By Nora Vasconcelos
By Nora Vasconcelos
It was six months since Tom, Sam and Charlie had designed a plan that would take them to fly over the main archaeological zones that were well preserved in the Yucatan Peninsula.
The idea had started as a school project when their literature teacher asked them to write an essay describing the most fantastic journey they could ever imagine.
Working in small groups, some of the boys and girls wrote stories about traveling to India, others described detailed trips to South America, and there were some groups that even imagined time travels to the past or the future as well as space journeys to faraway galaxies.
For the three friends their ideal trip was one that would take them to see part of their own country from above. Spending time flying in a balloon seemed to them a much exciting idea than just taking a plane.
Their essay was cheered up by their teachers and classmates, and it was then when a what if? came to their minds, after all How difficult could it be? …Apart from learning how to fly a balloon, borrowing one, getting all the provisions and designing a viable route…
With some help from their schoolmates and the support of their parents, Tom, Sam and Charlie found the way to transform their wish into a plan. Friends and family helped them make some ‘noise’ on Social Media and not so long after the project had started a balloon company that offered touristic services throughout Mexico said that they would sponsor them. The trip was scheduled for the school break, that would give them some time to prepare everything.
Learning how to control the balloon was the most difficult part. None of them had ever been in one before and as thrilled as they were, they had to admit that the very first time when the guide handed them the control, they felt butterflies in their stomachs. But they trained hard, weekend after weekend until every one of them got the gist of it.
Today, this plan was about to become a reality. The official launching day, set for July 15, started at 5:00am when they all gathered at a private runway that was small for commercial planes but big enough for small jets and of course, aerostats.
The travellers, who had arrived to the hangars at 4am, spent the minutes before their departure placing all the supplies inside the huge basket. Packages containing food and water were side by side with all sort of gear, clothes and several small fuel tanks. A map and a sophisticated GPS equipment would accompany them in their hot air balloon trip as well.
The brilliant tones of the balloon shinned as the sunrays went through its fabric. Shadows coloured in red and yellow framed the figures of the three explorers who were concentrated in finalizing all the preparations before getting into the basket.
Teachers, classmates, reporters and even some local politicians gathered around little by little.
At 5:55am, they hugged goodbye their parents, siblings and friends, and smiled, one more time, for the press. Five minutes later, the big balloon, all filled with hot air, started to separate from the pavement, meter by meter until the distance between them and the world below made everything look very small.
A blue sky and a soft breeze coming from the sea delivered the promise of a gentle flight all the way from Campeche city to the archeological zone of Uxmal.
The three friends had decided to fly alone, and not because they wanted to prove anything, they sure would have appreciated having the company of a balloon expert, but taking into consideration the length of their trip, it was wiser to take advantage of the extra storage space to get more supplies and some additional safety equipment.
The winds favoured them once they reached the desirable altitude, then they headed for Uxmal, enjoying a view they had only imagined before. The intense green of the forest was only interrupted by some small villages built in the middle of nowhere. Everything looked so tiny from where they were!
Their cell phone had not signal at that point but they kept on taking photos that they would upload on their Social media accounts as soon as they were able to get some bars.
About and hour and a half later, their hearts skipped a beat when they saw not so far away the top of the Uxmal pyramid. All their dreams were finally coming true and even when they were seeing it with their own eyes, it was hard for them to believe it was true.
As the balloon moved along the area, they couldn’t decide if this ancient site was more impressive from the land or from the skies. What they were certain of was that the view was truly beautiful.
Taking as many pictures as they could, they barely spoke for some time after they had passed the historical zone. Their smiles were doing all the talking then.
Their first stop would be close to the town of Kabah, where they could rest for a while and after that they would try to start sharing their experiences with the rest of the world. A few hours later, they would fly all the way up to Chichen Itza, a little east from where they were now.
Descending into the meadow was easy, and there their sleeping bags allowed them to get some sleep as the excitement and tiredness of the day had started to catch up on them. Smiles again, where all over their faces.
