by Leanne Walker Vargas
Location: Teocalli ruins, Mexico City, Mexico
He materialised by my side whilst I was gazing over the ruins of the main temple of AztecTeocalli. “Hi, where are you from?” It’s a standard line a foreigner gets used to hearing a thousand times a day walking around Mexico City.
All around me the cries of vendors, the haggling of shoppers, the click of cameras. The cobbled surrounds of the magnificent 16th century Catedral Metropolitana and the famous Zocolo Plaza becomes by the afternoon a colourful craft market where you can buy anything from a Shamans blessing to brightly coloured hand-woven textiles or a Che Guevara T-shirt.
We remained a while gazing over the ruins of Teocalli, the ceremonial centre of Tenochititlan, the Aztec city that the Spaniards destroyed in the 1520s to build Mexico City. I checked him out from side-on. He could have been a pickpocket by the looks of him. “I’m from Australia.”
Would I allow him to show me through the ruins he wanted to know? Most definitely not! The dark dank corridors of an Aztec temple are not the kind of places you go strolling with a possible thief. Perhaps he saw me as easy pickings. A foreign woman travelling alone.
But what the hell! I told him he could accompany me around the Zocolo, it was crowded with people, and besides it would be interesting passing a few hours with someone who makes his living from the pockets of others.
We headed back towards the plaza and he made a passing reference to the Cathedral, eager to take on the role of guide. As we strolled I could almost hear him thinking “this will be easy” as he slid his eyes over my daypack which held my camera and my purse. I maintained a firm hold.
We bought some colas and sat down on a curb to watch the ‘conchero’ dancers. Of an afternoon they perform, native Indians to the region, eager to carry on the traditions of their ancestors and also make an honest living.
In magnificent feathered headdresses, golden chest plates and concha shell anklets the troupe were dancing up a storm. Round and round they swirled but every time the leader of the dancers passed me, he would shoot me an intense look. My companion looked uncomfortable, suggesting we move on.
Finally he left the dancers and came over. Taking me to one side he said with words so softly spoken I had to bend down to him to hear them… “Beware of your companion” and then he was gone.
For an hour or so we played a game of cat and mouse. Finally I turned to him, burning with curiosity and asked straight out, “Please tell me, I want to know not because I think bad of you but because I am fascinated, how is the life of a thief in Mexico City?” He froze, then a flicker of a guilty smile played across his lips before he feigned a look over his shoulder and stuttered, “who me?”
“You’ve got it wrong!” He refused to open up, to share with me, to come clean. We remained quiet for a while gazing over the crowd below until I felt a movement. The move I was waiting for. Our eyes met, then we both looked down at the backpack where he already had two fingers inside, past the zipper.
He walked me back to my hotel. At the door he looked confused. “I’ve spent the afternoon with you and gotten nothing,” he said each word slowly as if he couldn’t quite believe it. “You’ve had the pleasure of my company, a packet of cigarettes and some cokes.” I pointed out. “Yes, but you know what I mean…can’t you at least give me a kiss?”
With a laugh I wished him the best for the future, a kiss on the cheek and left him there. He was still repeating over again… “pero nada! I got nothing!”
Text © Caroline Puzinas, All Rights Reserved