The novel I'm sharing from, RESTORING EXPERIENCE, is Women's / Literary Fiction, and it's rating as a whole would never make it to PG-13 :D But this excerpt is mild, mild, mild. I hope you like it, and I look forward to your comments.
Title: RESTORING EXPERIENCE
Blurb: It's the summer of 1995 in Mexico, and 22-year-old Alexia is discovering possibility--at a steep price. She takes a step away from the conservative values and expectations that define her life, reveling in the exhilaration of freedom—of choices she never imagined she had. But choice implies decisions, and decisions entail regret: every untrodden path, even as she takes that first step away from it, is already an embryo of regret.
Sometimes, we're just not ready to learn the lessons life throws our way. And sometimes there are no second chances.
~ ~ ~
A few years ago, on the last leg of a fourteen-hour flight, I finished the book I was reading an hour and a half before landing. After staring at the unwavering blue outside for a while, I paged through the meager material in the airline magazines until an article caught my eye. Apparently, sleep deprivation has been documented to increase activity in the brain's parietal lobe. Greater activity in that region is associated with better memory. The rest of the article promoted new first-class amenities for transatlantic flights and I paged on, but that bit stayed with me.
Is that why I can’t forget you, Miguel? Because during the weeks we spent together, I didn’t get enough sleep?
Some details of that time with Michael have a clarity in my memory that borders on the organic—a heartbeat, almost. The weekend that Dan stayed in Mexico City, for example. There was certainly enough sleep deprivation to support the magazine article’s research. But I think it’s more than that.
That weekend my heart finally admitted, quietly and to itself, that there was no turning back.
~ ~ ~
Markets in Mexico are dirty, crowded, and… well, they smell.
"Why a market?" I asked for the tenth time on Saturday morning. "And why the big one? I can take you to the smaller one in Tepoztlan tomorrow. It’s outdoors and they also sell handcrafts—"
"And it’s for tourists. We were there last week, remember?"
"But why this one?"
"To annoy you, Lex." Michael closed his eyes and sighed. He’d given up trying to convince me. "I think it’s fun to do stuff to annoy you."
"I’ve noticed that."
"Alexia, I want to see Mexico, unedited for tourists. And I want to take pictures." He’d brought his Nikon, which weighed more than my knapsack—that was saying a lot.
"Why there? We could go to the rose plantations down south, walk around in the countryside for a while. It’s beautiful."
"Sounds great. Tomorrow?"
"What’s this obsession with the market?" My patience eroded down to specks of powder.
He cocked his head to the side. "You don’t have to come, Lex."
"You’d go alone? Without your translator?"
"Probably not." He grinned, took my hand. "And it’s not about a translator."
Beggar children surrounded us as soon as we stepped into the rank darkness under the market’s huge vaulted ceiling. They were everywhere, these dirty, sub-human creatures. Little sticky hands tugged at our clothes, and I cringed away. But Michael smiled—and broke the first rule of dealing with any beggar: never meet their eyes.
“Look at the one in pink,” he said to me. The miniature dress, grimy and faded, was only pink in places. “She’s so cute. Look at those eyes.”
“Michael, ignore them. They’ll follow us around forever.”
“I don’t mind,” he said, crouching down to—almost—their height.
But I do. I concentrated on dodging sticky fingers.
“Yo me llama Miguel,” he pointed at his chest. “Como se llama tu?” He pointed at the pink dress.
The children giggled. They looked about eight, some no more than five or six. It was hard to tell from their frail bodies. Maybe there was an element of cuteness, but they definitely needed a bath.
None of them dared answer the tall gringo that talked funny.
“Hey.” Michael’s smile turned down, hurt, and he tried again. “Como se llama tu?” This time he pointed at a little boy with hair so coarse it stood up like quills around his face. His left eye looked like it was healing from a bruise.
Michael reached a hand to him, and, lighting-quick, the boy hid behind my leg. I flinched at the touch of his dirty hands, but my hand landed protectively on his bony shoulder instead of pushing him away. He looked like he might be the youngest.
