Authors: Theodore Roszak
She allowed herself to spend less and less time each day monitoring Aaron’s metamorphosis. The last time she had been able to discern any trace of light inside the crystalline shell was at the end of her second month in San Cristobal de Sonora. Then it went dark, she was sure it was dark, not a glimmer of light within. Even when she kept it beside her through the night, she could see nothing. And then the shell itself began to lose its human form, smoothing, developing fissures, flaking away. Finally, over several days, it fell away into a scattering of tiny, crystalline fragments. Neither Achula nor her mother were troubled by these transformations. They accepted what they saw as some inexplicable wonder. It was Achula’s mother who first used the word “tears” to describe the odd shape of the bits and pieces. She was right; the little crystals did look like teardrops. A sign of pity. Soon after that Achula brought the first supplicant, a cousin whose child was sick. The young woman — even younger than Achula — begged for help. Not that she needed much. Her little boy was down with a minor respiratory infection that would have cleared up on its own. As Julia had assured her, the illness quickly subsided after the mother’s visit. But did that not prove the power of the Holy Mother’s tears?
After that, pilgrims came in a steady stream, seldom fewer than three or four groups a day if the weather allowed. At first the piety Julia saw being practiced at the little shrine was profoundly distasteful to her, the worst kind of superstition. She saw parents wailing in prayer over the bodies of deformed children, the lame and the blind groveling on their knees, women clutching rosaries and muttering fervent prayers. She saw people piling their valuables atop the table where she had nested the stones in a small woven basket. Lines of penitents stood in the blazing sun or in the cold wind, willing to wait for hours. This was that other medicine, the kind that begins on the far side of despair. Eventually, a rickety arcade was built to shield them from the weather, but it provided little shelter. Soon after that the stones were moved with great ceremony from Julia’s bedroom to a small shed that had been rigged up behind the bakery.
Did Achula believe in these things, Julia wondered. She had come to rely on the girl for support and help. She was one of the few villagers who had seen the greater world to the north. She had been to school; along with Father Martin, she was the most educated person in the community. But both lived in the firm grip of a simple faith. Achula knew Julia’s feelings; she often made excuses for her people, but she did not question what they did. Julia had come upon her more than once kneeling in prayer at the shrine. At last, Julia grew resigned. Who was she to voice skepticism? The stones cured more people than she could with her medicines; a placebo effect, of course. In any case, she did not have to worry that the little shrine might become something greater. The gringos would take care of that. In another few years this deserted coast would be swamped with condos and spas. Monied foreigners would soon have the beach, the harbor, the little village.
Each day Julia spent a meditative interval studying the woven basket. And at last she was sure she had done all that could be expected. It was time for her to leave. As for the crystals, she had spent a good deal of time deciding what to do with them when the time came for her departure. Cast them into the sea — that had been her first thought. Rent one of the small fishing boats in the harbor, take them as far out to sea as the boat would travel, throw them into the blue Pacific. But by the time she was ready to pack and leave, she realized that the stones had taken on a life of their own. Worship had grown up around them, lore had come to surround them. They were the merciful virgin’s tears. People spoke of this place as
La Capilla de las Lagrimas de la Madre
. People came from ever greater distances to offer prayers, to leave donations, to fast and wail and plead for forgiveness. There were claims that the
had healed diseases, restored the use of lame limbs, granted wishes. To her dismay, Julia had seen people, the crippled and the blind and the wounded of heart, kneeling before the shrine, weeping, and rising up not healed, but consoled. The crystals were no longer hers. They were the centerpiece of an improvised
Would Aaron object? She thought not. He was far beyond the faith and folly of this world, a trajectory, she imagined, that had outdistanced the farthest stars. Yet, oddly, the aura of reverence that now enveloped the little mound of bright stones preserved something of his uncanny presence. For all she knew, the shrines and sacred places of the world had all started like this. Other Aarons, other miracles. Little windows opening into that place where time stopped. So she left the shining stones in their place.
And one day when she could find nothing else for herself in San Cristobal, she traveled to Guaymas where, for the benefit of the gringos, the phone networks were kept working and batteries could be bought. There she put through the call she had been invited to make. The call was answered, a woman who understood what was to be done if Dr. Stein phoned. A few hours later, while she sat nursing a cup of chocolate and looking out over the harbor, the little cell phone buzzed, and yes, Isobe said, he had found a way to bring her to him. He was calling from Madrid, but his contingency plans had been in place for months. There would be tickets, and reservations, and even papers with a new name for her. “Like CIA,” he laughed. All she had to do was to choose an airport. Vera Cruz, she told him, choosing the nearest. “Good,” he said, his voice bright with expectation despite the poor connection. He would be on hand to meet her when she arrived.
The next morning, she made one last visit to the
. In the dim light she stared hard into the shadows of the reed basket. She forced her eyes to hold their focus. Nothing. She was sure there was nothing. Only the dancing reflection of the candles. Surrounding that, an even deeper darkness. Hesitantly, she picked through the crystals, retrieving one of them — a small one — and putting it in her pocket. Then she sat back in a wordless meditation. She was reminded of how often she had stood at the bedside of a dying patient long after all the instruments told her that life was gone, watching for any trace of breath, any slightest trace of a heartbeat.
The faithful healer, waiting to be released.
And now she was.
Treat yourself to an authentic piece of colonial Mexico. Easily missed if you keep to the main highway is the tiny fishing village of San Cristobal de Sonora, a half-hour drive north of Guaymas. Be prepared for a rough ride over dirt roads, but rest assured the trip is well worth the detour. For one thing, you’ll find one of the few remaining untouched white-sands beaches on this overdeveloped coast. For another, the rustic San Cristobal Hotel, with its attractive beach-front views and late-night bar, is a slice of pre-tourist days. Though time has stood still for a century at the San Cristobal, the hotel offers well-kept bedrooms and decent private baths, with an adequate restaurant. Even more picturesque is Juan’s Cantina on San Cristobal (unpaved) main street, where you can sample the best peasant fare, especially an astonishing variety of seafood burritos and Sonoran
. But the feature that makes the trip memorable is the makeshift shrine to the Virgin Mother beside the San Cristobal
, a charming example of peasant piety that is rapidly vanishing from modern Mexico. Careful! You’ll have to pick your way through a thicket of holy pictures, crutches and wheelchairs. Then stop in at the church of St. Lucia across the street to ask about the strange story behind the
Capilla de las Lagrimas de la Madre
. And be sure to leave a few pesos behind. Who knows? Your prayers may also be answered.