Thursday, March 15, 2018

Isabel Lopez


Continued from Hopeful Mennonite

It seemed like we were driving to the end of the earth as I watched the main highway fading farther and farther into in the dust trail behind us. Finally, we reached a locked gate with two armed men guarding it. They looked at us for a moment, unlocked the gate and said, “Pasale.”

The butterflies in my stomach began dancing themselves back to life as I admired the incredible maintain view driving up to an hacienda style ranch house. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The view was breathtaking. It made me forget about all the worries I had before arriving. I thought, “Wow! I could see myself belonging here.”

We were the first guests to arrive. El Guero came and greeted us. He looked different than the first time I had met him. The first time I met him, I may have been too occupied staring at his odd-looking footwear. I had never met anyone like him before. He was a lot taller than I was. His professionally groomed black hair, mustache, and his unique style made him look Mexican, but his blue eyes and only slightly darker skin tone than mine made him almost look Dietsch. He carried himself tall and confident.

He greeted me by reaching out his hand. I placed my hand in his, and he cupped it with his other hand and held it until I made eye contact. When he pulled my hand up, and I felt his mustache tickle my skin as his warm, soft lips kissed the top of my hand, I thought, “Ha li kringle! What am I getting myself into?” followed closely by, “Oba wuarom lat den so damaschen schmock? (Oh man, why does he have to be so fricken attractive?)”

He shook my brother’s hand and invited us inside to the kitchen where we met Paula and the chef. Paula dropped the tea towel she had in her hands and greeted me with a kiss on each cheek. She turned to shake my brother John’s hand said, “I am so happy that you brought your sister.”

“Anna, come with me. Let me show you around,” said El Guero.

I couldn’t get over how many bathrooms the place had, especially when compared to the one outhouse per property in the colony. When we got to what seemed like the end of the tour, he said, “Come, follow me this way.” I followed him up four flights of stairs, careful on my way up not to brush against the cactus plants deployed on one side of the stairs.

He guided me to a huge bedroom. I hesitated to walk across the shiny terracotta tile floor to go further.

“Come on,” said, El Guero. I continued to follow him through the room past a wood burning fireplace, toward a set of patio doors. The evening sun shone through the sheer curtains. The mild breeze blew the drapes, causing them to wave at me. I parted the drapes and stepped out onto the patio. The incredible view overlooking the mountains took my breath away. I walked past the patio table and chairs to the edge of the black, curved metal railing. I leaned against the edge beside El Guero and looked down at the horses.

“Wow, this place is incredible,” I said as I looked up at El Guero.

He smiled and said, “Isn't it? This is my favorite place also.”

We both stood there admiring the clear evening sky.

El Guero walked over to the patio table, pulled out a chair for me and said in his heavy Spanish accent, “Make yourself at home. I’ll be right back. ”

As I watched him walk away, I noticed a shiny silver and black handgun grip sticking out on the side of his belt.

I was mature enough to be able to connect the dots. I remembered that we often heard about lions living in those mountains. I thought, “He must have that gun in case a lion comes and tries to eat us,” and just like that I was reassured that El Guero would shoot any lion that would try to eat me. No lion would stand a chance against him and the two armed men at the entrance gate.

El Guero came back with a beautifully designed one-of-a-kind bottle and two shot glasses. He sat down, opened the bottle, filled the glasses and handed me one. He held up his glass and said, “Salud.” I just stared at him.

“Anna, pick up the drink,” he said as he held his cup up close to mine. I picked it up, he tapped my cup with his and said, “Salud,” again. I watched him take a sip.

“Go ahead, Anna, try it. It's tequila. If you don’t like it, it's alright, you don’t have to drink it.”

“Okay,” I said and took a tiny sip of the tequila. It stung my taste buds, but it instantly warmed up, and it felt like it liquefied my insides. By the time El Guero asked, “Well, what do you think?” I was feeling a bit braver and more curious about him.

“It's different. Gooood different. I like it.”

He smiled and said, “I’m glad you like it.”

I didn’t know what to say. The experience was foreign, exciting, scary, fun, mysterious and awkward all at the same time. I wasn’t sure which of those feelings I should trust. I just continued to look at the incredible view. I slowly turned my head to look at him again. He looked back at me and simply smiled, sat back, and enjoyed sipping away at his tequila. Unlike me, he was very comfortable in his skin.

My inner voice grew louder as the silence continued, “Anna, you are way out in the middle of nowhere in the mountains of Mexico right next to the bedroom of a complete stranger.” I peeked at him again, and my inner voice said, “Yeah, Anna, a very attractive man who has a gun on him, and you are drinking tequila with him!” I held my breath when that reality washed over me, and proceeded to talk myself out of being afraid, “My brother and Paula are downstairs, and more guests are coming--or are they? I’m sure they are. Breathe, Anna!” I inhaled a breath and peeked at him again.

“Are you enjoying your vacation?” he asked.

I cleared my throat and said, “I haven't thought of my trip as a vacation. I have read about vacations, and my trip has been nothing like it.”

“I imagine, this must be strange for you.”

“Well, it’s different. It’s so strange I feel like I am in a country that I didn’t know existed.”

“Have you ever been anywhere in Mexico besides Patos?”

“Yes, I have been to Durango city before, and on my way here I landed in Guadalajara to catch a connecting flight.”

“Do you have any friends here?”

“A few, but I am mostly spending time with my family in the colony. Hamburgo--do you know where that is?”

