It was June, and the year was 1776; and it was in the little pueblo of Cruceros, in the land some people were calling El Terretório de Nuevo Mexico. The large bell rang in the little church shortly after sunrise. Yes, it was a Christian community…Catholic, to be exact.
It was hot, but it was breezy; and the surrounding desert displayed its cycle of color for the moment, as different clans of uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends celebrated the wedding of Juanito Sinfuentes and Rayo del Sol Barrandales. The story of their love had become legendary in the neighboring communities.
Juanito had grown up in the pueblo of Las Limas, which was north of Cruceros, about three to four hours’ walk. A few years ago, he had gone on a vision quest of sorts; he walked south, arrived in Cruceros, and rested a while. But he had set out early; there was still three quarters of a day left. The people of Cruceros informed him that there was another village farther south, Milmelones, of similar distance to Las Limas; and so, he continued, and he arrived in Milmelones later that day.
In those days, it was always exciting to see a stranger coming through town. Just as it happened in Cruceros, children came running up to him from all directions; they shouted greetings and laughed and played; and they reached out to touch him, taking his hands and leading him to the public well in the plaza. There he splashed water on his face and arms, he drew in fresh breath, and then he turned around to find the townspeople gathered about him, with eager eyes and smiling faces.
Some people made their way through the crowd; they brought him food and different beverages, but they were eager to hear him speak. In Cruceros, when he had identified himself and his family, he was met by a distant cousin; but no one came forth in Milmelones. When he spoke of going through Cruceros, a couple of people asked if he had met their relatives there; which he remembered, of course, because those relatives had sent their regards as well.
He told the people about the twists and turns of the road, for they had not been made by man. He told them about a turtle that he had allowed to cross his path, and they all nodded to one another and whispered blessings unto him. He had paused by a little creek to listen to the water for a while, and had been gratified by all the other sounds he heard there. He had seen a cluster of saguaros that looked like people dancing; and a couple up in front told him that, under certain conditions, he could actually see them dancing.
And then he related the antics of the two camaleónes that he had happened upon as they were mating. It was during that moment of levity that Juanito let his eyes wander over the faces, and then they fell on one face and a pair of eyes looking straight back into his; for a moment, it was all he saw.
When Juanito asked Rayo del Sol’s parents for her hand and for their blessing, it was already known that they would say yes and that she would joyously accept his proposal. In the long months of their courtship, he came to realize that the matter of distance presented a hardship for him and for the two families; and when the time would come, his beloved, who was bound to follow him anywhere, would nevertheless be saddened to be so far from her family.
It was decided that they would have the wedding in Cruceros, and they would live there; this would alleviate the hardship for both families, and Juanito and Rayo del Sol would share more equally in the feelings of estrangement and in the efforts of adaptation.
The people of Cruceros were touched by the romantic story that had unfolded around them; they felt as if they were at the heart of the matter. For days, it seemed as if people were flocking in from all around. The large bell rang in the little church that morning, but the wedding took place in the plaza, as white clouds drifted slowly across a bright blue sky; and the sun was gentle for the moment.
The throng of relatives and new friends filled the little square and spread into the surrounding streets; many climbed up on their houses just to see the wonderful wedding. And when the wedding was over, the festivities ensued; and they continued for two full days.
Gradually, everything wound down. As some people were picking themselves up from the park benches, others were breaking camp. While the business of cleaning up the streets was under way, the long goodbyes were also taking place.
Two or three days later, a semblance of normalcy began to be seen, at least in Cruceros; and Juanito and Rayo del Sol found themselves in a little house, which was cuddled in between their neighbors’ houses, the Carpinteros on one side and Señora Dosríos on the other.
The Carpinteros were a mature couple that still had a daughter at home, who was close to Rayo del Sol’s age; and the two of them soon became close friends. The five of them found pleasant company in one another and spent many evenings visiting.
Señora Dosríos was an elderly but sprightly widow with a short wiry frame; she always had her hair tied in a bun that resembled the tail of a wasp. She would spend her hours going from house to house, spreading news, sharing peoples’ thoughts and utterances, borrowing from some and lending to others. Her traits had earned her the local moniker of L’avispa. Everyone in town knew her, and everyone liked her. Her arrival always meant a little break in one’s chores and some jocularity.
