May 12, 2006

A Short Story

The Man and the Serpent

Part 2 (Part I published 5/5/06)

By Heriberto Escamilla

This is a story of a man that lived many years ago. It came to me the other night in the form of a dream. The story repeated itself in my head several times and each time, another piece was added until it was complete, save for the name of the man. Perhaps if you pay attention to his actions and his words you can help me give him a name. You all have ear and eyes. You can see and can also decide for yourselves whether or not this story is true.

On the fourth day, the man awoke, his heart even more fixed and determined. “Today, I work the fields and nothing will stop me”, he said to himself as he picked up his machete and threw the heavy morral over his shoulders. And for the fourth time, the serpent appeared before him. Once again, she pleaded, ‘mijito, my son, please won’t you put down the bag you carry across your shoulders, lay your machete aside and embrace me. I am your mother and only want to hold you”. This time, her words pounded the man like thunder, like drums beats they bore into this being. And the man’s heart filled with courage. He felt a rage grip his legs, his body and his arms. Holding on tightly to his machete, he raised it high above his head. With a strong, sweeping swing, he split the serpent in two.

Satisfied and filled with pride, the man looked down at the remnants of the serpent as they twisted in the black dirt. But his victory was very short-lived. He watched spellbound as the tail part sprung a head. And from the other half, the head end, a tail grew out. There before him, two snakes now called out. “I am your mother. Please embrace me. I only want to hold you”. Seeing this, the man’s heart once again ached with rage and he struck again, only to see that instead of two there were now four. Again the machete sliced the air. Where there where four snakes, he now saw eight. Incapable of recognizing and appreciating the consequences of his actions, he struck again, and even once more. He hacked at the snakes until there were no less than a hundred little ribbons twisting and turning at his feet. Finally, seeing that his action had no purpose, he dropped his machete. Defeated, with head bowed low and empty heart, he turned away and trudged back to his home.

For the fourth time, he told his wife that work would have to wait for another day. He pulled up a chair, sat down, drained. He sat there, lifeless, until the sun finished its journey. The darkness came and the man fell into a troubled sleep, tossing and turning on his straw petate. The corn in the field withered even more.

The next day, on the fifth day, the woman, his wife walked down to the well to fetch home some water. The earth was still dark and the man had not yet awakened. As she was drawing the water, a woman approached her. The woman was old and bent. A back shawl covered her head and hid away a wrinkled face. The woman wore a skirt of little black, red and yellow serpents. The man’s wife was so startled by the old woman’s appearance that she almost spilled her water. But the old woman called out in a soothing voice “Mijita, my daughter, I am your mother. Please embrace me, I seek only to hold you”. I see that you are carrying a son and are ready to give birth. I am a midwife and can help you give birth”. Since there was no one else to help her, the man’s wife felt completely relieved and opened her arms to the old woman. They walked back to the man’s home, talking and enjoying the day.

Back home, the man was once again preparing for a day in the field. He knew his crops needed his attention, without him they would surely die, if they were indeed not already dead. So for a fifth day, he picked up his machete, and threw his bag over his shoulder. He stiffened his heart even more and swore that nothing would keep him from his obligations.

As he stepped out of his jakal, he saw the figures of his wife and an old woman walking up the trail. As they drew closer and out of the darkness, he noticed the woman’s skirt and the serpents dangling from her waist, red, black and yellow ribbons, each with cold yellow eyes. He immediately recognized her and this was more than the man could bear. It was one thing to have the serpent cross his path, but quite another for his own wife to invite her into his home. Terrorized, confused, feeling hopeless and enraged, he yelled and screamed at his wife. “How can you bring that hag, that demon into our home, can’t you see, don’t you see what she is?” Can’t you see that she is evil and will bring us nothing but harm and misfortune?”

At the sound of her husband’s voice, the wife became frightened and immediately went into labor. Not knowing what to do, the man stopped his tirade. The old woman calmly instructed him to carry his wife into the house, bring water and a few other things that she would need. The old woman told the man to wait outside of the humble jakal until his son was born. He waited patiently. He paced nervously, imagining all kinds of evil. But in the end, he calmed his heart and he waited.

A few minutes later, the strong cries of a baby boy broke the tense silence. The man lifted his head and waited anxiously for permission to enter. When none came, we walked cautiously toward the door. With each step, his mind created yet one more reason to turn away. His son’s cries drew him closer. He opened the door slowly, absolutely unsure of what to expect. He imagined the worse, but as he pulled the door open, he was instantly relieved to see his smiling wife, holding out a beautiful baby boy. As he approached the petate he could see that the boy was perfect in every way, two legs, and two arms, two eyes, and ears. He was completely human. And the woman with the serpent skirt was nowhere in sight. The man took his child into his arms, embracing and holding him closely against his chest.

I am told the story ends here. Perhaps you have questions or maybe you have doubts. If you do, don’t ask me because I don’t know anymore than what I have said. You have ears, you have eyes and you also have a tongue. You can decide for yourself if the story is true or if it isn’t. And most importantly, you may now know the name of this man.

Heriberto (Beto) Escamilla, originally from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon Mexico, was raised in Houston, Texas until moving to San Diego in 1984. He received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology-San Diego Campus.

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