“Yes, I often drive through there when I go to Esfuerzos Unidos.”

“Okay,” I said and began telling him about the great day I had when I drove to Patos by myself.

After I heard myself say, “I drove to Patos all by myself,” my inner voice said, “He's going to think you are an idiot if that was the best thing about your trip, Anna!” So I quickly added, “And met up with my friend and spent the afternoon with her.”

I paused long enough for him to say, “Okay,” then quickly asked him a question before he could ask me another one.

“How about you? Are you enjoying your vacation?”

“Well, yes, especially after meeting you,” he answered as he made eye contact. And there was that warm liquid feeling in my stomach again. This time I wasn’t sure if it was the tequila. He seemed to get more attractive every time I looked at him.

“Are you Mexican?” I asked.

“Why do you ask?” he asked with his head tilted.

“Ahhh,” I mumbled and scolded myself for asking him that.

“Just kidding, Anna. I get that a lot. Yes, I am one hundred percent Mexican. I just happen to have blue eyes and lighter skin than most around here. Believe it or not, there are many of us out there.”

“Okay.”

He sat up straight, looked right into my eyes and said, “Ask me any questions you like, but then I am allowed to ask you any questions I like as well, right?”

“Okay, it’s a deal,” I said, and went for it. “What is your real name?” I asked as I turned red from head to toe.

“Noah.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Why?”

“I have never met a person with that name before.”

“Okay, wow, that surprises me.”

“Not me.”

“Are you Mexican?” he asked out of the blue.

“NO!”

“Wow, you sound sure about that. I am curious to know the reason.”

I thought, “Oh shit! I should have said I don’t know, or yes, but I'm not, so now what do I say?”

He got tired of watching my brain produce smoke trying to figure out how to explain it to him.

“You and I have similar skin tone and eye color, and we were both born in Mexico. I am a Mexican, and you are not?”

“Ahhh…”

“Or wait, let me see your eyes. Can you just look at me for a second?” he asked.

It felt like the bravest thing I had ever done when I just looked into his eyes and let him look into mine until he decided it was long enough.

“Your eyes aren't blue. You have the most beautiful green eyes I have ever seen.”

At that point, my toes were starting to melt, and my inner voice said, “Anna, turn it back to him! Don’t let him ask all the questions!”

I was too late. “I’m waiting,” he said.

“Well, I grew up being told I wasn’t Mexican. It was very clear that we were Dietsch and not Mexican. It was a permanent part of our vocabulary.”

“But your birth certificate says you are Mexican, right?”

“Yes.”

“That means you are as Mexican as I am, don’t you think?”

“Ahhh…” I said, and thought long and hard about it before I answered. I remembered the trouble I had gotten into when I told the security guard at the airport that my nationality was German. I had no idea how to defend my answer, or how to explain it. I took a sip of my tequila to buy some more time to think up an answer.

He poured himself another tequila as he waited, and finally he said, “Let me make it easier for you, Anna. Today I declare you a Mexican!”

We both laughed for a while.

“Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself,” he explained.

“It’s okay, I have often wished that I was Mexican. Well, you know, one with different parents, a different name and all. I mean a Mexican that is free from the colony life. You know what I mean?”

“Yes I do, but I think Anna is a beautiful name. What do you wish your name was instead?”

“Isabel Lopez, or something like that. It has a much better ring to it than Anna Wall, don’t you think?”

“Why Isabel Lopez?”

“It’s a long story. It's quite stupid, you don’t want to know. Paula will probably need you downstairs before I am done explaining.”

“Let me tell you something, Anna. I am the boss, and Paula knows better than to interrupt me when I am up here. Especially when I am up here with a guest. We have as much time as you need. I want to know, so go ahead and tell me.”

“Okay, well, it started when things got really hard for me in Canada, and I thought that I was going to die. I began doubting my decision to leave my colony life behind and wished that I could come back to Mexico. I knew that I couldn't simply come back and live in the colony as I had before I left. During that time I watched a lot of Telenovelas, and one of them inspired my idea of coming back to Mexico and living with the Lopez family as Isabel Lopez. You know, the ones that own the groceries store in Nuevo Ideal? Because Mrs. Lopez looks Dietsch, I thought I could easily blend in with that family. I imagined I would have the best of both worlds. I could live in Mexico where things were familiar to me--close, but not in the colony. I would learn to speak Spanish with no accent. I would wear long skirts, big dangly earrings and my hair open while working in their store. The Dietsch people shopping there would have no idea that Isabel Lopez was once Anna Wall. Then maybe I would feel like I belonged.”

I held my breath and waited for him to start laughing at me. When I looked up at him, he was as comfortable as ever, leaning back in his chair, sipping tequila. His calm, relaxed demeanor gave me permission to take a deep breath and enjoy the smoky smell that lingered in the breeze while I took a sip of my tequila.

“Now that’s a Telenovela I might even watch,” he said.

I thought, “Okay, he's just being nice. He would never watch Telenovelas.”

“Did your Telenovela have an ending?”

“Oh, it sure did.”

“Don’t leave me hanging like this. How did it end?”

“Eventually, the Dietsch people learned that Isabel Lopez really was Anna Wall. When the gossip spread like wildfire, they stopped shopping at the Lopez store, and it went bankrupt. The Lopez family blamed Anna Wall for ruining their family business and disowned her. Anna Wall ended up homeless on the streets of Mexico and in the end, got eaten by the Mexican Lobos.”

“Noooo…,” screamed El Guero. Click here to continue reading my story.


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