Sunday, February 21, 2010


The Return of the God Quetzal
By Michael McLaughlin

Over the small Mexican village of San Cristobal, craggy mountains loomed and the high arroyos were filled with a misty white fog. A pale, lopsided moon hung early in the afternoon indigo sky.

Short and muscular Francisco smiled and hoped it was a great day for a balloon seller---It always was on the feast day of San Felipe de Paloma. Francisco and his wife Mirasol hurried to finish filling the last of the helium balloons; he still had to change into his leather Aztec dancing costume. He looked down and smiled at his four year old son Jose, who would dance for the first time. Mirasol smiled too with a mother’s joy at little Jose in his precioso Aztec warrior suit. He wore a helmet of a jaguar head and his brown pudgy face came out the mouth. The drums sounded in the plaza and the little Aztec warrior slid off the metal bench and began stomping his feet and dancing in a circle.

Mirasol announced, “Today will be a great day for balloons.” She slipped another green and silver limp balloon over the brass nozzle and instantly, like magic, it filled.

“No.” Francisco said with a big smile. “Today will be the greatest day…” He waved his finger in the air and paused dramatically. “…of any balloon seller in Mexico. Ever.” He laughed and quickly tied a loose balloon to a wooden stick and then ran off to dress for the dance.

Little Jose was still dancing. “Sientese. When you father returns you will dance together.” Mirasol looked around at the large crowd, continued to fill balloons and knew if they sold all the balloons and she saw her son dance, it would be the happiest day of her life. She blessed herself for her good life, her husband, and most of all her little boy.

Mirasol looked up and Francisco returned the Aztec dancer, dressed in snakeskin loincloths, a huge headdress of pheasant feathers shimmered in the light, ankle shell pods rattled with every step.

“The balloons are filled. I’ll get the money pouch and water out of the truck.” She handed Francisco a shimmering, giant bundle of floating balloons.

Francisco heard the drum beat and shouts of the dancers. He called over his son. “Jose, hold the balloons and do not let go.” Then Francisco visualized balloon money floating away into the heavens so he tied the balloons around the boy’s waist. “Jose, stay here until your mother returns.” More drums and Francisco ran to dance in a circle of men.

Dancing, Francisco looked back across to the plaza and saw the huge cluster of balloons sway and slow drift up carrying Jose. But Francisco was not alarmed, for he could only see the beauty of his smiling son and the balloons. When his wife screamed, Francisco came out of his dream and raced to catch his son before he floated away. But it was way too late. Mirasol yelled to a police officer who fumbled to get his pistol out.

“No!” She screamed and wrestled the gun away. Francisco and Mirasol tried to follow the balloons in their truck, but strong breezes quickly lifted their son up and over the mountain tops into the pale moon sky. When they lost sight of the balloons they cried and then drove home in silence, not believing what had happened.

* * * *

As twilight faded into darkness little Jose wondered why his parents did not tell him of the long balloon ride before he danced. But it was fun floating through the clouds. He was warm in his costume and soon fell asleep silently drifting in the moonlight.

Over the mountain and down into a fertile valley was the village of Nahuatl people. That night the entire village was seated around a roaring fire, arguing in loud voices; the elders had called a meeting about the planned golf course nearby. Most saw their way of life disappearing and nothing could save them now from the grasp of modern Mexico. The old gods had left the hearts and spirits and soon would leave the memory of all their people.

One of the villagers yelled and pointed, and out of the stars and moon sky Jose swooped down and suddenly stood before the villagers. Then the night wind pushed the balloons down into the fire and they exploded. The people fell to the ground in fear.

Jose looked around for his parents and thought he should start dancing, but there was no drum beat. He decided to dance anyway, stomping his little feet and swinging his arms up and down. One by one the villagers raised their heads to see the boy dance. A brave man found his small drum and began a beat. Jose responded with more dancing, this time jumping around and yelping with his little squeaky voice. The people spontaneously joined in and for an hour and the people danced in the fire light until little Jose collapsed in exhaustion. Instantly the drumming and chanting stopped and in the infinite silence, only the crackling of fire, the elders talked low and deep in the lost words from their father’s father’s father. Jose was tired, hungry and confused. He walked to the chief elder, took the man’s hand and asked, “Que tal?” But the old chief was deaf and still out of breath from dancing and he heard Quetzal--- the god of the wind. The elder looked deep into the little boy’s eyes and announced the boy god Quetzal was among them. Under a sky of infinite stars, the Nahuatl villagers dreamt they would awake to a new world. In the morning, all the ground around Jose was covered in flowers and wherever he walked the path before him was strewn with flower petals. The flower girls were all about the age of Jose --- Nahuatl mothers thought way ahead in matters of the gods. Jose was brought offerings of food and drink and Quatezal, the boy god, was a thankful god and ate everything brought before him.

