1996 Temixco, Mexico
I went to say goodbye to Don Moises, lying on his deathbed. I had helped Tony carry the bed over for him the previous day, and now he was hidden from view behind a large curtain in the main room of Tony and Sandra’s little square concrete house.
I slid the curtain aside and caught him frozen in mid-reach, trying to pick up something on the bedside table. He didn’t notice me as he struggled to turn onto his left side, and now I was standing right over him. I whispered his name and he jerked back down onto his back, looking first at the ceiling and then at me, slowly focusing with wide eyes. After a couple seconds he gave me a smile of recognition.
I shook his hands and told him it was a great pleasure meeting him, that I would be leaving for D.F. in a couple hours, heading back to Portland. He nodded his head affirmatively, nose all plugged up unable to breath, his cavernous mouth hissing out an unintelligible response. Then he started to cry, loosening his hands from mine and grabbing his face like someone who has a terrible toothache, but with both bony splotchy hands, weeping uncontrollably.
I said oh Don Moises don’t worry, we’ll see you in the future, everything will be allright, as I reached for his shoulder to offer some comfort. His mouth opened and closed, the air passed through, the eyes searched the ceiling for something, but the words didn’t come.
For over forty years, Don Moises had squandered most of his money on prostitutes. That may be common enough, but these were HIS prostitutes, he owned a large fairly high end brothel in Cuernavaca with 25 women and a couple floors. You might think the pimp always gets if for free just because they are the pimp, but Don Moises was a romantic. He gave them elaborate gifts and took them out to dinner so they would love him and gladly offer themselves to him whenever he felt like it. He didn’t force them into anything, and most of them stayed on for longer than average. He was the Duke Ellington of whoredom. Meanwhile his seven kids and wife were left to fend for themselves. Not to even mention a couple mistresses and other unclaimed kids, par for the course. Now as he lie on his deathbed, it was family payback time.
Sandra was the youngest daughter and so it was just assumed she would deal with Don Moises. After all, she had been doing all the work for her brothers since she was eight years old, cooking, cleaning and babysitting. I was helping her get the bed because she didn’t want to talk to Tony anymore, they had had a fight at the hospital earlier in the day while they were getting Don Moises. I guess they were carrying him in his wheelchair down the hospital stairs and Tony said she wasn’t carrying her weight. He snapped at her, making the effort all the more difficult and dangerous. At the bottom of the stairs they had it out and their argument echoed down the sterile hospital halls.
Sandra said that in her culture the men are machos, its true, but that’s good cause that means that they help the women more. I don’t know why Tony don’t help me more, that’s the problem, he too lazy.
We went to Reina and Elisendra’s house up the road to get the bed. Sandra carried her brother’s machete, clearing a path. She chopped down one weed and held it up to me. She said this is the Bad Woman plant, you must always kill these when you see them or it is bad luck. We both laughed in a groaning way, unable to fathom the depths of lies people had to live through. Suddenly Tony’s cherubic face poppep up between the fence posts, a smile offering help, as if he had heard Sandra’s complaining. Then he and I huffed and puffed up the road and put the bed in place. Don Moises waited in his wheelchair and we put him into the bed and closed the curtain.
Sandra said Don Moises would cry a lot over anything after he had the stroke last year. He was now too proud to ask for help from anyone, and actually no one offered so he was left to die in the home of the daughter he knew least, with the granddaughters and grandsons who only knew him as a sweet old half senile papa and weren’t privy to tales of the brothel he had sold before they were born. He kept himself behind the curtain while everyone stood around in the kitchen, occasionally looking in on him and asking if he needed anything.
Only two weeks before we saw him sitting in his usual spot in el Zocalo of Cuernavaca, just across from the fresh juice stand, sitting in the shade. Airam and Lluvia said we would probably see him there and sure enough there he was, big kisses for the abuelo. His bony splotchy hands were placed neatly on the cane he balanced between his feet. He proudly talked to his granddaughters, stroking their hair and grabbing their faces to get another kiss. He told me he walked from the day house everyday to watch the people go by, it’s a beautiful place to spend your days, and he kicked a pigeon away from his feet.
Now on the other side of the curtain, Lluvia quietly cried for her dying grandfather. She had never seen him so bad, not even after the stroke, at least he could talk and knew what you were saying. Now he was like a living skeleton, and was left abandoned by all her aunts and uncles and she didn’t know why.
No one else offered any help. Out of spite they said let the old man die, he never did anything for us. Sifran showed up a couple times, having a word behind the curtain with Don Moises before meekly saying goodbye after a cup of coffee with all of us. He neglected his wife Reina and his four kids to be with his girlfriend. He said he would come back but never did. Juan the oldest brother was some kind of cop, and Tony told me he had a bad reputation in the family for being corrupt. One time he put the finger on some big time drug dealer and some other cops just busted him out of his apartment and shot him in the street. He was the only one in the family with any money, but he didn’t offer any during his one hour visit.
A couple other family members came to pay their respects and say goodbye to Don Moises, but no one could or would do anything.
I stayed in the Hotel Monte Carlo room 201 for a couple days in Mexico City before going back to Portland. I was sitting and writing about Don Moises and honestly my door swung open for no apparent reason, like someone had shoved it open. I was scared, but then I heard a faint whistling in the hallway, so I ran out to look. Spiraling quickly down the stairs, I saw a young woman, her bountiful hair was pulled back into a bun, clickety clacking down the steps, the sound of her heels landing on the black and white checkered floor of the lobby at the bottom. I watched from above as she left the hotel, her song fading away into the traffic noise.
Maybe Don Moises had just died? He sent a messenger to me, a happy messenger to tell me he waited to die until after I had left, and that he was now out of pain. He only wanted to die amongst his family, with no strangers around.