Written by Luis Monroy
“It is almost time, Erendira, hurry up.”
“I am coming, I am coming. They will wait for us, they always do.”
“Every year is the same with you, woman. You are unable to be ready on time.”
“Old man, you have been saying this for centuries now. And you always wait for me, the same as they do.”
Erendira and Pedro had a long way ahead of them. Once a year they visited their family. Once a year they had to make that long and dangerous journey. But family awaited. And the feast was worth it. So Erendira and Pedro always made that journey. That long and dangerous journey…
“Do we really have to go there? Can’t we go directly?”
“If you know the answer, why do you keep asking the question?”
“Because you know how much I despise these visits.”
“Well, Pedro, these visits are a necessity. And you might as well try to smile. But do not dare to fake it. The Lords know when someone is faking.”
“How on Mictlan am I supposed to smile without faking it if I do not want to be there?”
“That is not my problem. I am ready, now. Let’s go. The Lords are not to be kept waiting.”
The Lords owned the land in which Erendira and Pedro lived. That land was named Mictlan. And whoever wished to make a journey had to pay respect to the Lords of the land. Mictlantecuhtli and Mictecacihuatl were the names of the Great Lords. Their faces were pale white and almost fleshless. Their garments were like frayed bones. Their eyes almost disappeared into their immense cavities, and yet they followed your every move, every minor gesture.
Mictecacihuatl, the emaciated queen, was said to have given birth to a thousand infants. It was said that she showed compassion. It was said that she had wisdom. And every time travellers approached her before taking course, she advised them to stay safe. Safe from every danger, either real or imaginary.
“We are almost there, Erendira, hold my hand. Do not let it go.”
“What is wrong with you, Pedro? We have done this for centuries, now.”
“They frighten me. I cannot stand their sight. Those eyes. That silence. They transport you out of this world.”
“Gentle Lords. Gentle King Mictlantecuhtli and My Queen Mictecacihuatl. We are here today presenting you with the humblest of our gifts. Our respect. My name is Erendira. His name is Pedro. And we wish to make the journey. We wish to visit our family.”
So it was that Erendira and Pedro started their journey. The journey they made once a year. It was a quest of nine stages. Erendira was wearing a long black dress, covered with blue and orange blossoming flowers. Her head was crowned by a hat decorated with ribbons, with her beautifully arranged hair braids peeking out of it. Pedro was wearing a dark suit. It was a sober and elegant garment, accented by a hat and his long-ridged moustache.
“Do you feel it, Pedro?”
“I cannot feel anything. And I cannot see anything. There’s too much fog.”
“Pedro, this is it. This is Chiconahualoyan. I remember everything now. Oh, those candies you loved. Oh, and my chair. Pedro, I remember everything. Even when you proposed. Who would say you could be such a romantic?”
“Oh, I remember. I remember that damned Ramon. He never gave me back my rifle. He took it and never gave it back. As soon as I see him I’ll…”
“Shhh. This is it. This is the road, Pedro. Forget Ramon. You haven’t seen him in ages. And you do not need your rifle now.”
“I might need it now, especially with where we are going.”
“Pedro, wait. We already left Mictlan. That’s why we couldn’t see anything before.”
Erendira and Pedro passed the first of the nine stages. A place called Chiconahualoyan, a foggy place where it is said you lose external sight, and so you can look deep into yourself. Now, they were approaching Apanohuayan, the place of nine rivers.
“Erendira, my suit will be ruined. I want to go back.”
“Pedro, your grandchildren are waiting. They won’t mind if your suit is clean or dirty. They just want to be with you.”
“What if I bump into that damned Ramon? He will make fun of me.”
“That damned old Ramon will be as dirty as you. Now, hold me tight, you know that this river is tricky.”
“Look at my suit! It is all wet now!”
“If Ramon does not mock you, then I will for being so faint hearted.”
“I am about to lose my heart. We are getting near to Teyollocualoyan. This place is full of jaguars!”
“Those are gentle jaguars. You just have to feed them and be nice.”
“Feed them with what? My heart?”
“Well, Pedro, if a jaguar complains less than you, I will let it have your heart.”
Always arguing, always bickering, Erendira and Pedro continued their journey. That long and dangerous journey. They crossed Temiminaloyan, where they had to dodge a hundred arrows. They crossed Pancuetlacaloyan, the desert. A desolate place where you feel so light, that if you do not grip enough onto the ground, you might just fly out. They crossed Cehueloyan, the coldest place in the boundaries of earth. They were careful enough not to fall onto one of the sharp rocks of Itztepetl. And they had to find the exact moment to jump in Tepeme Monamictlan, the place where the mountains come together.
“Pedro, look up! Do you see it? That is the river. It must be on the other side. I am so anxious. Pedro? Pedro?”
“Erendira, I see it. It is Tizoc! My old dog! My faithful companion! Erendira, do you see it?”
“I see him, Pedro. We are here. Tizoc will help us cross the river. And we will finally see them. Oh, I will see my grandchildren. I wonder how tall they are now.”
Erendira and Pedro had reached the final stage. Itzcuintlan. The stage that divides the world of the living and the dead. Erendira and Pedro had been dead for more than a hundred years. And every year, on 2 November, they made that long and dangerous journey. Just to be near their family. To have a feast with the food their family enjoyed whilst living. To see how their family is doing in the world of the living. To see if they needed anything in the world of the living. For they have passed away, but they never left their family behind. They will just stay that night. They will just enjoy the feast. They will admire the altar put up in their honour. They will laugh, they will rejoice. And Erendira and Pedro will go back. Back to Mictlan, the place of the dead. And they will make that long and dangerous journey again. The journey every deceased person must make. A journey that no matter how long and dangerous, our relatives will make every 2 November just to visit us. To see how we are doing in the world of the living.
Every year – for centuries now – Mexicans remember those who have passed away. Every year, Mexicans remember with joy those who once were with us. Those who are resting now. They place photographs, food and items onto altars. Colourful altars. Altars with flowers, the most colourful flowers of all. And it is not a day to wear black; it is not a day to mourn. It is a day to rejoice. To remember that death is just another stage in life.