I travelled a long way to get here and now that I’ve arrived it turns out things are pretty much the same – hirsute men in bike caps and check shirts drinking craft beer in a pub called Bristol. I might as well have stayed where I was, apart from the cactuses and the yellow sunshine. Sunshine’s never yellow back home, it’s too limp, filtered through grey clouds and reflecting off grey bricks. There aren’t any clouds today, only the blue basin of sky ringed by the mountains surrounding the city. People here call them hills but they are mountains.
Even under the yellow sun the days stay cold until late afternoon when the heat sinks into the city and sets. So you sit still in the shade and drink cold things and eat spicy food and look out into the glare at right angle rooftops cut into the pale sky. Stranded in the relative cool of the terrace of a pub named for an English town, you will most likely become drunk watching cars circling a roundabout, tall colonies of cactuses reaching for the flyover above.
Riding the swells of just such a drink- and sun-sodden day, we fill the troughs of each other’s conversation with crests of our own. We began drinking an hour or so before, sitting on a terrace next to a dark wooden pillar under a dark wooden beam arrayed with African masks. Why African masks? The English lie on sun beds. Koreans bleach their skin. African masks in an English pub in Mexico.
“Come on man, put your phone away for once.” That’s all Ernesto’s done all day: play with his phone. I might as well be drinking on my own which, I’ve heard tell, would make me an alcoholic.
“I tell you what, man,” he holds out the phone so I can see the picture on its screen, “chunky girls are real grateful. Check her out.” It shows a girl in black lingerie taking a photograph of herself in the wardrobe mirror. She isn’t thin, but she isn’t chunky either. She’s attractive.
“What’re you on about?” I hand the phone back.
“Just that they’re real appreciative is all. They don’t get enough attention, I guess,” his gaze on his phone again, his eyebrows leap on his forehead and he purses his lips, “Those tits, man – I tell you what…”
“She the one coming down later?”
He’s a short guy but well-muscled. He wears tight t-shirts to emphasize the fact. Someone told me he was a fat child but I’ve never seen any proof. His skin shines from his routine and his hair, black like boot polish, is swept back and moulded into a ducktail. His eyebrows are expressive like a dog’s, jumping up and down, slanting inwards or out depending on his mood. Above his left eyebrow is a thin curved scar about an inch in length. He says he got it running through a glass door when he was five. Very occasionally the ‘I’s in his words become long ‘E’s. Otherwise his accent is Texan. “Three weeks since I saw her last, man, and I’ve been striking out with all the chicks round here. I can’t wait for that dirty, dirty, pussy smell,” he bites his bottom lip and grunts in anticipation, “Swear to God I’m going to screw her into the floor.”
“What time’s she getting here?” I concentrate on ignoring those images.
“Couple of hours,” he takes a swig of beer.
“Careful you don’t drink yourself out of a boner.”
He laughs and, picking up a lime wedge, bites into it. Then he waves it at me, “What about you, man? I ain’t seen you with a chick since you got here. How about that one over by the door,” he jerks his head back to direct me over his shoulder, jiggles his eyebrows and grins, “She’s pretty hot, right?”
I’ve noticed her. She is cute and she does keep looking my way. “I don’t know mate…” I hide my non-committance behind a swig of beer. I don’t have the energy. That or I haven’t drunk enough.
“Whatever you say, man, but I think she’s into you,” he waves at the waiter, points at his still half full bottle of beer and holds up two fingers. The waiter nods.
“Ah, man…” my protest’s pretty weak. I’m not in the mood for a piss up and I’ve barely touched the beer in my hand.
“Come on, dude,” he grins, punching my arm. Hard.
An hour later and four beers deeper we’re asked to leave. Ernesto doesn’t want to.
He’s been trying to push the girl by the door in my direction, sometimes literally, which doesn’t go down well. He wants to stay and dispute it, glaring with alcoholic ferocity at the bartender who’s trying to usher us to the door and resisting the arm I put across his chest to get him out.
As soon as we’re around the corner he forgets to be angry. He’s smiling and laughing, the incident wiped. “Dude. I’m fucking hungry,” he says, spotting the dirty old man selling dirty gorditas just up ahead, the meat stuffed rolls sweating in a glass box mounted on the front of his bicycle. Its walls drip with condensation and even after a few drinks it looks like a really bad idea.
Ernesto’s first goes down whole. I throw mine away half way through and look for somewhere likely to wipe the grease dripping over my hands. I settle for patting him on the back and rubbing it off on his top, smiling at him while I do. Starting on his second, he pulls out his phone again. He doesn’t care about the grease he’s spreading all over the touch screen. “I’m gonna see where this chick’s at,” he takes another bite, the phone to his ear.
It’s still too hot to be out. We seek out the slim shade, hugging the white walls while we wander on. The sound of a mariachi band follows us, bouncing down the sunbathed streets with great loping steps, glancing off the flats with the light and heat. It comes from every direction, following us like a parade of Mexican ghosts.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The complete story is available in the Askance collection Saltwater And Other Stories.
Born in Ireland, William grew up around the world and for a time lived in Mexico where he taught English and spent his free time writing: writing articles, fiction, short stories and novels, which he is hoping to have published.
Why Mexico? Because it was cheap and it gave him time to write. And there were cactuses and tacos and lots of sunshine. He has since returned to the UK.
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