When I was a man I lived in San Cristóbal. At the top of the mountains in the south, along the border of Guatemala, in a place where they play the harp. Ancient crossroads of the Maya. I walked cobble-stoned streets. I wandered through the fog. I fell in love a number of times.

Now that I am a woman, when I get into a taxi the driver asks:

“You’re not from here, are you?”

I answer: “I’m proud to call myself Mexican.”

“You married one, right?” he accuses me like a dirty old man.

“Yes, sir,” I tell him. “Several.”


. . .

I have a friend who was married to that famous wrestler, El Santo, who became a movie star in the ’50s. He wore a silver mask. She was in all his films. Blond, beautiful. Now she’s a well-known writer, but she never writes about El Santo. She’s like me; I never let on about my other lives either. I don’t mention my bigoted uncle in Chattanooga, just like my grandmother changes the subject when asked about the Cherokee blood in our family.

“Are they half-breeds or blue bloods?” asks the woman in the shop. Castille soap is good quality—that is, for people who bathe.

The smell of money whitens the skin, softens prejudices, makes the customer more important.

“But you go to their dentists? You let them take your blood, your lice, your daughters? You read books written by lesbians?”

Well, yes, sir, for years I’ve been coming and going. I wasn’t born here. I bedded many of them. Men I now see in the streets. Walking toward me on the opposite sidewalk. I recognize some of them—we’ve been naked together in the dark. Now we see right through each other.

Yes, sir, I remember each one. Many of them have the same name. It’s so weird. Without exchanging a word I can tell—from two blocks away—if a stranger’s name is R.

R is a way of walking, a look, one of the great peoples. One of these R’s was my first, the first of them all, I left him when I moved here, and he—after waiting for me twenty years—got married again to another woman who has the same name as me: Munda. This is all true. I have lived it.

I ran through the whole alphabet. From the A’s to the B’s to the C’s. There was a D who smelled like mahogany, an F with a sweet dick, a salty H. The J’s like to sing in bed and the K’s recite poetry. There was an L in a hammock in hot country.

I try hard to remember their names. It’s a shame to err in a
moment of pleasure and shout “M!” instead of “N!” To keep
life simple I almost always stick to the R’s. I am completely
faithful to all of them.

I never allow the taxi drivers to question me about my marriages. I simply go silent, leaving them with an echo in their mouths. We never get around to the nasty questions seething within them.

“What color do you think her pussy is?” I heard some Huicholes say, nodding toward me.

When I was a boy I liked blonds. Now that I’m older the gringas call me “Negro.” When I’m out with my daughter and her mother, everyone looks to see if she turned out dark or light.

It always surprises me how people whom I consider revolutionary can be so blinded by stereotypes.

Some people, when they meet me in person, are indignant: “So you’re really Munda Toston?”

As if I had kidnapped my real self and were masquerading as someone else.

Corresponding by letter, they come to like me—before seeing my face or hearing my voice. They come looking for me, knock on the door a number of times. They leave messages, they return. When we finally meet face-to-face I can see they don’t like my blue eyes. My accent repulses them. Makes them furious.

“They don’t greet us in the streets. They don’t even say, ‘Good day.’ As if we were dogs.”

We’re all terrorists in Gush’s detective novel, and as far as my leftist friends are concerned I’m a member of the CIA. And rich, too, or so they say. They regard me hatefully like a fist up their ass. Just a whiff of racism—not the anger of people who lynch but rather the contempt of those who violate children.

“Where are you from?” they ask me.

“From what Mundo, what Munda?”

One night in a mud hut an Indian woman palpated my whole body, as if she were taming a wild animal.

“You’re a woman,” she told me, “I bet you can even have children.”

I travel in atoms of iron that migrate from plant to animal to earth.

Flocks of black butterflies circle the lampposts in town. It’s said they bring death’s greetings. They live only one night. Then their wings stop working and they lie crushed beneath cars.

The city had no more than two cars when I arrived. I had good, strong teeth back then. But my molars went to ruin as the traffic increased. The deterioration of my smile keeps pace with the ravagement of the city’s architecture. Tooth by tooth, stone by stone, we are falling into ruin. When they built a parking lot beneath the cathedral, Satan himself did my root canal.

