Lord of the Earthquake
Because we were traveling during Semana Santa, or Holy Week, Cuzco was brimming with festivities. One surprising occurrence was the desfile for the Lord of the Earthquakes, a very ancient procesión that sat dearly in the hearts of the native people. I found it odd yet significant that the Black Christ statue, which was carried by solemn clergy, was preceded by a military band, and the mayor of Cuzco. Soldiers marched briskly at the end of the procession. The narrow sidewalks were crowded with human figures, straining to watch the parade, and the streets themselves were decorated with vibrant Easter scenes, spectacularly designed using flower petals and colored sawdust. So intense was this particular celebration that when I needed to cross the street, people elbowed me disapprovingly for my interruption. It wasn’t until later that I realized Cuzco was notorious for having frequent earthquakes. In fact, a month after I left the city, an enormous quake destroyed much of the downtown area.
As I watched the passion of Christ being enacted with such personal investment, I found myself thinking about how mystery contains an element of danger, created by the very act of not knowing what’s to come; intrigues, and sudden twists to events, like an unknown man coming towards you out of a blanket of fog, calling your name. What unexpected scenarios had yet to unfold, in this mountain city, bursting with the colorful native dress of the Peruvian indigenas, and the languid stroll of llamas carrying firewood down narrow callejones?
One morning Diane and I decided to take a tour of the Valle Sagrado,
a circular route around Cuzco that included several pre-Incan ruins and small villages. Fortunately, we had a native guide, who told us leyendas and histories of the Inca people that weren’t found in traditional textbooks. With animated gestures, short, stocky Dona Julia informed us that the ancient Inca lived with their prospective partner for a full year before getting married. During this trial period, the woman drank a special tea, which prevented her from getting pregnant. Another informative story about Inca traditions was their dependency upon quinoa, a grain which can be found in health food stores today. Quinoa is an excellent source of protein, our guide stated, and tradition held that after seeing how tall and strong the Inca were, the Spanish forbade them from growing the grain. As a result, their health greatly deteriorated. Though I found her stories captivating, I wasn’t convinced about the source of Dona Julia’s information.
True to the series of serendipitous meetings we’d had with Guajiro, the very minute we stepped out of the van in the tiny village of Pisac, we noticed Miguel Ángel crossing the street with a young girl whose luxurious black hair rippled in the brilliant Andean sun.
“Now this is definitely getting to be strange, Diane. I mean, we are forty minutes outside of Cuzco! “ She agreed, her light brown eyes widening in disbelief. And as we entered the Rincon de la Inca for our group luncheon, I began to remember, not without some trepidation, the numerous dreams that had been haunting my sleep….dreams about Miguel Ángel.
Every night I was plagued by surrealistic images rattling my psyche. In one dream Miguel Ángel appeared deformed, like a shrunken, dwarf-like creature, flanked by both parents. With tense faces, his mother and father were speaking but Miguel Angel acted as if they weren’t present. In another dream Winnie appeared and spoke to me. “This is my son, Corina, “ she stated solemnly as she gestured toward Miguel ÁngeI. I woke up, unable to fall asleep for hours.
Thus, the Mystery became a painful, rather incomprehensible burden, as well as a spiritual mission. How was I to convince Winnie’s son to return to the safety of his family? For it became more and more obvious that all was not well in the world of Miguel Ángel. For one thing, he seemed to incorporate the essence of his nickname, ubiquitously appearing in every corner of Cuzco and the surrounding area, shifting from one place to another like the restless wind that swept through the cobblestone streets. He was a drifter, someone who yearned for his center, his eje, to give him future direction. Then one afternoon Miguel Angel offered to take Diane and I to the great ruins on the edge of the city, Sacsayhuaman. We rode in a taxi, Miguel Ángel in front, and Diane and I sitting in the back. This time he wasn’t asking for any monetary remuneration for his services. Instead, he kept turning around, and talking to me, with great agitation, about the ring.
“Do you know the history of this ring? Did you know my mother took it from me, without my permission? She just smiled, and took it from my finger!”
His crystal blue eyes lit up, as he searched for an explanation. “Why has this ring come back to me now? Why did my brother send it with you? Why now, Corina?”
I looked at his anxious face, noting for the first time the hollowed cheeks and thin lines creasing his eyes
“I don’t know,” I replied, with some passion of my own. “Truly I don’t, but maybe it has something to do with your family wanting you to return.”
Miguel Angel paused for a moment, his eyes drifting.
“How much would you pay me for this ring, Corina?”
“What!” I exclaimed, just as the taxista swerved over a large bump in the road.
“Miguel Ángel, I don’t want to buy your ring. Why are you asking me this?”
Seeing my distress, he quickly changed the subject.
“Look—there are the stones!” We followed his gaze, and saw a row of immense boulders that stood like mammoth, prehistoric beings, waiting for our arrival.