This article is from the June 1999 The Mexico File newsletter.
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The Man and the Boy

by Bruce McGovern

I love the metro in Mexico City, especially since I realized there are a lot more wrecked taxis in junk yards than wrecked metro cars! (Somehow, those gloomy State Department Advisories neglect to mention that. I do, however, concur with their advice that tourists should not use the metro, especially with luggage.)

The cars have seats, but during heavy traffic, most people must stand and hang on to the metal poles. The cars bob and sway, and accelerate and decelerate, and most of us need to hang on for dear life. I call it “hanging on by your teeth!"

Yet, some men simply stand there, and respond to the train's movements, with all the grace and skill of a rodeo rider.

One day, I saw a man and his little 3- or 4-year old son, playing in the metro. He had the son against the door at the back, and was positioned so the kid couldn't really get hurt, even if he did fall. The boy was

trying to stand without hanging on, like his dad, and when he started to fall, the dad would 'save' him, but then laugh and tease him, and the little boy would giggle, and try again.

All this for 1.5 pesos, the cost for the ticket of admission to the metro, and transportation thrown in free!

"No, not many."

I looked at the young eagle in her hands. The vast sierras in the distance framed him.

"If I buy that eagle, will you turn him loose?"

"Of course," she nodded. "It would be yours then."

"No, not ours," Emilio said beneath his breath. He pulled a 50,000 peso note out of his pocket and handed it to her.

She tore at the ties with her teeth, letting the eagle dangle from her hands. Upside down, he held his neck up and stared at us. His eyes showed alarm, but he didn't fight the woman. She pulled a knife from out of her clothing and sliced through the ties, then held the eagle against the sky. Abruptly, she tossed him above our heads.

Immediately, the eagle transformed. The bound animal he'd been moments before exploded into a reaching, climbing creature of strength and beauty. His wings extended and flexed in a burst of power and he propelled himself through the air. Each exuberant beat conveyed his sense of completeness and release into flight. Freedom! It reeled like a dust-devil across the desert and encompassed me, linking his soaring spirit with mine. His abandoned rush lifted me as he was lifted. With steady, surging strokes he shot across the chaparral towards the mountains. I stood motionless, riveted by the pure, flawless flight of the bird. He was perfection of evolution.

Even the woman and daughter stood silent until he was only a speck of pepper against the lavender foothills.

The woman began to rub her hands together with a dry, scraping sound. "Another American stopped and did the same," she said distractedly. Then she looked up eagerly at us.

"I'll sell you two more for 80,000 -- "

"I can't," I told her.

"If we had a well, they would stay free," she murmured.

Her tone made me turn and look at her. She had quick intelligent eyes like her daughter, who never spoke a word, but never stopped staring with interest at us.

"I'll try to get you a well," I promised, walking to the truck.

"Give me your coat," she tried, looking in the window.

"Adios, Senora." Emilio nodded. "Vale bien."

Neither of us said anything for some miles. I kept seeing the vision of the young eagle in flight, free at last. It played in mind over and over like a tape.

Emilio interrupted my reverie. "We lost some time but it was worth it."

"God, yes." I looked at him. "That was a good thing, buying that eagle, Emilio. As long as I live I'll never forget the sight of him flying off. Besides," I added, smiling at his efficient mind, "we only lost about twenty minutes."

"We'll make Laredo by eight," he said, glancing at his watch. "Good God, what is this?"

Ahead of us an 18-wheeler lay jack-knifed across the highway. Cards were snaking around it onto the shoulder of the road. A van lay on its side, a mangled heap. Its side door was crushed open so that we could see the family belongings strewn inside.

"That looks like the car that passed us a while ago," I said sickly, recalling the flash of smiling faces that had whizzed past us.

"Oh, no," Emilio whispered, staring ahead.

Two people lay torn apart on the highway. I looked away as we circled around them.

"The ambulance isn't even here."

A man in a Pemex uniform waved us to pass. As we crept by, Emilio addressed him.

"Do you need us to call an ambulance?"

"No. They're dead."

"When did this happen?"

"About twenty minutes ago. The truck was loaded too heavy. It skidded into the van."

We crept grimly towards the border, the luck of the sickle weighing heavily on us. I watched the sun drop slowly behind the haze of the sierras and the world dimmed.

Emilio looked at me through the gray light and spoke my thoughts.

"If we hadn't stopped for the eagle, we would have been where they were."

We sat in silence and watched the road disappear like a black ribbon under the truck's belly.

"Maybe it wasn't us who saved the eagle," Emilio said quietly. "Maybe it was the eagle who saved us."