by Jan Baross
It was a bucolic morning in the small Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende. The young cleaning woman was mopping my apartment as she does every Tuesday. Having gracefully escaped another Oregon winter, I breathed in the warm air under a brilliant blue sky.
A friend, a high-strung woman in her sixties, had stopped by to help with the sticky lock on my front door. We had to hurry and solve the problem because she needed to meet a new client in half an hour.
I hurried outside the orange adobe wall that encloses my house while she waited inside with a second key. I locked the door and then tried to open it. The lock broke. I was horrified. I had locked her in.
She rattled the metal door like a mad woman. “I will not be detained!” There was an edge of hysteria in her voice. My anxiety rose even higher when I heard the cleaning woman pleading. “Alto!” (Stop!)
Above the wall I saw my friend hauling a ladder up the metal stairs to the third floor roof garden. “I’m getting out of here!” she yelled down to me. “I’ve got things to do!”
There was no way to get safely down to the next roof even with a ladder. I panicked and yelled for her to wait until I got a locksmith. She could have used the phone in my house to call a locksmith but apparently that solution was not immediate enough. In Mexico, where time has a meaning all its own, it could be hours or even days before anyone came. To save my friend from herself, I had to find a phone and get a locksmith as quickly as possible.
The Mexican couple next door didn’t speak English and couldn’t help me. I ran around the corner to the home of an older European couple I’d never met. They were kind, but had no telephone book or computer for information.
I remembered the apartment manager eight blocks away who had the answer to any crisis. I ran to her house and was let in just as her landline rang. It was the neighbor in back of my house. Through the phone I heard her screaming to someone, “Don’t jump!”
A cell phone on the couch began ringing. The manager grabbed it. The woman who owned my apartment was calling from her home in the U.S. She’d received a strange phone call about someone jumping off her roof and wanted to know what was going on. The manager finally put them both on hold and promised me she would call the neighborhood handyman and a locksmith as soon as she settled her two phone calls.
The day was heating up. I ran back to the apartment and hoped my friend was still ambulatory. As I rounded the corner, she was standing on the cobblestone street in front of my building holding the ladder. She was grinning with a sense of triumph that only looks good on ten-year-old boys. She couldn’t wait to relate her prowess. First climbing, lowering and jumping down to the next rooftop from the ladder, hauling it over rooftops until she found one low enough to descend into the street. It was freaky and a bit miraculous that she was still intact. We both knew people her age who had demolished their brittle bones and died doing things far less risky. Waving goodbye to me and my locked door, she was on to her appointment with no sense of how badly she had shaken up the neighborhood.
“Lo Siento!” (Sorry!) I shouted through the wall to the cleaning woman who said she had another house to clean. When the handyman finally showed up, he climbed over the fifteen-foot wall with the ladder and removed the broken lock from inside. As the door swung open, the young cleaning woman bolted past him and out into the sweltering sun. She said she was still trembling from watching my older friend slide off the rooftops. I handed her more pesos than her normal wage. Whatever the tip for trauma, I hoped she felt compensated.
It was a relief to be in my inner courtyard and out of the sun. The departing handyman gave me the number of the locksmith who was supposedly arriving any minute. Being on time in Mexico is considered just plain rude, but I still called to speed up the process. Miraculously, the young locksmith appeared only half an hour after he said he’d be there. Installing the new lock in the warped metal door made his work long and hard. The scorching afternoon wore on until it was finally done. I was exhausted after handling one more little Mexican crisis.
Dragging myself into the kitchen for a cup of soothing tea, I discovered the gas was out. I had never had to deal with maintenance problems in any of my previous rentals. I called the harried apartment manager who gave me the number of the gas company that would fill the tank on the roof. “Manaña,” was the only word I understood in the conversation.
Until sometime tomorrow, no shower, no tea and no hot dinner.
I sighed and calmed myself on the couch with a cold soda and handful of granola, repeating the old mantra, “This is Mexico.” (Don’t take it personally, that’s just the way things are here.) I found myself smiling at the obvious conclusion. Being alive and well with solvable problems in Mexico is still as good as it gets.
Jan Baross is a writer and artist. Her magical realism novel “Jose Builds a Woman” won first place for fiction. She has a series of illustrated travel books, (Paris, Mexico) and Cuba, coming soon. Available on Amazon. She’s also had a career in documentary films.