Champurrado for Breakfast

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.
~ Proverbs 26:11

A parable of legal marriage.

Esposita sat at her kitchen table with a small bowl of champurrado. She stared through the steam above it at the grain of the table beneath it. It had pits and marks, but they were only surface scars. The table was thick, heavy, and sturdy. Nomo had built this table. She could jump up and down on top of it and it would be unharmed, unmoved. She glanced around the kitchen and thought of how Nomo had built this house piece by piece. Every part of it was built by his hands or put there by them. How many times had he fixed that sink? Even the dingy yellow light bulb, embarrassed by the white sunlight flooding through the window, had been screwed into the socket by Nomo.

Nomo had been her husband for many years. Nomo was a nickname Normando had borne from his earliest days, after his parents finally named him. Nomo had selected a plot that was the highest spot in their mountaintop village. He cleared the land, dug the foundation, laid the pipes, and built his house. He was now ready to marry, and Esposita was the only girl in the world. She would be proud to have such a husband and live in such a house, which was the crown of the village and meticulously maintained.

Esposita remembered many good years. She had never lacked anything. She had material to make clothes. She had wheat to make bread. She had corn, beans, and rice. She had te de poleo and horchata. What more could a poor girl want? Sometimes Nomo would bring home chickens or goats and they would have delicious meat. She had never been hungry.

Nomo was always the same. She could not remember him ever laughing, though she tried to make him. He did not daydream with her or chat about nothing. Nomo spoke evenly of what was done and what was to be done. When villagers would ask Nomo how he was, he always responded, “Con vida.” If Esposita ever spoke of particularly enjoying anything, he would correct her. “We have life. It is enough.”

Esposita traced her finger around the rim of the bowl. The steam was barely there now. She and Nomo had champurrado their first morning as husband and wife. The smile she had been wearing was losing its fight and the corners of her mouth fell. Though she could not complain about what she received from Nomo, she always fell short of his expectations. She blew the steam and put both hands around the bowl. She had never given Nomo children. This was her greatest fault in Nomo’s eyes. It was a weight affixed between her should blades that made her begin to look like a swayback old burro that had borne too many heavy loads of bread to the market.

When Nomo died she had felt as though an internal knot had been untied. Not a knot, but the knot. The knot that held all the strands of her inner being together. Though her skeletal frame was as it was supposed to be, she felt floppy inside like a limp water hose with no water running through it. Her own death must be soon.

***

Espa, as she was now called, had first met Salvador at the market. All his friends called him Sali. She had set out that morning with no purpose. She would go to the market, but she had no money. She would not beg. She had never begged. She would not steal. She had never stolen. She wasn’t even particularly hungry. She could not explain why she went to the market. Espa would’ve said that she did not go to the market, but was rather brought to the market.

She came around a stall and ran into a mango. Well, she saw the mango first and then the hand that held it. She looked up into a youthful face with kind eyes and a wide smile. “Here, for you.” She did not speak. “I’m Sali. I want you to have this.”

Nothing had changed with Espa. “I … I have no money.”

Sali laughed. “I would not take it if you had it. This is for you.”

Espa took the mango. “Gracias.”

Marriage to Sali was like a dream. He was always happy and she enjoyed life more than she had ever imagined. Sali provided wonderful foods for her to make and she ate as she never had. Sali hired everything done. He hired men to build his house. He bought furniture and decorated their home with bright cheerful colors. He hired a woodworker to carve them a beautiful table that seemed always to have bread and wine on it.

Espa wasn’t sure how or when it happened, but one day she thought of Nomo. She had not thought about Nomo in many years. Thinking about Nomo began to work on her. She started making her own clothes again and left the fancy clothes Sali had bought in the closet untouched. She sought out simpler foods and made them smaller portions. She painted over the bright colors and had her old table brought in to replace the one Sali had hired out to have made. Piece by piece she remade her house until it was as close as possible to the one she had lived in for so many years.

One morning she awoke and Sali was not there. He did not come home until the next day. He would continue to leave and to be gone for longer times. After a while, Espa realized she had not seen Sali in a week, or a month. She couldn’t remember for sure how long it had been. She sat at her table with a bowl of champurrado and realized there were no signs that Sali had ever lived in this house. Everything reminded her of Nomo.

***

A rooster crowed. Espa sat up straight in the bed. It was still dark. The rooster crowed again. Her hair was stuck to her face and she was shivering. Is Sali gone forever? Will I never see him again? Why has he not come home? Why has he not contacted me? The longer she chased those thoughts the more she felt like something was pulling her together from inside her. Her breathing was faster and she had the heart of a rabbit. She ran to the streets calling for Sali. They were mostly empty. After a while, she began seeing people and pleading with them to tell her where Sali was. But they cursed her and pushed her away.

The rooster crowed and a bell rang. Not quite a bell, but a clanging that sounded like a bell. Was Sali at the door? “It’s dawn. It’s time.” She opened her eyes to look through bars at a brown face with a walrus mustache. His name was Severo.

“Where is Salvador?” Espa sat up in the cot.

Severo tilted his head. “Who?”

“Salvador. My husband.” Espa stood up.

“Salvador?” Severo spat on the ground. “There is no Salvador. You were married to Nomo. You killed him three months ago and today is your hanging.” Espa collapsed to the floor, choking and sobbing. “Your grave is ready. You will be buried with Nomo.” Severo set a bowl on the floor inside and closed the barred door. “Here’s your champurrado. I will be back in thirty minutes.”

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

About Jeff Short