When the world began, the gods lived in San Cristóbal. The tree of life was born here, song, poetry, and painting bloomed. Greed and the bacchanal. They felled the tree of life, the sacredtree’s blood flowed, and from its vital stream came forth time. The past and the future were born.

When I was a man I used to go to Café Central to pick up gringas. A blue-eyed girl was selling amber at the tables in the back. She carried it around in a basket. This was long before the little Mayan girls began weaving bracelets. The Frenchwomen bought earrings, the Italians necklaces. The Mayans wanted talismans to ward off the evil eye. Little red amber hands, hearts.

“Do you want to see a prehistoric spider?” the gringa asks me.

“Look at the little butterfly trapped in the amber . . . this one’s not for sale. Do you see how it flies through the light?”

The flight to Chiapas is delayed. The pilots are on strike. My friend and I spend a night on the airport carpet in Mexico City. In the morning we call a woman named Fausta to see if we can stay with her. “Come on over,” she said, very much the Christian. “I have lots of good dope to smoke.” We caught a taxi outside, one of those gypsy cabs.

“Where are you headed, you gorgeous blonds?” the driver asked us.

“We’re going to Chiapas,” I told him, laughing.

“I’ll take you.”

This seemed so charming to my friend and I that we accepted immediately.

“I’ll take you for half the price of your airfare,” the guy proposed quite chummily, “the drive will do me good.”

It was already getting late by the time we left Mexico City. It was dark before we got to Puebla. The driver’s brother-in-law had come with us, “in case anything comes up.” No one spoke. A plastic skull that was hanging from the rearview mirror shone in the darkness. When we stopped for gas I noticed the taxi’s seats were upholstered in red and black material patterned with bloody skeletons.

My friend and I looked at each other. Adrenaline froze our veins. I managed to remain calm when they began buying sixpacks. This was in Veracruz, and they offered us cold ones, but we said, “No, thanks.”

The highway was desolate, one of those jungle highways with a warm midnight breeze and cicadas playing their harps. The battle line between good and evil does not exist in any geographic location, rather it runs through the heart of every man, or so said Solzhenitsyn.

“All Indians are good, right?” my friend whispered in my ear.

“Very good!” I told her, remembering X, Y, and Z.

The driver began to tell us how his parents spoke a language they were ashamed to teach him. They left the countryside and moved to Mexico City. He was born in a tar paper shack in the city dump. We had barely gotten to know him since leaving the airport. We didn’t know San Cristóbal was so far away.

All night long we drove through hot country. A symphony of cicadas, shooting stars, burning cane thickets. When dawn broke we were on the coast, in the middle of mango season.

“In another life I had black hair,” my friend said aloud. “I had a moustache, I was illiterate. Afraid of gays. Of course I remember!”

The driver was frightened now, by the sight of so many Indians with their machetes and their digging sticks. The women carrying iguanas on their heads. He admitted that he’d never been out on the highway before. He was ready to head back to Mexico City.

“Yes, sir, I arrived many years ago, without even knowing where I was headed.We came from far away, very far. In a taxi like yours. We stopped in Tuxtla beneath a burning sun. We asked where San Cristóbal was.”

“Yes,” an old man told us, pointing toward the sierra. “It’s about an hour and a half to the high city. There are apples, cold country orchids, mountains of lichen and oak. The witch doctors burn incense. They say that everyone there is a poet until proven otherwise.”

When I was a man it never occurred to me to rape a woman. I wanted them to do it to me. I wanted those French girls to touch me, those girls you could pick up in San Cristóbal. I met one who gave me her address. She had hitchhiked across the entire Mexican Republic. Alone; in those big rigs with the longdistance truckers.

When I was a little girl I thought that María Emma was made of chocolate and I of vanilla. The months whirled around counterclockwise and each numeral was a different color. There was a god who planted the seed of a child inside every woman who fell in love. His tongue ran the length of my body to my clitoris while I prayed to the angels.

I don’t remember anything about when I was a man. I only know that I wanted to be a woman so I could become a whore. I think gringas paid to caress me.

I transform myself into a cloud. San Cristóbal is my chrysalis. How many years must I remain here before I can fly?