* * * *

Francisco contacted the police and all next day the couple drove around the mountain roads looking for the boy. A picture was sent out to all villages in the state. Mirasol spent nights in church crying and praying and lighting candles to the Virgin Mary. Three weeks later Mirasol stopped going to church and Francisco vowed never to dance again. They had no joy left for life.

Weeks later when the bulletin and picture reached the desk of Police Chief Eduardo Modelo, he instantly he knew the strange news from the village of a young god coming down from the sky and the missing globo machacho were one in the same. That afternoon he drove out to see and talk with the elders. He would just explain the whole matter and it would be settled. But the elders would have none of the Police Chief’s explanations.

“How can this be a boy god of the Nahuatl people? He is dressed as an Aztec warrior?”

One of the elders in a calm voice said, “Are we to question the dress of gods? Maybe there is a reason the boy god wears the clothes of the Aztec. You are the descendants of Aztecs come to take the sacred boy god away, so you can use his powers.”

When police chief got back to the station he reluctantly called the state police who told him to call the federal government and when Chief Modelo finally hung up, he knew the problem was all his to work out. And he also knew he had to find a solution fast or else he would be dismissed as police chief and end up working as a security guard for an armored car service standing around all day and night with a shotgun while others put bills in an ATM machine.

Police chief Modelo called Jose’s father with the news.

“You found my boy?” Francisco screamed to his wife in the kitchen and she came running, wiping her hands on her dress, crying and hitting the walls with her fists, her eyes wild and happy.

“I will come now to get my son. Where is he?”

Then Police Chief Modelo had to explain the whole story and Francisco screamed, “But it is my son, not a god! This is crazy. It is not right! I will get a gun and take him back!”

Police Chief Modelo pleaded, “Do not to go to the village. Many people could be hurt. There is a better way.” Before Modelo hung up he promised to talk sense into the Nahuatl elders. It would be worked out the Mexican way.

The next day Police Chief Modelo returned to the village and it was crowded with people bringing flowers, food and offerings to the boy god. That’s when he knew the money in his pocket was not going to be enough Mexican way.

Again Police Chief Modelo talked to the elders, “The boy doesn’t

speak your language. He speaks Spanish. He is Mexican.”

“His devoted people understand, no matter the language.”

“A god would not use balloons to float in from the sky.”

“How do we know what way gods travel?” The elders responded in calm but determined voices and finally pronounced the boy god will leave when he wants. And any attempts to steal the boy would be met with violence and death.

Silently Modelo drove back to the police station and cleaned out his desk. Again he called Jose’s parents and told them of the situation. Defeated, he hung up and Modelo knew Francisco would now call the newspapers, the church, television stations, and the government would then have to do something. All that pressure would easily break the back of a simple Mexican police chief. In the morning standing under a hot shower he practiced all the standard explanations he knew would not save him. He wore his best uniform to work that day and hoped he would at least have some dignity in a clean uniform when he appeared on television - - - Police Chief resigns in disgrace.

But when he walked into his office in the morning, he had a plan to get the boy back. It might cost a life or two, maybe three, but it was his only hope. He called Jose’s parents with the plan.

Police Chief Modelo was very unlucky when Jose’s mother answered the phone. The phone lines sizzled as Jose’s mother cursed nonstop and screaming insults only a Mexican woman could dare say to a Mexican man. Police Chief Modelo remained calm and remembered his training. His mind perversely thought if this woman could make love with this much passion Francisco was a very lucky man. Mirasol only stopped when Francisco wrestled the phone away from her. The two men talked some more and Mirasol got back on the phone and in a very calm voice apologized to Police Chief Modelo. Modelo was quick not to take offense. He was a father with five children. He understood. Police Chief Modelo also knew talking was over with Jose’s mother. She would kill him without mercy if her son was harmed.

It was early evening and it took 1073 balloons, three tanks of helium and five hours to get Francisco airborne in his Aztec costume. He carried an obsidian black tip spear. Held by ropes he was guided upwind from the village and let float, hopefully, over the village. Police Chief Modelo would get one attempt. If the plan failed, Marisol would go in and take her son back one way or the other. For the poor Nahuatl villagers, she would be the second coming of Cortez.

Francisco descended into the village, popping balloons with his spear, riding the wind currents down. Quickly the village was called and in minutes people surrounded another god.

Francisco was a god of few words. “Bring Quetzal!” He thumped his chest and threw his arms up.

When Jose saw his father he ran to him and jumped into his arms.

Francisco could tell he had gained weight. He then released the stones around his waist and the huge balloon floated silently up. The people danced, waved, cried and threw flowers as their gods disappeared up into the invisible heavens.

As the two floated away, Jose looked up to his father and said, “I want to be a god when I grow up.”

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BIO: I escaped to Mexico in 2005.


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