At different times, Tom, Sam and Charlie worked on their digital updates taking advantage of the good signal that their phones were getting from the town close by. Although, they didn’t spend much time doing that as they wanted to be well rested for the next leg of their trip.
The following morning, the same as the previous day, the balloon went up to the air at 6am. The clouds blocking the sunshine gave them some sort of relief as the heat started to increase once they had reached the forest again.
Throughout the jungle some small pyramids could be seen, the same as small towns and villages. The wind, a bit stronger than the day before was helping them get a faster rhythm, which allowed them to arrive to Chichen Itza a little earlier than expected.
Once again, the view from the top was magnificent, the Mayan pyramid and the observatory offered a spectacular view. And it remained spectacular until they landed nearby for the second time. Their hearts seemed to grow out of the excitement. After that, if everything continued according to plan, the next day they would reach Tulum, in the Quitana Roo coast.
Would a bit of rain be a bad sign? Should they wait to continue their journey? They considered that this kind of situations were normal because the weather was supposed to change unexpectedly since it was hurricane season, so, once again, at 6am their colourful balloon headed up to the sky for which it’d be the longest flight of their trip.
As they were traveling south-east, almost an hour after they had departed, they got the bad feeling that the weather would get worst. Now they were sure that they should land, but everything below was a dense forest that would damage the structure of the balloon, so they had no choice but to continue. Lucky for them, the winds, quite strong now, were in their favor.
A little later, they felt relieved when they started to catch glances of the unique sky-blue sea that characterised the beaches that went all the way from Cancun to Tulum. They were getting really close now to their destination and they were very happy about it.
But the storm made the balloon take an unwanted turn! Now they weren’t heading for Tulum anymore, they were going to the opposite direction, away from the shore. Soon they saw from above a big island which should be Cozumel, not only because of its size but because some cruise ships were docked near its pristine beaches.
The balloon continue flying away from the shores and the clear waters became darker, then a sudden storm caused the balloon to deflate and in a matter of seconds, they faced a free fall all the way down to where uneasy waves seemed eager to take them into the deep ocean.
As the basket pulled them inside the high tide, their life jackets lifted them towards the sea surface. With their eyes filled with salt water, they still were able to see that they were far far away from the shore. What could they do?
“Look!” Tom managed to yell.
Then his two friends saw what he was pointing at…
Was it real or just a hallucination?
A cargo ship with a big green and white flag painted on one side and a Nigeria logo written with big lettering on the other side appeared on the horizon.
Would they be rescued before they drowned? They wondered.
(To be continued next Wednesday on Obinna Udenwe’s Blog: )
* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project
By Nora Vasconcelos
— — —
[You can read the first part of this story on Obinna Udenwe’s blog]
…Father and the neighbours couldn’t believe it!
Everybody in our street had felt relieved when the spirit man had died. Things were supposed to go back to normal. Why was this happening to us? We all wondered.
As soon as the news went around, people gathered outside the building were the spirit man used to live. Nobody really knew why we were there. The spirit man was dead, so why we should expect to get any sort of explanation by standing in front of his apartment.
May be we wanted to be sure that he was really dead. After all, he was the spirit man, and his feet never touched the pavement, or so the kids said.
Would it be our collective guilt that had brought us here? I thought.
What if the spirit man didn’t have anything to do with our misfortunes and he’d been killed for no reason at all..? No! That couldn’t be. Everybody in the neighbourhood said that he was guilty because people had died just because they had looked at him…
All these ideas tormented me over and over while I was standing there. Then something happened… Something nobody expected.
As a big gray cloud covered the sky, we saw how some light was coming from the spirit man’s apartment.
How was that possible? We wondered, asking each other if we had actually seen what we thought we had seen.
Silence invaded us. Then we watched more attentively. A chill was felt around our paralysed bodies. There was not only light coming from his apartment, but also noise…
‘Someone is there!’ A woman screamed.
