The Blind Seeker
by Kay Tracy
The lousy weather was holding, with the same miasma of fog and overcast. Lack of sun will make people do and see strange things, so they say.
The usual snarl of homeward commute traffic seemed worse than usual today. There are always those people who drive like, well, I guess idiots would be the more polite word to use. Cutting people off as they weave from lane to lane, trying for that extra car length they just know will get them home faster. It had a been a long day, and I was not looking forward to the rest of the commute. I pulled my truck off the road to take a break, and have an early dinner. I enjoy finding small out of the way places to patronize, and my hunt for something other than the standard fast food or drive through took me a couple miles distance from the highway. This stretch of road should have seemed familiar, I had driven here before, but there! That place was new, a small Taqueria, with a big hand lettered sign, “Fresh Tamales!” Well! If you have never had a fresh from the steamer hand rolled Tamal, you are missing one of life’s great pleasures! The sweetly plumped corn meal holding the tasty secret of filling that the individual making them takes such pride in! Not very large, this place Only 4 tables, a counter near one wall, and a door opening into a small Botanica shop. I looked for the owner (it is always the owner who works in these places) and wandered next door, into the attached Botannica. The scents of the food from the kitchen mingled with numerous herbs, powders and scented candles from the Botanica. My stomach was growling.
The older woman in the shop must have heard my stomach, as she greeted me warmly and asked me “Comida?”- Food? I nodded and said “Yes! Tamal con Pollo por favor” I replied “Three, er Tres”. My Spanish is not that good and I forget the words sometimes!
“Give me a moment” the old woman replied, her English was impeccable, as she winked at me slyly! She was tall and on the thin side, not quite gaunt, but her face showed her bone structure, as well as her laugh lines!
She ushered me back to the restaurant side and placed a small plain black wooden box on the center of the table indicating that I should sit there. I sat looking at the décor. Painted plaster walls, scenes from Central America? Step pyramids, bright feathered birds, or were those the head-dresses of Mayan or Aztec kings or priests? The woman returned and brought me a frothy cup of chocolate. Mind you this is not the chocolate of my childhood in Pennsylvania, all milky and sweet. No! This was chocolate as the Aztecs might have prepared it, spicy, with a hint of chile, whipped to a frenzy!
I know I said I liked out of the way places, and I am always willing to try new things, but that chocolate, if you are not used to it, has some odd effects on one! I looked up, as I dabbed the chili sweat from around my eyes.
The woman came out to sit down at the table, “they will be a few more minutes” she informed me, “you cannot rush the magic of the Tamal, it happens as it should.”
She opened the box that had been placed on the table, earlier and took out a black cloth, spreading it out, carefully smoothing out the wrinkles. “While we wait,” she said, “Shall we see what there is to be known?”
“I am tired of the traffic,” I said, “ And I am hungry. Do I need to know more than that?” I said, laughing slightly.
“Perhaps she replied” as she lit two small candles and stood them in small cups just inside the box. I looked as she looked, down, and saw there was a shallow bowl, sort of, the only black. She was staring into it, a sort of glazed look coming into her eyes. I saw the candles reflected in that bowl, flickering yellow lights, and other colors too, red, blue, reflections from the wall paintings? I leaned in closer to see. A trick of the candlelight? I blinked as her hand appeared and she sprinkled some sort of fine white powder over the bowl. My awareness came back suddenly, and I leaned back, after all, it IS California, and there are many things a “powder” could be! The old woman spent a few more minutes gently waving her hands and staring into the bowl when suddenly her face became grave. She picked up both of the candles and turned them over into their little cups. The candles out, she closed the box and got up. “Your dinner is ready now”. Swiftly she went to the kitchen, leaving me to sit, blinking from the change in lighting. There, then. I saw it. The top of the box. There were faint white marks on it, letters? Writing? I leaned closer, yes, there it was. I could make it out, “6 205 Muerte”
I took a moment to think, 205, that is the road, the highway I had been on, that traffic nightmare!
Just then my Tamales arrived, and the aroma seemed to make me forget all about the box, and the commute. I carefully untied the strip of corn husk and peeled it free so I could take a bite, and burned my tongue, just a bit, on the hot steaming cornmeal. The clock from back in the little kitchen chimed 6 pm. The old woman turned on a tiny television she had on her counter as she brought me more chocolate, she smiled sadly at me then, as she filled the cup again for me. She placed a small vase filled with marigolds onto my table as she removed the little black
I fanned my burning tongue and looked up, “ Thank you” I said, just as I saw the news started up on her little TV. There it was, the same flashing yellow, and colors I had seen in the little bowl. There! On the news. The reporter was pointing as the crawl along the bottom had something about a multi-car crash on 205, that just happened. The image was very jumpy- the cameraman was running after the reporter with his gear, (they had been in the counter-commute lanes) There it was, I stared, transfixed at the tiny screen’s image, and looked again. Three of the cars in that wreck, I recognized them, they had been near me in the commute, when I pulled off! One of them had been the idiot weaving in an out trying to pass everyone on the road. And then, there was that truck, mangled, familiar looking…