May 5, 2006

A Short Story

The Man and the Serpent

Part 1

By Heriberto Escamilla

This is a story of a man that lived many years ago. It came to me the other night in the form of a dream. The story repeated itself in my head several times and each time, another piece was added until it was complete, save for the name of the man. Perhaps if you pay attention to his actions and his words you can help me give him a name. You all have ear and eyes. You can see and can also decide for yourselves whether or not this story is true.

A long time ago in ancient Mexico, there lived a man. I’m told that he was an orphan. His mother died during childbirth. So you see, he was born and she died. When the man was but 13 months old, his father died as well. His father died of snakebite. The people say that he was bitten on the left foot, grew very ill and then died before anyone could help him.

The young man never knew his mother and his father only a little. He was raised by his grandparents. The people say that he was especially close to his grandfather.

The boy grew into a man and learned to work the fields. I was not told where exactly he lived. It may have been in the land of the Yaqui, or it may have been among the Mix-tecos. His home may have been in the Sierra Madre Occidental among the Wirrarika people or even in the valley of Mexico, among the Azteca. I was not told when he lived. So the time that we talk about could have been when the mysterious Toltecas built the city of Tula. For all I know, he may have toiled the rich Olmeca soil, when people were first learning to write.

Maybe you will recognize the story. Perhaps you know where he lived and when.

The people tell me that he learned to plant and harvest corn. In his garden, he also grew squash, chiles and tomatoes. People say that he was a very hard worker. Through his labor, he fed himself and his wife.

I am told that about this time, the man’s wife was pregnant. She was in her ninth moon and they were eagerly awaiting the birth of their first son. Early one day, when it was still dark, the man tied leather huaraches to his feet, took up his machete, threw his morral across his shoulder and set off toward his milpa. The wind blew gently and it carried with it the happy songs of birds anticipating the sun. Not far from the field however, he was startled by a slithering black figure that crossed his path. The man froze in his tracks and the serpent also paused in front of him. Paralyzed with fear, his words became clumps of ice in his chest. He couldn’t talk, but the serpent could. In a sweet voice, the serpent spoke to him. “I am your mother, please embrace me, please hold me.” Hearing this, the man further retreated into his fear. He had never heard a serpent talk. In fact, none of the animals of the field ever spoke to him. The frightened man pleaded with his legs, making them move and carry him home. Of course, the man could not recount his actions to his wife. So he simply told her that the day was too hot, he didn’t feel much like working and he would stay home. And so his fields went untended for one day.

The next morning, while the earth was still in darkness, he prepared himself for a day of work. Convinced his misfortune was over and eager to tend to his corn, he once again set off to the field. Naturally, he stepped a little slower and with more caution. As he approach-ed the field, the snake appeared once more. It was the same snake, thick as his thigh and as dark as the night. She had sharp fangs and cold yellow eyes. But her voice was sweet, like the song of a flute. Once again, she pleaded. My son, it’s me, I am your mother, please embrace me, please grace me with your love”.

The man paused. This time her words touched his heart, ever so slightly. “This must be a demon, he thought to himself. “Could this in fact be my mother”, the thought formed in his mind. And he was filled with doubt and indecision. He agonized and pulled at his hair, unsure as to what he should do. But like the day before, he turned away hurried home to his home and his wife. “The day is too hot”, he told her “and I don’t feel much like working”. He spent the day walking nervously, aimlessly wandering around the house. The night finally came to him and he fell fast asleep. For a second day, the corn, the squash and chiles went unattended.

On the third day, he arose in the darkness, his heart a little more resolute. Today, he would work the fields, he thought to himself. He took up his machete once more, packed some tortillas in his morral and set off for the fields. And as it had been the day before, not far from the field, there appeared once more, the same serpent, thick, dark, with fangs like the needles of a maguey. Once more, its cold yellow eyes, like distant stars stared at him. And once again, for the third time now, he heard her sweet and inviting voice. This time she pleaded with him. “My son, my son, it’s me. Don’t you recognize me? I am truly your mother and have only love for you”. Please embrace me with your strong embrace”.

This time, the man’s heart opened a little further and was overcome by a profound sadness. Right there, where he stood, he sank into a deep and inconsolable loneliness. The man had no choice, there as only one road to the field so as he did on the first and second day, he turned his empty face away from the serpent. He ran home, a little slower perhaps. A mist overcame him, but he eventually found his home and his wife. And even before the sun sank into the earth, he crawled unto his petate and fell asleep. For a third day, he stayed away from his field and even the tomatoes began to miss his presence.

(next week part 2)

Heriberto (Beto) Escamilla, originally from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon Mexico, was raised in Houston, Texas until moving to San Diego in 1984. He received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology-San Diego Campus.

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