Ruta Dieciséis. Estoy perdida.
“Perdida,” I think, in my second tongue.
“No hay más rutas hoy,” they say.
Today my legs sweat beads of rolling wet American sweat. The heaving heavy garrafón on my lap jiggles my thighs and I try not to look panicked. The sun is beginning to settle into the western blanket of stucco-studded hillside rising on the outside of the city we are leaving behind. Only tres personas están aquí, but they know I am white by my freckles and green-gris eyes and only gently tanned skin. My Spanish is good “for a gringa” they say.
An old woman calls to her gorgeous daughter who towers in her espadrilles and her dangling golden hoops so they can get off the bus. Andale, she says. This was the woman who had told me I had only three more stops until the end of the line, and the end of the day’s shuttles to and from the city because then it will be too dark and too dangerous to drive.
While we await a few straggling newcomers, I hug my big dumb waterweight, trying to hide the glaring whiteness of my thighs sprawling so brazenly from my athletic shorts.
Outside, a young man stands with soot from some degenerate fire smeared across his face and torso that are tight with muscles defined by hunger and hard labor. He juggles two batons and a leans forward, jabbing them into a nearby trashcan. Stealing fire from the god of los valles, his sticks flash with flame. Lunging toward the bus, he twirls these twigs alight and aloft, impressing the gutter children with his fantastical toys. With a smile so sinister, he undulates a call for attention in no language at all.
I cannot help turning around to see the lone tribesman juggle his hellish sticks and light himself afire. I do not hear even a Dios mío from the mother to my side as the man juggles and burns.
Whitewashed Latina models half dressed holding cocktails grin, looming from the billboards littering the skyline framed by power lines and busted highway lamps.
“¿Señorita? ¿Estás perdida ?”
“Sí, pero estoy bien. Gracias. ”
But I am not good. With only fifty pesos in my wallet, I cannot answer her honestly. I am a stupid American who forgot to get off the bus at the right stop, and I am now headed for Temixco, the fourth largest city in Morelos, twenty miles away from my host family’s home, and I do not have my cell phone or even their home phone number or address with me.
Distracted by a flash of tawny skin that catches my eye, a prematurely exhausted breast peeps out from a hole in a draped acrylic knit blanket. The suckling child half asleep from heat and travel presses against the mother’s flesh, camouflaged.
The girl looks about my age, and I imagine that she’s ingrained in a routine of a commute to see the father of that resting thing, that taking thing.
My eyes go back to the breast. Its youthful roundness slumps down her chest just a little outside her untied floral print bodice. The baby sighs a half sob in its mommy-muffled slumber, shuddering and stretching its little feet out the edge of the blanket.
At the next stop, the mother gathers her rattan purse, brushes her dark bangs backward, juggling the weight of the child, a day’s groceries, and an overnight bag. The child squirms, now situated farther north on its mother. Instead of crying, it begins to search for sustenance by gumming at her collarbone.
She and the child amble into the street outside some crumbling church filled with penitents and hungry men wanting bread. It is pink sandstone and oro. Oro por todas partes. It shines in a permanent sunset, the colors of an ever-after pre-dark. She doesn’t go in, but walks on, past the church and down a side street toward a lighted adobe.
A woman across the slowly emptying bus calls to me, “¿Señorita? ¿Estás perdida? ”
As I survey the ruta, I can answer truthfully now.
“Sí. Estoy perdida—y sola.”