Juanito and Rayo del Sol were extremely happy; they were young and profoundly in love, they had three communities that absolutely adored them and supported them, and they had vision and hope.
The long days of summer led into the hot days of August; then the days began to shorten, as they got more comfortable. Before long, El Día de los Muertos was approaching. It was in those days that the devil came to town.
He’d had his day before the arrival of Christian Europeans; things weren’t all that bad yet, but he had found himself losing face in many places. He had heard of the new couple and their perfect love, how it spread among the people and inspired them, how it held three communities bonded in fellowship and goodwill – it gave him indigestion, and it made him angry.
He rode in on a sun-colored horse one day. He chose the appearance of a handsome young man, about Juanito’s age but with a more mature and confident visage. He rode in quietly and slowly, completely unnoticed, halted the horse about 30 yards from the young couple’s home, and watched Rayo del Sol doing chores out in the yard. He allowed the serpent within the primary inklings of lust, and then he had to check and wipe his drooling.
He clicked his spurs just loud enough for her to hear and led the horse up closer. As she raised her head, a lock of hair fell across her face; and as she moved it out of the way, he saw sweetness and innocence in her eyes…goodness…it was like a sharp glare to him. And then he noticed the faint lines of toil, already beginning to show on her face. She smiled but said nothing; and he read a trace of apprehension, which the serpent absorbed like a drink of water.
He said he needed a room and a place for his horse. She tried to explain that she was still unfamiliar with some things in town, and she glanced at the houses of her neighbors, assuming they would know; sure enough, Señora Dosríos came out of her house abruptly and full of answers.
The handsome young caballero tipped his hat to the two women and proceeded on his way, but he gave the pretty young one a lingering smile. Señora Dosríos watched him ride away and muttered quietly, “Ay, si yo estubiera más joven…” And the two of them shared a giggle.
In the days that followed, rumors started going around about the stranger in town. It was peculiar that his arrival had not been noticed except by a few. The palomino in the town’s only corral drew a bit of attention; not many men could own a horse like that. It was speculated that the gentleman might be an emissary of some sort; but he was never in the places they expected him to be, and no one seemed able to engage him in a conversation anywhere or at any time.
No one noticed that, on those occasions when he strolled around town, neither the children nor the town dogs were drawn to him, as they usually were to others. And when the stranger had been in town for nearly a month, no one thought it unusual that he still wasn’t known by any name.
For all of six weeks, the devil tried different tactics to appeal to the base instincts of the young couple. He would appear for Rayo del Sol and leave impressions of himself to linger in her mind – shirtless and glistening in the sun, muscular but commanding of others, and looking back at her with desire in his eyes. Juanito would hear the voices of his friends in the fields, telling him that he was cursed by his unworthiness and that his happy world was destined to collapse; but there was never anyone there when he looked.
On a couple of different occasions, when Juanito was returning home from work, he thought he saw the stranger leaving his house; but nothing was ever said about it, and he didn’t pursue it.
Nothing of the devil’s attire, his noble manner, or his masculinity seemed to have any effect on Rayo del Sol; it was beyond his comprehension that she would prefer to be with someone of such meager prospects. And the notions of suspicion and fear that he kept trying to plant in Juanito’s head had no effect either. He simply could not get through the essence of whatever it was that held them together.
One day, the devil was sitting in a dimly lit corner of the shambles they called a cantina, nursing a nearly empty bottle of tequila; from his position, he had an annoying view of the little church across the plaza. Then he spotted Juanito and Rayo del Sol walking hand in hand toward the church; his tail almost slipped out, as he sat up hastily.
They were laughing and cavorting; they paused by the church steps, and Juanito put his arms around her waist, lifted her and swung her around jubilantly. The devil watched with narrowed eyes as they embraced each other, kissed wholeheartedly, and then they dashed up the steps and into the church.
The devil felt himself awash in feelings of envy, jealousy, lustful yearning, and perverse greed; although it was painful to bring his awareness into God’s house, he listened in from his little dark hole. They were telling the priest that Rayo del Sol was pregnant!
