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The Trip To Teotihuacan

Cynthia Arnold always feels compelled to share her story when—on the drive back from Teotihuacan to Mexico City—the countryside passes by cluttered with squalled huts spilling forth ragged children to play in the dusty yard beside the road.

She studies the woman sitting beside her in the back seat of the taxi she hired for the visit to the pyramids. In compliance with an unwritten expectation of the settlement with her ex-husband, she plays tour guide. Her latest charge, Anne Johnson—a friend of Sydney’s—seems good-natured, but Cynthia suspects she is overly sentimental, as well as a bit naïve.

“After Sydney and I married, we came to Mexico for his business. When I learned I couldn’t have a child, we decided to adopt—excited by the prospect of giving a native the benefits of education and travel.”

The driver turns toward his passengers, his brown eyes darkening to black. His gaze is so steady that he doesn't see the child run into the road.

“Watch out!” Anne commands, her concern needing no translation.

 The taxi swerves, the driver barely missing the little girl.

“Bravo!” Cynthia exclaims, responding as she always does to a show of skill. It is the same thrill she experiences at the Plaza de Toros Mexico bullring. She will take her guest on Sunday. It’s something tourists must do, although she doubts Anne will enjoy the experience.

Visibly shaken by the close call, Anne sits huddled in the corner of the back seat wrapped in her damp trench coat that appears to emit steam while it slowly dries. Sitting next to her, Cynthia leans forward to pull away from the crumbling green leather that she is certain is leaving a murky stain on her own coat.

Despite Anne's obvious physical discomfort, a triumphant expression lights her face as she remembers the moment.

“I DID IT,” she crows. “I’ll be able to tell everyone I climbed to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun—all 248 steps.”

 Halfway up the pyramid, the sky had suddenly let loose its accumulated burden. Ignoring the downpour, Anne insisted on going all the way. Just as she reached the top, the sun miraculously splashed gold through the curtain of dark clouds.

Cynthia, perched on the last platform to obligingly memorialize the occasion, hoped Anne’s friends back in St. Louis will be sufficiently impressed with the pictures because she was thoroughly drenched.

And her shoes. Even now, she is worried about her shoes. They are new, navy-blue cobra, which go nicely with her navy dress and white coat but wearing them when rain was forecast was rather foolhardy. She leans down, feeling them to see if they are losing their shape. It’s too soon to tell.

“Sydney promised to show me Mexico.” Anne says as though in answer to an unasked question. “When it turned out he wasn’t free to travel, he assured me you would be glad to do the honor.”

Cynthia has no way of knowing if Sydney’s obligation is business or personal. After studying her for a moment, she decides Anne is attractive enough in a rather ordinary way, but it's hard to predict Sydney’s current taste, although she knows from personal experience that he prefers blondes.

“But I fear it’s rather unfair to you—being a guide for all of this sightseeing,” Anne says.

“It’s no problem,” Cynthia answers absently. Occasionally she feels inconvenienced but accepts the role because of her confidence in Sydney and his ultimate generosity. She knows he offers Taxco as part of the itinerary, so she'll have to make arrangements. Perhaps she can hire today's driver whose skill impresses her.

As though in response to her thoughts, the young man turns, pinning Cynthia with his stare. She recognizes that he is quite good-looking. His black hair, falling in a boyish manner over his forehead, almost hides his eyes. His partially open mouth reveals perfectly straight white teeth. She senses he is intelligent, perhaps the result of more education than many of the other drivers. Turning his attention back to the road, he suddenly accelerates.

            Cynthia feels pressure to share her tale before they arrive back in the city. Knowing her story is compelling—although long—it isn't right to tell it unless told properly. It isn't the type of thing to fling out, ending first, without any background, because the listener can't understand its full significance.

“When Raymond—we named our son after my father, but he insisted we call him Ramon—came home during his summer break, we treated him as we would any tourist.” She forges ahead, her sense of urgency reflected in the rapidity of her words. “After all, he hadn’t lived with us in Mexico since the age of seven—being away at school—and his English and French were much better than his Spanish.”

Glancing at Anne, Cynthia sees she doesn't yet have Anne’s complete interest, but she’s confident she will intrigue her.

 “Sydney wasn't with us that day,” Cynthia says. “He had to fly to Paris, so I asked our chauffeur to drive Ramon and me to the pyramids.”

Cynthia finds this part of the trip the most difficult. Perhaps when the new road is built, she’ll be able to make the excursion without reliving the experience. It isn't a feeling of guilt that haunts her because all possibilities were explored. They did all they could, certainly more than most people would have been able to afford.

Sydney insisted it wasn't their fault. He'd been able to let go, to wash his hands of the whole thing. In fact, shortly afterward, he’d left permanently.

“This is where we lost Raymond—Ramon,” Cynthia continues in a hushed voice. “It was nine years ago.” She pauses, confident she’s now captured Anne’s full attention.

“Oh my, I didn’t know,” Anne whispers. “An accident? This road is so dangerous.”

