Mexico City, México
June 21, 2010
The air was laced with uncertainty and tension. I played with the modest princess cut ring on my finger, running my hands down the front of my long off-white lace dress. My black hair was slicked back behind me covering the delicate pearl buttons running down my spine. The wind blew in through the open window facing the city square as the sun forced its way into every crevice below me, everything was illuminated.
I watched our guests as they trickled in. The chatter was barely audible as a small band played in the corner. I looked out at the friends here for us on the right and the guests here for my father on the left. My side was packed with political party members dressed in designer suits tailored to fit their round physics; their fingers were adorned with sparkling jewels. The women who sat next to them donned elegant summer dresses paired with Italian shoes.
On the groom's side, my fiancé's peers from the Ayotzinapa Teachers' College sat cross-legged with round spectacles, modest black jeans, and second-hand blazers. Their faces as worn as their clothes. Most of them came from humble backgrounds, working in the fields for the majority of their lives until they made enough to go to the teachers' college. They smiled wide and seemed to be enjoying the day off from their scholarly duties and second jobs. They didn't exude the same expensive attitude my side did. It was clear where the line was drawn. The guests needed no help figuring out which side to sit on.
I adjusted the veil covering my face. I moved it to keep the red lipstick from smearing the delicate fabric. I paced the room waiting to hear my Maid of Honor call my name and tell me that it was time. It was almost time. I waited three years for this. I went and forth with my father, begging him to bless my wedding. My mother brewed pot after pot of her special tea for her "nerves" once she had been introduced to Javier. She had refused to shake his hand and made every conversation labored. His weathered face, worn hands, and liberal antics made her blood pressure rise. Today wasn't any different as she lay on the beige fainting couch in the corner and began berating me again, the rosary weaved between her fingers weary with use.
"Pero, Xiomara why? Why him. It's not too late to call it off. A marriage is more than just childish fling. It is a commitment, it is work, it is heavy. What does he have to offer you? He comes from nothing. Is that what you want for your children, to break their backs? Is that the legacy you will leave behind?"
Her train of thought didn't make much sense. She sipped her laced chamomile tea with an air of arrogance around her, and the anger behind her words started to dull. I didn't say anything about the state of her marriage: weathered, worn and wasted by time, reality, and my sister and I. All the money in the world couldn't fix my parents. They didn't sleep in the same bed, much less the same room, their huge estate the backdrop to an ongoing game of hide and seek that neither of them wanted to win.
I smiled having learned how to end these attacks, "I love him, mama. I can take care of myself." I squared my hips and tilted my head up trying not to tear up. I always seemed to cry when I was angry which never did me any good.
She adjusted her two-piece crimson suit, "You know how much trouble this marriage is causing your father? Do you know how difficult you are making things for him? What if he wants to run for office again, and here you are traipsing off with a..." She swallowed her words and blotted her overtly small nose with some rice paper she ordered in bulk from France.
She always held her nose up in the air, a habit that she had been unable to shake even years after her plastic surgery. She spit out her words, "With a beret-wearing socialist." The pearl necklace around her neck was lopsided. I came over to adjust it and she caught sight of the ring and shuddered, "And he couldn't even afford a ring. Dios mio."
Maria rushed in adjusting her long teal dress across the room and yelled, "Xio its time!" She smiled at me and I knew this was the only move to make. My mother rolled her eyes and that was my real cue.
I followed her down the stairs where my father waited to escort me down the last flight out stairs leading out to the city square. The sun in my eyes I squinted trying to make out the path in front of me. He squeezed my hand, "I hope he makes you happy." His voice was heavy, and I realized just how much this marriage would truly cost him. "Thank you, papa."
I walked down the staircase and the sun blinded me. I started to sweat nervously but pressed on toward my guests. I passed familiar faces on my that smiled back me urging me onward. The faces on the other side looked at me confused and contemptuously. They were all here out of loyalty to my father. No one wanted to get in his bad graces.
I finally made it to the front and was met with the smiling face of my beau. He looked at me and the whole world stood still. I couldn't hear anything in my periphery. I blinked, and he smiled, moving my veil to reveal my face. He cupped my face with clammy palms and returned his hands to his side. We went through the motions, holding hands, saying I do, and shared our first kiss as a married couple.
We had always been tethered together by fate, this was just a formality.
THREE YEARS LATER
June 10, 2013
A warm breeze drifted in through the wide-open windows pushing the blinds up into the air. The light fell evenly over the heavy oak dresser, cacti, and mismatched loveseat. The smell of lavender wafted in and stirred me. I brushed the sleep out of my eyes and took in the sun-soaked bedroom. The crisp white linens were tangled between my legs and the sweat was dewing between my nightshirt and skin.
"Xio are you awake?" Javier looked over at me infatuated as he whispered into my ear sending a tingle down my spine. There was nothing that made me happier than seeing his face in the morning. I breathed in the scent of his skin. His face was weathered and worn from countless hours in the sun. It aged him, but I didn't mind. I thought he looked more handsome with the extra years around his eyes and laugh lines framing his mouth. His firm hands wrapped me in a warm embrace.
"Now I am." I was tangled in his arms and in my long black hair. We had been married for three years but it felt like an eternity.
"I'm going to go to the market and get us something for dinner before it gets too hot." The sun was blazing, and it was only 11 am.
"Hurry back." He didn't release me from his arms.
