Dylan Brennan – Brujo Fever

Brujo Fever

 

Like Tarzan’s “me Tarzan, you Jane!”, if I had to translate it, that’s what it would sound like—”me brujo de Catemaco, me cure you, heal you, evil eye, love sickness, limpias and potions”. You see, to be a real brujo de Catemaco you had to be indigenous and that meant, in the classified section of the cheapest un-free newspaper I’d ever come across, you needed a poor command of Spanish. The brujos (witchdoctors) of Catemaco (a lakeside town in southern Veracruz state), in order to prove their authenticity, needed to sound uneducated, to sound genuine, to sound indio.

*

¡El Gráfico, El Gráfico a 3! was the cry I would hear in the metro stations. (I checked recently, it still costs 3 pesos). The front cover still adheres to the tried and tested formula—fear and desire, allure and disgust, death and sex. Every weekday, in all the newsstands of the megalopolis, eyes attracted by a split screen diptych of, on the left-hand side (why always the left?) a photograph of a victim (usually male) of a traffic accident or a homicide and, on the right-hand side (always the right-hand side) a young woman, naked or almost, with slightly parted and heavily lipsticked lips. Sex and death, sex and death—rotting corpses stained with the fluids of putrefaction jostling with images of life, young life, young female reproductive life, breasts and hips, left to right, backwards cycle of life.

*

The first time in my life I tried fishing was from a small wooden pier in Catemaco. Didn’t expect to catch anything, didn’t catch anything. Was more interested in watching the young boys free-diving from bobbing boats much further out. I was told they were looking for snails. Supposedly an aphrodisiac which probably meant that it stimulated blood flow to the penis or was nothing but a slimy placebo. The town was small with mainly dirt roads, narrow roads. For supper I had a sort of eel soup flavoured with coriander and raw chillies. To drink—limonada. We called it lemonade but it was made with the little green fruit we call lime. The meal was good and led to some cold beers by the lake. But soon, in the darkness, I began to shake. My throat ached, my knees, ears and knuckles hurt. We need to take him to a hospital. My skin blazed and froze at irregular intervals or, perhaps, simultaneously. They took me.

*

He floated to the shore on a raft. His limbs seemed not to move. Mostly dressed in black he wore a tight headband adorned with colourful feathers. San Judas Tadeo, La Virgen de Guadalupe, La Santa Muerte, pentagrams—from his neck hung many scapulars and he had mirrors pinned to his sleeves. Not once did he speak to us directly but through the hotel owner. He’s a brujo, a witchdoctor. He heard you were here, he came for you. Why? What does he want? People come here for a limpia. We all had a mud facial cleanse over at Nanciyaga in the morning. No, no, he cleans you, he cleans your soul. Or if you need love he can help. He knows also of hate. The others demurred but I agreed. Despite no prior intention of seeking out a brujo, once the opportunity was presented, it seemed like something I needed to try. The beginning was like any limpia the length and breadth of the country. Told to close my eyes I felt his hands on my head and shoulders and smelt the copal, smelt the incense and heard the alternating sound-waves from a tiny metallic flute and a ceramic turtle. A bell chimed before me, behind me, on my left-hand side and on my right-hand side. He mumbled non-Spanish words and made other sounds. Then he took me aboard his raft and told me to open my eyes. A dark fabric had been erected on three sides and he stood before me on the fourth. He motioned for me to sit. I sat on the wet wood. He took large bunches of herbs from a bag and shook them in my face. Peppertree, common rue, aloe, goosefoot, hierba santa, and the smoke made me sneeze. He sucked up some aguardiente and washed it around in his mouth and spat a heavy mist of alcohol about my eyes. I smirked. For the first time he spoke directly to me, in Spanish. He told me to take this seriously, that if I didn’t I would become very sick. When he started to gently roll a goose egg across my belly, it tickled and I laughed again.

*

Sean Connery rented out the whole place when he stayed here. Medicine Man, remember that one? Most people don’t. He comes up with a cure for cancer in the Amazon before evil loggers bulldoze the place, destroying the cure and killing a few natives along the way. He said in an interview that he nearly went mad with all the insects nibbling away at him all day. I know how he feels. We rented in the same area, not the entire complex like he’d done. Things were, no doubt, shabbier then than when Connery had stayed. I’d refused, so far, to shell out for a hammock so I slept on a cool tiled floor with shirts, soaked in large lozenges of sweat, piled up for my pillow.