‘That can’t be true!’ A young man said. ‘We got rid of the body at the lagoon… Even more, we saw it disappear as it sank in the muddy waters.’
It couldn’t be the owner of the building as he was away this week, visiting his family in the countryside.
So, who was there?
The uncertainty was terrible. But nobody dared to get closer to look inside the place. A young boy had passed away even after the spirit man had died, so, it was for sure that whoever looked through those windows would share the same faith…
‘Spirits don’t died, that’s why!’ A young boy said, hiding among the crowd.
Was that true? Had the spirit man come back from the land of the death…?
‘I’ll go and see!’ An old man said. ‘Cancer has already taken the best of my years, pain’s unbearable and one less day on this earth won’t really matter.’
We all looked at him when he started to approach the place.
As he was getting really close to one of the windows, the lights in the apartment went out.
Anyway, the old man had the chance to get a glance. ‘It’s empty!’ He yelled, just before he fell onto the floor and died.
Screams filled the air… Then everybody ran away, leaving the body of the poor man lying there.
When we got home, father said he had to come back. ‘It is not right to leave him there,’ he told us. But little time passed before he came back.
‘He wasn’t there anymore!’ He said. His face pale and his hands shaking.
‘What happened?’ Mother asked. ‘Please don’t tell me that you saw the spirit man?’ She begged.
‘I cannot say it was him, his features were different, his face was different and yet, there was something familiarly odd…’ Father said. Then he remained silent for a while, his eyes fixed on the wall, his body leaning on the door.
‘I can’t stay here with all of you! Not now that I’ve been haunted. I have to go somewhere far away from you. I can’t allow my family to get what I might have…’
And in a second, father was gone.
Mother ran to the door, but when she got close to it, she stopped, afraid of touching it.
What if ‘it’ was contagious even through the objects…? We all dreaded.
Then we cried all the evening until our bodies couldn’t take it anymore and we felt asleep. Only mother remained awake. A candle on the window, a chair blocking the door…
The next morning our doorbell rang. Mother didn’t dare to answer.
The bell didn’t ring again. Only the sound of someone going away was heard.
I shouldn’t have done it. But I did it anyway. While mother was still trying to make sure that whoever had been there was really gone, I looked through the window. A man with a limp was leaving our place …His feet barely touched the street.
I didn’t recognize him. But when I was about to go back to the room, I saw his face as he was turning his head toward our door. His nose was twisted, the same as one of his eyes and one of his ears… His eyes were as brown as the light that appears right after the sun has set and just before the night comes to rule its realm.
An hour passed before mother gathered the courage to open the door. And when she did it we noticed that our house number had disappeared. What did that mean? Were we condemned as well…? Were we going to be the next…?
‘The man with the limp had taken it for sure. But why?’ I said.
‘Let’s go kids!’ Mother ordered, gathering a few clothes in a hurry. ‘We can’t stay here!’
A friend of the family had a small apartment on the corner of our street because it was convenient for him to stay there any time he visited his grandparents who lived two blocks from here.
Mother and father took care of the apartment when he was away, making sure that it remained functional. Now, it would be our hideaway house. Nor the spirit man nor the man with the limp would ever know that we were there. Or so we thought…
The following morning everything was silent. Not even the wind blew around.
When we were getting ready to have our breakfast a bang on the door made us jump from our chairs. Nobody was supposed to know we were there!
Trying to be quiet, mother got near the door and looked through the peephole. ‘Nobody’s there,’ she said. So, she opened the door.
The house number had disappeared again!
Mother went out, hoping a mischievous kid had taken it, but we all knew that it had been the man with the limp.
Then we went out and walked along the street. There were no people outside and all the numbers of all the houses had disappeared. The same as it had happened to us!
Faraway… almost on the opposite corner, we managed to see the man with the limp entering the building where the spirit man used to live. Were they one and the same?
At least no more people had died during the night. Or none that we were aware of. We still didn’t know what had happened to father. It’d be better if we went back to our new place. After all, it had been him who had suggested that we moved there in case things turned more complicated, so he should know where to find us when he felt it was safe.
