by Jose Recio
In the summer of nineteen-ninety-two, a seasoned Mexican architect, with a reputation as a bridge designer, was at the Benito Juárez International Airport on his way to Texas to participate in a meeting regarding a project to build a bridge across the Rio Grande.
At the gate, he joined the boarding line. A young Mayan woman with a colorful fabric satchel slanted on her shoulder aligned herself behind him. While waiting, the architect set his suitcase on the floor and wrote something in a notebook. When he tried to pick it up, the suitcase had disappeared. No sign of it. He turned around and saw the Mayan lady holding his suitcase, the satchel slanted on her shoulder, and striding away. He started chasing her. When he was about to catch her, she sharply turned a corner and entered a solitary area of the airport, where two men, Mayan in appearance, were waiting. They immediately flanked the architect.
“This is a friendly kidnapping,” one of the men said.
They were wearing white shirts and grey pants.
“Who are you?”
For an answer, the architect received a gentle push on his back to start moving. The woman with the suitcase followed behind. A Volkswagen van waited outside with the driver at the wheel and the engine idling. The woman jumped onto the passenger seat, and the two men, with the architect in between them, occupied the back. One of the men covered his eyes with a bandana.
“It’ll be a long trip. Have a drink!” The other man said.
He picked up a bottle of mescal from a case left in the van and brought it to the architect’s lips, forcing him to gulp down a long sip. Perhaps against his will, the architect fell asleep. At intervals, he woke up, only to feel the bottle attached to his mouth, and he went back to sleep. When the vehicle reached the destination, the kidnappers stepped out and dragged the architect out, drunk as a barrel. They lifted and carried him like a flour bale onto a nearby small wattle and daub dwelling and flung him and his bag onto a mattress inside the place to sleep it off.
When the architect woke up the next day, the sun, along with shrieks from wild birds, conversations, and a smell of tortillas, coffee, and fried frijoles were coming in through an open window. He couldn’t figure out his whereabouts. He was hungry and in need to urinate. Fortunately, in the dwelling, he found a tiny restroom with a toilet and running water. Then, he changed into a fresh shirt, taken from his suitcase, and stepped out of the shack. A group of people sitting on the ground gathered around a wood fire.
“Who are you?” he voiced.
“We are Tzotzil people,” their boss answered in Spanish.
“And where is this place?”
“This is our territory, the Ocozocoautla municipality in Chiapas. We are part of the indigenous Council.”
The architect realized he was in the rainforest. He stood in front of them silently until the chief gestured for him to join them and eat. He recognized his kidnappers among them. While he sipped coffee and ate tortillas and frijoles, the Tzotzil people continued their conversation in their language, giving him no participation. When he began to feel recomposed, the group stood, and the boss signaled for him to follow them. Whacking mosquitoes with his hand, he walked along with the group.
About a mile later, they stopped and stood to form a semicircle. The spectacle couldn’t be more absurd. A very tall, white wooden ladder, with only one rail, had been erected in the midst of a small valley surrounded by a dense mass of dark trees, the whiteness of its structure contrasting with the darkness of the place. The architect raised his eyes expecting to see something at the top of the ladder. But it ended stupidly and lonely under a natural vault formed by a cluster of pink clouds. Further on, lay a clear horizon. Nothing else. Then he saw a pipe, set near the base of the ladder, ejecting a stream of water onto an undefined, rocky ground.
The architect turned to face the group inquiringly.
“The Government provides us with water for irrigation. We control the output,” said the outspoken man.
“That makes sense,” the architect said, looking up again in wonder.
“The top of the ladder is our window to the world,” the other said. “We brought you into our territory so you can check for yourself.”
The architect vigorously shook his head. But a man with a rope around his waist stepped forward, and approaching him, he wrapped his waist with the same rope, leaving a length of about a yard of line in between them. Silently, the man pulled him to the ladder and both climbed up in tandem to the top. Afterward, they descended and released themselves from the rope.
“We want the Mexican Government to fund the building of a bridge across the wide river you’ve seen from the top of the ladder,” the boss said.
The architect took a couple of steps toward the man with a humble expression on his face. “I see your point,” he said.
“We want a bridge to facilitate trading with our brothers on the other side of the river,” the chief reiterated.
The architect nodded. He took a deep breath. “I see your point,” he repeated.
The outspoken man nodded.
“What do you expect from me?” the architect asked.
“We want you to go back to the capital and convinced the Government of our need.”
“I see your point,” the architect said, and the Tzotzil man nodded.
Was the architect successful? No records of his intervention exist. A decade later, though, the Chiapas Bridge was built at the exact point where the Tzotzils had wanted it.
Jose L Recio is a physician and a writer. He is particularly interested in short fiction and poetic prose. His work is published in The Acentos Review, Cecile’s Writers Magazine, The Literary Nest, Aether and Ichor, Adelaide, and With Painted Words magazines, among others. He is originally from Spain but now lives in L.A. with his wife.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'I’ll Climb Alone'
'The Road from Laneston'