"It goes without saying, caballeros. Bandits!" said Enríquez.
"Besides, we have already started the rural police program here in Mexico to
accost our own outlaws."
"Gringos! They have copied us again," Tomás announced.
"Los Rurales," Enríquez continued. "The rural mounted
"To the Rurales," Tomás said.
They raised their glasses.
"To the bandits," said Segundo.
"And the Apaches," Enríquez said, "who keep me
They drank the hot brew and pissed out the back door and
tossed coins to the women to keep them dancing. Tomás suddenly
grabbed a guitar and launched into a ballad about a boy who
loved his schoolteacher but was too shy to tell her. Instead,
he wrote her a love note every day and tucked it in a tree. One
day, while he was placing his latest testimonial in the tree,
it was hit by lightning, and not only did this poor boy die,
but the tree with its enclosed epistles of love burned to the
ground. The teacher ran to the tree in time to behold this
disaster. The ballad ended with the melancholy schoolteacher,
lonely and unloved, brushing the ashes of the boy's unread
notes from her hair before turning out her lamp and sleeping
alone for yet another night. The naked dancers covered
themselves and wept.
Early the next morning, the men left the thunderously
hungover barkeep and dancers behind and began their long ride
inland, to where the hills started to rise and the iguanas were
longer than the rattlesnakes. They began to forget the color of
Cayetana greeted that dawn with a concoction made with
coffee beans and burned corn kernels. As the light poured out
of the eastern sea and splashed into windows from coast to
coast, Mexicans rose and went to their million kitchens and
cooking fires to pour their first rations of coffee. A tidal
wave of coffee rushed west across the land, rising and falling
from kitchen to fire ring to cave to ramada. Some drank coffee
from thick glasses. Some sipped it from colorful gourds, rough
clay pots that dissolved as they drank, cones of banana leaf.
Café negro. Café with canela. Café with goat's milk. Café with
a golden-brown cone of piloncillo melting in it like a pyramid
engulfed by a black flood. Tropical café with a dollop of
sugarcane rum coiling in it like a hot snake. Bitter
mountaintop café that thickened the blood. In Sinaloa, café
with boiled milk, its burned milk skin floating on top in a
pale membrane that looked like the flesh of a peeled blister.
The heavy-eyed stared into the round mirrors of their cups and
regarded their own dark reflections. And Cayetana Chávez, too,
lifted a cup, her coffee reboiled from yesterday's grounds and
grits, sweet with spoons of sugarcane syrup, and lightened by
thin blue milk stolen with a few quick squeezes from one of the
On that long westward morning, all Mexicans still dreamed
the same dream. They dreamed of being Mexican. There was no
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