The Boy with the Scary Skin (19)

I walk down my hill to the carretera, the highway, two short blocks from my home. I never have to wait long for a bus here in Ajijic, only five or ten minutes. But I have yet to be able to distinguish between the different buses from a distance, the one that turns at my corner and goes through town, the one that stays on the carretera. So I get nervous waiting. I am self-conscious flagging down the driver, boarding the bus. I feel conspicuous, the one estadounidense in the midst of the Mexicans whose world this is. I place my coins in the driver’s outstretched hand. “San Juan Cosolá,” I say, flustered, sure every eye is on me, certain the driver is only tolerating my foriegn-ness.

But once I find a seat toward the back and settle in, I begin to relax. I’m on one of my favorite outings, going to the next town over to indulge in the waters, the natural hot springs, the balnearios. The bus continues west on the highway, and I wonder if I’ll see the two little boys today. I have asked their names before but never remember them. I am bad with names. They are brothers or maybe neighbors, best friends. They are little, wiry, filled with restless energy. The one the other defers to, the oldest, I think, has a terrible skin ailment that covers his face. There are patches on his arms, his hands.

I give them coins because they do not demand them, do not treat me as though I must, as though it is their due, and I must be rich because I’m from the United States. Usually I give them 10 pesos each, maybe a little more or a little less, depending on whether or not I have remembered to prepare for them. Once I gave the one in charge a 200-peso bill, just less than twenty dollars. I asked him if he would share it with his mother. I believed him, his solemn nod. I could feel the shock of it in both of them, but they didn’t say a word, didn’t betray any emotion, only in the still way they held themselves did I know what it meant to them. Another time I was walking up the short hill to the highway on my way home when the bus appeared. I was too far away, but I started to run. The older boy saw me and raced hard for the bus. He got the driver to wait for me. I could have kissed him. And the sweetest thing was knowing he hadn’t done it for the coins. He was only being kind, generous. He would grow up to be a good man, I thought.

I waved to him as the bus pulled away, grateful and touched by his gesture, and aching for the kind of poverty he knew, the kind that left him stranded in his skin, his old soul eyes meeting mine as I left him behind.

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