“Esta bien, corazón,” I reassured him, bending down to his eye level. “El señor solo quiere saber cómo te llamas,” I explained. He just wants to know your name.
“Miguel,” he told me, barely audible. He sounded maybe four.
“Dile a él.” I pointed at Michael. With a little smile, the boy said it again for him.
Michael was delighted. “We’re namesakes!" He looked up at me. "How do you say namesake?” .
“Miguel, yo soy tocayo. Yo llama Miguel.”
In spite of the funky sentence construction, little Miguel’s smile widened.
“Yo me llamo Silvia,” the little girl in the pink dress piped up. She’d apparently decided the gringo was harmless.
“Yo me llamo Cristo.”
“Yo soy Ana.”
Michael sat on his heels, tousled their hair and touched their cheeks as he repeated the names back to them. They were curious about the camera slung around his neck, and he let them touch it before snapping their pictures. The pockets of his cargo pants were within easy reach of those little hands, but he didn’t seem concerned his wallet might go missing.
“No nos coopera para un taco, Don Miguel?” Silvia, the cutie in the pink dress, felt comfortable enough to get back to the original point.
“No comprende. Comprendo,” Michael corrected himself.
“She wants money for food,” I explained, smiling at the little girl with honey eyes. I’d been ready to walk away from her without a second glance.
Michael patted his pockets for some loose change.
“Don’t, Michael. It’ll go to their parents, who’ll just drink it up and come back to beat them until they bring more.”
That was reality for children like these. We all knew it, we all tsk-tsked and shook our heads about it, and got on with our lives.
Michael took Silvia’s tiny hand in his big one, gave her a playful squeeze and a wink, but when he turned to me, his eyes were tight. “What can we do?”
Walk away. But that option had expired.
“Feed them, maybe,” I said. "At least they keep that."
Michael turned back to Silvia and her crowd. “Quiere comer?” He motioned with his hand to his mouth, holding an imaginary taco. The children laughed and nodded.
“Vamos a tacos,” Michael said, getting up and extending his hand to Silvia and the little boy whose name I thought might be Rubén.
These kids had grown up in the street, learned to fear adults—starting with their parents—in sordid stories of pain and abuse. Yet, they put their little hands into Michael’s with a faith that cracked at my heart. Swallowing hard, I extended my own hands, and felt two sets of little fingers grab hold. I forgot to cringe.
Outside the market, several food vendors set up shop on the sidewalk. Michael walked to the nearest one, raised an eyebrow for my approval, and ordered six tacos de canasta. The vendor handed back a heaped plate, and Michael sat on the sidewalk under a bit of shade.
“Okay,” he said, extending the plate to the children. “Aqui.”
“Tomen un taquito, chicos,” I encouraged them. Two of the boys lunged for the food.
“Hey.” I stopped them with a hand on their shoulders. “Las damas primero.” Ladies first.
The boys stepped back, and one of them pushed Silvia and the other girl forward with rough protectiveness. The girls smiled shyly at Michael and, with unexpected daintiness, took a taco each. The boys turned to me and, when I nodded, they took theirs. The taco was gone in two bites; they weren’t big, and their mouths were small, but hunger is rude.
“Seis más, por favor,” I told the vendor. Six more, then another six, and six again. At a peso fifty each, the investment was negligible.
The children ate the meager fare, laughed and teased Michael, were teased in return, and a faint halo of happiness was almost tangible.
A new batch of tourists emerged from a taxi a few meters away, and the children ran off with a breezy 'gracias, Don Miguel’. Only Silvia lingered, and tugged on Michael’s finger with a private smile.
I watched them approach the foreigners, wiping taco grease from their hands, while we paid the taco vendor. I watched them be shooed away, watched their faces harden a little, and walk on to beg a coin from someone else.
They’d forget us. No matter. But I wouldn’t forget them. My hands still tingled from the touch of their tiny ones, and my heart had acquired an extra thump with each beat.
~ ~ ~
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