Makina Quotes in Signs Preceding the End of the World
I’m dead, Makina said to herself when everything lurched: a man with a cane was crossing the street, a dull groan suddenly surged through the asphalt, the man stood still as if waiting for someone to repeat the question and then the earth opened up beneath his feet: it swallowed the man, and with him a car and a dog, all the oxygen around and even the screams of passers-by. I’m dead, Makina said to herself, and hardly had she said it than her whole body began to contest that verdict and she flailed her feet frantically backward, each step mere inches from the sinkhole, until the precipice settled into a perfect
circle and Makina was saved.
Slippery bitch of a city, she said to herself. Always about to sink back into the cellar.
The Little Town was riddled with bullet holes and tunnels bored by five centuries of voracious silver lust, and from time to time some poor soul accidentally discovered just what a half-assed job they’d done of covering them over.
You don’t lift other people’s petticoats.
You don’t stop to wonder about other people’s business.
You don’t decide which messages to deliver and which to let rot.
You are the door, not the one who walks through it.
Sometimes they called from nearby villages and she answered them in native tongue or latin tongue. Sometimes, more and more these days, they called from the North; these were the ones who’d often already forgotten the local lingo, so she responded to them in their own new tongue. Makina spoke all three, and knew how to keep quiet in all three, too.
She looked into the mirrors: in front of her was her back: she looked behind but found only the never-ending front, curving forward, as if inviting her to step through its thresholds. If she crossed them all, eventually, after many bends, she’d reach the right place; but it was a place she didn’t trust.
She couldn’t get lost. Every time she came to the Big Chilango she trod softly, because that was not the place she wanted to leave her mark, and she told herself repeatedly that she couldn’t get lost, and by get lost she meant not a detour or a sidetrack but lost for real, lost forever in the hills of hills cementing the horizon: or lost in the awe of all the living flesh that had built and paid for palaces. That was why she chose to travel underground to the other bus depot. Trains ran around the entire circulatory system but never left the body: down there the heavy air would do her no harm, and she ran no risk of becoming captivated. And she mustn’t get lost or captivated, too many people were waiting for her.
Makina turned to him, stared into his eyes so he’d know that her next move was no accident, pressed a finger to her lips, shhhh, eh, and with the other hand yanked the middle finger of the hand he’d touched her with almost all the way back to an inch from the top of his wrist; it took her one second. The adventurer fell to his knees in pain, jammed into the tight space between his seat and the one in front, and opened his mouth to scream, but before the order reached his brain Makina had already insisted, finger to lips, shhhh, eh; she let him get used to the idea that a woman had jacked him up and then whispered, leaning close, I don’t like being pawed by fucking strangers, if you can believe it.
You just took your last trip, coyote.
I’m no coyote, Chucho said.
Ha! I seen you crossing folks, the man said. And looks like now I caught you in the act.
Not the act I’m denying, said Chucho, tho I’m no coyote.
The anglo’s expression indicated that he was engaged in a mighty struggle with the nuances of the concept. He scanned Chucho’s face for a few seconds, waiting for clarification. And now, yessir, chose to point the gun at them.
What I’m denying, Chucho went on, Is that you caught us.
Rucksacks. What do people whose life stops here take with them? Makina could see their rucksacks crammed with time. […] Photos, photos, photos. They carried photos like promises but by the time they came back they were in tatters.
In hers, as soon as she’d agreed to go get the kid for Cora, she packed:
a small blue metal flashlight, for the darkness she might encounter,
one white blouse and one with colorful embroidery, in case she came across any parties,
three pairs of panties so she’d always have a clean one even if it took a while to find a washhouse,
a latin-anglo dictionary […],
a picture her little sister had drawn in fat, round strokes that featured herself, Makina and Cora in ascending order, left to right and short to tall,
a bar of xithé soap,
a lipstick that was more long-lasting than it was dark and,
as provisions: amaranth cakes and peanut brittle.
She was coming right back, that’s why that was all she took.
When she reached the top of the saddle between the two mountains it began to snow. Makina had never seen snow before and the first thing that struck her as she stopped to watch the weightless crystals raining down was that something was burning. One came to perch on her eyelashes; it looked like a stack of crosses or the map of a palace, a solid and intricate marvel at any rate, and when it dissolved a few seconds later she wondered how it was that some things in the world—some countries, some people—could seem eternal when everything was actually like that miniature ice palace: one-of-a-kind, precious, fragile. She felt a sudden stab of disappointment but also a slight subsiding of the fear that had been building since she’d versed from home.
The city was an edgy arrangement of cement particles and yellow paint. Signs prohibiting things thronged the streets, leading citizens to see themselves as ever protected, safe, friendly, innocent, proud, and intermittently bewildered, blithe, and buoyant; salt of the only earth worth knowing. They flourished in supermarkets, cornucopias where you could have more than everyone else or something different or a newer brand or a loaf of bread a little bigger than everyone else’s. Makina just dented cans and sniffed bottles and thought it best to verse, and it was when she saw the anglogaggle at the self-checkouts that she noticed how miserable they looked in front of those little digital screens, and the way they nearly-nearly jumped every time the machine went bleep! at each item. And how on versing out to the street they sought to make amends for their momentary one-up by becoming wooden again so as not to offend anyone.
