November 30, 2007. Mexico.
Down the street, music was playing. Not high, happy, dancing sounds like I was used to hearing when the caravans came through with food, drink, entertainment, and mysterious objects from far off lands. This song was shy one second, brave the next–dipping deep in to low, sorrowful notes, then speeding into a frenzy of ecstatic joy. It was calling to me--come, Jalysa, come.
I quickly twisted and fastened my hair into loops. I wished I could just let it fly freely behind me like the boys, but Mom would panic if I went out with even one strand unclipped.
I glanced in the mirror; it was like a pile of tiny snakes were trying to devour my head. But I was still proud. Mom couldn’t do my hair for me forever.
Out on the street, carts pulled by winter deer clinked past, their silvery coats and pointed horns glistening in the strong sunlight. The sound of their hooves added a rhythm to the haunting song, and I wished the passengers on the carts and the people in the street would shush up so I could hear it better.
“Hey, girl, whatcha looking for?” A cart pulled up at my gate, and the driver stepped down. “I got ribbons, clips, eye-paint, scarves…” He pulled out a crate and snapped it open to reveal rows of beautiful things. “Discount for all girls dressed in red today,” he joked. His winter deer whuffed, as if in agreement.
I smiled, but only a little. “Sorry, I’ve got to go.”
“Hey, who’s that?” A voice piped up from behind me, then my twin sister Asaja shrieked and danced across to the cart. “Ooooh! Did you see these clips?” She held a silver butterfly up against her perfectly looped hair. Of course, hers looked more like curling flower vines than snakes.
“How much?” she asked, and suddenly it was discount for girls in green today.
I slipped out into the street, with only the winter deer’s eyes following me. Could he hear the music, too? It was close–just around the corner, I guessed. The song was slower now, tiptoeing along like a boy trying to steal a freshly baked tart. Just as I turned the corner, it jumped and leapt in such a frenzy of notes that I almost toppled over.
I looked around, then squinted, then finally looked down. I’d almost stumbled over the man making the music. He was the strangest-looking person I’d ever seen. His skin was rough and wrinkled as tree bark, his face all twisted with scars, and he was missing one foot. But he didn’t wear a false one, his leg just ended. In his arms, he held the world’s most beautiful guitar. And he was laughing at me, with his voice and with the song, which was lilting and taunting now, jeering at me like my sister sometimes did.
“You’re doing that on purpose!” I said. “Stop teasing.”
“Ahh, she knows. She knows the music!”
He seemed surprised. His eyebrows fluttered up and down like caterpillars trapped in the web of scars.
And his hands stopped playing.
“No one else hears.” He was muttering to himself now. I had to squat down to hear. “The one the guitar has chosen. But so young! And a girl? Well, who am I to say…”
“Excuse me,” I said. “Could you please not stop? I’d like to hear you play. Normal, not teasing.”
I reached into the pouch sewn inside my left sleeve and took out a coin. Plink, I dropped it into his cup.