The voice of a priest droning Mass over a loudspeaker passes around this tree and others. Three of the tallest mimosas I’ve ever seen soar nearby.
I am killing time, waiting in this dead place.
The cemetery is tight with people, and we all have come today for the same reason: to tidy the tombs of our loved ones, a yearly event. The Day of the Dead.
Well, not all of us. Urchins come to make money. Cleaning boys.
My child bride stands ahead of me, directing the kid we hired at the cemetery gate to do most of the manual labor. We have brought bleach, broom, bucket, scrub brush, clippers, candles, lighter and flowers, mostly marigolds.
The focus of our attention: the grave of her brother who was killed at age 28. This is a family hole, and brother’s coffin rests atop an uncle, a man made infamous long ago for once firing a gun at the Virgin’s statue in the Basilica.
It’s far from a normal family which, one imagines, explains why I am in it.
I pull another piece of bark for closer inspection. It is gray with algae tones, and I like it. I have nothing to do really, apart from toting the gear from the car and, later, doing the same in reverse. I am a patient mule.
Tossing aside the second piece of bark, I look at the abutting grave where rests a young man shot dead by Federales a couple of years back. The black steel marker says his nickname was Chuco, and there’s an outline of an automatic rifle painted with acrylic.
His family is proud.
Weary of standing, I take a brief recess on the street outside, walking a block and returning just as our urchin finishes. I pay him, and my bride arranges trimmed flowers atop the horizontal slab and lights candles. Then she stands a moment, as always, remembering what it was like once to have an older brother.
By all accounts, he was a good guy. She still has another brother, a man of less worth than this tree with its gray-green bark. The good die, the bad live on.
We gather our gear, and I brush against the tree on passing. Next year we will be back at this same place doing the same thing. The dead never go away.
And neither will the gray tree with algae tones.