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Young and Foolish in Mexico

“Did that really happen?” I query. She stares at me a bit amazed. “Don’t you remember we stayed with the Colla family in Cuernavaca at the beginning? We got the connection from a friend here in Toronto?”

No, I don’t recall the family although I do remember we did start our trip in Mexico there. I’m wondering why some events have been emblazoned in my mind while others are mere shadows, misty wisps of a street or the feel of the heat in a market where flies buzzed around rotting fruit.

We’re sitting at her table and handling old photos permanently stuck in one of those old albums. I’ve tried to dislocate mine but they tear and the surrounding stickiness of the pages has turned yellow and brown with age. Yet the images captured of us as girls are clear. My black pigtails hang to my waist; her brownish pony tail is long and thick. We are young and slim, in some wearing modest bathing suits surrounded by smiling young men.

Through a series of coincidences I have stumbled back into a relationship with S, my best friend from high school: a person I have not seen in 42 years. And here we now sit in her house, chatting as if the years separating us had not occurred. We appraise one another now, more mature ladies than we once were. More wrinkles, rounder bodies. We are tentative, careful as we examine these vestiges from our past life.

She shows me a grouping of mummified bodies displayed in Guanajuato and I cannot recall visiting the actual corpses, only the macabre  candies sold outside on the street: a variety of sugar skeletons on sticks.

“And remember how we met a guy on the beach and later that night we received a note to bring his boots to the jail in Puerta Vallarta?” I cringe at the memory of two very naive young women who blithely nodded their heads yes, picking up the boots from the concierge and deciding to drop them at the jail before dinner. We spoke a little Spanish so we felt we could manage the situation. The guards flirted a little, insisting they could not pass anything to the prisoners, but we were very cute and persistent and our reservation at the café was waiting so we pressed and eventually they nodded and after all, even people thrown into jail for not covering their hotel bills should have the benefit of foot covering, we conceded.

The prison guards said they had to check the boots first: which seemed reasonable. However, when they drew out the machete that was snuggled deep in the boot, we were speechless, fixed as bugs by pins on a board.

“This is serious”, warned a guard”…smuggling contraband to an inmate. We need to get the jefe.”

Sternly, we were informed that we must now move to an inner passage that connected the front desk to the jail where the prisoners were kept. Years later when I watched Midnight Express, I recognized the exposed dark and insidious hole where men moaned, ranted and roamed on the other side of our passage way. I realized that no one knew where we were, two travellers rambling with no fixed destinations for three weeks in Mexico. We stood and we stood, only two thin wooden doors separating us from the pit on one side and safety on the other. It felt like hours as we protested louder and angrier that we were innocent, had no knowledge of knives, had just decided to do a favour for an expat on the beach, that we wanted to leave, that we had no idea there was a concealed weapon, that we were Canadian – as if that might cleanse us of any wrongdoing.

The guards laughed sardonically and sneered at us, two silly girls, through the window of the closed door as they continued to remonstrate that we must wait for the jefe to arrive.

Did we wait for hours? Was it merely a half hour, I don’t know. Eventually I began to weep and then convulsively cry. I reached out and tentatively turned the door handle and miraculously, it was not locked -so we walked, then ran past the derisive laughter of the guards.

Both S and I recalled this memory vividly, a piece of our youth, of being innocent and young and trusting in a world where maybe it was possible for keys to unlock doors that should be locked and being able to escape terrible consequences of ill thought out actions. The story reminded me of the Frog and Toad stories I later read to my children where a staunch Frog and a querulous Toad, over a cup of tea, their hands shaking, discuss their shivers. Even 42 years later, we re-experienced that good, warm feelings of friendship.

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One thought on “Young and Foolish in Mexico

  1. Wow! What an awful/memorable experience! Thank goodness you got away okay–I’m not sure I would trust the safety of 18 year-old girls in Mexico these days!

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