A few hours later, a note was left under our door. We all thought it’d be from father, so we rushed to pick it up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The note wasn’t sign, it only said: Meet me at the apartment in an hour.
We all knew what apartment was that.
At 2pm all the neighbours got together at the spirit man’s place. Even father was there. Then we were certain that nobody else had died in the last hours, so we felt it should be safe for us to be there. Even so, no one dare to get too close to the apartment.
The man with the limp opened the door and looked at us. His expression was a puzzling one. Who was this man?
‘You all have been part of a terrible crime here,’ he said with a severe voice. ‘You’ve killed a man who never said anything . If he was a spirit or no, you’ll never know.’ The man paused and studied our faces.
‘I’ve come all the way from Gabon, where a cholera epidemic destroyed our hometown. People blamed the spirit man, but there was no way to probe it was his fault even when death became his constant companion…”
‘Oh’s!’ Were heard from the people around us.
‘By taking off the numbers of your homes I’ve prevented the disease from knowing where you live, so it won’t be able to kill anyone else. I’ve also cleaned this apartment with all the herbs and chants I know, so no one will get sick anymore. But remember, what you have done here it will remain for the spirits to be judged, so you might as well never be safe again…”
* * *
* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project
By Nora Vasconcelos
It had been 10 years since I had been here the last time.
The city looked cleaner and bigger. Somehow, more modern, even when all the colonial buildings that mixed the best of the old Spanish and Mexican architecture were still standing around the small central park.
Certainly the main buildings had been cleaned up, and I should say, they looked majestic. New plant stands had been set along the City Hall and some floor to ceiling windows had been added to the office destined to greet tourists.
In the park, things remained the same as I remembered them. A big fountain in the middle of the square, splashing water to all people who walked close by. The tall trees seemed to play with the soft breeze, their branches moving from one side to the other, causing ghostly shadows to reflect on the pavement, giving the whole place an interesting contrast that made dark and sunny areas mix in a unique combination.
My walk across the park took less than ten minutes until I reached one of the galleries that were formed between the space left by the inside buildings and the arches that ran all along the main square, those that people in Puebla called Los Arcos.
Fearing the place wouldn’t be there any more, I walked faster the last steps before reaching it. Lucky for me, it was still open for business.
La cazuela –the cooking pot– was one of the many little restaurants that served locals and tourists some of the best typical dishes for which Puebla was well known around Mexico and in several countries around the world.
The feature dish mole poblano, was often known by foreigners as chicken in chocolate sauce, which I always found a bit funny because, being a Mexican to me chocolate sauce sounded more like a liquid preparation you add to your dessert and not something you have for your main course. And that was the funniest thing, the dish in fact had chicken, or turkey, in it, but the sauce was a thick mixture of several dry chilies and spices with just a small portion of chocolate to make the hot preparation a mild one, quite tasty and not that hot after the concoction was finished.
Anyways, I wasn’t here for the famous mole, nor for the also famous chiles en nogada, the same recipe for poblano chilies stuffed with minced beef and fruits covered with walnut sauce that centuries ago was made for the first time by a group of nouns, a little after Mexico had gained its independence from Spain.
No, my purpose was not the food, although I asked for a table and checked on the menu before ordering today’s meal: arroz con pollo. Some fried rice with tomato sauce and chicken would be all what my stomach could take. My nerves were making me feel uneasy as time passed by inside the place.
Nothing had changed there. The same walls with the old paintings showing some of the passages of the history of Puebla still decorated the restaurant.
Crowded tables with colorful tablecloths in red, white and green were surrounded by hungry people who looked happy to dip their fingers along with their corn tortillas inside the thick mole preparation.
As I waited for my food, my heart started beating faster …Is he still here? I wondered. A decade had passed by since we had seen each other for the last time, and I still remembered him, the same as if it had been yesterday.
