“He was just walking,” said Cocodrillo as he guided the boy from the narrow colectivo van to the wooden doorframe where Adara was waiting. He patted the him into her waiting hands, making sure she had a good hold on him before he winked and jogged back to the van he’d left running.
“Your student doesn’t seem to like his school much.”
She was relieved to see him again. The little shit. She had been worried, but there weren’t many places in San Cristobal a 12-year-old guero boy could hide for very long. He was back and seemed to be in one piece.
For a moment the boy stepped into the sun pouring over the heavy stone wall opposite El Patroncito’s house. Cast in the withering orange light, she could see what the boy would look like when he grew up to be a man. Nervous and thin. Wrinkled forehead. Dark eyes under his dark brow. A bit of wave to his hair. Yes, he would be handsome if he made it to maturity. If he didn’t explode when his innocence failed to numb the potential of his passions.
She brushed the dried grass from his back and tousled the dust and spider webs from his hair. His eyes stayed low as if he were waiting to speak. Thinking of what to say. He must have slept on the ground. His clothing smelled like dog urine. She should change his clothes quickly and start the wash before Rosalita got to it. El Patroncito had a sensitive nose and Rosalita was just nosey. If she could get him clean and keep him out of sight until la comida they would have made it past the time during which the old man would ask, “Where the hell have you been?” La comida implied another set of conversations altogether. Neither she nor the boy would need to lie. It would be better that way. She needed to hurry.
“I wasn’t looking for cigarettes.” The tires of Cocodrillo’s colectivo padded up the narrow cobblestone calle and rounded the corner at the top. The boy’s head stayed still. Cocodrillo was heading to the market for fares to Chamula.
“I’m not questioning you, am I? Go straight upstairs and clean yourself up. Do I need to help you?” She looked for his eyes, but couldn’t reach them. He walked quietly past the bugambillas trunks and ranging cactus to the back of the courtyard and softly scaled the stairs. He was in the upstairs bathroom by the time Rosalia came forward from the kitchen.
“Is he out of bed yet? It’s almost ready, la comida,” said Rosalia motioning with melodramatic fatigue at the comal in the kitchen.”
“Yes, he is taking his bath. May I help you, Rosalia?”
“No, no. By god, what is left to do? Besides, the boy is taking his bath. We couldn’t have two miracles in one day. But, if you had asked—“
“Yes, too late,” Adara replied. “You need some help here, no? Things add up quickly. Two hands are not enough.”
“You have two hands.”
“I am the boy’s teacher, Rosalia.”
Rosalia was a relic of the greatness of El Patroncito’s family, and the influence it held over San Cristobal and the pueblos. Especially Chamula. Still, Adara resented the implication that she was anything other than the boy’s maestra.
“There is only one maestro in this house,” said Rosalia as she limped back to the kitchen. “Set the table if you are not too busy, Señorita. If you please.”