The devil felt a consuming rage go through him; he got up and walked out with long heavy strides. Some people in town heard something that sounded like a man screaming out in pain, but it was unnatural and directionless; and some people, when the sound distracted them and they looked up from their work, saw an unusually large and ominous whirlwind rising up and out of the plaza.
The old man who minded the little barn that served as a stables heard the sound, and he came outside to take a look. He saw the sun-colored horse suddenly vanish in an instantaneous and vaporous ball of fire, and he stood there dumfounded and resigned to sadness. Who would ever believe an old man who was already known to have suffered bouts of dementia?
The devil was done in Cruceros, and he was starving. He craved fear and despair; these and the other failings in people, on which he fed, were not to be found here. He retreated to a mesa in the distance, and there he sat and pouted. He looked towards Cruceros and desired its annihilation with every fiber in his heart. But the devil’s heart, of course, is his weakest component.
The devil lifted his head and sniffed the air, and he turned his eyes eastward. Soon, there would be boatloads of people in distress, full of fear and terror, hungry and sick; they would be whipped and humiliated, subjected to the whims of men’s perversions, and forced into servitude. And he let out a laugh and leapt into a current of air.
It was a couple of days later that Juanito and Rayo del Sol were enjoying the company of their neighbors, the Carpinteros and Señora Dosríos, in the shade of their backyard. Rayo del Sol was aglow in her condition.
Señora Dosríos couldn’t help but notice how, every time Juanito or Rayo del Sol went to get something, there was always a physical exchange of some sort; he would kiss her on the forehead, or she would brush her hand across his back, or they would linger in a handhold. It seemed a little much, and it began to make her a little jealous.
Before the end of their visit, it was inevitable that the subject of Rayo del Sol’s pregnancy would come up; this elicited a great deal of excitement, and they happily shared their hopes and dreams. Rayo del Sol stroked her abdomen lovingly, and the two leaned towards each other and touched heads for a moment.
Señora Dosríos felt envy; the annoyance of envy and jealousy twisted itself into resentment. Her conscience tried to emphasize the memory of goodwill, but she was remembering her days of youth, with her husband, and how he would make her feel.
It was also inevitable that talk of the now absent stranger would arise, upon which, Señora Dosríos turned to Rayo del Sol and casually asked her if she had not known him in Milmelones; after all, she added, there had been those times that he had come to visit. And, in a jocular manner, she implied how it might raise the question as to who the father of her child really was.
Everyone chuckled uncertainly, but her laughter carried in the breeze, shrill and piercing, false and ugly; and it drifted away, as if refusing to die. Juanito tried not to react, but he remembered seeing the stranger leaving his house on two occasions; and nothing had ever been said about it. The seeds of suspicion and doubt had been planted.
The following day, Juanito found an opportunity to take the Carpintero girl aside, and he asked her if Rayo del Sol had ever confided anything to her about the stranger. The young woman tried to reassure him that he had nothing to worry about; but later, with only the best of intentions, she told Rayo del Sol about the conversation. Rayo del Sol was deeply hurt that he would not address his concerns to her.
Almost everywhere she went that day, Señora Dosríos chattered about ‘what was going on at the Sinfuentes household’ and ‘the speculations which now existed about Rayo del Sol’s baby’. She wasn’t actually being malicious; she just liked to talk. And this was the news of the day, news that she herself had fabricated in a moment of hate.
By the next day, the whole town was talking; and by the end of the day, all sorts of venomous ideas and implications had reached the ears of Juanito and Rayo del Sol. As much as they tried, they could not escape the feelings that came with the smirks and the whisperings of their neighbors and friends.
A few more days of glances and murmurings, and it was all over. To the devastation of the faith and hope of three communities, the love had been compromised; and, hearts broken, they each returned to their own hometown.
This story is based on an old Mexican fable, from a time of more simplistic thinking. The lesson at the end is supposed to be that, quite often, an old woman with a wagging tongue can do more damage than the devil himself; such a person is said to have ‘the tongue of the devil’.
But contemporary thinkers have asserted that real true love cannot be undone, neither by the devil nor the wagging tongue. And so, I leave it to the reader to decide the outcome of the story, based on whatever one might believe.