Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Up the Arroyo, Part VI

               Quite shortly ahead appeared the famed Shanty. The old man was sitting outside his house and saw her right away. He stood up and said something. She came down toward, but not inside of, the wire fence around the property. After some confusing verbal interaction, Laurie realized he was telling her to come around the side of the wire, past the dogs and chickens. She did, and walked right up to don Juan himself.

               Containing her fantasies of magic (in Carlos Castaneda's books, don Juan -- or "man of knowledge" -- was often associated with the term nagual [na'wal], meaning variously sorcerer, shaman, shape shifter, and the "unknown"), she asked him in the best way she could if he had seen anyone either on the road or coming down the riverbed. The answer was a clear no. The only way they could communicate was using numbers, hand signals, and indicating "up" or "down." Four up, one down, then three more down? No, four up. Si, si, four up; but what about down, three down? Anywhere? Forgoing the verbiage, he put up a spindly forefinger and motioned her to wait -- esperas, esperas, momento! It was quite clear to him, and Laurie, that he had decided they needed to go searching. He disappeared inside the house. While he was gone, Laurie checked out the front of his shack and generally looked around, not focusing too hard on anything in particular. Something she did see caused a chuckle: a metal sign reading "¿Traes Chicles?" ("Do you bring Chiclets?") overtop of a 6- x 10-inch wired-in opening in the adobe, one of the perhaps two such ways of allowing light into the dark interior surrounded by dirt and dust.

               When don Juan first returned out the main doorway, he was carrying a very long walking stick; then he disappeared and returned again wearing a wide-brimmed hat; then disappeared and returned once more, with "mis zapatos, momento!", very politely. He even offered a slight smile. The shoes were real and pretty nice hiking boots, albeit dusty and used. He sat on his old bench and put them on, noticeably tying them in haste. "Un momento, por favor!" Laurie tried to answer or converse, but the energy was just not there, and she could not remember any of her Spanish for the moment, except the very basics. And indeed, he had a few teeth missing along with a strong accent, possibly an Indian dialect; so it seemed a real bother to even try holding a conversation....

               Laurie realized vocalizing was unnecessary. She needed only to watch, follow and listen. He beckoned. Along with the dogs, she and the old man headed down the left over uneven ground and rocks toward the arroyo. Don Juan walked spryly over the terrain while Laurie floundered a little, falling behind. At this moment, the "unknown one" turned and said something Laurie never wanted to forget:

               "No tenga miedo, NADA. No tenga miedo--NADA." This means "Do not ever fear--NOTHING" (or "anything," as English would have it). He said this two or three times, with no emotion, no real inflection whatsoever. Yet with pure certainty and authority. Laurie stepped up her cadence to remain as near as possible.

               What an incredible moment this is, Laurie thought. Will it ever end? But, yes, it did. Very shortly after they left the Shanty, in fact:

               Up the now-familiar arroyo lingered three colorful bodies with safari hats on, one about 100 yards in front of the other two. These two stood talking and kicking small stones around, with their heads facing down suspiciously while the lone third safari-covered head walked down the trail and toward Laurie and the old man. Laurie ecstatically yelled out, "Hey, hey, hey! I can't believe it! Are you guys okay?? Look who I found!" There was no response, positive or negative, in Laurie's direction. Joel continued silently walking toward Laurie.

               Laurie felt herself falling, falling down, heavily, into a troubled human body. It was like an airplane slamming into the ground nosefirst. Not willing to go there just yet, she continued:

               "This is my friend, don Juan!!" she smiled at the old man. She then turned in reverence to address him, partially to not leave him out of the interaction, but also in appreciation of his humility and helpfulness. Laurie easily put her arm around him, knowing not to expect anything back, and gave him a hug. Very clearly he was not accustomed to female companionship.... She said,

               "Gracias, muchas gracias, mi amigo!!" as she smiled and shook his slight hand. One finger made an audible cracking noise, and both of them broke out laughing. They couldn't really say anything, but the laughter was freedom to Laurie, and perhaps to the old man as well, just for that last moment.

               Then she sighed to herself and walked up to Joel, feeling both fight and flight, generally sensing trouble. There had obviously been an agreed-upon plan of action, or non-action. Joel took Laurie's shoulder with a soft compassionate touch. Joel and Laurie were very close friends. But she could not tell if the touch was real or merely the habitual manner of addressing his patients in analysis. Whatever, he was good at it, and very convincing. Laurie listened as he began: 

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