*

Suegra—that’s how they say mother-in-law in Spanish. In Mexico, you could call someone your suegra or brother-in-law etc. despite not actually being married. While hesitant at first, it became easier to describe, for example, my brother’s girlfriend as my cuñada. Anyway, my suegra told me once that when she was a young girl, every day coming home from school she was followed by a strange looking dog. This went on for weeks. One day she looked at the dog and was stricken with terror, her muscles seized up and she found it hard to move. Her mother took her to a curandera (healer). The curandera told her mother that the child had seen something terrifying. That someone had laid a hex upon her. She performed a limpia and when they cracked the egg into an earthenware bowl before her eyes she saw the yolk morph into the figure of a dog. My suegra is a devout member of a Christian church and would not now, as an adult, agree to such a ritual. Nevertheless, to this day, she swears she saw that dog in the bowl, his yellow form defined by the egg-white. If the brujo hadn’t cut short his ritual because of my stupid chuckling, would I have seen the outline of a monkey in the yolk?

*

Red cheeked monkeys, originally from Thailand. La Universidad de Veracruz bought them for the purposes of research. They live on an island in the lake—Isla de los Changos, Monkey Island.  The lanchero pulled up to the side of the island, we were not permitted to disembark. He threw fruit and nuts to the monkeys and left some on the deck and one or two jumped aboard begging to be fed and petted. We did both. I was close enough to have been bitten by a flea from the monkey. The doctor said it was a possibility. In the health centre they gave me antibiotics to be administered daily via a syringe to the buttock. Maybe it was the limonada. Who knows, there were mosquitoes everywhere. There was stagnant water near where I’d slept. I recently saw a photo of me on that boat, eleven years younger. Dengue fever was coming, maybe it was already there. Much thinner with a shaved head and no beard, forearms and face tanned by a crepuscular light. Sweat everywhere. In the photo, (I’m looking at it now) my smiling face looks fragile—happy and frail. My skeletal frame clearly visible, my shoulders, irrelevant.

*

Days later a companion jumped from the truck. His boots hit the top of my head on the way down and I was knocked to the ground. The pain was immense. The antibiotics were taking their time to work. All joints ached. My tonsils had mutinied and attacked me with their jagged obsidian blades—every swallow, every word, every mouthful of food. We made it to Palenque and stayed at a campsite near the town. I walked into town for more syringes. Later that evening we got talking to a doctor from Canada. A couple of the lads bought mushrooms in a jar, their bitter juices tempered by the honeyed amber preservatives. Don’t let Dylan have any. I heard them talking to the doctor. What should we do? Well, I’d say he’s far sicker than he’s letting on. He needs to drink six litres of water a day. Earlier on he was talking to himself. But I wasn’t. I was talking to Sean Connery in Medicine Man. He told me to go walk around the ruins. A Canadian told me to visit King Pakal’s tomb. I did. I have never been hotter, never been wetter. The Palenque ruins were awe-inspiring but the fever was relentless. Beneath a massive wet sun/I’m a fish slung in a hammock/This world is sap-green/And pyramids spring up overnight. One of my early, discarded poems, inspired by fever, co-written by Connery. Before Palenque, we visited the massive Olmec heads in Villahermosa, Tabasco. Maria! Maria! Where are you going? Slow down. What? Maria was behind me but I’d seen her before me. No need for mushrooms. Dengue is a nightmarish barrage of fluids and visions. Tedious hallucinations, frustrating and dismal.

*

EL GRÁFICO—JUEVES 11 DICIEMBRE, 2014

Los hijos del verdadero Brujo anciano de Catemaco están atendiendo en ciudad de México. Amarres de amor, brujerías y limpias. Calzada de San Antonio Abad #196 Piso 2B

Metro Chabacano. Tel. 57401183

www.brujoancianodecatemaco.com

 

INDIO DE CATEMACO—Brazalete Tridimensional de la Fortuna.

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 I picked up a copy of El Gráfico last week to see if the brujo ads still feature. There weren’t as many as before but the ones that were there were more upmarket—large, coloured centre pieces. The Spanish was correct.

*

Hello? Mammy? I know, I know. It’s been ages. Where am I? San Cristobal de las Casas. A colonial city full of indigenous people, coloured fabrics and coffee. The coffee…Your Da says the Zapatistas…Yes, that’s right but there’s not much danger now. They’re up in the mountains. They have them surrounded. Didn’t tell them about our run-in with them in Ocosingo. We’d tried to stay at an American-run pecan farm campsite but were greeted by quiet men with their faces covered, some of them bearing arms. San Cristobal was cool and breezy. The fever had calmed. I started to shiver. A fresh drizzle began and grew heavier. All right now son, take care of yourself and we’ll see you soon pleasegod. A girl was asking tourists to pay for a photograph. Extra if you wanted to pet her monkey. Okay now, I’m hanging up. The rain blew hard and cold into my eyes now, anvil droplets, bleared vision. Dark grey clouds in a holding pattern. I bought a cardigan. I walked downhill on the cobblestones and bought a steaming cup of coffee flavoured with cinnamon. I bought a cigarette from a little girl in a flowery dress. She said she’d stay still for a photograph if I wanted. I told her I didn’t have a camera. When I finished my coffee the rain had eased off.