At that time, both of us were working at this same restaurant, I was a waitress, he a bartender, and as it often happens when people spend many hours together, we went from polite coworkers to best friends to couple of the year.
But us being engaged lasted less than a week. At that time, I was offered a job in California, working for a fancy food chain, and I took the chance. I knew the timing was terrible for us, but the money I’d earn would help my little brothers and sisters finish school and it’d give my folks a well-deserved rest. They had kept working for several years after their retirement age because their saving weren’t enough to feed five kids and pay for their education.
Besides, Dad’s raw materials store had to close down after a big supermarket had opened on the same street. Then all their dreams of a comfortable life at their old age disappeared. No more dreams for them to see with their own eyes the Mediterranean Sea, and no more dreams of me becoming a college girl soon to be married to a loving man.
California was the answer to all our problems. Or almost all, because secretly, I had been wishing for another gorgeous thing to happen. I knew I was ambitious, but I wished with all my heart that I could keep my new job and my beloved man. He hadn’t been offer a position, although he had applied for it at the same time I had done it.
He promised he’d found a solution but things happened too fast. One day he had looked at me as if I were the most beautiful girl in the world, the only girl in the world he wanted to marry, and the next week he was staring at me silently, with his mouth half open as if words were stuck in his throat, unable to move, unable to say good bye.
We simply stood there, right in front of each other. I had stopped by the restaurant to see him for the last time, wishing deep inside he’d change his mind, wishing he said he’d found a way to go with me, wishing he’d say he’d wait for me. But he didn’t say any of those things.
When I entered the place, carrying my suitcase, he looked at me with his deep hazel eyes and smiled at me as if the sunrise had just appeared on the horizon.
‘I’m leaving,’ I said softly, with all the strength I was able to gather.
We looked at each other for a long second that in our hearts was equal to the eternity. We didn’t speak a word and yet we said I love you to each other with our eyes, speaking in silence, all in that long lingering painful second…
‘Well, I’m leaving,’ I said, wanting so badly he reached for me. But that didn’t happened. He didn’t even say good-bye to me. He just stayed there, looking at me, intensely, as if the world were closing its curtain for the last time …and yet, he said nothing.
I walked away and as I got close to the bus stop I turned my face to see him, at least one more time. And there he was standing in the same position. He hadn’t move, he hadn’t even turned his head away, he was still there looking at me as I was leaving. And then, I left.
Ten years had passed since that day, and here I was again. Back at the same restaurant. Hoping he’d still be here.
The smells coming from the kitchen made me hungry. It was hard to resist all those aromas mixed in amusing combinations. My eyes then toured the place, looking for his familiar face. I knew I hadn’t seen him in so long but his features remained fresh on my mind, exactly the same as the last time we had seen each other.
I looked at the bar, and sighed disappointed when a bartender I didn’t recognized was serving drinks to a group of businessmen.
Probably he isn’t here any more, why should he? I though. My mood was turning as grey as the sky that was getting ready for an early rainfall.
What if he is still here and he doesn’t want to see me? May be he has a family now and he has forgotten all about me… Doubts and more doubts were all over my head. What is the point of me being here…? I wondered.
My arroz con pollo finally arrived, along with some warm tortillas, fresh guacamole made with local avocado and a sampler of different hot sauces.
I thanked the waiter, looked at my food and turned my face to the window.
The city looked truly magnificent. How much I had missed it. All those buildings made with stone blocks, the towers and domes that dominated the architecture of the place, the colours that brought to life old constructions that had been renovated. Everything reminded me of the good old times.
Are there any chances for us? I closed my eyes and sighed again. Deeper this time.
I took my fork and got it into my rice. Then I looked around one more time.
One of the small murals presented an old configuration of the city and a legend placed at the top of it that said: Puebla de los Angeles. Then I thought, if this city has always been so magical as to deserved being called in the old legends as the city that the angels built, would it be enough to make my dreams come true..?
(To be continued next Wednesday on Obinna Udenwe’s Blog: )
* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project