The bike was left to Cuauhtémoc Lázaro Hernández de la Cruz by his second cousin who had gone to live en el Norte at the age of ten. By fourteen the cousin had given in to gang life in New Mexico. By sixteen he was dead; found in the city dump by a vagrant. In the short life that he lived the cousin had amassed only two symbols of success: one a giant silver crucifix and a two-wheeled candy apple green low rider bicycle named Esmeralda, built to his exact specifications one chrome twisted pipe at a time.
As children in Mitla, the City of the Dead in the central valley region of Oaxaca, Cuauhtémoc and his cousin had played soccer in the dusty streets outside their mother’s vending booths. They’d snuck beers from their uncles and ate enough tamarindo candy to deplete their fledgling adult teeth which were replaced by small silver caps that sent shivers down their spines when they drank cold soda.
The bike arrived intact, in a box, wrapped inside another box, wrapped in a waterfall of popcorn and crumpled newspapers. Instinctively protective, Cuauhtémoc’s first order of action was to build a small altar next to the bike which he kept under a tarp in his mother’s chicken coup. He set up a small legion of velas underneath a painting of Cocijo, the Zapotec god of lightening. Beside this he made a humble cross out of tree branches and added a marble rosary he inherited from his grandmother. The Virgin of Guadalupe also made guest appearances when he could afford to rent her figurine from the priest.
The bicycle glowed with ghostlike tear drops drawn with iridescent paint. The tears fell from the face of a very earthly angel with breasts that clung to the body of the bike. In the tear ducts of her emerald eyes lay rhinestones the size and weight of halved peanuts that could blind you on a sunny day. But Esmeralda rarely saw sunny days. Rumors flew that Cuauhtémoc was practicing brujeria and using her to fly on full moons to seek favors from the dead.
On the eighteenth day after Esmeralda’s arrival, a posse of brutally poor boys from a village not far down the road came to demand to ride the bike one-by-one around the pockmarked pyramids. They believed it would give them superhuman strength, and, if the rumors were true, the leader would be so potent that he would take off in flight, into the night, on and on, until he had crossed into the realm of the dead.
They tied Cuauhtémoc to the spigot outside his house using barbed wire and stuffed his mouth so full of chicken feathers no one could hear him protest. They rolled the bike into the center of the sacred pyramids, then, as if they were carrying the body of Christ himself they lifted the bicycle up the steep steps and onto the center sacrificial pedestal.
Romero, their leader, who stood a good foot taller than the rest and was the grandson of the best cock fighter in all of Oaxaca until at the age of 97 when his prize cock, still agitated, flew up and sliced his neck wide open as he collected bets—rode first. He mounted Esmeralda at the highest pedestal carved with bats wings on its shaft and Dorado fish dancing at its base. He ripped off his tattered Dallas’ Cowboys 1996 Superbowl T-shirt and kicked his huaraches off. Then he took out a pocket knife and cut into his palms, smearing the blood onto his bird-like chest. He let out an ear-splitting howl, gripped the high wire handle bars with his tender and sprung forward, pedaling as if his legs were unwound rubber bands. First he went in circles to the east, then towards the west, and finally he rode to the far edge of the pyramid, reaching top velocity at the epoch of the stairs, then, off the side he went.
Broken necks on chickens are an awkward sight. Their bodies still twitch as if there was a worm to catch, while their heads hang to the side like loose door knobs. Broken necks on teenage boys are worse. The face of the boy is aged as if he’s seen all his future troubles so prematurely that they pinch the skin around his eyes while the body remains that of a young boy, skinny and eager, stretched in the limbs as if it were trying to reach a beloved toy. This is how they found Romero, who thought he could transform Esmeralda’s 26” custom fan white-wall tires into functioning wings. His disciples carried his body back to his village where his family mourned his death by making rugs only from the darkest dyes pulled from anís, pecan, and coffee grinds.
Esmeralda had landed on a fledgling ahuehuete tree, perched between one soft branch and another. Cuauhtémoc enlisted the help of the town landscaper to help him cajole the green goddess down. When she finally was low to the ground again she seemed hauntingly serene, as if she grew more beautiful with each boy who died loving her.
At the funeral the town’s acting mayor called for the expulsion of the “demonic” bicycle in their midst. The ice cream truck that doubled as an advertising wagon went blaring through the streets to demand Esmeralda’s surrender. The city’s police man, an insufferable old Indian who ate dried meat and belched fire, would escort Cuauhtémoc and his mistress to the edge of town.
Alongside the street, neighbors stood outside their front doors waiting to fall in line behind the impromptu procession of Cuauhtémoc, his siblings, and the condemned beauty. Past the fountain of the widow with no hands, past the loom of the blind man, past the tortilleria, past the mural of the PRI party, past the pool hall, the blue donkey and the tree shaped like a naked woman, past the visiting doctor from Peru with his stethoscope always on, past the crucifix made of wool—its shadow hanging over the dirt path—they went.
At the procession’s end, Cuauhtémoc Lázaro Hernández de la Cruz wrapped a piece of white silk around each fist and grabbed the handle bars, then he stretched his scared legs over the crushed velvet of the banana seat and began to pedal. He pedaled past the lonely cemetery situated on a lofty and dry hill. His father and his little brothers tried to run after him but Esmeralda was too fast. She carried her master up to the top of the cemetery, over the mangled knees of the cypress, the worn tombstones and markers, to the edge’s edge, and then, they flew. Out over the green river, the stale fields of cow manure, over the looms that chomped away at the women’s youth, over the rusty spires of the cathedral, over the limestone houses, over the new autopista nacional, over the long silver worm of a bus filled with pink-faced tourists on their way back from the endless markets, up through the lazy cloud cover of the Sierra Mixe mountains into the black bath drawn by night.
Ariel Robello is the author of a poetry collection, My Sweet Unconditional (Tia Chucha Press 2005). She works as an English professor, high school creative writing teacher, and freelance writer in Florida and New York. She is currently finishing a collection of short stories entitled Love Letters from Miss America and laying the ground work for a novel that focuses on sex-trafficking and factory laborers in the Midwest. Her written works reflect themes of loss, interrupted humanity, and the instinct to migrate.