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On an impulse, after attending the baptism of a friend's child in the city of Nogales, Arizona, I decided to cross the border into Mexico. As I was leaving my friend's house, one of her guests, a woman named Delia Flores, asked me for a ride to Hermosillo.
She was a dark-complexioned woman, perhaps in her midforties, of medium height and stout build. She was powerfully big, with straight black hair arranged into a thick braid. Her dark, shiny eyes highlighted a shrewd, yet slightly girlish, round face.
Certain that she was a Mexican born in Arizona, I asked her if she needed a tourist card to enter Mexico.
"Why should I need a tourist card to enter my own country?" she retorted, widening her eyes with exaggerated surprise.
"Your mannerism and speech inflection made me think you were from Arizona," I said.
"My parents were Indians from Oaxaca," she explained. "But I am a ladina."
"What's a ladina?"
"Ladinos are sharp Indians who grow up in the city," she elucidated. There was an odd excitement in her voice I was at a loss to understand as she added, "They take up the ways of the white man, and they are so good at it that they can fake their way into anything."
"That's nothing to be proud of," I saidjudgingly. "It's certainly not too complimentary to you, Mrs. Flores."
The contrite expression on her face gave way to a wide grin. "Perhaps not to a real Indian or to a real white man," she said cheekily. "But I am perfectly satisfied with it myself." She leanedtoward me and added, "Do call me Delia. I've the feeling we're going to be great friends."
Not knowing what to say, I concentrated on the road. We drove in silence to the check point. The guard asked for my tourist card, but didn't ask for Delia's. He didn't seem to notice her no words or glances were exchanged between them. When I tried to talk to Delia, she forcefully stopped me with an imperious movement of her hand. Then the guard looked at me questioningly. Since I didn't say anything, he shrugged his shoulders and waved me on.
"How come the guard didn't ask for your papers?" I asked when we were some distance away.
"Oh, he knows me," she lied, And knowing that I knew she was lying, she burst into a shameless laughter. "I think I frightened him, and he didn't dare to talk to me," she lied again. And again she laughed.
I decided to change the subject, if only to save her from escalating her lies. I began to talk about topics of current interest in the news, but mostly we drove in silence. It was not an uncomfortable or strained silence; it was like the desert around us, wide and stark and oddly reassuring.
"Where shall I drop you?" I asked as we drove into Hermosillo.
"Downtown," she said. "I always stay in the same hotel when I'm in the city. I know the owners well, and I'm sure I can arrange for you to get the same rate I get."
I gratefully accepted her offer.
The hotel was old and run down. The room I was given opened to a dusty courtyard. A double, four-poster bed and a massive, old-fashioned dresser shrunk the room to claustrophobic dimensions. A small bathroom had been added, but a chamber pot was still under the bed; it matched the porcelain washing set on the dresser.
The first night was awful. I slept fitfully, and in my dreams I was conscious of whispers and shadows moving across the walls. Shapes of things and monstrous animals rose from behind the furniture. People materialized from the corners, pale, ghostlike.
The next day I drove around the city and its surroundings, and that night, although I was exhausted, I stayed awake. When I finally fell asleep, into a hideous nightmare, I saw a dark, amoeba-shaped creature stalking me at the foot of the bed. Iridescent tentacles hung from its cavernous crevices. As the creature leaned over me, it breathed, making short, raspy sounds that died out into a wheeze.
My screams were smothered by its iridescent ropes tightening around my neck. Then all went black as the creature which somehow I knew to be female crushed me by lying on top of me.
That timeless moment between sleep and wakefulness was finally broken by the insistent banging on my door and the concerned voices of the hotel guests out in the hall. I turned on the light and mumbled some apologies and explanations through the door.
With the nightmare still sticking to my skin like sweat, I went into the bathroom. I stifled a scream as I looked into the mirror. The red lines across my throat and the evenly spaced red dots running down my chest looked like an unfinished tattoo. Frantically, I packed my bags. It was three o'clock in the morning when I walked out into the deserted lobby to pay my bill.
"Where are you going at this hour?" Delia Flores asked, emerging from the door behind the desk. "I heard about your nightmare. You had the whole hotel worried."
I was so glad to see her I put my arms around her and began to sob.
"There, there," she murmured soothingly, stroking my hair. "If you want to, you can come and sleep in my room. I'll watch over you."
"Nothing in this world will make me stay in this hotel," I said. "I'm returning to Los Angeles this very instant."
"Do you often have nightmares?" she casually asked, leading me toward the creaky old couch in the corner.