In the Mexican Highlands, churches sit atop a bed of clouds and etched faces harbour lifeless eyes. Up here there is a town. Its streets are always clean, washed by the interminable torrents of an unsympathetic sky. Its spires are everywhere, as if God Himself had scattered his seeds and allowed them to fruit in garish colours: yellow, blue, dirty white and grey. In this town there lived a boy. His home was in the outskirts, where the cobbles dissolved and the dirt cobwebbed its way through concrete houses and concrete pavements. He was known as Vaquero, which inevitably became Vaquito, and later, with the passage of time and the impetus of laziness, Quito.
His high cheek bones fought for prominence with the baby fat still swelling underneath. His hair was tangled and matted, and Quito took great pleasure in using the greasy chaos to form sculptures of writhing curls and jagged straights that stood erect like gargoyles atop his forehead. But the most fascinating feature of Quito’s face was those eyes, darkest brown, yet with a light so appealing it drew gringos towards him without their realisation. White women would look quizzically into his face, wondering what it was about this small child that compelled them to give only him time, to buy only his candyfloss. After a long while they would come-to, and look around the square in a daze, gradually filling-in shapes and sharpening colours until all was as it should be. Then they would look back down and realise that the reason for their absence from this world had been the boy. With a last guilty look, they would turn with embellished grandeur and hurry off in embarrassment.
This was Quito’s life. Every day was the same: a lift in a Toyota truck down the mountainside and through the cacophony and rancour of the outskirts; over the bridge and into the deformed order of the real town. Market vendors hugged the road, porn dvds were sold alongside Hollywood pirates. Chickens stood oblivious under a basket’s woven roof, while next door meat hung and flies sucked and wasps fizzed. As the slope became gentle the market petered out and gave way to open shop fronts. Putrid coloured clothes stared out with knowing desperation, hoping that the tasteless music might convince some gringo to enter.
Eventually the crowded square would present itself. This was where Quito could woo the throng. He would stand on the edge of the steps to the church, watched by the Almighty, hoist his cross of candyfloss onto his slim shoulders, and open wide those innocent eyes. It was a competition – of course. Only a short distance away stood the man with the balloons; but he was no threat. He had an unfortunate habit of plunging his hand into his pocket and conspicuously rubbing his crotch, sometimes for ten minutes at a time. While he did this his face exposed a knowing resignation, a consistent glumness that portrayed the death of dreams and the hateful staleness of reality. There was competition from other children too: Silvia and Rosa would sit either side of a gringo, their furry skirts stroking snow white legs, and then the bracelets would come out, some ‘special deal’ in the offing. Quito watched this charade with particular curiosity: the simple trap; the familiar routine; the same giggles and touches. And yet the tourists played the game, seemingly unaware of the make-believe that only Quito thought he knew.
The sun was fading, colossal shadows stretched from mountain to mountain, dousing the colours of the courtyards and colonial colonnades. A final breath of warmth swept through the valley, and Quito felt his candyfloss stir. He let it be borne up, blown to and fro, beckoning him on. Quito succumbed, and soon he was sailing around the square, led by the thronging manifold shapes of his desire. Every way he went there was new excitement. A whirlpool here, a great wave there, and each one Quito felt with wondrous vitality. No-one else existed. He was a solitary captain with nothing more than his body’s ship and his ecstatic sails. And now the square was gone, boreas led him into un-chartered waters. Higher and higher he sailed. Against the slope of the falling sea, his sails pulled him on. Faint noises swirled around, swallowed in the ocean’s raging joy. Now the waves became angular and jagged, the mast creaked and the sails cowed, but the ship strived onwards and upwards, upwards and onwards.
At last, the wind died, darkness prevailed, the waves dropped over the horizon and Quito was brought back. There was no light where he stood – alone. On both sides of him were the whitest walls and a cavernous roof loomed above. Some scent overcame his nostrils; sweet pine resin and candle wax. He gingerly stepped forward, toward a greater ship and its mast at the end. Those luminous eyes revealed a fearful soul, unable to fathom what mystery lay in that darkness at the end.
Then he reached it: a wooden cross barely lit by a lonely candle on an altar. Quito peered up at his own cross, his mast, his livelihood, his oppressor and his saviour. The candyfloss hung limp. Confusion clouded his mind with ideas and thoughts he had never met before. He struggled to hold onto one simple idea before the next had interrupted; forms and figures jostled for position before his eyes. It was torture, and as the crescendo of confusion reached its climax Quito threw himself into the hard bosom of the ground.
Quito lay still for a long time. And then, without warning, he ripped a bag of candyfloss off his cross and left the rest behind. His squinting eyes were small but clear now. Outside, the sky was a swirling mess of orange and red, for God had poured out his arteries so that Quito could see the bloodied beauty. Lights dabbled below, ducking in and out of view. The whine of taxis grew and faded. Quito clambered onto the wall at the edge of the hilltop to better survey the scene. As he ate his candyfloss and drank in the sounds and sights of his town, he became calm. This was life. This was beauty. This was re al. He glanced back at the ominous building within which he had suffered his awakening and, seeing for the first time, began down the steps to the square.