That morning, I thought I might be pregnant. That’s why my mother started cooking the beans.
“Drink,” she said, after wiping my tears and pushing a mug filled with the steaming broth towards me, “it stops babies from coming.”
So, I drank and there were no babies that morning, or the next one. The blood that I found on my sheets was the epitaph of a future I was happy would never happen.
It wasn’t the first time my mother cooked the beans. She had done it once, many years ago, when she met a Parisian clockmaker during the year my grandparents had sent her to Europe. One morning, she woke up and, despite being with someone that sold time, she found she was late. So, she pulled out her recipe book and started cooking.
“Didn’t want his baby,” she admitted. “I never understood a word he said.”
She took the concoction, made love to her Frenchman, and came back to Mexico with a flat belly as if nothing had happened.
It was her mother who had taught her how to cook the beans. Grandma had learnt the recipe after sneaking out in the evenings with the stable boy while she was engaged to my grandfather.
“He had blue eyes,” my grandma explained, trying to excuse herself. “You can’t find that shade of blue in Mexico, except in the cornfields.”
Cooking beans was not common in Mexico. Not with that purpose anyway. Love was for marriage, and marriage only, and all babies should always be welcome as the Lord commanded. But not for my mother, or my grandmother, for that matter. Love was for life, or so they used to say while stirring the beans in the old clay pot that had belong to my great grandmother.
“Why did you stop cooking the beans when you met dad?” I asked mother during one of our many nights in the kitchen.
“Because I couldn’t get enough salt for the broth,” she shrugged, “one morning I realised the idea of having a baby did not make me cry anymore.”
In town, people used to rumour we were witches, but no one dared to tell the priest because my grandfather employed half of the townsmen in the hacienda, and because mother and grandmother cooked beans for the women in the village. Even some of the nuns of the convent visited us from time to time and took a big jug of cooked beans with them in exchange of a prayer. When I asked my mother and grandma why they accepted such payment, they replied that being called witches was one thing, but being called atheists was completely different. Then they crossed themselves.
There was no witchcraft involved with the bean broth though. The recipe was simple: no garlic and no onion. Just water and a pinch of salt, but not the kind that came from the white hills of Colima, but the one that was born in the corner of the eyes.
“Everyone knows that tears are the only way to kill an expectation,” my grandma avowed.
So, as tradition dictated, I learned to cook the beans like my mother, and her mother before her and I went away. Not to France, but to Coahuila. My mother said her goodbyes to me at the entrance of the hacienda and gave me her recipe book and a borrowed blessing as a farewell gift.
I did not want to get engaged like my grandmother and I did not want to go to France, like my mother.
The women in my family used to say that loving had to be learned, the same way you learn how to ride a horse in the stables. Most girls in town learned to love in their marriages, the same way the poor rider practices with just one horse. I had ridden a lot of horses while I was growing up, so I had no intention to learn how to love just with one man.
When I arrived in Monclova, I discovered there were no stable boys and no clockmakers in the city. There was, however, a knocker-upper. He thumped on my window one day, and when I told him I had no job to get to on time, he offered me one. He woke people up in the morning and I kept him awake at night.
While bedtime stories are the cure for insomnia, sex was the cure for sleep. My love kept the knocker-upper roused during the evenings and, when that wasn’t enough, the café de olla helped. I would strain the coffee grinds, the cinnamon and the piloncillo, and then I would drag him to bed and wrap my legs around his waist until dawn came.
I tried to imagine a life with him, making love, drinking coffee, and waking other people up, but I couldn’t. That’s when I realised that all those sleepless nights had left me out of dreams. My mind was barren. The next morning, I cried for all the stillborn dreams and cooked some beans using my mother’s recipe book. I left him without a note and, according to the rumours, everyone in Monclova was late for work that day.
Saying goodbye to the mountains of Coahuila, I headed to Chihuahua, a border town so old that people had forgotten its name. Everything was hot: the sun, the pavement and the temper of its villagers who frowned at the women who entered the place with no husband and no past. Everything was so dry that not even the cacti bloomed during the summer. People used to say that the rain had stopped the moment the townsmen had refused to pay tribute to the old gods and started to praise the one the Spaniards had brought with them on their ships.
And, since the skies couldn’t cry, neither could the people. When I arrived with my southern accent and my foreign pupils, I was soon hired as a mourner for funerals. I wept for the death of the village elders and of the cattle, and sometimes, even for the false hopes and the broken hearts.
One of those days, the town mayor called for me. His wife had died at childbirth and the baby had been born dead, so I was hired to cry for the both of them. He paid me three pesos for my trouble and once the service was over, he took me to his house where he made love to me while I was still weeping for his family.
After laying together, the mayor talked, and I cried. He told me about his childhood and his first marriage, and the way he became the mayor of the nameless town, just like his father had done before him. Then he talked about how we would marry, and we would have children together, and how those children would become mayors of the town as well. He also mentioned that we would water the crops with my tears and make the town bloom again for next spring.
The mayor fell asleep at dawn, but he kept talking in dreams. I had stopped listening by then. When the sun rose, I bought some beans with the three pesos, cooked them, and left. My mother always told me that I should never stay with a man who made me cry, even if he was paying for it.
The north disappeared behind me as I boarded a train down south. I was not sure where I was going, but I had to stop when I reached the ocean, and the train rails reached their end. I paid for a hut in a fishing village with the rest of the money the mayor had given me. There was enough water in the coast and in the villagers’ eyes, so no one needed me to cry. I cooked beans instead. Not for broth, but for molletes and enfrijoladas, that the fishermen devoured after they were done with the day’s work.
In that place, the beans were black, not pintos, and the men were shorter and darker. Except one. They called him Güero, for the eternal sun in his hair, though his skin was almost as tanned as the other fishermen’s because of the endless hours he spent at sea. However, unlike his peers, he never sold the fish he caught in the Sunday market.
Nobody in town knew what he did with the fish, but every night, after all the villagers had gone to bed, I could see him right outside his hut gutting snappers, breams, and bass, throwing them back to the sea.
When I asked him why he did this , he explained that an Angolan diamond ship had been wrecked in these coasts several years ago. The cargo was never found, so now he was trying to see if he could find the missing diamonds inside the fish.
I offered to help, and he gave me a mackerel and a pocket-knife. We sat together to gut fish every night. He told me about his hometown in an accent I was barely able to understand: a place that was so cold that the rain froze while falling from the sky. And in return, I talked about towns that were so dry that people didn’t even have tears.
We spent so many nights together looking for diamonds that the other fishermen started catching only gutted fish from the ocean. Until one night, when I was cutting open a particularly big red snapper. I had never seen a diamond before, but I had always expected it would look like a mirror or an ice cube, that’s why when an opaque rock fell on my lap I was ready to throw it back to the sea.But the Güero stopped me, took the ugly stone from my hands and asked me to marry him.
I did not want to wear a ring with that rock, but I kissed him, and for the first time since we met, we didn’t spend the evening outside the hut, but inside. As usual, I woke up the next morning and tried to cry to make my broth, yet tears refused to come. I did not know if it was because I had spent so much time crying the sorrows of others, or simply because the prospect of having a baby was not so sad anymore, but that day I turned off the stove, and put away my recipe book.
However, I still left. I abandoned the Güero, the fishing village, and the diamond. I returned to the hacienda, where nine months later, a girl was born with corn blue eyes.
Sixteen years later, she woke up one morning and thought she might be pregnant. I dusted my recipe book and started cooking the beans.