"You have to let me go first." I pulled out of his arms and slipped into my leather sandals. I sang out for our little white poodle who materialized around a corner and followed me out the door pressing against my legs.
"Bring some beers back! And fish!"
The thought of both made my stomach churn, "Ah, we'll see."
I wandered toward the center of town caught up in the lust that I felt for the man waiting in my bed. I was so content with the way things had panned out. I was here, finally here, at this moment living the life that I had wanted when I was a little girl. Not because of a man but because of the way that I felt. Free of fear and fearless for the future. My family had not entirely accepted him. They pretended that he didn't exist. When they would invite me for dinner, his name would be absent from the invitation. When my mother called to check on me she never asked for Javier. It was easier for them to ignore that I was part of a whole.
I walked through the open-air market inhaling the ripened fruit that was colorfully splayed in front of me. I nodded at the vendors who recognized me taking comfort in the familiar faces that surrounded me. They extended out baskets filled with mangos and bananas. They knew exactly what I had come for. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw a shape come up behind me and lunge out at me.
"Xio!!! I didn't think I'd find you here. Where is Javier?"
"At the home of course. He doesn't get out of bed until noon on the weekends. He's so busy all week working and going to school that this is time to unwind."
Maria grinned at me and grabbed me by the waist, "Then let's go get a coffee and we can catch up. I feel like I never see you anymore." We walked arm and arm toward our favorite paneria. It had a little blue door and all the heavy wooden tables had initials carved into them made by teenage lovers. We took our usual seat on the deck so that we would people watch as they rushed to the market. Maria had jokingly carved out names into the table when we were teenagers, and seeing it now still made me giggle. We sat in the blazing sun and enjoyed the heat of the afternoon.
"Remind Javier that I came first," she winked.
I ordered two coffees and some empanadas. The cheese oozed out the corners of them and I picked at the plate while Maria chattered on about a new love affair she had become entangled in. Javier had introduced them a month ago and they were infatuated with each other. Maria fell hard and fast and, conversely, fell out of it just as abruptly. I was engrossed in my plate starving for no specific reason as she chattered on about where they were going for their next date.
We finished after an hour of gossiping. She got up and moved toward the inside of the cafe to ask for the bill, the eyes of men at the bar moved as she worked her way to the back. I watched them comment to each other and gesture towards her. She was shapely, and her clothes accentuated her heavy hips and broad shoulders. She had thin almond eyes that she painted with black eyeliner which only drew more attention her way. After a couple of minutes she resurfaced. She moved pointedly back to the table and seemed uneasy.
"What is it?"
She hesitated and looked around. She was a flighty girl, and everything left her unnerved. She smiled sheepishly and sat down next to me.
"Spit it out." I leaned in toward her and inhaled her rosemary scent. She spent every waking minute in her kitchen or garden, consequently, her hands always smelled of garlic, rosemary, or lavender.
She whispered, "There's been... there's been another disappearance."
I pulled back and looked around to make sure we weren't in the company of any police.
She looked at me puzzled until she realized how I had gathered this information before the news broke for everyone else. My father.
A few weeks ago, I had gone up to their estate. I had waited until it was completely necessary. I was going to be short on rent and needed the extra money. Neither of us enjoyed these visits. They were filled with awkward silences and misplaced anger.
My mother would berate Sonia, the housekeeper, having her run back and forth from the kitchen finding things to pick at. She was sweet and never protested. She had helped raise me and always hid me when my mother had a tantrum. Sonia didn't speak much with me either, but I found her presence comforting. She didn't have children, but the way that she raised me made me sorry she hadn't. She had a nurturing soul. She offered kind words and safety when I needed it, and always had sweets in her pockets.
I waited in the sunroom for my father to finish up his call while my mother followed Sonia into the kitchen to show her how she wanted her tea made, again. I waited a couple of minutes and wandered over but stopped short when I heard the other voice in the room. He was one of the higher-ups. He was the head honcho. I peeked in and saw his police uniform, pressed and creased. It lay tightly on his body since he was an oaf of a man.
"We have to do something about these men. There are about five of them that keep coming to the station. They want to know why some guy named Fabricio's wasn't on the last election ballot."
My father scoffed. "Why do they think." I looked in and saw him fussing with a bunch of papers.
"What should I do about them? Every time they come back they multiply." The man in the uniform paced not wanting to take a seat. I wondered if it was because his pants would split at the seams.
"Do what you have to." My father looked up and the man nodded. "But for god's sake get rid of the bodies better this time. I don't want to keep doing press conferences about it." The sergeant nodded, and I went back to my seat as we walked out.
For as much as I tried to pretend that the man sitting in that office was different from the man that I called father, I couldn't. They were one and the same. This was the first time I had actually heard him reference what he was actually ordering these officials to do. He always eluded but never explicitly said anything. He was getting sloppy. When I was younger I saw men in uniforms traipse in and out. Everything about them was entitled, they tracked mud it, left their drinks on the wooden tables leaving rings, and sat with their legs splayed widely. They had an air about them that always left me feeling uneasy. They sucked all the oxygen out of the room.
My father took a couple of minutes to compose himself, and once he surfaced to greet me, I completely forgot about my empty pockets. I didn't want to ask him for the money anymore. It felt cheap and dirty. I didn't want anything from him. I wanted to get out and run back to my little town before I learned any more about him. I wanted to find out who the five men were whose fate had been sealed so lackadaisical, but I knew better. My father always got what he wanted, it was just a matter of time. I excused myself and ran out.