The stadium loomed before them. So, what do they use that for?
They play, said the old man. Every week the anglos play a game to celebrate who they are. He stopped, raised his cane and fanned the air. One of them whacks it, then sets off like it was a trip around the world, to every one of the bases out there, you know the anglos have bases all over the world, right? Well the one who whacked it runs from one to the next while the others keep taking swings to distract their enemies, and if he doesn’t get caught he makes it home and his people welcome him with open arms and cheering.
They are homegrown and they are anglo and both things with rabid intensity; with restrained fervor they can be the meekest and at the same time the most querulous of citizens, albeit grumbling under their breath. Their gestures and tastes reveal both ancient memory and the wonderment of a new people. And then they speak. They speak an intermediary tongue that Makina instantly warms to because it’s like her: malleable, erasable, permeable; a hinge pivoting between two like but distant souls, and then two more, and then two more, never exactly the same ones; something that serves as a link.
Using in one tongue the word for a thing in the other makes the attributes of both resound: if you say Give me fire when they say Give me a light, what is not to be learned about fire, light and the act of giving? It’s not another way of saying things: these are new things. The world happening anew, Makina realizes; promising other things, signifying other things, producing different objects. Who knows if they’ll last, who knows if these names will be adopted by all, she thinks, but there they are, doing their damnedest.
Scum, she heard as she climbed the eighth hill from which, she was sure, she’d catch sight other brother. You lookin to get what you deserve, you scum? She opened her eyes. A huge redheaded anglo who stank of tobacco was staring at her. Makina knew the bastard was just itching to kick her or fuck her and got slowly to her feet without taking her eyes off him, because when you turn your back in fear is when you’re at the greatest risk of getting your ass kicked; she opened the door and versed.
The door opened and there stood a small man with glasses, wrapped in a purple bathrobe. He was black. Never in her life had she seen so many black people up close, and all of a sudden they seemed to be the key to her quest.
Neither one at first recognized the specter of the other. In fact, Makina stood up, greeted him and began to express her gratitude and ask a question before picking up on the soldier’s uncanny resemblance to her brother and the unmistakable way in which they differed; he had the same sloping forehead and stiff hair, but looked hardier, and more washed-out. In that fraction of a second she realized her mistake, and that this was her brother, but also that that didn’t undo the mistake.
It’s not like in the movies, he said. I know that here everything seems like in the movies, but it’s not like that there. You spend days and days shut in and it’s like nothing’s going on at all and then one day you go out but you don’t know who you’re fighting or where you’re going to find them. And suddenly you hear your homie died that morning and no one saw where the bullet came from, or you come across a bomb nobody saw get thrown, but there it was, waiting for you. So you gotta go look for them. But when you find them they’re not doing jack and you just gotta believe it was them, they were the ones, otherwise you go nuts.
He’s homegrown, he said. Joined up just like me, but still doesn’t speak the lingo. Whereas me, I learned it, so every time we see each other he wants to practice. He speaks all one day in past tense, all one day in present, all one day in future, so he can learn his verbs. Today was the future.
1 guess that’s what happens to everybody who comes, he continued. We forget what we came for, but there’s this reflex to act like we still have some secret plan.
Why not leave, then?
Not now. Too late. I already fought for these people. There must be something they fight so hard for. So I’m staying in the army while I figure out what it is.
We are to blame for this destruction, we who don’t speak your tongue and don’t know how to keep quiet either. We who didn’t come by boat, who dirty up your doorsteps with our dust, who break your barbed wire. We who came to take your jobs, who dream of wiping your shit, who long to work all hours. We who fill your shiny clean streets with the smell of food, who brought you violence you’d never known, who deliver your dope, who deserve to be chained by neck and feet. We who are happy to die for you, what else could we do? We, the ones who are waiting for who knows what. We, the dark, the short, the greasy, the shifty, the fat, the anemic. We the barbarians.
Over the door was a sign that said Verse. She tried to remember how to say verse in any of her tongues but couldn’t. This was the only word that came to her lips. Verse.
Makina took the file and looked at its contents. There she was, with another name, another birthplace. Her photo, new numbers, new trade, new home. I’ve been skinned, she whispered.
When she looked up the man was no longer there and she tipped briefly into panic, she felt for a second—or for many seconds; she couldn’t tell because she didn’t have a watch, nobody had a watch—that the turmoil of so many new things crowding in on the old ones was more than she could take; but a second—or many—later she stopped feeling the weight of uncertainty and guilt; she thought back to her people as though recalling the contours of a lovely landscape that was now fading away: the Village, the Little Town, the Big Chilango, all those colors, and she saw that what was happening was not a cataclysm; she understood with all of her body and all of her memory, she truly understood, and when everything in the world fell silent finally said to herself I’m ready.