. They got plenty of money for beer on the weekends, and carne asada, but when it comes to saving their souls, 5 pesos, at most!”
He lights another smoke and says, “Where’d you say you were from?”
“I’m Roberto. You can call me Bob.”
“Mateo. Mucho gusto.”
“Likewise. You live here now?”
“Staying for a while. Not sure what’s going to happen.”
“Ever been to San Diego?”
“No, I heard it’s nice.”
“Beautiful, man. And the women! Chingada madre!”
He crunches another can, grabs a new one.
“You just sit around here all day?” he says.
We don’t say anything for a few minutes. Then he sighs and stands up, puts his big eagle head back on and picks up his drum.
“I guess I should be going. Uncle will be pissed. More than usual, I mean. Think I could get one to go?”
He stashes a beer somewhere under his red wool pullover.
“Have a good one, Bob. Nice talking to you,” I say.
He nods and walks out the gate, hitting his head on the fence. I watch him walk slowly up the street and around the corner.
When I try to light another cigarette, I realize he’s taken my lighter.