Preface: I wrote this last October and it's still interesting to me as a portrait of being alone and very vulnerable in a strange place. Except that what happened after this I would never have expected. I won't spoil it all for you but check out the addendum below for an update.
|For the love of God Bronwyn, please be careful.|
I stood at the street corner, stunned. It was 2 a.m. in Mexico City and we’d just left Garibaldi, a plaza in a dangerous and dimly lit downtown barrio. The area still positively radiated reckless excitement—bass throbbed from the overflowing salsa clubs and the happily drunk blithely wandered into the hooting traffic.
“It doesn’t have to mean anything,” he continued. “I just want to get to know you better.”
Miguel was my second Couchsurfing host when I moved to Mexico City. By day he worked at a pharmaceutical company and by night he played bass guitar. He had a huge tattoo of a zombie in flames. One of my favourite memories of him was how he used to shower while listening to death metal at top volume. He would then don his sleek business clothes, all traces of countercultural proclivities scrubbed away.
Since that time we’d been on a variety of outings. If there was a touch of machismo to him, his warmth and frankness more than compensated. After all, I was in a strange city and completely alone.
I agreed to help him celebrate his co-workers birthday and found myself stuffed into a cab destined for Plaza Garibaldi. The square itself is ringed by low-lying copper and yellow colonial buildings, all eerily lit from below. Littered around the plaza were numerous beer and liquor carts, all selling 1.5 L cups of beer for the princely sum of 30 pesos (approximately $2 US).
We crowded around one of these little carts, eagerly waiting as each 1.5 L bottle was poured into a giant cup generously rimmed with chili sauce. I was lucky that we were in the mood for beer; my Mexican roommate told me later that people had gone blind after being served medical grade alcohol.
Beverages procured, we claimed a spot in the square. Restaurants ringed the plaza but most of the partygoers chose to simply stand in the open air. Children and adults alike manned carts piled with candy and cigarettes that they cautiously navigated through heaps of broken glass. A filthy man crawled about cleaning shoes for pesos.
I stuck closely to Miguel, feeling alternatively glad for his protection and ashamed that this sort of guardianship appealed to me. The presence of a Mexican man seemed to almost negate any potential hassles and I latched onto this loophole with a feminist’s zeal for dependence. So while the crowd at Garibaldi was decidedly mixed and no one seemed overly aggressive, the atmosphere was still fast and loose. Miguel would be needed.
My impression of the place was soon reinforced by the appearance of a slight young man in baggy clothing. He asked Miguel to contribute to Tepito’s saint’s day festival. I was confused as to why possible gangsters from Tepito were raising money for a saint at 1 a.m. but Miguel explained the reality of the situation: if you paid up you automatically secured their protection. I warily surveyed the rowdy but still fairly innocuous partiers around me. What kind of trouble could I expect?
I didn’t have much time to contemplate this new sense of unease. Miguel, who was well into his third litre of beer and much moved by the romantic mariachi music swirling around us, started making noise about hiring his very own band. He disappeared into the crowd, re-emerging moments later with a stubby man in a giant red sombrero and a motley crew of trumpeters, violin players, and guitarists.
The band started in one of Miguel’s favourites. Roused to new heights of sentimentality, he barked “Let’s dance!” Before I could protest I found myself swept up in his broad embrace and guided brusquely through the crowd.
I already felt indebted to him for his protection, so I just let him lead me through the swift steps. We halted as the song ended, clapping and laughing. I couldn’t help but be delighted; cliché as it was, if I hadn’t just had a truly quintessential Mexican experience I was ready to eat our mariachi singer’s sombrero. Miguel was just as happy and insisted on wrapping me in his leather jacket. His hand wandered to my back protectively.
We departed soon after, which is when Miguel rather drunkenly, though not without a measure of grace, professed his feelings for me. He was saved from further explanation by the re-appearance of his friends who pulled up in a cab, yelling and hooting. We sheepishly crawled in.
Squashed together, now six to a very small car, we hurtled around the deserted and highly dangerous neighborhood surrounding the plaza. Miguel looked out the cab window. He was serious and distant while still managing to gently lean into me. I thought how easy it would be to rest my head on his shoulder. I felt alternatively grateful and perturbed by his forwardness. I was so vulnerable in Mexico City and far more in need of him than I liked. He insisted on walking me to my door. I gave him a quick hug. He touched my hand. I fled inside.
A few days later, Miguel asked me to travel with him to a deserted beach on the Pacific coast. I knew better than to accept. Whatever unruly energy had materialized between us belonged in the wilderness of Garibaldi. I was happy to leave it there, in that one perfect chaotic night. It was far harder to accept that the price I had to pay for experience was increased dependence. It was impossible to deny my situation; the city continually preyed upon my sense of security.
A couple of weeks later, when not accompanied to my door, a vagrant tried to push his way into the building with me. I was shaken and thought of solid, imposing Miguel. Was I destined to continually solicit help and at what price? Other male friends waited in the wings, full of generous attention and kind insinuation. I would soon find out.
Addendum: As it turns out, Miguel and I fell very much in love. How this all went down is a story for another day. Could I have forecasted our love from that night in Garibaldi? Probably not, but I should have seen it. Reading this story again, the fact jumps out at me over any other.