The heat is heavy. It beats the ground into dust. Every part of your body is covered with the dirt. I am the dust that can finally rest. The relief of darkness never comes at all. The heat from the stars falls across the universe to keep the earth warm. They are coals glowing in the night sky that broil the village. Dirt is a blanket on your skin that never comes off. In the morning when the sun begins to burn your warm body sweat escapes from every pore until the humidity makes it too uncomfortable to sleep, but too tired to stay awake. The heat confuses me and makes me sleepy, but I will never sleep, not anymore.
Maria’s father was not a very important man. He lived in an adobe like the other fathers. It was a brown structure with a roof weathered from the wind. In twenty years, there would, most likely, be nothing left of his home. He would emerge from the old white door that had now become beaten and brown like the exterior of his home, and go to work each morning. There was one thing very special about this man. He used to farm for a very wealthy landowner, who offered him a unique gift as a reward for his service of many years. It was el mustang de azul. The day I saw Maria’s father walk into the village with a horse, I wondered how it could be blue. I had only seen gray ugly burros that tilled the ground and made more dust out of the dirt. My eyes gleamed at the color of the mustang. I heard many stories about how the mustang acquired its appearance. One woman said that the horse would run through the blue corn fields each morning before the sun rose, until it became blue from the pieces of corn that grew into it’s skin. A goat farmer on the other side of the village said that the mustang bathed underneath the clearest blue waterfall everyday when it was wild.
The story about the mustang that I believed came from Maria’s father. He said that the horse did not always belong to the landowner. The landowner found it in the desert of the Southwest United States wandering through the darkness of the night. At first, he was scared when he heard the hooves of the blue mustang in the quiet desert. The mustang moved closer with short stuttered clicks. He clasped his rifle tight, pointed in the direction of the muted hooves in the sand that came closer and closer, until the mustang whinnied in the darkness. He lowered his rifle when the mustang walked through the black curtain of darkness and near his campfire. He inspected the hide of the mustang for a brand and thought someone might come looking for it. The mustang had four points on its hide that shone in the moonlight and, when the man looked up into the sky, he could see the same set of stars gleaming in the dark night sky over New Mexico. He believed that the mustang fell from the sky when it was not yet dark, when the sky was still blue, so that it could see where to land. The black horse mixed with the soft blue sky of the day and became the deep blue of the ocean like the sky at night. It was meant to wander the desert of the New Mexican territory, but it had come across a man in the middle of the desert alone. He named the mustang Citlali.
Maria’s father gave Citlali to her, his only child, as a gift. She had dark, long curly hair and let it down even when it was hot outside. Her hair was black, like mine. It shone more during the day than mine though, because her skin was so fair. Maria’s skin was the sugar on top of a concha, sweet and cinnamon. In the afternoons, I might see her pass by very briefly and notice her dark hair against her white face and slender arms and look for a smile on her pink lips, but she wouldn’t notice me.
I saw Maria when I went to the stream just outside the village. The water was the only thing that could cool the desert air from drying my lungs. My nose would be so close to my reflection that I would let it touch the water surface until the current tickled the tip of my nose. On one particular afternoon, the stream distorted a shadow in the water. I turned around to see Maria’s watery eyes tinted like the green moss in the shallow stream. The sunlight reflected off her glossy eyes and flashed a bright whiteness into my own. She moved her eyes back and forth slowly like the plants resisting the force of the stream underneath the water, bobbing slowly from left to right. I drank her gaze until I felt full, but I knew the next day would come and I would be dried out from the sun, thinking about her coolness. I would be thirsty again.
When I woke up the next day, I ran outside to go back to the stream. I couldn’t find Maria anywhere. She wasn’t in the village. It was a very quiet day and nobody was outside. I thought that maybe I would see Maria soon, but a few hours passed by and she had not returned. I thought about where she was and how I would tell her about the short time I had left to live. I could feel the pain inside of me growing. The heat had disappeared, but the uncomfortable moisture in the air choked me. Each breath in my lungs was short and I stood up to walk around, hoping that the wind would travel inside of me and bring me back to life.
As I walked around, I went inside of the empty church in my village. There, the colored glass from the windows transformed the light into a kaleidoscope. I stared into the dark corners. The wooden pews were chipped and scratched, the ground was covered with dust and I could hear my feet crush the dirt. The air was dense and I couldn’t hear anything from the outside. A crash shook the building and I planted my feet because the entire building felt like it had shifted from its foundation. A piece of stone fell from the ceiling and crushed my foot, I fell backward, clutching my ankle so tightly that I tried to cut off any feeling of my foot to the rest of my body. While I was crawling on my back toward the entrance, I heard the church walls cracking and the dust began falling faster from the ceiling. Another brick fell next to me, and another hit my forearm as I covered my face, but pinned me to one location until I struggled to remove the stones that had piled onto my chest. Bricks began to fall from the ceiling until the roof finally collapsed on me. I struggled to breathe and everything around me was darkness. I could tell that the dust was beginning to settle because I could see light peeking through the debris that covered me. My chest lifted the weight of the church as I felt my lungs screaming each time I inhaled. I could see the stars again – the flickering rays of light crept through the cracks of the brick and made the constellations above my village that I had admired each night before bed. I could no longer see the sun. Only Citlali.
The wall that had sustained the most damage from the truck that had crashed into it finally fell over and crushed Ramon’s body underneath the church roof. It took several hours for him to be found under all the rubble and debris of splintered old wood that had been used to build the church. I sat on top of Citlali as his body was pulled out from under the stones that had been built to save lives.
When he was buried in the village cemetery, I went to visit him with Citlali. The grave was freshly decorated with flowers and candles left by the other villagers. I touched the face of his headstone and sat silently for a brief moment.
I heard Citlali breathing and click his hoof. I climbed on top of him again and rode away into the night, away from my village, toward the border. I wanted to be far from the pain that I felt and away from anything that would remind me of the poor young man who had been crushed. When I look down the darkness of the road that leads away from my home, I think about him and how he walked beside me one evening as the stars guided us back to the village, where our fathers and mothers who had brought us into the world left us behind, hoping that we would be as strong as them, to die peacefully.