“Ramon was a difficult child.” Cynthia glances toward the driver while lowering her voice. “He was quite brilliant, all the IQ tests said so, but he never applied himself in school. That day he had a strange look. I blamed it on the heat; it was extremely hot. As we began to walk down the Avenue of the Dead, he was in a daze, stumbling over rocks and almost falling. Finally, afraid he was ill, I insisted he return to our car. When I went back to check on him, you can imagine my panic to discover he wasn’t there. Our chauffeur said he had returned, stayed a few minutes, and wandered off. It must have been half an hour or forty-five minutes before we found him.”

 Cynthia glances toward Anne. Satisfied by the other woman's stricken look, she continues.

“I saw him in the distance sitting on a pile of boulders. He was staring directly at the sun. When I called his name, he turned toward me with unseeing eyes—then followed me to the car as docile as a sleepwalker. On the ride back, he sat in the front—pressed against the door while he appeared to be dozing. Then suddenly, as we were passing a little settlement overflowing with squalid dwellings, half-naked children, and debris—like the area we just drove through—he instructed our chauffeur to slow down.”

Cynthia pauses briefly before continuing.

Ramon seemed to watch the scene for a moment, then flung open the car door and threw himself out. The chauffeur tried to grab his arm but was too late.”

Anne appears smaller, deflated. Her ashen color completely erases the bloom of excitement she earned from conquering the Pyramid of the Sun.

“Was he killed?” Her voice is barely audible.

“He landed on the roadside, then getting to his feet, disappeared between the shacks.”

Anne catches her breath.

“Before he jumped,” Cynthia continues, “he said something that sounded like, these are my people—some melodramatic nonsense like that. That was the whole point; he no longer was one of them. We saved him from that life.”

Cynthia’s words pick up speed, echoing the swift tempo of the traffic.

“We stopped the car while our chauffeur hunted for an hour or more. No one was any help; everyone claimed they hadn't seen anyone answering his description. We informed the police. They were nice; they were polite, but, in the long run, they were ineffectual. We hired private investigators. They came up with nothing.”

“Nothing? No sign?” Anne’s voice is soft, full of dismay. “You mean he completely disappeared?”

“The police said hundreds of people vanish each year. But why Ramon? He had everything.”

Cynthia looks intently at Anne, waiting for her reaction. Instead, Anne sinks deeper into the corner of the back seat.

Frustration floods over Cynthia. Once again, she's subjected herself to this trip for the sake of a stranger. Like the others before her, Anne betrays her with her blindness, willfully missing the point of the story—the thoughtlessness of the boy. She knows Anne will repeat the tale back in the States to entertain her friends, but now her only response is a heavy silence.

The driver braves a swift glance over his shoulder as he maneuvers the taxi into the city traffic.

“Where does the Senora wish to go?”

“The Majestic Hotel,” Cynthia instructs him, then turning to Anne, explains in a cold voice, “we’ll have cocktails on the terrace. The twilight colors reflected on the cathedral can be quite lovely.”

“The Majestic Hotel, certainly, Senora. That is a good choice.” The driver acknowledges.

She hasn't thought about the possibility that he understood her story. Undoubtedly, he'll enjoy sharing, as the other drivers do, a bit of gossip about his passengers.

            The taxi is only a few blocks from the hotel. Time is forcing Cynthia to make plans for Taxco. Although she doesn't particularly like this driver, it doesn't matter—all of them are the same. But if she asks him, it can be arranged now.

“How much do you charge for the trip to Taxco?” Leaning forward, Cynthia inquires.

He appears not to understand her. Perhaps his English isn’t as excellent as she thought. She repeats her question in Spanish.

Turning his head slightly toward the back seat, his eyes carefully avoid hers. His voice is mechanical as he gives the amount.

The price is reasonable, but she hesitates before saying, “We would like you to take us on Thursday.”

            “I can’t.”

            “Then Friday.” It’s a statement, not a question.

            There is no reply.

            “Are you busy?”

             “No, I just don’t want to.” His answer is that of a sullen child.

            “Oh,” she half-laughs, feeling relieved. She increases the amount.

            He doesn't respond.

Cynthia, knowing Anne is watching the transaction, has to crack his insolence.

 She doubles her offer.

Again, he remains silent.

“Don’t be stupid. That's good money for a day’s work. You couldn’t do better.”

“You are right,” he says, “but I said no.”

            The Majestic Hotel appears before them. The driver slows down and pulls to a stop in front of the entrance. He gets out, then walks around the taxi to open the rear door for his passengers.

Cynthia pushes her way out of the moldering interior, barely allowing Anne time to follow before slamming the door. Fumbling in her purse, she finds the fare and thrusts it into the driver's outstretched hand.

The day has turned out badly. She needs that cocktail. Elbowing her way through the crowd of noisy tourists choking the sidewalk, she propels Anne toward the sanctuary of the hotel.

The driver’s voice pursues, stopping Cynthia at the hotel’s entrance.

“Farewell—Mother.”

The taxi pulls away from the curb to be immediately swallowed in the rush of traffic taking with it Cynthia’s hope of reclaiming her lost son.

 

END

 

 

 

BIO:

 

Marianne Kennedy has been a storyteller her entire life.

               She entertained her parents and classmates with weekly “newspapers,” serialized hand-illustrated “comic” books, and stories.

               The movie “Melinda’s World,” based on her novel “Faces of Exile” was produced by DawnTreader Films and featured Zac Efron in his first movie.

 

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